In the midst of fraught post-production on Star Wars, George Lucas was planning ahead. As we reported in our previous The Great Unmade: Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, Lucas was hedging his bets. He wasn’t convinced that his space opera would be a great success, and considered using his ghost author for the novelization, Alan Dean Foster, to help him thrash out a sequel. Rather than just be a tie-in novel, this could be a cheaply filmed follow-up. In October 1976, Lucas, Foster and Lucasfilm vice president Charles Lippincott had protracted story conferences about how to follow up Star Wars, and adapt this sequel for the screen.
Their conversation was recently transcribed by J W Rinzler, author of the acclaimed “Making Of” books on the Star Wars films, and appeared in Star Wars Insider magazine. Among the surprises that result from their brainstorming is the fact that:
Lucas didn’t think Vader was a strong villain;
Leia could run off with a Wookiee, and possibly be killed off, or at least get a gruesome pummeling;
Luke would be tougher and more worldly (they didn’t think they’d get Harrison Ford back);
space is boring(!)
Of course the runaway success of Star Wars ensured the gang were all back for a bigger budget, grander affair, but the extracts from the conversation below are a fascinating insight into the pragmatic Lucas mindset.
LUCAS: One remaining thing that I want to cope with is putting the whole thing on the scale of a western, making the whole thing work as a western – more of a Sergio Leone western. It can go more into the middle of nowhere where these really slimy creatures live. Essentially, space can be boring. And I would like to get much more into the Seven Voyages Of Sinbad [type of thing]. Now we’ve established the space fantasy, we can move it away from that.
We’re getting down now onto earth and can make it in a different way. It’s getting down to something much more like on Mars, so you’re running around in a strange world. And we can make Luke much more of a warrior. I’d like to have Luke going on some kind of mission, something to do with the primary plot. He has to deliver the syrup or whatever, something that depends on his getting somewhere. He takes off in his little fighter and he crashes on this planet.
FOSTER: Are you giving him and X-Wing or a Y-Wing?
LUCAS: We can get him an X-Wing.
FOSTER: Is there a Wookiee in this?
LUCAS: We could have a Wookiee.
FOSTER: I think if you stick him on a desert planet, it would be an awfully funny spot for a Wookiee. He’d be sweating like crazy.
LUCAS: Well, the original idea [in the rough draft script from 1974] was to have a whole colony of Wookiees But it does get a little much. There’s something attractive about not just having one, but a couple.
(Lucas goes on to discuss how he’d like to design a new, working robot, not an actor in a tin can. Foster suggests two warring robots, while Lucas wrestles with having to bring back C3PO and R2D2.)
FOSTER: What about if they are looking for something that supposedly magnifies the force? Which would also explain what Vader and Tarkin are doing running around this same desert world[sic:Lucas hadn’t told Foster yet about his decision to kill off Tarkin].
LUCAS: That was one of the ideas in one of the earlier scripts, which was the kyber[sic] crystal: a crystal that magnifies the Force. The whole point of the movie, originally, was that they were trying to get the crystal. The crystal was in the robot and they were trying to get it. Luke was trying to get the crystal back to Ben, who need it. But something like that is good-
FOSTER: Well, it gives Luke something to look for on the planet and it gives a reason for Tarkin and Vader to be there.
LUCAS: I’d like to put a time jump in there of about four or five years from the end of the film. During those years, Luke really grows as a warrior. He has become much tougher. We can even assume that he’s had a couple of battles. He’s a little more seasoned and a little harder. he’s a much tougher guy than he was in the beginning, where he was a goofy kid. That’s the transition I wanted to make in the first movie, but I couldn’t make it, primarily because there wasn’t enough time to make that much of a bend in his character. So I’d like to make a dissolve in his character, make it a few years later, with him having fought a few more wars, killed a few more people (what about the millions aboard the Death Star, George?!) become a little sharper, got cheated a few times, and become a much more worldly character.
FOSTER: I think you can do that to a certain extent. But I don’t think you can make him over. One of the things that’s so attractive about Luke is that anybody who ever felt like a klutz in High School watching the football players run around can identify with him. You can’t make him over into Clint Eastwood. You can’t identify with Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood, even though he’s the hero in the film, I have no sympathy for him whatsoever. If he got shot at the end of the film, I wouldn’t be particularly upset, whereas I would with Luke. Now, Luke has all kinds of reasons already for turning into a tougher character. The baptism of fire and running around with the X-Wing and the fact that his parents were killed, which is crucial.
LUCAS: Luke is an agent for the Rebellion, he’s a fighter, much more of a hero. I think it would be a good thing to see him grow.
FOSTER: That’s the idea, of course. Given what he learned from Ben and that he was taught by Ben, he grew up to become like Ben, not Clint Eastwood. he’s tough, but he still has some vulnerability that everyone can identify with. he’s not a hired savage.
(Lucas goes on to posit a bar scene where Luke is aware he’s walking into a trap but goes through with it, like James Bond, because he is so cool.)
