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How Disney is finally making Lucas' early vision for Star Wars a reality

Posted January 9

Star Wars creator George Lucas (Deseret Photo)

With two Disney-produced Star Wars movies already released now — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015 and last month’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” — and neither one an unmitigated disaster, it might be easy to forget that Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in October 2012 and the studio’s subsequent announcement of a new Star Wars sequel trilogy was, at the time, met with extreme mixed reactions among fans.

For all the enthusiasm felt by some, others were less optimistic or even downright angry — what The Daily Dot described as “The ‘NOOOoooooOOOOO!’ heard 'round the internet.”

On the day the story broke, the official Funny or Die Twitter account commented, “News of Star Wars Episode 7 instantly surpasses (Hurricane) Sandy as the biggest disaster of the week.” It was retweeted nearly 1,400 times.

For many diehard fans, though, their reaction was maybe best articulated by a 2013 Forbes piece, which asked, “Is a Star Wars film franchise without George Lucas' involvement really Star Wars, or is it just a generic science fiction franchise with familiar names and locales?”

As well as “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” may have turned out, the issue of keeping Star Wars, Star Wars without its visionary creator is, and likely always will be, a concern for fans.

However, in a few key ways, under the control of Disney, Star Wars may actually be coming closer to fulfilling Lucas’ original vision for his galaxy far, far away than it ever could have with just Lucas alone.

How many trilogies?

Lucas’ vision of what Star Wars was meant to be has changed dramatically over the years, first expanding when “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” in 1977 turned out to be a massive hit and he could suddenly afford to make sequels (something he didn’t originally foresee), and then actually shrinking as time went on and the realities of big-budget filmmaking took a toll.

After finishing “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” the number of planned Star Wars movies, according to Lucas, was down to just six — the six that he had already completed. As recently as 2008, he told Total Film, according to cinemablend.com, “I’ve left pretty explicit instructions for there not to be any more features. There will definitely be no Episodes VII-IX.”

According to Den of Geek, he said the same thing in 2006 when asked if “Revenge of the Sith” would really be the final Star Wars movie, answering, “Yes. The series starts with Darth Vader as a young lad and ends with him dying. So I don’t know where else I can take it.”

When the interviewer pressed him, asking point blank, “Wasn’t there talk at one time of three trilogies?” Lucas responded, “That was created by the media, not me.”

But, as has been fastidiously documented in Michael Kaminski’s book “The Secret History of Star Wars,” that’s not at all true. Lucas’ earlier vision for the Star Wars universe did include a sequel trilogy that would continue the story beyond “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.”

In other words, exactly what Disney is currently doing.

Even some of the details were the same. For instance, Lucas had intended to pick up the story decades later, finding Luke Skywalker as an older, mentor Jedi, roughly the same age as Ben Kenobi in “A New Hope.” Sound familiar? (Incidentally, Alec Guinness was 63 in “A New Hope” and in “The Force Awakens,” Mark Hamill was 64.)

Lucas’ comments about a sequel trilogy go back at least to 1979, according to Kaminski. As late as 1999, both his longtime pal Steven Spielberg and his producer on the prequel trilogy Rick McCallum mentioned plans for a third trilogy.

But even that was pared down from what he envisioned at one point. While still in the middle of preproduction on “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back,” according to Kaminski, Lucas actually spoke of yet another trilogy — 12 movies total.

And, according to Pop Matters, there was even a point at which he envisioned it as an open-ended story that could theoretically go on for … well, forever, each installment with a different director. Again, sound familiar? According to Cinema Blend, this is the current plan Disney has for the Star Wars film franchise.

The main limiting factor for Lucas in the beginning, it seems — and the main reason he edited his original vision from infinite films down to 12 films down to nine films down to six films — was time. How much of his life did he want devoted to Star Wars movies? As he put it in a 1979 interview shortly after he had scrapped Episodes X-XII (according to Kaminski), “I added another trilogy but stopped there, primarily because reality took over. After all, it takes three years to make a Star Wars picture. How many years are left? So I’m still left with three trilogies.”

Without having to rely on one creator, though, Disney isn’t bound by the same restrictions. So the indication that it may continue making Star Wars movies ad infinitum, including, quite possibly, more of the so-called saga films (i.e. the numbered episodes dealing with the Skywalker family) beyond Episode IX, which is slated for December 2019, is completely in line with what Lucas intended in the early days of the franchise before he became exhausted by the process.

In fact, even the term “saga” films originated with Lucas in interviews circa the original trilogy, at which time he contrasted them with …

The ‘odd movies,’ aka spinoffs

Although Lucas has more recently stated that Star Wars is the story of the Skywalker family and specifically a character study of Anakin — his rise as a Jedi and fall to the Dark Side, culminating with a redemptive self-sacrifice — that wasn’t how it was always meant to be. In a 1980 interview with Prevue, according to Den of Geek, Lucas remarked, “It’s the genre that I’m intrigued with, not necessarily the characters.”

Along with the main saga films, he also had plans for a number of spinoff movies set within the Star Wars universe that weren’t tied to Anakin or Luke, which he repeatedly referred to as his “odd movies”: "I came up with some ideas for a film about robots, with no humans in it. When I got to working on the Wookiees, I thought of a film just about Wookiees, nothing else. So … I had a couple of odd movies with just those characters.”

