Secrets of the "Star Wars" drafts: Inside George Lucas' amazing -- and very different -- early scripts

Luke might have been a woman. Drawings that made Lucas' vision real. Hidden stories from "Star Wars" history


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Chris Taylor
October 4, 2014 3:00AM (UTC)
Excerpted from "How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multi-billion Dollar Franchise"

In January 1975, the second draft was ready. Now titled "Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode One: The Star Wars," it was about five thousand words lighter than its predecessor. Lucas wrapped it in a gold-embossed folder, as if to emphasize how seriously he was taking it.

The first thing any reader who was paying attention would have noticed about the second draft: the Journal of the Whills is back. The movie opens with a Bible-like prophecy, supposedly taken from its pages: “And in the time of greatest despair there shall come a savior, and he shall be known as: THE SON OF THE SUNS.” "The Golden Bough" seems to have sunk in, because religious statements—and the religion of the Force—are front and center this time. In the roll-up, we read that the Jedi Bendu “learned the ways of the mysterious Force of Others,” until they were eradicated when the Empire took over. But there’s one Jedi out there still fighting the good fight, known only as the Starkiller.

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The roll-up may be more ponderous than its predecessor, but the opening scene is far more action-driven: a small rebel spacefighter is being chased by not one but four giant Imperial Star Destroyers. The rebel ship returns fire and destroys one of them. We cut to the droids, now rendered as “Artoo” and “Threepio,” aboard the smaller ship; they are now on the side of the rebels. Artoo “makes a series of electronic sounds that only a robot could understand.”

The placement of these droids lends credence to an otherwise dubious story that Lucas tells about the creation of the "Star Wars" trilogies. Ever since 1979, two years after the first movie’s release, Lucas has attempted to convince us that his writing process was some variation on the following: taking the first draft of "Star Wars," cutting it in half, choosing the second half, then chopping the resulting story into three parts, which became the original trilogy. But it’s a dubious claim once you read the first three drafts, which are three completely different stories containing some similar scenes in roughly the same position. “That’s not true,” Kurtz says bluntly of Lucas’s assertion. “There were lots of little bits and pieces that were reasonably good ideas and ended up in the final draft.” After which, “there wasn’t enough material to do other movies.” He admits that both he and Lucas gave post–"Star Wars" interviews in which they talked about the movie being “a section out of the middle” of a larger story—but that this was in the fictional Journal-of-the-Whills sense of a larger story. “It’s very easy in hindsight to make things a lot simpler than they actually were,” Kurtz adds.

If there is any evidence for Lucas’s halves-and-thirds anecdote, it is this: the droids who showed up halfway through the first draft are now at the beginning of the second. Artoo and Threepio’s ship is boarded by Stormtroopers—the first real appearance of the space soldiers in any draft thus far. Their still very human leader is General Darth Vader, still just Sith Knight Valorum’s righthand man. Deak—one of the sons of the Starkiller—makes short work of the Stormtroopers. Deak, a Jedi, uses a blaster, while the Stormtroopers wield laser swords. Vader defeats Deak because he is “strong with the Bogan”—Lucas’s initial name for the Dark Side of the Force.

The droids escape to the desert planet below, where Artoo is instructed to make contact with one Owen Lars. Threepio tags along only because his “prime directive is survival.” When Lucas imagined Threepio talking, he heard a public relations guy or a sleazy used-car dealer, perhaps like the one Universal cut from "American Graffiti." The droids are captured by hooded, robot-nabbing dwarves, “sometimes called Jawas.” (Coincidentally, Lucas’s friend Steven Spielberg was about to make a movie based on the novel Jaws; Lucas had spent some time down in LA to see the faulty mechanical shark close up and gotten briefly stuck in its giant grey maw.) There’s a robot revolt inside the Jawas’ wagon. The robots escape, much like the "Hidden Fortress" peasants. Arriving at a “small moisture ranch,” they find Lars, his nephews Biggs and Windy, his niece Leia, and our hero, eighteen-year-old Luke Starkiller.

Lucas had lost interest in writing about a gruff old general. He preferred Luke as a young hero: son of the Starkiller, brother of the recently defeated Deak, himself a Jedi trained by his Uncle Owen. We find him in the desert at laser sword practice, fending off blasts from a floating chrome baseball. Luke is now a sensitive artist type, a historian who would much rather “catalog the ancients” than fight in a galactic war. “I’m not a warrior,” he says. (So why was he practicing?) Artoo plays a hologram of Deak, informing Luke “the enemy has constructed a powerful weapon” to use against their father—we know not what—and Luke must take the “Kiber Crystal” to him on Organa Major.