FOSTER: It would be very interesting if Leia showed up on this same planet….She’s already there on a mission of her own and they run into each other; she’s incognito, not wearing her princess robes and all of that, and then they run into each other and he doesn’t know what she’s doing and she doesn’t know what he’s doing. Maybe they’re there for the same thing. But we don’t know at this point so we can set up a very interesting relationship with her still being very courteous and only Luke has changed. it’s a different Luke now and we can have them play off each other.
LUCAS: Well, he can find her instantly. I mean you’ve got them both there on the planet. And you have finding her be 25 percent of the script. The rest is another adventure that develops out of this.
I’m still willing to kick things around. Part of it is this relationship, which is, how far have they gone together. We’ve left them in a very neutral position. We left them where she can run off. Obviously Han is the one who is really hustling. But we don’t know at this point which one she picks. So the one thing we can do is answer that question. Obviously, we get into a rough situation if she picked Han. At the end of the first picture they’re all standing there wondering whether she and Han will go off into the spaceship and she sort of hangs out with him for a while, and obviously puts Luke out.
FOSTER: The point is at the end of the picture, the impression I get-and I am still an outsider to the film-is that the princess is the princess and she doesn’t take anybody. It leaves Luke feeling disappointed because he was interested in her, but she is completely unattainable at the end of the picture. She’s just as divorced[from Luke and Han] as the other generals standing up there in the throne room. But Luke is not; Luke wants her. That’s the impression I get. When she’s standing up there hanging his medallion around him, she doesn’t try to kiss him or anything.
LUCAS: Well, another thing we could do is to go one step beyond the simple and move into the love story plot, where you have them kind of vying for each other. She is a spry little snappy kind of girl and he’s sort of liking her, and in the process of the movie, they fall in love and have a wonderful relationship and in the end she gets killed. it’s one of those tweaked ideas, but it’s one of those things that works. What I wanted to when we were shooting the other movie is have the princess run off with the Wookiee. But it sounds perverted.
LIPPINCOTT: I think that somebody else has got to be killed.
LUCAS: I wouldn’t mind killing her off.
The other thing we haven’t dealt with is Darth Vader. But Darth Vader, as we discovered in this picture, tends to be pushy; he’s not strong enough as the villain to hold the villain role. he doesn’t have the persona that you need. You really need a Cushing guy, a really slimy, ugly….
LIPPINCOTT: What if you unveiled him, unmasked him? Since he isn’t strong enough to hold up. Unmasked him and started building up a new villain who could continue into the next?
LUCAS: That’s an idea.
FOSTER: A Phantom Of The opera scene right there. People will be curious…
LUCAS: Well, we had an interesting idea, which we sort of liked but didn’t do it. Somebody thought we were going to take the hood off Vader and there was going to be Peter Cushing, this shrivelled old man inside this giant suit. A little of The Wizard Of Oz idea. The one thing about that though: Darth Vader is good as he is a real menace. It’s just good to have that guy who you love to hate there. So if you use Darth Vader, fine. Or, the bad guy is his agent on the planet. it’s the local governor, it’s the local whoever Vader is using to find the crystal or whatever he needs…
When you wrote the novelization, you pointed out that Vader was just using Tarkin for whatever reasons. In a way we set up Vader as the pawn. The trouble is [Vader] appears to be the pawn, but Tarkin is the pawn. In the end, it’s reverse;.
FOSTER: I always thought of Vader as the behind the scenes manipulator. I’m not sure of his motives, or what he is, or what he is after, except that he is after evil on a grand scale. Maybe if we kept him that way, didn’t unmask him…
After a break of one week, where it seems Alan Dean Foster did a basic outline, the three returned to their story building session, on October 20, 1976.
LUCAS: It seems a lot like the first one. Because in the first one we met the Wookiees in the cantina and we had that cantina fight. I was wondering if we could just turn that around a little bit and do something different, which is, have Leia take [Luke] to the Wookiees or something like that…..I like the thing with the jail and everything, and having to go and get the Wookiees out.
FOSTER: I’m always reminded of the scene where they are trying to break Cary Grant out of jail in Gunga Din and they are using the elephant and the elephant winds up pushing the whole jail over.
(Lucas goes on to how he wants the story to be like one long Flash Gordon style chase, an even more extreme version of the action in Star Wars.)
FOSTER: As soon as Luke touches the bit of crystal, he knows Vader is coming. Then it’s a race between them and Vader to get to the crystal. And off they go through jungles and mysterious alien civilisations, and you can have the second race of aliens walking around and throw in all of the wonderful jungle effects or bog effects-
LUCAS: It’s really creating a tension, reaching a point where, right from the very beginning, they’re in trouble.
LUCAS: And building their problem, so they just get into more and more and more trouble until the end. We have the search aspect of it where they are constantly searching, which is a motivating force, but the whole thing I would like to see is that they are chased the whole way. Not only are they chased, but they are constantly getting into trouble, falling into bottomless pits…
FOSTER: Alice In Wonderland.
LUCAS: I like the idea, which is interesting and also very classic, of Luke becoming a leader of the tribe kind of thing, your basic hostile tribe. They get captured and he has to do hand to hand combat with the chief and he wins. They all..
