‘Star Wars’: Early Version of Luke Skywalker’s Character Had an Entirely Different Backstory
Before Star Wars became the behemoth that it is today, it was just an idea conceived by George Lucas.
More than 40 years after the first film premiered in theaters, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill immortalized their characters as Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker. But Lucas’ early vision for Luke’s character was very different from the version that wound up on screen.
George Lucas spent years perfecting ‘Star Wars’
Following the successes of his first film, THX 1138 and production wrapping for American Graffiti , George Lucas was prime to work on his next project. Initially, he was set to work on Apocalypse Now with Francis Ford Coppola, his mentor and one-time close friend, but negotiations broke down and he ceded the movie to Coppola.
What next? With a film deal in place with Universal, Lucas began stewing on what would become Star Wars. It was 1973 when he began fleshing out the plot using influences from Flash Gordon and the Japanese film, The Hidden Fortress. Lucas knew he wanted to create a sci-fi superhero epic.
He spent roughly three years on the script, building worlds, naming characters, and stringing together storylines.
Luke Skywalker was supposed to be older
According to the biography George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones, Lucas’ original plan for Luke Skywalker was for him to be a general — an old one.
“Luke Skywalker makes his first appearance, though in this early draft he’s an aged general guarding a young princess on the planet Aquilae,” Jones wrote. “He and the princess meet two squabbling bureaucrats who have escaped from an orbiting space fortress, and the four of them travel to a spaceport to find a pilot to take them to the planet Opuchi,” he continued.
Jones explained that Lucas always intended to have battles in outer space that centered on one hero’s journey. At the time, the vision for Skywalker had him skilled with a “lazer sword,” (note the spelling) and as a leader who “recruits and trains a band of ten boys to be warriors before escaping the planet in a stolen ship.”
Skywalker would eventually land on a planet inhabited by aliens, rescue the kidnapped princess from prison, and then hatch another escape. Lucas pitched his early script to movie executives, and it was shuffled around before finding a home at Fox. Multiple rough drafts followed.
Other characters had their names and storylines changed
Lucas’ long creative process for Star Wars meant flipping the story and the characters’ names until it felt right. Per Jones, there was a moment when he changed Princess Leia’s name to Zara, Annikin Starkiller became Justin Valor, and Wookiees turned into Jawas.
In one version of the script for the first movie, Leia was a fringe character — Luke’s cousin — and the person Luke had to rescue was his brother Deak. This story ended with Luke as the hero heading into the sequel with his father as his battle buddy.
As most fans know, Lucas eventually settled on Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia as characters who were part of the main plot and whose familial relationship added a layer of complexity to the story.