George Lucas' First Star Wars Draft Was Completely Different From A New Hope

George Lucas' 1977 sci-fi film "Star Wars" was made on a budget of $11 million in 1976, which, in 2023 dollars shake out to about $58 million. That's a sizeable amount of money, of course, but given that the last theatrical "Star Wars" feature film, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" cost anywhere from $275 to $460 million to make, the original's budget seems like a drop in the bucket. Because Lucas was working with a mere mid-size budget (by today's standards), he was forced to change a great deal of his original "Star Wars" script, removing many fantastical elements and characters for more grounded, human, easier-to-film counterparts. From the looks of the original script, though, "Star Wars" might have come out looking as dense and as odd as Jodorowsky's failed "Dune" adaptation.

In 2020, details of Lucas' first draft were explored in detail on the Biography website. It seems the filmmaker's early visions for "Star Wars" were quite different from the final version audiences lost their minds for in 1977. Most descriptions of these early drafts — from the early 1970s — were said to be too dense with mythology, with "Star Wars" producer Gary Kurtz describing one draft as "goobledygook." The Biography article also indicated that Francis Ford Coppola read an early draft and was less than impressed. 

The story of "Star Wars" is rather deeply ingrained in the public consciousness, so one will forgive me for foregoing a synopsis. Needless to say, the story of early "Star Wars" drafts were largely the same, but a lot of the details were quite different.

Han Solo, frog man

One of the most striking changes is that Luke Skywalker, eventually depicted as a young man longing for an escape from his boring desert home, was originally a much older character. Luke Skywalker was to be an older military man, presumably called back into action by the new rebellion. The adventure might have been the same, but teaching an older character about how the war has evolved is quite a different concept than a young man learning about the vastness of the galaxy for the first time. For many drafts, Luke's name was some variant of "Annakin Starkiller," and some early drafts even saw the character as a woman.

The Dark Side of the Force also once had a more colorful name. It was originally called the Bogan, which, to this author's ear, is far more evocative than merely calling it "the Dark Side." The Light Side of the Force, meanwhile, seems to have always remained the same.

Han Solo, the dandyish and none-too-trustworthy smuggler, was eventually a very human-looking character played by Harrison Ford. In Lucas' original version, Han Solo was meant to be a space alien that looked very much like a frog. While one might be able to picture such a thing using modern CGI or motion capture, or perhaps in cel-animated form a la "Heavy Metal," creating a frog alien in live-action in 1977 would have required technology that wasn't quite yet available. Han Solo's sidekick, Chewbacca, was always going to be tall, but wasn't always sasquatch-adjacent. Some early concept art by Christopher McQuarrie saw the character as hairless and wearing a tunic, but Lucas eventually found the unexpected inspiration behind Chewbacca, namely his own dog.

Darth Vader has entered the chat

The biography article noted that the second draft, from 1975, started to resemble what "Star Wars" would eventually become. By then, Luke Skywalker was settled on as a name, and he was a young farm worker like in the final draft. Darth Vader, who Lucas came to see as a "pathetic guy," was inserted into this draft as well, pretty much as he would eventually appear on camera. It wouldn't be until the third draft that Lucas would invent Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise old sage that guides Luke on his journey, and who provides a great deal of much-needed exposition. 

Lucas wanted to punch up the scenes between Han Solo and Princess Leia, but admitted to having a weakness around writing dialogue. According to the Biography article, Lucas hired friends Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, who were the team behind films like "Messiah of Evil," "Howard the Duck," and "The Radioland Murders." They punched up the script a bit, although Lucas is said to have re-written their punch-ups. The fourth and final draft of "Star Wars" was completed in January of 1976. Shooting began in March.

In 1988, Bill Moyers famously recorded a conversation he had with Joseph Campbell, and it was broadcast on TV as a miniseries called "The Power of Myth." Campbell pointed out that "Star Wars" was successful because it tapped into ancient storytelling traditions going back to the dawn of humankind. While this may be true, it's worth remembering that Lucas wasn't deliberately writing an epic for the ages. He, like all writers, was stumbling through details, unsure as to what the story needed, all the way until three months before the movie was being made. Sometimes, things work out better when you don't plan them out.