FOSTER: …retreat, heal and make up.
LUCAS: Yeah, Flash Gordon did it with the cave people or whatever they were…He has to use this tribe. It becomes his army.
FOSTER: Part of the problem with the Han character is I don’t think you can just bring him in in the end. Either he’s a central character or he’s not in it. Because he’s that kind of character and that is a problem too. You can’t make him a peripheral cahracter. But I don’t think you need him anyway; you have Luke and the princess and Halla and the two Wookiees all running around together. You got five people all running around together. A sixth person is just going to become a mob scene.
LUCAS: Yeah, well that’s the problem in the first one. We’ll let Han be in the second sequel novel. That’s better. Where he’s the central character and the others are either not there or are very peripheral.
(Lucas and Foster go on to discuss the sparring type of interplay between Luke and Leia, and how they should have another type of smaller adventure before the climax. They come up with what becomes the underground, luminous “lake spirit” of the novel.)
LIPPINCOTT: It could be like a poltergeist.
FOSTER: It could be very interesting with Luke and his lasersword fighting a light type of creature. You know, the sword contacts the creature and there’s a flare of light there. Luke fighting the Id monster [from Forbidden Planet] if I got this pictured right.
LUCAS: Well, the idea was that it was much more like a translucent thing, like a big jellyfish…I’d like Luke to pause near some weird plant or something and he jumps into a [plant] pod and they are going across this black lake-and then in the middle of the lake something keeps bumping into the boat, and it’s all that weird Jaws stuff. You don’t know what’s going to come out of the water at you. Something like that you can do in a tank. If you do it at night, you’re free to deal with it however you want. You could have the monster walk across the water. it could be so ethereal…
LUCAS: One thing that we should do, though, in the beginning, in the cantina, Hall should say where the crystal is. I think we should say it’s at the great temple of Gaga Zoomi or something, so we know that they are going to a definite destination.
FOSTER: That’s where the final big fight is.
LUCAS: Yeah, it’s a time lock. Essentially, you’re saying the movie is going to be over when they reach this place… The good thing about being in a temple is that you have a lot of junk around. So it’s not only a sword fight, but a fight between two extrasensory giants, where Vader can pick things up and throw them across the room. We also wanted to have [in Star Wars] a scene where Vader goes and bows before the Force…But it’s not the Force personified; it’s on the verge…Maybe it’s a shadow or something…the ultimate evil.
(They then go on to discuss building up the threat of Vader, with having him kill the Wookiees.)
LUCAS: A real problem that we have in the first one is creating a threat out of Vader. I mean he never does anything to anybody, I mean he chokes one guy.
FOSTER: He talks tough.
LUCAS: Yeah, but he really doesn’t do anything. So it’d be good that we actually see him do some evil things….Luke gets trapped…A big rock comes down on his toe or something and he’s straining to pull himself loose. And then Vader shows up and says, “Oh now I’ve got you.” And the princess is forced to fight Vader. Luke is standing there trying to pull his toe out and Vader knocks her down…
FOSTER: He’s playing with her really…
LUCAS: I think she could desperately fight him but he is really overpowering and beats her up pretty bad…Although it wouldn’t be too good to have a bloody freak in the movie. But she’s pretty much battered up…
LUCAS: Yeah, she’s really beat up, desperate. She’s sort of dragging herself around on the floor in really bad shape and finally Luke jumps down and starts on Vader. And Luke kills Vader in the end. I was thinking of the last image of having her be this bloody, battered, beat-up babe. Not very romantic. I don’t know whether I dare do something quite that extreme. We could have the last image be them getting into the spaceship and taking off, flying into the sunset.
FOSTER: I like very much the idea of Vader beating her up and cutting her up. And then Luke gets the sword from her at the last minute and Vader is about to cut her head off or something, and Luke kills Vader. And then Luke uses the crystal to heal the princess. Everybody breathes this big sigh of relief. That will make everybody feel really good.
LUCAS: It’s a little strong, but I’m willing to go with it.
(They then discuss the problematic issue of what to do with the crystal now Luke has it. Lucas suggests it powers Luke up “from level 2 to 3”.)
LUCAS: He takes the big crystal down and it glows and he looks into it and he sees Ben Kenobi.
FOSTER: Ben Kenobi, yes. And everyone in the audience can have a flicker of recognition from the first movie. Would you want to do it, though?
LUCAS: Hmmm…No. It’s a little hokey. The whole thing is that it’s about the Force, which I have a tendency to avoid (huh?). With Luke killing Vader, standing there with his severed head and his sword sticking into his gut-that’s the heroic image in the end-David and Goliath. But the overtone of it all is that there will be another [villain] soon. So he’s got the crystal but the crystal will only help him fight the Force, which is even bigger than Vader. It just gives him one more little weapon to use against the evil Force.
You hold it on a shot-it’s the Frank Franzetta moment-of Luke holding the princess and the crystal in one hand and the sword in the other and the princess is holding on to him.
Originally posted 2014-05-01 19:40:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter