One of the things I lament most about the slow transformation of ‘Star Wars’ from a great movie into a multi-billion dollar industry is the way that George Lucas has mythologized the process of creating the films. I’m not upset about it; I understand that most people don’t really want to hear about the slow, messy, frequently accidental way that an idea is transformed into a finished film. They want to imagine a singular vision bringing a staggering work of art forth over years, even decades of painstaking effort; saying things like, “No, I really don’t know what the Clone Wars are. But I’ve got time to figure that out before we start shooting the prequels,” does not go over well. Lucas felt a lot of pressure to tell everyone that he Had It All Figured Out From the Beginning, not just financially but in every sense imaginable.
But it is sad, because it encourages people to think of the Star Wars saga not as a story that takes different paths, but as a monolithic universe to be elaborated on. The idea of “other directions” that the series could have gone is one that gets less exploration, I think, than in any other sci-fi franchise, simply because there’s the assumption that this was the way it was all along. But that’s simply not true; and in honor of yesterday’s Father’s Day, I’m going to poke at some other ways the story could have gone at a key juncture, if different creative decisions had been made somewhere along the line. And speaking of lines, here’s a famous one: “No, Luke…”
1) “…Obi-Wan killed your father.” Fan myth has it that this is what David Prowse actually said to Mark Hamill on the set, little knowing that it would be overdubbed in post-production with James Earl Jones’ famous line. (Fan myth also has it that after seeing ‘Star Wars’ and finding out that none of his dialogue was kept, Prowse had a tendency to wander off-script in the later movies. I’d love to spend an hour listening to David Prowse’s stories about the role.) But imagine how different the third movie would be if it were true. Instead of fighting to redeem Vader, Luke would be fighting against his own self-doubt. Both his mentors lied to him. The man who showed him a wider universe turns out to have deprived him of his first connection to it. (Guinness would have been amazing here; if you think he did a great job of confessing his deception and self-justification in ‘Jedi’, just imagine how he would have been weaseling around to the idea that while he was the one who killed Anakin, it’s Vader who’s really responsible.) Of course, you’d need to come up with the backstory…perhaps Vader had turned Anakin the same way he was trying to turn Luke, and Obi-Wan killed his disciple to save his soul. There’s no question, though, that it would radically transform the third film (and remove the need for the Emperor to be a powerful Jedi, if the emotional climax is Luke rejecting Vader’s temptations and destroying him. Palpatine becomes a much less important figure in this envisioning of the trilogy.)
2) “…Obi-Wan is your father.” After all, the decision to kill off Obi-Wan was made fairly late in the shooting of the original film, when it became obvious that the character didn’t have a whole lot to do after the Death Star escape except for offer Luke a key bit of advice at the final juncture, something he could just as easily do as a blue Force ghost. It’d be very easy to imagine a movie where he escaped along with the others, perhaps using some of that Force telekinesis that everyone displays everywhere else in all the movies, books, comics, breakfast cereal boxes… And then, in the second movie, it’s Ben who trains Luke instead of (or possibly alongside) Yoda. Ben is the one who talks about the irredeemable Sith, Ben is the one who tries to prevent Luke from confronting Vader…and Ben, it turns out, was the one who wanted Luke seething with revenge for the loss of an imagined parent, filled with anger and ready to strike down his opponent. Was Ben willing to throw away his own son to get rid of the Sith? If not–if Luke could kill a man for revenge and come out the other side with his soul unscathed–what does that say about the Jedi beliefs about the Dark Side? It’d be a very different emotional tone for the remainder of the series, because there’s really no way Obi-Wan could come out of this one seeming sympathetic.
3) “…you have no father.” Yes, we all saw how that turned out in the prequels, but I’m not talking about the half-assed “created by the living Force” bullshit that Lucas pulled out in the prequels to no apparent purpose. Keep in mind, at the time ‘Empire’ was being filmed, they really did have no idea what the Clone Wars were to have been about. (There were drafts of the script that had Lando as a surviving clone, with Leia’s distrust borne of the long-standing divide between clones and humans after the Clone Wars.) It would have been a very interesting twist to find out that Luke was made, not born, as a weapon to be turned against the Sith Lords. ‘Return of the Jedi’ would feature a conflicted Luke having to decide if he had a place with his friends (who would all be pretty anti-clone, given the hints that Clone War survivors made up the bulk of the veteran troops) or if he should just give up and embrace his monstrosity, and join the Empire.
4) “…Tarkin was your father.” Sure, it’s way the hell out of left field. But you have to admit, that’s one hell of a third-act conflict. Finding out that your father was a monster, not a martyr…and that oh, by the way, you killed him and you didn’t even know it…that’s a lot of burden to bear. This would make for a much more introspective final movie, with Luke uncertain as to how to proceed after losing his moral compass. In this version, Ben’s decision not to tell Luke becomes an act of mercy as much as anything else; who’d want to know that their dad destroyed an entire planet purely as an object lesson?
5) “…your father is alive.” This would be a pretty major cliffhanger: Luke finds out that his father isn’t dead after all, but instead rots in an Imperial secret prison for the last of the Jedi. (Perhaps for those that the Emperor feels some potential for evil in?) Vader makes it clear; for Anakin to continue to enjoy his health and long life, Luke must join the Empire and turn on his friends. Brokenly, he agrees to do so. And in the next movie, with Luke’s growing Force power turned against the Rebellion, Leia and Han (and Lando and Chewie and R2 and C-3P0 and Wedge and…) have to engineer a breakout from the most secure prison in all of the Empire. And when they do break out Anakin Skywalker, Leia would find out the truth of her own parentage as well…
6) “…Chewbacca is your father.” Nah. Too silly.