When George Lucas set out to create Star Wars, he thought up a fantastic world that drew from the stories he read as a child and growing up. Flash Gordon. Buck Rodgers. All with the maturity and complexity of Frank Herbert's Dune. But when he wrote his script and showed it to his director friends, they all had suggestions.
If George Lucas did not take their advice into account, we would have had a very different Star Wars than the one we ended up with. While it is undeniable that the finished project blows the original draft out of the water, after reading about the first draft, fans can't help but ask "What could have been The Star Wars...?"
Journal of the Whills, Part 1
"Journal of the Whills" is the earliest written version of Star Wars that George Lucas created (or, alternatively, remembers). It was a two page short piece he hand wrote in 1973...staring Mace Windy.
Now, any seasoned Star Wars fan may remember Mace Windu, Samuel L. Jackson's Jedi Master. In this first draft, though, Mace Windu – er, Windy – is a Jedi-bendu, taking on a Padawan learner whose name is, I kid you not, C.J.
So C.J. the Padawan trains under Mace, who is so super powerful that both the Empire and Jedi Council (because yes, the Jedis are alive in this universe), conspire together to throw him off the council, which...works. But Mace is so awesome that C.J. still trains under him.
From here, things get iffy. "Journal of the Whills, Part II" features some ship hijacking, but, really, the plot teeters off here. It's clear that this rough idea was just George spit-balling out random ideas.
It's also worth mentioning that, before writing Episode I, George Lucas took this little draft out of the vaults to give it a once-over. The focus of vague political scheming, the Jedi Council, and Padawan Learners were clearly recycled in Phantom Menace.
This draft would have been prequel levels of dull, had it gone any further than a cocktail note...
The Star Wars: Story Synopsis
This draft was written in 1973, and, for a solid year, was sent out to multiple film studios, such as United Artists and Universal, but everyone rejected it...except for 20th Century Fox, who, on May 1974, took on the project. The proposal differs quite a bit from the product we eventually got.
A few things that you have to realize. This took place in the distant future (the 33rd Century) in the Milky Way Galaxy. Not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But that's a small difference, right? How much different can it get?
There is a Civil War in the Galactic Empire. A princess, guarded by her protector, General Luke Skywalker, flee from Galactic forces to a planet known as Aquilae. From there, they harvest spice, a special substance capable of incredible power. (Wait... spice on a planet that starts with A... where have I heard that before...?)
The princess and Skywalker take two Imperial bureaucrats hostage, and make to get out of Aquilae fast with the spice in tow. They travel to a space port named Gordon (Mos Eisley?), and end up recruiting two young boys to their ranks after some misadventures. Once in Gordon, Skywalker fends off baddies with a lazersword (not lightsaber), fights Imperial forces in a sky/space battle with tons of ships, travels through an asteroid belt...
The script culminates in a lot of typical cliches. The princess is a damsel in distress, a great space fight happens, and the evil "Empire" is defeated.
In short, it's Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress transplanted to the setting of Frank Herbert's Dune.
At this point, we begin to see the loose structure of what would eventually be Star Wars. The obvious problems, however, are the ill-defined characters. The characters don't seem to really want anything, but do things because the plot demands they do them. Certain elements even seem similar to what would happen later on. There's a chase inside an asteroid belt, just like in Empire Strikes Back.
Skywalker recruits aliens on Yavin (not Yavin 4) to aid in the fight against the Empire, like the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. But the most obvious issue is this: who cares why the rebellion is fighting the Empire? What's at risk? Where is the struggle? Where's the villain?
The Star Wars: Rough Draft
The good news is that this draft would later be adapted into a Dark Horse Comic series known as The Star Wars, so it is possible to see how this script might have turned out in some fashion. Due to its proliferation via the comic book, when most people talk about the Star Wars that almost was, they usually are referring to this script.
The Jedi Bendu, once the guardians of the Intergalactic Emperor, have been cut down by the Knights of the Sith. Kane Starkiller, one of the last Jedi, is on the run with his two sons, Deak and Annikin, when a Sith kills Deak.
After Deak's death, Kane realizes he must change course, and goes to Aquilae to meet with King Kayos and his daughter Princess Leia and their guardian, Luke Skywalker (here a grizzled, hardened badass). And from there, things get... complicated. Like, very complicated.
