8 Changes From the Original Star Wars Trilogy Drafts

The original designs for the Imperial Stormtroopers by artist Ralph McQuarrie, who would provide concept art throughout the original trilogy.
The original designs for the Imperial Stormtroopers by artist Ralph McQuarrie, who would provide concept art throughout the original trilogy.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images Entertainment

Very rarely does a movie completely nail its story on the first draft, and that's especially true when you're bringing a whole new world to the big screen. In 1974, George Lucas finished a rough draft for what would eventually become Star Wars, with multiple other drafts to follow, including one titled Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars.

Though fans like to think of Star Wars as a sprawling saga that was meticulously thought out from day one, it turns out Lucas made numerous changes to his core story, not only before the 1977 release of A New Hope, but all the way through the final film. Here are eight notable changes from those early drafts.

1. HAN SOLO HAD GILLS // STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE

Han Solo, everybody's favorite suave smuggler, originally wasn't going to be played by a young, handsome Harrison Ford. In fact, he wasn't going to be very human at all. In an early script for Star Wars, Solo was described as a tall, reptilian creature with green skin, no nose, and a hefty set of gills. As the drafts evolved, Star Wars slowly transformed from niche sci-fi/fantasy to a more relatable brand of space western; inevitably Han Solo turned into the space cowboy everyone knows today.

2. THE STORY OF MACE WINDU // A NEW HOPE

Despite what you've been led to believe, the Star Wars saga didn't just appear to Lucas in a fever dream one strange night—in fact, the first couple drafts of A New Hope are basically unrecognizable from what we know today. One of the biggest omissions in those first few attempts is Luke Skywalker himself. Instead, the movie originally involved a character named Mace Windu, with the script beginning with the impenetrable intro "The Story of Mace Windu: a revered Jedi-Bendu of Ophuchi who was related to Usby CJ Thape, Padawaan learner to the famed Jedi …"

The problem was that no one understood a word of it, and rightfully so. As the drafts evolved, Mace Windu was replaced by Kane Starkiller, who was eventually turned into the far more relatable Luke Skywalker. The character of Mace Windu did live on in the prequel trilogy, though all that "Jedi-Bendu of Ophuchi" nonsense was left on the cutting room floor.

3. FAMILIAR NAMES, NEW FACES // A NEW HOPE

Luke filled the typical Joseph Campbell hero mold in the first Star Wars trilogy, but the character was originally much different from the farm boy who left home to take on the Empire. In those early drafts, Luke Skywalker was a battle-worn war hero and one of the last surviving Jedi (called the Jedi-Bendu at first).

Vader was there, too, but without the trademark mask, cape, and intergalactic asthma—he was even known as General Vader at one point. In the beginning, he was conceived as an evil henchman for Prince Valorum, a masked Sith Knight tasked with hunting down the remaining Jedi-Bendu. Eventually Vader became an amalgamation of several characters throughout different drafts, with his signature mask coming from artist Ralph McQuarrie, who thought it necessary since Vader would literally be traveling from ship to ship in the vacuum of space.

4. NELLITH SKYWALKER// THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

The Skywalker family tree has more branches than a Colorado spruce, but the original draft for 1980's The Empire Strikes Back would have rattled the clan's genealogy even further. Written by Leigh Brackett, the first go-around at the movie's story did introduce the idea of Luke having a sister, but it wasn't Leia. Instead, the Princess remained a born-and-bred Organa, while Luke's twin was revealed to be a woman named Nellith.

At the same time Luke was training under Yoda, Nellith would also be learning the ways of the Force on the road to becoming a Jedi Knight. How this all was going to pan out is unknown, as it was supposed to be resolved in a third movie. But when this draft was rejected, so too was the story of Nellith.

5. ENDOR: HOME OF THE WOOKIEES // RETURN OF THE JEDI

It wasn't until 2005's Revenge of the Sith that fans finally got a glimpse of a full-fledged Wookiee army going into battle, but the original idea for 1983's Return of the Jedi had it happening nearly 20 years earlier. Instead of a battalion of teddy bears taking on the Empire for the final installment in the trilogy, Lucas wanted Endor to be the home of the Wookiees, culminating in a climactic battle between the two factions.

However, Lucas eventually felt that the Wookiees would be too technologically advanced for his vision of the story. He wanted to showcase a primitive species besting the evil Empire (a veiled metaphor for Vietnam), and apparently the Wookiees were a bit too tech-savvy for that to work. 

6. THE (ORIGINAL) DEATH OF HAN SOLO // RETURN OF THE JEDI

At this point, pretty much everyone knows that 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn't go according to plan for Han Solo. But before he was gutted by Kylo Ren, Harrison Ford and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wanted Solo to sacrifice his life for the Rebel squad early in Return of the Jedi. Ford hoped that this would add some depth and gravitas to a movie that featured an elephant playing the keyboard. Plus, the actor has gone on the record to claim that Solo was never that interesting to him.