After a dinner of “thanta sauce” and “bum-bum extract,” Luke embarks on a long-winded, jargon-filled explanation to his younger brothers about the Force of Others. Originally discovered by a holy man called the Skywalker, the Force is divided into the good half, “Ashla,” and the “paraforce,” called the Bogan. To prevent people with “less strength” from discovering the Bogan, the Skywalker only taught it to his children, who passed it on to theirs. And there you have it: as conceived for the first time, the Force was an exclusive, aristocratic cult.

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Luke isn’t done. Like a boring uncle at a family dinner, he drones on and on about politics: how the Senate grew too large, fell under the control of the Power and Transport guilds, and then “secretly instigated race wars and aided anti-government terrorists” with the aid of a Bogan-influenced Jedi called Darklighter, who turned a bunch of pirates into Sith knights.

The next morning Luke and the droids head off to Mos Eisley and its cantina. There, he meets Han Solo, now a “burly-bearded but ruggedly handsome boy dressed in a gaudy array of flamboyant apparel”—Francis Ford Coppola, basically. Han hangs out with an eight-foot “gray bush-baby monkey with baboon-like fangs”—Chewbacca, here wearing cloth shorts—and a science officer called Montross.

The bar brawl plays out. Luke and his laser sword win handily. Han leads him to his ship, via a stop for a steaming bowl of “Boma-mush” (there’s a lot of food in this draft), and demands “an even million” for passage to Organa Major. Luke sells his speeder as a down payment; his father the Starkiller will pay the rest. (The moment where a Jawa fawns over the speeder, to Threepio’s horror—“nice zoom-zoom”—offers the funniest line in this difficult draft.)

Solo turns out to be a cabin boy who’s talking a big game. His unnamed ship is owned by a bunch of pirates, one called Jabba the Hutt. The pirates are addled by spice, which here appears to be simply an addictive recreational drug in the style of "THX’s" pills, rather than the mysterious life-extending chemical found in "Dune." This allows Solo to create a diversion, steal the ship, and take his passengers to Organa Major. The planet has been destroyed; they don’t know what by. So they head to the planet of Alderaan, to a city in the clouds—much like the Hawkmen city in "Flash Gordon"—where Deak is held prisoner. They free him by dressing up as Stormtroopers, using Chewbacca as their prisoner.

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As they start blasting their way out, Han is overcome by a mysterious attack of depression:

HAN: It’s no use. We’re lost.

LUKE: No, no, there’s a debris chute. It’s the Bogan force making you feel that way. Don’t give up hope. Fight it!

HAN: It’s no use, it’s no use.

LUKE: Well, we’re going anyway. Think of good things. Drive the Bogan from your mind.

It’s astonishing how much the word “Bogan” crops up in this draft: thirty-one times in total, versus ten mentions for the light-side Ashla Force. It’s not hard to picture the depressed writer whiling away the long hours at his door desks, trying to drive the Bogan from his mind.

Down the garbage chute go our heroes, into the belly of the beast, to do battle with a creature called a Dia Noga in a trash compactor that the droids are able to shut down before it crushes them. The gang escapes Alderaan in classic adventure serial style, taking a bunch of bad guys hostage. On the ship, it turns out Deak is badly injured. Threepio can’t do anything for him: “These are spiritual wounds,” he explains. “The Bogan arts often run contrary to the ways of science and logic.”

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Also defying logic is Luke’s sudden certainty that his father is on the fourth moon of Yavin (Yavin IV), out on the edge of the galaxy. On their way, they pass an enormous mysterious something—“as big as a small moon,” says Montross—heading in the same direction. On Yavin’s fourth moon, Luke and Han find the Starkiller’s allies, including the Grand Mouff Tarkin—“a thin, bird-like commander.” The mysterious approaching something is finally identified as the Death Star. More of a spiritual than a technological terror, it contains “all the force of Bogan.” But the Starkiller has seen a weakness, a small thermal exhaust port at the Death Star’s North Pole. Finally, we meet the Starkiller: a wizened old man with a long silver beard and shining grey-blue eyes, whose “aura of power . . . almost knocks Tarkin over.”