Many names that will become relevant later on first appear here. Valorum (the Chancellor that preceded Palpatine in The Phantom Menace) is a Sith. Alderaan (Leia's homeworld) is the capital of the Empire. Han Solo (you know who he is) is Kane's friend... and an alien (specifically, a huge, noseless, green-gilled alien). Yavin (again, Yavin) is the home of the Wookies, rather than Kashyyyk. R2-D2 and C-3PO, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca all appear in a role similar to their final one. Also, Windy is back! And Biggs.
The Empire being responsible for the destruction of the Jedi, the idea of characters being more machine than man (Kane is almost entirely cybernetic, save for his arm and head), and other minor details remain similar here.
But the plot has almost nothing in common with the original. The plot of A New Hope is that the Empire has a super weapon the rebellion needs to destroy. Simple. Easy to understand. In this one? Darth Vader is after Aquilae's cloning facilities, which apparently hold the secret to eternal life.
And, Sith are everywhere, though also seem to be far less dangerous than the Sith we eventually encounter in Star Wars. More Sith die in this one movie than all the Sith across two Star Wars trilogies.
The problem with this draft is that it's too complicated. This would be a superb ten episode mini-series, not a two-hour movie released in the 70s. It is far too complicated and far too expensive sounding for anyone to conceivably release at that time.
Oh, and the Emperor's name is Cos Dashit. Yes. If you don't get why that's stupid, say that name aloud to someone else. I'm sure they'll point out how stupid that sounds.
The Star Wars: First Draft
This version is a more polished version of the prior draft. Minor details are altered, but the plot remains mostly the same. Half of the names were altered, however. This is the version that was submitted to 20th Century Fox in 1974.
But, as you can imagine, it was rejected.
Many of the changes made from the story synopsis were deemed too complicated to be relayed properly to screen. They demanded that the plot be simplified, for they felt – and probably rightfully so – that too much was going on to be relayed in a single, two-hour movie.
So Lucas went back to the drawing board, recycling and altering plot elements from the original to be something a little more straight forward.
Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars
The Adventures of the Starkiller, as Recorded by the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars (rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) is Lucas's true second draft of Star Wars. As the script was being written, concept art was produced by Ralph McQuarrie. It is because of this that the Star Wars aesthetic first was really grounded and rooted.
The plot, for the most part, is very similar to A New Hope.
Some key differences?
Once again, the Knights of the Sith play a big role here, but so do greedy "trader barons." I can't help but compare them to Dune's CHOAM Company, which possesses power in Frank Herbert's universe by utilizing their monopoly of the Spice over the Padishah Emperor.
But that's Dune. This is The Star Wars. And here... it's pretty similar.
The Starkiller is a legendary Jedi warrior, a survivor from the Jedi Purge, who has dealt a blow against the Empire that has splintered the Imperial Forces.
However, Imperial ships shoot a Rebel ship carrying Deak Starkiller (son of The Starkiller), C-3PO, R2-D2, and others. R2 (one of many other R2 units) and C-3PO are sent to find Deak's younger brother, Luke, in order to bring him into the rebellion. Once the droids are gone, Darth Vader comes down, and kills Deak (Deak just can never catch a break, can he?).
So, from there, things progress as in the final product. R2 and 3PO are captured by Jawas, they end up meeting Luke, and an adventure unfolds. They meet Han Solo at a cantina in Mos Eisley, who has a price on his head. They travel in a ship along with Chewbacca to a Rebel planet, which is destroyed by the Empire. They reach a giant space station (a proto-Death Star), which they infiltrate by dressing as Stormtroopers holding Chewie as a prisoner, end up on Yavin 4. Luke pilots a ship, is pursued by Darth Vader in another ship, and, if not for Han striking Vader's ship, Luke would have died. The proto-Death Star is destroyed by a blast being fired into an exhaust port.
From a superficial standpoint, it is A New Hope.
