5 Axed Ideas From the Original Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Script
By December 1977, not even a year after the original Star Wars hit theaters and became the all-time domestic box office champ, a science-fiction writer named Leigh Brackett was already at her typewriter, clacking away at the script for the next chapter in creator George Lucas's nascent blockbuster franchise.
Known as the "Queen of Space Opera" for her work in sci-fi magazines like Planet Stories and Astounding Science Fiction in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Brackett certainly understood what it took to make an entertaining piece of space fantasy. She had even found success in Hollywood, having written screenplays for The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), and The Long Goodbye (1973). Armed with a deep understanding of the genre, bona fide screenwriting chops, and Lucas’s own story outline to follow, it seemed like the perfect recipe to deliver the follow-up fans were waiting for. But, what Brackett wrote [PDF] was far from what Lucas had in mind.
The characters in Brackett's script just didn’t sound like they were supposed to, according to George Lucas: A Life, and there were story decisions that were inconsistent with the first movie (her script implied it was Luke who damaged Darth Vader’s Tie-Fighter in A New Hope rather than Han, for example). Many of Lucas's notes just consisted of him scribbling “NO” on parts of the draft he wanted removed wholesale, and director Irvin Kershner wasn’t happy with the snow battle or the ending, as detailed in The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
Unfortunately, before Lucas could give Brackett notes for a second draft, she had taken ill and passed away soon after from cancer at just 62. Though she received a writer’s credit for her script, much of the final product was penned by Lawrence Kasdan, who’d go on to write Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi for Lucas. Still, Brackett’s original draft for what would become The Empire Strikes Back remains one of the franchise’s more intriguing "what if?" stories. And here are some of the original ideas from that script that never saw the light of day.
1. Darth Vader wasn’t going to be Luke Skywalker’s father.
There’s a thought out there that the complicated Skywalker family tree was all part of George Lucas’s plan from the beginning. But if it was, he must have forgotten to let Brackett in on the secret, because while she did reveal Luke’s father in this script, he certainly wasn’t wearing a black cape and mask.
Like in the final script, Luke still trains with Yoda (who is referred to as "Minch" in the first draft) on a swamp planet as he prepares to become a Jedi and fight Vader. In Brackett’s version, however, one of Minch’s final tests is for Luke to conjure up Obi-Wan's Force ghost for guidance, since dead Jedi can't just appear at will. Not only does Kenobi show up when Luke calls for him, but he brings Luke’s unnamed father's Force ghost (he’s just called “Skywalker”) along for the trip.
It’s here where Luke’s father makes his son take the (ridiculous sounding) Jedi oath, and afterward Minch, Obi-Wan, and Skywalker officially declare Luke a Jedi Knight by literally knighting him with their lightsabers during an induction ceremony, according to Den of Geek's script breakdown. Though not much is revealed about the elder Skywalker, it could be that he was a victim of Darth Vader's Jedi purge after the Clone Wars, as Obi-Wan detailed in the original.
2. Luke was going to have another sister (and he loses Leia to Han).
If that wasn’t enough, it's also revealed that Luke has a twin sister named Nellith somewhere out in the galaxy, according to his father. We never actually meet Nellith in the script, and the whole subject is dropped almost instantly, but it's possible her role was meant to be expanded upon in later movies, as producer Gary Kurtz once spoke about at a fan convention. Because of this new wrinkle, Leia has nothing to do with the Skywalker family and was probably never meant to be Luke's sister until the Return of the Jedi writing process was underway.
This means the love triangle that Brackett presents between Luke, Han, and Leia early on in the movie is far less creepy than it could have been. But even that doesn't last long, because once Han and Leia are alone on the Millennium Falcon in the second act, their hands are all over each other. And because Star Wars is nothing if not romantically awkward, they're usually watched by Chewie and C-3PO as they kiss, with Threepio remarking, "I’ve never been able to understand the pleasure human beings get from placing their mouths together."
3. Darth Vader lived in a giant castle with his pet gargoyles.
With the familial conflict missing, Darth Vader doesn’t have a whole lot to do in Brackett’s draft; he basically spends his time searching for Luke through the Force from across the galaxy until their eventual face-to-face showdown at the end of the movie. But while Vader lacks the imposing presence he has in Empire, he does have one thing the final product does not: A giant castle where he can brood in the company of his pet gargoyles.
Described as “black iron that squats on a rock in the midst of a crimson sea,” this castle is where Vader feeds his winged pets from a big gold bowl and attempts to use Force telepathy to seduce Luke to the Dark Side. But the whole scene gets spoiled when the Emperor calls him on a video chat and basically chews him out for not just killing Skywalker in person. It wouldn't be until 2016's Rogue One that Darth Vader's castle actually makes the jump to the screen.
4. Lando CAlrissian was a clone.
Until Attack of the Clones was released in 2002, the only clue fans had about the Clone Wars was the one throwaway reference Obi-Wan made during A New Hope, fueling decades of theories and speculation. If Brackett had her way, though, we would have gotten answers far sooner, because her version of Lando Calrissian (Lando Kadar here) would have actually been a clone of a solider from the original war.
In Lando’s case, he was cloned from his great-grandfather in order to keep his bloodline pure, and he was originally conceived as having the genetically perfect good looks of a Rudolph Valentino-type, according to the Blast Points podcast episode about the script. This version of Lando gets introduced when Han and Leia visit “Hoth” while fleeing from the Empire. Here, Hoth is the name of what would become Cloud City, and the city’s natives are described as noble beings with white skin and white hair that travel through the skies on giant manta rays (think the Kaminoans from Attack of the Clones.)
5. Han Solo’s stepfather was the key to victory.
So much of Han Solo’s appeal comes from his loner status (it’s literally in his name), but in this draft, he gets involved in some very Star Wars-y family drama when it’s revealed that he has an estranged stepfather named Ovan Marekal, the head of the Transport Guild and one of the most powerful men in the galaxy behind Emperor Palpatine and Vader.
It’s Leia who convinces Solo to reach out to Marekal to join the Rebel Alliance and use his influence to help take down the Empire, but before we see how it plays out, the script ends. Han’s journey to meet his stepfather is basically the cliffhanger at the end of the movie—there’s no Boba Fett or carbonite freezing chamber in sight. And like Nellith before him, Ovan Marekal winds up a casualty of later rewrites.