We know it’s been a long time since the original Star Wars trilogy first graced the big screen, introducing some major twists along the way. With time, reveals like who Luke’s father is are so sewn into the collective consciousness that they’ve become touchstones for many other cinematic moments.
But the original trilogy as we know it could have been very different, and had the decisions initially pitched for Return of the Jedi come to fruition, there might never have been a contemporary saga. Or at least, not the uplifting one we got.
Though Star Wars is beloved by all ages, creator George Lucas opted for a happy ending to Return of the Jedi so that it might be more family-friendly. Though a darker ending to the trilogy might have made it seem more “serious”, the positive ending led us to the sequel trilogy and for that we’re grateful.
In his original plans for Return of the Jedi, though, George Lucas not only had a more diabolical ending in mind, but the whole film had a far darker feel.
On advice from co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, Lucas changed the name from Return of the Jedi to Revenge of the Jedi, as Kasdan thought ‘return’ was a weak title. However, he later turned it back, on the idea that revenge wasn’t in the nature of the Jedi.
Revenge, however, fits far more with the original ending Lucas planned. In it, upon Darth Vader’s death, Luke was to pick up the helmet and place it on his own head.
A transcript of Kasdan and Lucas’ meeting revealed that Lucas said: “Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing–and then Luke puts it on and says, ‘Now I am Vader’.
“Surprise! The ultimate twist. ‘Now I will go and kill the [Rebel] fleet and I will rule the universe.'” Kasdan responded: “That’s what I think should happen.”
However, Lucas backed down from the idea, insisting that the film “is for kids” and to have such a dire ending would spoil that. What would have also spoiled the movie being ‘for the kids’ would be to have Han Solo die straight away.
Which is exactly what was originally planned. Lucas’ first producer, Gary Kurtz, told the LA Times: “The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base.”
Just take a second to imagine the end of the trilogy—Han Solo is dead, Luke becomes the ultimate evil, and Leia is left on her own to defend the galaxy from her twin. Instead, we got the good guys riding off into the sunset, so to speak.
Of course, The Force Awakens revealed that the happy ending didn’t last long, and by the time we got to The Rise of Skywalker, all of our favorite heroes had died. But now we’ll get new Star Wars legends to love, and that’s a pretty good silver lining if you ask us.