And again, he told Prevue: “It gets confusing trying to explain the whole thing, but if I ever do the odd movies about the robots or the Wookiees, it’ll just be about them, not necessarily Chewbacca or Threepio — just about Wookiees and robots.”

He also had ideas for an Obi-Wan Kenobi prequel that he mentioned in a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone. Many of those likely found their way into the prequel trilogy.

Decades later, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first of Disney’s Star Wars Anthology Series, as it has been dubbed, is a first step in realizing what Lucas envisioned when he talked about “odd movies” not necessarily related to the main Star Wars saga. Sure, it still features an appearance by Anakin Skywalker, and yes, it has obvious ties to the main storyline that audiences are familiar with. But the idea behind “Rogue One” and the rest of the spinoff movies that will make up the Anthology Series, including a Han Solo prequel slated for 2018, is to allow Disney to be able to tell any story it wants anywhere within the Star Wars universe and at any point in its timeline.

Eventually, yes, that could even include one about just robots or one about just Wookiees.

And, in this case, it’s no coincidence that the Anthology Series fulfills one of Lucas’ earliest dreams for his universe — it was his suggestion, according to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, she said, “George talked to me about doing this when I first came aboard. He had often thought about doing it and he had actually written down three or four thoughts and ideas, directions you could go. Obviously, inside the mythology there were lots of opportunities. So that was the first conversation I had.”

Waste not, want not

Finally, contrary to the myth that sometimes seems to exist surrounding Star Wars, Lucas’ sprawling space opera universe did not spring fully formed from his head, and nor was it solely his creation.

Instead, it came together gradually, draft after draft, rewrite after rewrite — like most franchises of similar scope — and with input from dozens of Lucas’ colleagues and friends, including his mentor, Francis Ford Coppola (whose relationship with Lucas was probably the template for Han and Luke’s), Gary Kurtz (Lucas’ producer and largely uncredited creative partner from “American Graffiti” on through “The Empire Strikes Back”) and a slew of other writers (e.g. Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck on “A New Hope” and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan on “Empire”).

Naturally, along the way a lot of ideas had to be reworked, edited or cut completely, whether for narrative reasons (Lucas’ original concept for the source of the Force was magic crystals; Kurtz convinced him to go with something simpler to minimize exposition) or budgetary restrictions (the first movie was shot for just north of $10 million, so not a lot of wiggle room, even in those days).

If there’s one thing Lucas has demonstrated a penchant for from the very beginning, however, it’s recycling ideas. Just glancing at the title for the second draft of what would eventually become “A New Hope,” that tendency is already evident: “The Adventures of Starkiller, Episode One: The Star Wars."

In this draft, according to Salon, the story opens on Luke Starkiller’s brother Deak being defeated by General Darth Vader (that’s his name, not a title, in this case, and he is not Luke's father) and a squad of laser-sword-wielding Stormtroopers. Luke, meanwhile, is on Tatooine, studying to become a Jedi Bendu under the tutelage of his Jedi uncle Owen, right alongside his siblings Biggs and Windy as well as a cousin named Leia.

In an even earlier draft, Luke was a grizzled general — basically Obi-Wan Kenobi.

And so on and so forth.

This method of repurposing old ideas in new contexts is exactly what Disney’s Star Wars movies have been doing, too.

Back when it was still known as "Revenge of the Jedi," one draft of "Episode VI" famously had Han Solo die during a Rebel mission — something Harrison Ford said for years shouldn’t have been changed, according to inquisitr.com. That plot element finally got used for “The Force Awakens.”

Even Luke’s original surname, Starkiller, ended up providing Abrams and Co. a memorable name for a jumbo-sized Death Star in "The Force Awakens."

And in a similar example from “Rogue One,” actress Genevieve O’Reilly, who had originally been cast by Lucas to portray a young Mon Mothma in “Revenge of the Sith” but ended up on the cutting room floor, was brought back by director Gareth Edwards to portray a slightly older version of the Rebel leader, according to Cinema Blend.

Details like these aren’t insignificant because it’s one way Disney and the filmmakers have continued to keep Lucas in Star Wars even after Lucas is no longer directly involved.

So if one wanted to speculate about where future Star Wars movies might go in terms of story — like Rey’s parentage, perhaps — it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to brush up on some of Lucas’ earlier story ideas and some of the unrealized details from the original trilogy.

For instance, according to Lucas, the scene on Dagobah where Yoda says, “There is another,” was not meant to refer to Leia, but a completely separate character who, at least in one version of the story, would have appeared later as a co-lead with Luke and a fellow Jedi knight, according to popmatters.com.

Or here’s another freebie: When asked in 1988 by Starlog why Luke had never been given a love interest in the original trilogy, Lucas’ answer (once again proving he did have a sequel trilogy in mind) was, “You haven’t seen the last three yet,” according to Den of Geek. (So … maybe Rey Skywalker is a possibility?)

One last thing

During an interview with Charlie Rose shortly after the release of “The Force Awakens,” Lucas let slip a few less-than-glowing comments about the new movie as well as Disney, which he analogized to “white slavers," according to Variety. (A remark he later apologized for, according to The Hollywood Reporter.)

But Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm is, seemingly, yet another example of how everything is coming full circle for Star Wars. In an interview with the LA Times a few days before “A New Hope” was first released in 1977, Lucas described his ambitious little sci-fi flick as “a movie Disney would have made when Walt Disney was alive.”

Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website TheMovieScrutineer.com.

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