The path to "Star Wars" was long and circuitous. George Lucas famously attempted to obtain the rights to "Flash Gordon" prior to making "Star Wars," hoping to make a straight-up adaptation of one of his childhood favorites. When those plans fell through, he pivoted to something in a similar vein, coming up with a fantastical space adventure with broad archetypes as characters, exciting battles, and cutting-edge special effects. I don't think Lucas could have predicted the stranglehold "Star Wars" would almost instantly have on the popular arts. It seems to have hit at just the right time and has remained firmly entrenched ever since.
Of course, getting "Star Wars" from its early "Flash Gordon" ideas into its own world took some trial and error. Early concept art is easily found online, and fans can see some of the initial ideas that were completely altered by the time they made it to the screen. To cite a smaller change: Princess Leia was originally dressed in more elaborate, regal clothing, as opposed to the minimalist white robe she ended up in. To cite a larger change, the character of Han Solo was once meant to have green skin and gills, more closely resembling a frog.
Luke Skywalker, the character played by Mark Hamill, was once named Annakin Starkiller, and was often referred to in early drafts of the script as merely "Starkiller Hero." The story and characters, it seems, took a lot of massaging. Also, as seen in recently uncovered 1975 concept sketches printed in the Daily Mail in October 2022, Luke was also originally meant to be a female character. This fact is backed up by other concept art by Christopher McQuarrie that have been circulating for years. Those drawings, it has been known, inspired the look of Rey (Daisy Ridley) in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
A lot of early "Star Wars" sketches and ideas leaked into later films. The name Starkiller was eventually applied to the Starkiller Base in "The Force Awakens." One can even see parallels in small details. For instance, the original title of "Return of the Jedi" was "Revenge of the Jedi." That title was somewhat repurposed in the mid-'00s for "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith."
There doesn't seem to be any reason to have made Luke male, so the change must remain unexplained. Perhaps George Lucas merely wanted Luke to resemble himself as a young man. Perhaps he wanted to give a romantic interest to his lead character, and felt a new character — a princess in distress — was more appropriate for his story; when Luke was female there wasn't yet a Princess Leia in the script. Whatever the reason, Annakin Starkiller became a male, then was ultimately turned into the Luke Skywalker we know today.
Other sketches from the same uncovered trove reveal a few other notable changes. Darth Vader's helmet, for instance, once left his eyes visible. The respirator on his face was also elongated, perhaps to more closely resemble a gas mask.
An early storyboard also showed that Obi-Wan Kenobi, the "old sage" character played by Sir Alec Guinness, was initially meant to survive his lightsaber confrontation with the villainous Darth Vader. It seems that he was going to rejoin the action and continue to give advice to Luke for the rest of the movie. One can argue whether or not this would have made "Star Wars" better or worse.
Given the tinkering done in the mid-'70s, it seems that we could have had any number of "Star Wars" movies. Let's hope we got the best one.
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