Tarkin fears the Bogan is too strong and the Starkiller too old—that is, until Luke hands his dad the Kiber Crystal, which seems to restore his vital essence. All the Starkiller says to his long-lost son: there’ll be time for full Jedi training later. Luke suits up and joins the attack on the Death Star. Han gets his reward: eight million in “neatly minted chrome bars.” (Of course, a car nut would create a galaxy where the currency is chrome.)

Strangely, there hasn’t been a villain in the script for two hours. Not until Darth Vader, feeling the presence of the Ashla Force, leads a team of TIE fighters from the Death Star. He destroys all the rebel ships but Luke’s, before being destroyed himself by a returning Han. Vader crashes into Han’s ship. Han and Chewie eject in a life pod. And who gets to fire the fatal shot that destroys the Death Star? Not Luke, but Threepio, riding shotgun. Back on Yavin IV the Starkiller offers his thanks—no medals here—and announces that “the revolution has begun.”

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Before the closing credits, we get a second roll-up. It promises a sequel: "The Adventures of the Starkiller Episode II: The Princess of Ondos," in which the Lars family will get kidnapped, the Sith will return, and the Starkiller’s sons will be put through further trials.

So much for chopping the first draft into halves and thirds; even at this point in the drafting process, Lucas planned to enter uncharted territory with the sequel.

Note the name of that supposed sequel—and how readily Lucas seemed to abandon the Star Wars name for the franchise as a whole. He may have honestly preferred "Adventures of the Starkiller," which does sound rather Flash Gordon-esque. But there may have been a different calculation at work here.

Budget talks with Fox were deadlocked. Nobody had any idea how much a movie like this was supposed to cost. Lucas kept insisting this was “the first multi-million dollar "Flash Gordon" kind of movie.” Kurtz tried pricing it out but admitted his figures were arbitrary. One of his budgets came to $6 million, another to $15 million. At one point Fox’s moribund visual effects department estimated that the effects shots alone would cost $7 million. “That was definitely a finger-in-the-wind time,” says Kurtz.

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However, there was progress in the “garbage” portion of the contract that would turn out to be crucial. Lucas got sequel rights, so long as he started producing one within two years of the movie’s release.

Then there was merchandising. Contrary to legend, the contract didn’t give Lucasfilm exclusive rights to all movie-related products; Fox could sell those too. It was more of a marriage than a giveaway. But it did give Lucas’s shell company complete control over the name: “The Star Wars Corporation shall have sole and exclusive right to use . . . the name "The Star Wars" in connection with wholesale or retail outlets for the sale of merchandising items.”

Given that the main title of this and subsequent movies in the second draft was now "Adventures of the Starkiller," Lucas’s control of the name "The Star Wars" might not have seemed a big deal to lawyers at the time. And, for all we know, that may well have been the point. If Lucas changed the name of the movie series for the purpose of contract negotiations, that would have been one of the most shrewd script switches in history.

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Lucas showed the second draft to his trusted coterie. He held Friday night BBQs during which he brought Barwood, Robbins, and a rotating cast of friends back to his office to read chunks of the script and tape-record their reactions. The second draft met with little more enthusiasm than the first. “Anyone who read those drafts said ‘what are you doing here? This is absolute gobbledygook,’” recalled Kurtz.

Coppola, ever the cheerleader, couldn’t understand why Lucas had “chucked the [first] script and started again.” But Barwood points out that Coppola always thought he was writing alone like Lucas, even though he invariably had assistance: “With all due respect to Francis, he’s never been able to figure out how to properly tell a story without a little help. Mario Puzo saved his butt.” Still, even Barwood the science fiction fan had a hard time understanding Lucas’s story. If he didn’t get it, Fox would have no clue. Lucas needed visuals, fast. Luckily, he had decided to call that artist guy Barwood introduced him to.

Lucas had commissioned Ralph McQuarrie in November 1974, before completing the second draft. McQuarrie finished his first "Star Wars" painting on January 2, 1975, the day after Lucas officially completed the draft script. Even though McQuarrie hadn’t had a full script to work from, his earliest concept paintings would indelibly shape not just the first film, but the entire "Star Wars" saga.