However, Ford said, "George didn't think there was any future in dead Han toys," so Solo was left amongst the living (for the time being). 

7. HAD ABBADON, ABANDONED // RETURN OF THE JEDI

The first two installments in the Star Wars trilogy showed the Empire's mammoth space stations and star cruisers littered throughout the galaxy, but Return of the Jedi was going to one-up that visual with an up-close look at the Empire's homeworld of Had Abbadon. This proposed city-planet was going to be the location of much of the film's action, including a lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader in the Emperor's fiery throne room.

So what happened? Logistically, putting a city-planet on film just wasn't feasible in the '80s. The massive sets, models, and matte paintings would be too cost-prohibitive, and even with a small fortune at his disposal, the technological advancements simply weren't in place to get the idea off the ground. The idea was revised in the Prequel Trilogy, though, with the introduction of the global metropolis of Coruscant.

8. TWIN DEATH STARS // RETURN OF THE JEDI

#McQuarrieMonday - A concept depicting a network of multiple Death Stars. pic.twitter.com/naEUSZOEn9

As interesting as the planet surface of Had Abbadon sounds, what's even more intriguing is what was set to orbit the Imperial capital: two massive Death Stars. Instead of the lone moon-sized space station from the final film, there were going to be twin destructive globes under construction around the planet.

Concept artist Ralph McQuarrie even produced some paintings of what the Death Stars were going to look like. While they never actually saw the light of day, elements of them seem to have inspired the look of the Starkiller Base from The Force Awakens.

Celebrate Season 2 of The Mandalorian With These 10 Products

LEGO/Amazon
LEGO/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The second season of The Mandalorian is here, and that means a tidal wave of new merchandise is already on store shelves for eager fans to devour. And, of course, when we're talking about Mandalorian merch, we're really talking about anything with Baby Yoda's face printed onto it. And there's plenty of that available for the series' sophomore season on Disney+, whether you want to invest hours in a new LEGO set or just want to kick back and have a drink out of a Baby Yoda-shaped tiki mug. Check out some of our favorite products below.

1. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Polaroid Camera; $140

Polaroid/Amazon

Polaroid cameras are as classic as Star Wars itself, so this collaboration feels natural. The instant camera has The Mandalorian logo etched onto it, and the unique i-Type film prints photos with little Baby Yoda illustrations decorating the borders.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Amazon 3rd Generation Echo Dot The Child Stand; $25

Otterbox/Amazon

Amazon Echo Dots have become so popular, it seems most homes have a couple lying around. With this Baby Yoda stand, you can make sure you'll always know which one is yours. The iconically elongated ears will brighten up any Star Wars fan’s room and get them ready for the new season of the show.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Marshmallow Cereal; $11

General Mills/Amazon

It feels like cereal hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years, which is why this Mandalorian cereal is a real treat. It's not just that Baby Yoda's grinning on the box; the cereal itself also has marshmallow pieces shaped like the character.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Baby Yoda Socks; $11

Disney

Even your feet can join in on the Mandalorian hype with this set of Baby Yoda socks from Disney.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Stanley Mandalorian Insulated Mugs; $30-$35

Stanley/Amazon

The famous thermos mug brand, Stanley, has teamed up with Disney to create three exclusive bottles featuring imagery from The Mandalorian. The models include a vacuum bottle with The Mandalorian logo, a trigger-action mug showcasing The Child, and an insulated tumbler with Mando's helmet on it. And since these are from Stanley, you know your drinks will be kept at just the right temperature for up to 24 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Mandalorian-Themed Monopoly; $30

Hasbro

The world of intergalactic bounty hunting makes a seamless transition into Hasbro’s classic game of property management and armchair capitalism in this special edition of Monopoly. Here, staples like Park Place and Baltic Avenue are replaced by the Armorer’s Workshop and a Jawa Camp, with boot and thimble tokens making way for Mando, Baby Yoda, and Moff Gideon pieces.

Buy it: Amazon

7. LEGO Razor Crest Ship; $130

LEGO/Amazon

Mando’s bulky star cruiser is one of the most memorable additions to the Star Wars ship library since the Disney acquisition. This 1023-piece LEGO set allows you to recreate the vessel brick by brick. The Razor Crest set even opens up to reveal a cargo hold, cockpit, and an escape pod—which are all the perfect size to fit the minifigures of Mando, Greef Karga, and Baby Yoda that come along with it.

Buy it: Amazon

8. 10-Inch Chrome Mandalorian Funko Pop!; $40

Funko/Amazon

If any duo deserved an extra-large Funko Pop!, it’s this one. Here, the Mandalorian, real name Din Djarin, is decked out in a special chrome helmet variant meant to resemble his fancy beskar armor. In his clutches is Baby Yoda, and the pair strikes a pose that's perfect for displaying on a desk or bookshelf.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baby Yoda Tiki Mug; $27

Geeki Tiki/Toynk

This tiki mug is firmly in the “at this point, why not?” category of Baby Yoda merchandise. At 16 ounces, it’s an adorable vessel for your favorite island drink, ensuring that even your beverages are on brand while you binge the latest season of The Mandalorian.