A few key differences: the MacGuffin of the film isn't the Death Star Plans, but a Kaiburr Crystal, that will be brought to Luke and Deak's father to defend the planet Ogana (which occupies the same role Alderaan has in A New Hope) from the Empire. Luke's other brothers aside from Deak are Biggs and Windy (George had to get that Windy in there somewhere). Han Solo has a science officer on his ship, which isn't the Millenium Falcon, but a ship hijacked from a guy named Oxus (think a proto-Jabba the Hutt).
Furthermore, Luke revives the Starkiller using the Kaiburr Crystal. Oh, and Luke is a Padawan long before R2 and 3PO ever find him. And Darth Vader died by ramming Han's ship with his.
But the coolest difference? Wedge Antilles (yes, THAT Wedge) and C-3PO are the ones to destroy the proto-Death Star.
The Star Wars: From The Adventures of Luke Starkiller
The final draft before George Lucas created the Star Wars we all know and love, The Star Wars: From The Adventures of Luke Starkiller simplifies many elements from the prior script. It is here that the human story of the characters comes to the forefront, and, from a story telling standpoint, the most clear-cut and straight forward of all the Star Wars drafts (though it still had a bit of refining to do).
The script is very similar to what we ended up getting in A New Hope, so, rather than summarize everything, I will instead focus on the key differences.
Luke Skywalker lives on the planet Utapau, and sees the space battle that led to Darth Vader capturing Leia Organa. There's an emphasize on Luke's relationship with Biggs, who is training to be a Stormtrooper at the "academy."
Luke wants to join the academy to get off the planet and be as cool as Biggs, but it turns out his Aunt and Uncle spent all his college savings on two stupid droids (R2 and C-3PO, whose roles up until this point are almost identical to the final product).
Alderaan is still the capital of the Empire, and Ogana Major occupies the same role it has played in prior scripts (the planet that, ironically enough, becomes Alderaan in the final draft).
Han Solo, rather than already owning the Millenium Falcon, actually steals it from Jabba the Hutt after agreeing to take Obi-Wan, Luke, and the rest on their trip.
After finding that Ogana is destroyed by the Empire, they go to Alderaan to find the Princess, as opposed to being taken into the Death Star as what happened in both the prior draft and A New Hope. That said, the Death Star is in this script, and the finale does involve firing a blast into its exhaust port as it comes in range with Yavin 4.
Oh, and a huge difference: Obi-Wan does engage Vader into a lightsaber duel as in A New Hope, upon seeing the others escaping to Han's ship, steals a Kibur Crystal (Lucas keeps spelling them differently in each draft), shuts a blast door between himself and Vader, and escapes with everyone else. No mention is ever made of Obi-Wan dying, so we are left to assume he gets off okay.
Still, it remains very similar to the final product.
It is also well documented through interviews with Lucas and the like that he toyed with other ideas that ultimately did not pass into any of the submitted material.
You may note how I don't mention lightsabers in prior drafts. This is because Lucas originally envisioned the lazerswords to literally be laser swords – complete with sheaths. They were designed after katanas, which makes sense considering the connections to Akira Kurosawa's work.
While Luke Skywalker was always going to be a part of the Star Wars saga (either as Luke Skykiller or old-general Skywalker), at one point Lucas did toy around with the idea that Luke could be female. Concept art exists of a female Luke... which, interestingly enough, does look reminiscent of Rey from the new trilogy.
Additionally, when playing around with the idea of the main villain of the film, Lucas always had a character like Darth Vader in mind... but rather than a Lord of the Sith, Vader, at one point, was going to be a bounty hunter like Boba Fett. Lucas toyed with this idea before tossing it out. Also, at one point, he looked less like the Darth Vader we know and love, and more like a Mad Max reject.
Oh, and Han and Chewie? They were married – or at least Lucas considered having them married. Elements of that still remain in that Chewie and Han are heterosexual life partners throughout the saga.
Oh, but one of the biggest changes across the board? Dialogue. Lucas even annotated his own script, admitting that dialogue is not his strongest point. His then-wife actually helped fix up most of his dialogue... and the wooden dialogue left-over would be rewritten or ignored by both Harrison Ford and future script-doctor and then-princess Carrie Fisher.
So consider this: even if you ended up seeing all these older drafts of Star Wars, from the awesome, if not complicated, ideas... you have to listen to Lucas's signature dialogue.