McQuarrie’s painting showed the two characters people had the hardest time imagining: the droids, lost in the desert of Utapau (an arid planet that would eventually be supplanted in the script by Tatooine; the name would have to wait thirty years to find its place in the saga). Threepio’s humanoid eyes looked directly, pleadingly at the viewer. (I asked Anthony Daniels whether he would have played Threepio without McQuarrie’s painting to explain the character for him. “Absolutely 100 percent not,” he said.)

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As guidance for Artoo, Lucas had mentioned the squat, slinky-legged robots from "Silent Running": Huey, Duey, and Louie. Since they were square, McQuarrie decided to make Artoo round. In one of many sketches, as a tripod, so McQuarrie imagined him as a tripod who throws his center leg forward by propping himself on his side legs, as if on crutches.

For the second painting, completed the following month, McQuarrie tackled the laser sword duel between Deak Starkiller and Darth Vader. Lucas supplied McQuarrie with a book on Japanese medieval military culture, suggesting that Vader might wear a flared samurai-style helmet. He also provided pulp illustrations in which the villain wore a cape. But Lucas still imagined Vader as fully human, his face “partially obscured” by cloth, Bedouin-style. McQuarrie spent just one day on the Vader painting. He considered that Vader had just entered from the vacuum of space, and so he gave him a full-face, military-style gas mask. It was McQuarrie who created the instant emotional bond with Threepio that Daniels cannot shake to this day.

Gas mask and black Samurai helmet together: the effect was immediately stunning. Vader towers over young Deak, the perspective giving the impression he’s supposed to be a Frankenstein-like giant. But this is, in fact, the most fortuitous misunderstanding in "Star Wars" history. McQuarrie in fact saw Vader as a short villain, a “ratty little guy” in the words of Paul Bateman, an artist McQuarrie later collaborated with. His perspective decision in that one painting would later inspire Lucas to cast six-foot-five bodybuilder Dave Prowse in the role, making Vader one of the tallest villains in cinematic history.

Within a couple of months, McQuarrie completed three more paintings. Now Lucas had visual aids to explain the Death Star, the Cloud City on Alderaan, and the cantina sequence. In the last, a Stormtrooper was seen in his “fascist white uniform” for the first time. Luke Starkiller had not yet been visualized. But it was enough. “They were done as a substitute for handwaving” in budget talks, McQuarrie said modestly of his paintings. Little could he know how effective a stand-in they would be.

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The concept paintings helped clear up some of the confusion over Lucas’s vision, but there was one more complicating factor: Lucas’s second draft was embarrassingly crowded with men. He’d already gotten a lot of heat over the fact that "Graffiti" ended with on-screen text catching us up with the next ten years in the lives of the male characters, and nothing about the women. With the feminist movement growing more powerful with each passing month, "Star Wars" seemed on track for similar criticism. In March 1975, Lucas decided to fix that at a stroke: Luke Starkiller became an eighteen-year-old woman. After all, he’d been reading an awful lot of fairy tales as research into the mechanics of storytelling, and it’s rather hard to ignore the convention that the protagonist of fairy tales is almost always female. (Think Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and Goldilocks—as much as they have to be saved by princes or woodcutters, we at least see the story through their eyes.)

This gender reversal lasted for a couple of months, long enough for the female Luke to show up in a McQuarrie painting of the main characters. By May 1975, when Lucas wrote a crucial six-page synopsis for Fox executives—a synopsis not of the second draft, but of an entirely new story—Luke was back to being a boy. But Princess Leia had returned from the purgatory of the first draft, and in a much more prominent role. Now she was a leader of the rebellion from the outset, replacing Deak Starkiller in the opening scene and in the prison on Alderaan. (That latter part meant that she would be rather visibly tortured by Vader; it would take Lucas one more draft to develop a distaste for putting a bruised and battered woman in his movie.)

The Starkiller himself was absent in the synopsis. Now, it turned out, he had been killed in battle many years ago. Instead, Luke is mentored by an old general named Ben Kenobi who has become a hermit on Luke’s home planet.

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Armed with these new characters, Lucas threw himself into a third draft. His writing process began to accelerate. A year had elapsed between the treatment and the first draft. The second had taken him nine months. Lucas wrote the third draft in seven months. It was slightly shorter than the second, at roughly twenty-seven thousand words. If you go through it and delete any scene or dialogue that was not ultimately filmed, what’s left is about seventeen thousand words. That meant Lucas had the majority of "Star Wars" in his hands by August 1975.