Buy it: Toynk

10. Baby Yoda 39-Inch Area Rug; $50

Robe Factory LLC/Amazon

For floors that have a distinct lack of Baby Yoda, this 39-inch area rug sports a vivid illustration of everyone’s favorite pint-sized Force wielder sitting in his adorable floating bassinet. Made of 100 percent polyester, this rug would be right at home in your bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom.

Buy it: Toynk

Related: 11 Great Gifts for Star Wars Fans

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How It's a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life is sacred in the holiday movie pantheon. It's not as quotable as A Christmas Story (1983) or as lyrical as 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the story of George Bailey has a universal message behind it that endures more than 70 years later. Though the movie is the quintessential Christmas tale today, when it was first released in 1946, audiences and critics were lukewarm toward the picture, resulting in a box office disappointment that killed Capra's nascent production company, Liberty Films. In a strange twist, decades after it was first released, an unlikely clerical screw-up managed to turn It's a Wonderful Life into the Christmastime staple we know today.

In the 1930s, Capra became a magnet for Academy Awards, directing movies like the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After Pearl Harbor, Capra knew he could contribute something to the war effort, so he took a post in Washington overseeing the development of U.S. propaganda films for the government—most notably the award-winning Why We Fight series of documentaries.

Upon returning from Washington in 1945, Capra—along with other wartime directors William Wyler and George Stevens—helped finance Liberty Films, an independent production company poised to give filmmakers the one thing they all dreamed of: freedom. The company's first film would be an adaption of a short story titled "The Greatest Gift," which would also appear in Good Housekeeping under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born," and would be adapted for the screen as It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of the few movies Capra also received a screenwriting credit for, and with a proposed budget of $2 million, it was a huge gamble for Liberty.

Something akin to a nightmare

In the book Five Came Back, writer Mark Harris describes It's a Wonderful Life's production process as something akin to a nightmare. Script rewrites, a bloated shooting schedule, and an ever-changing crew cost the studio nearly all of the original $2 million budget—well before filming was even wrapped. The spending became such a concern for Capra's partners at Liberty that George Stevens remarked, "Why the hell couldn't it be springtime?" when he saw how much it cost the production to produce fake snow for shots. Capra bet Liberty's future on audiences looking for some comforting nostalgia after the war, but he was about to see firsthand just how much the world had changed since he came back.

The original plan was to release It's a Wonderful Life in January 1947, after the Oscar deadlines, but when RKO—the film's distributor—needed a movie to release in time for Christmas, Capra's project was the easy solution. It opened just weeks after William Wyler's major studio film The Best Years of Our Lives, a hard-hitting drama about a U.S. soldier coming home after the war to pick up his life again. The two films couldn't be any more different, and the reviews reflected that.

Even at nearly three hours long, The Best Years of Our Lives was an absolute hit with critics and at the box office, recouping its budget multiple times over. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. Wyler beat Capra in every way: reviews, box office, and awards. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while It's a Wonderful Life received only a lone technical award—ironically for the fake snow Stevens loathed.

Liberty Films had borrowed more than $1.5 million to make the film, and with such a disappointing box office return, the production company was soon sold off to Paramount. Capra only directed five feature films afterwards, none of which ever reached the heights of his pre-war work. As unlikely as it seems today, It's a Wonderful Life was seen as a flat disappointment destined for anonymity—until a clerical error changed its fate.

A Wonderful free-for-all

In 1974, the movie entered the public domain after the film's copyright holder simply forgot to file for a renewal. This meant that TV stations everywhere could play It's a Wonderful Life all day and all night and not have to pay a cent for it. Networks aren't necessarily shy about exploiting free Christmas content, and the film's reemergence on television gave Capra's story new life. While a post-World War II crowd may have rejected the movie's sentiment, subsequent generations seem to revel in the opportunity to visit the nostalgic whimsy of it all.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra once told The Wall Street Journal about the film's revival. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud ... but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Legalities rewrote the history of It's a Wonderful Life yet again in 1993. The Supreme Court's previous ruling in Stewart v. Abend established a precedent that allowed the film's original copyright owner—Republic Pictures—to regain its ownership of the movie. The ruling claimed that since Republic owned the copyright on the original short story which the movie was based on, and the score for the film, they, in essence, still owned the movie. So what was once a near barrage of networks airing It's a Wonderful Life has since been pared down to just one: NBC.

The network paid for exclusive rights to air the movie, which is why you'll only see It's a Wonderful Life on TV once or twice during the holidays. But the movie's modern appeal exists because of that scarcity. The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe. It turns out Capra always knew what audiences wanted, he just needed to wait for the right clerical error to prove it.

This story has been updated for 2020.