The third draft still opened with that Journal of the Whills quote about the son of suns; it was too clever a line for Lucas to let go. The roll-up was still way too long. But a key change had happened in the dialogue: there was less of it. Lucas the editor had taken the reins. Where previously he had burbled on for paragraphs, Threepio now opens the movie with four short sentences, the first of numerous lines from this draft that would make it into the final film: “Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”

The number of special effects called for in the script had been edited down, too. Lucas was mindful of the budget and more realistic about costs. At some point during the scriptwriting process, Fox shuttered its entire special effects department—indeed, of the major studios, only Universal had a special effects department left. So Lucas and Kurtz hired their own special effects guy, the brilliant and difficult John Dykstra. Dykstra was a protege of "2001" and "Silent Running" spaceship guru Doug Trumball, who was Lucas’s first choice and suggested Dykstra. In an industrial park in the seedy Van Nuys district of Los Angeles, Dykstra began assembling a young team eager to work long hours for little pay ($20,000 a year on average) in return for the chance to get some incredibly real-looking spaceships up on the screen. Lucas gave the group an appropriately awesome name: Industrial Light and Magic. As cheap as they were, however, in total they were already costing the director $25,000 a week out of his own pocket. No wonder he reasoned that one terrifyingly large Imperial Star Destroyer could be just as effective in the opening chase sequence as four.

The third draft cuts from the space battle to the surface of the planet below, where Luke Starkiller is trying to persuade his friends he saw two ships, through his “electrobinoculars,” exchanging laser fire. Of course, the battle is over before they get to see it. One of his friends, Biggs Darklighter, has just returned from the Imperial Academy and confides to Luke in hushed tones that he’s going to jump ship and join the rebellion.

The Ashlan Force is gone in the new draft, but Lucas clung to the name of the evil Bogan force, eager to have us understand it. “Like Bogan weather or Bogan times,” Luke says when he learns about it from Ben Kenobi. “I thought that was just a saying.” The Bogan only crops up eight times in this draft, however.

There is still a scene in which a grizzled veteran slams his arm down in sorrow to reveal he is part cyborg. This role had now passed from Kane to Montross to Kenobi. The old Jedi general, whom Luke has studied—he knows his “diary of the Clone Wars” by heart—is much more of a reluctant warrior than he would ultimately become. Luke has to drag him out to adventure into the galaxy, rather than the other way around. Ben Kenobi really is getting too old for this sort of thing.

Still, Kenobi brings with him a new element to the script: comedy. Luke is attacked by Tusken raiders just before he meets Ben; they leave him handcuffed to a giant spinning wheel. Kenobi approaches with a “good morning!”

“What do you mean, ‘good morning’?” Luke responds. “Do you mean that it is a good morning for you, or do you wish me a good morning, although it is obvious I’m not having one, or do you find that mornings in general are good?”

“All of them at once,” replies Kenobi.

It’s a great laugh line. It is also lifted, word for word, from "The Hobbit." J. R. R. Tolkien’s work was so widely read by the 1970s that Lucas could never have gotten away with the theft; it vanishes in the fourth draft. Still, it does reveal Obi-Wan Kenobi’s origins, as well as Yoda’s, rather plainly. This version of Kenobi is the acknowledged father of both of them, and he’s a giggling galactic Gandalf.

Tolkien had died in 1973 just as Lucas was getting started on the first draft, and Middle Earth books had never been more popular. There was a surprising amount of overlap between the third draft of "Star Wars" and Tolkien’s trilogy "The Lord of the Rings." Both are full of strange creatures burbling meticulously made-up languages. Artoo and Threepio are Frodo and Sam, the innocents abroad, whether they’re carrying the stolen data tapes or the One Ring. Both pairs of innocents are guided and guarded by ensemble casts. The Death Star, the hellish war machine, is Mordor. Stormtroopers are Orcs. Grand Moff Tarkin, now on the side of evil, is a dead ringer for Sauruman. Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith, is Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor. Gandalf—Kenobi—carries a magic sword and eventually sacrifices himself only to return in slightly altered and more magical form.

There was another book that loomed large in Lucas’s mind at the time and that he would often bring up in later interviews: Carlos Castaneda’s "Tales of Power," part of Castaneda’s supposedly autobiographical series about the revealing philosophical trials he went through to gain sorcerer-like powers. The relationship between Luke and Ben would come to echo that of Castaneda and the Yaqui mystic Don Juan.

We’re a long, long way from Flash Gordon now. We’ve mixed space fantasy with classic or “high” fantasy, added a layer of mysticism, and sprinkled on a few jokes and comic characters. Then there was just the right pinch of something else: backstory.

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Luke’s allusion to Ben Kenobi’s “diary of the Clone Wars” in the third draft is the first mention of a conflict that would become a major part of "Star Wars" lore. It was around this time that Lucas began writing notes on the backstory of his universe—not much more than seven or eight pages of notes, by Lucas’s reckoning, by the time the next draft (the fourth) came around. But it was enough to give him the confidence to throw in two references to the Clone Wars—one from Luke, the other in Princess Leia’s hologram message. We learn that Kenobi served Leia’s father during them. We get the picture. The Clone Wars were a World War II to this current Vietnam-like guerrilla action against the Empire (which, in the third draft, Luke calls the “Counter Wars”). Lucas would guard the Clone Wars’ details more jealously than any other plot point; in years to come, they would be off-limits even to Lucasfilm’s licensed writers. We would not find out who the clones were, or on whose side they had fought, for nearly three decades—during which time a million imaginary versions of the conflict would play out in a million minds.

Chewbacca comes to the fore in the third draft as well. Ralph McQuarrie’s sketches of the creature, based on an image Lucas had provided him from a science fiction story magazine (McQuarrie added the bandolier), seemed to bring him into sharper relief in Lucas’s mind. There was another influence in front of Lucas’s face every day, of course. Wookiees may have gotten their species name from Bill Wookey, and Lucas may have been thinking about Wookiees ever since he chatted about them on the"Graffiti" set. But Chewbacca in particular—and the notion of him as Solo’s copilot—came from the enormous Lucas dog, Indiana, strapped into the front seat of Marcia’s car. Lucas was so enamored with Wookiees by the filming stage that, according to Mark Hamill, he once flirted with the idea of adding a Journal of the Whills–like framing device to the movie—one in which the whole narrative is a story being told by a mother Wookiee to her baby.

Then there is Han Solo, who in the third draft has become a full-fledged pirate rather than a cabin boy. He is ever more like Coppola, a suave huckster who can talk his way into anything, a foil to Lucas’s Luke.

As Lucas tore through the third draft in mid-1975, Coppola was much on Lucas’s mind. Coppola was at that point pressing his prot.g. to put his space fantasy hobby movie on the back burner and direct the hard-hitting Vietnam film he’d long talked about:"Apocalypse Now." After "The Godfather: Part II," Coppola could afford to write his own ticket. He wanted to be the producer and to whisk Lucas off to the Philippines pronto.

To Lucas’s friends, this seemed like the smart move. Lucas was, after all, an independent movie guy. It was his turn to make a big statement, something dark and gritty: his "Chinatown," his "Taxi Driver." Kurtz had spent more time scouting for "Apocalypse" than he had for "Star Wars." Lucas had been planning for the Vietnam movie for four years and writing "Star Wars" for just two. The last American helicopters had left the rooftops of Saigon on April 30, 1975, just as Lucas was between his second and third "Star Wars" drafts. If he made "Apocalypse Now," Lucas could help write the first draft of the conflict’s history.

It would have been so easy to postpone the pain of "Star Wars." One word to Coppola would have done it. There was still no agreement with Fox on the budget. In fact, Fox put the project on a moratorium in October, pending a December meeting of the whole board. Laddie was still a strong supporter, but even he was nervous about spending more than $7 million on the project. The chance of "Star Wars" being made had never seemed more remote.

So what stopped Lucas from walking away? Why did he beg Coppola to wait and then finally, in frustration, tell him to go make "Apocalypse Now" himself?

To hear Lucas tell it, it was all about the kids. He’d been getting letters from teen fans about "American Graffiti." They had been into drugs. Then they saw his movie, jumped in their cars, chased girls—it was pretty much all guys who wrote to Lucas—and “it really straightened some of them out,” Lucas reported. That led him to wonder what a good old-fashioned adventure movie could do for younger kids who at that point had nothing to watch but "Kojak" and "The Six Million Dollar Man" and what Lucas called “movies of insecurity.” Kids like Coppola’s sons, ten-year-old Roman and twelve-year-old Gian-Carlo. Lucas talked to them about "The Star Wars." They got it when the grown-ups didn’t. (Roman would later become the first official member of the "Star Wars" fan club.)

But Lucas was also in too deep to quit now. He hadn’t been sweating blood over the "Apocalypse" script like this; "Apocalypse" was John Milius’s writing obsession. Lucas’s interest in "Flash Gordon" preceded his interest in Vietnam. True, his vision of what "Apocalypse Now" should be was completely different from Coppola’s. The George Lucas version would be “more man against machine than anything else,” he said in 1977; “technology against humanity, and then how humanity won. It was to have been quite a positive vision.” But it did not escape his attention that he was dealing with every one of those themes already in Star Wars, albeit in more shrouded allegorical form.

Besides, Lucas had just come across a fascinating book about telling stories through allegory, one written in 1949. He had digested hundreds of fairy tales by 1975, as he attempted to boil down some basic story elements for the "Star Wars" script, and this book jibed with a lot of things he’d been doing in picking apart story and myth and religious ritual. It was "The Golden Bough" as a user’s manual. The author claimed that all tales could be boiled down to a single story with a defined arc. Borrowing a term from James Joyce, he called it the “monomyth.”

The book was "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." The author was Joseph Campbell.

The influence of Campbell’s book on the original "Star Wars" has been overstated; it was far more influential in the drafting of the next two films. Kurtz eschews the influence of the book, and “the whole idea of "Star Wars" as a mythological thing,” because “all coming-of-age stories fit that model, and Hollywood has done those kinds of stories since the beginning.” He points out that the Campbell connection wasn’t mentioned in interviews until after Lucas met the author in 1983. But Campbell’s book did help Lucas tighten up his plot and may have encouraged him to make the first film’s fairy tale connection more plain. As 1975 drew to a close, Lucas decided he wasn’t writing an interstellar Bible story any more. He cut the “son of suns” line from the opening. In its place, he added:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an amazing adventure took place.

In the end, Lucas was simply guided by everything he liked. “'Star Wars' is a sort of compilation,” he would tell an interviewer, “but it’s never been put in one story before, never been put down on film. There is a lot taken from Westerns, mythology and samurai movies. It’s all the things that are great put together. It’s not like one kind of ice cream, but rather a very big sundae.”

On January 1, 1976, Lucas finished the fourth draft. Barring one more minor revision, a good chunk of witty dialogue rewrites from Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, and some cut scenes, this version is pretty much what audiences saw the following year. On December 13th, the Fox board had finally, officially agreed to a budget of $8.3 million. Another vital piece of good luck: "2001" was rereleased in 1975, and the movie finally broke even the same month the Fox board met. “We wouldn’t have made 'Star Wars' without the success of '2001,'” says Charley Lippincott, the movie’s marketing guru.

Another odd fact: "Star Wars" might never have been funded without the consent, or at least the consenting silence, of Grace Kelly. The Monaco princess had been named to the Fox board in July 1975, ostensibly to get away from her oppressive husband and back to Hollywood as often as possible. “She was fairly quiet about the whole thing,” Laddie said when I asked him if he remembered the late princess’s take on this tale of a galactic princess. “I didn’t feel she was really that fond of it, but don’t remember her saying anything negative.” On a board that was bitterly divided over the movie Laddie had green-lit, her silence may have been enough to tilt the scales in favor of funding it. In any case, she got her reward in January 1978, when a rigged lottery gave Princess Grace and her children the very first preproduction set of "Star Wars" action figures.

Thus far Lucas had spent $473,000 of his own money on "The Star Wars." He knew this dessert would take far more ingredients than could be bought for $8.3 million. That was a fairly low figure; the average studio comedy at the time, with no special effects, cost around $20 million. How on Earth could Lucas realize his vision on that budget? He cut the Alderaan prison scene from the script, placing that whole sequence aboard the Death Star, purely to save money. Instead he had the Death Star destroy Alderaan from a distance as a demonstration of its power. To us, in hindsight, it may seem like a natural fix; back then, it seemed more like having to take the banana out of the sundae.

Still, it was almost time to serve it up.

Excerpted from "How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multi-billion Dollar Franchise" by Chris Taylor. Published by Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Book Group. Copyright © 2014 by Chris Taylor. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.


Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor is the deputy editor of Mashable. He has covered the intersection of business and culture for two decades as a writer and editor for Time, Business 2.0, Fortune Small Business and Fast Company.

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