I was born in 1977, the year the original Star Wars came out. I cannot recall a time when Star Wars was not a part of my life, though I do have dim memories of the first time I saw it. The original Star Wars trilogy was such an important part of my formative years, it’s only natural I would carry that fandom into adulthood. In the mid-90s, after a brief lull during my pre-teen years when I was still technically a fan but wasn’t really thinking about Star Wars all that much, I saw The Empire Strikes Back on cable TV and my passion for the saga returned with a vengeance. Throughout my late teens and early twenties, my Star Wars fandom reached a fever pitch rivaled only by those magical years when the original trilogy was still being released. It should be no surprise that I went into The Phantom Menace with not only great excitement, but very high expectations, particularly since I’d spent the last twenty years speculating on what the prequel and sequel trilogies would entail and dreaming of one day seeing the complete saga sitting on my shelf in nice, pretty packaging. With so much anticipation and buildup, it was perhaps unavoidable that I would be disappointed.
Like many fans, I came out of The Phantom Menace with a bad taste in my mouth. It just hadn’t lived up to my expectations and in some ways didn’t even really feel like Star Wars. It lacked that lived-in aspect of the original trilogy, and the grungy, utilitarian aesthetic had been replaced by a slicker, glossier look. There were no fun, memorable characters for me to bond with – Anakin was just an annoying little kid, Padmé had no real depth whatsoever, and Obi-Wan was barely in the damn thing. And yes, I hated Jar-Jar with a passion. As the subsequent films in the prequel trilogy played out, I was equally disappointed. Attack of the Clones briefly appeared to be getting things back on track and had more of a proper Star Wars vibe than the previous entry in the series, but the lackluster romance and bad dialogue ultimately sank my opinion of that film. Revenge of the Sith was arguably the best of the three, but it had feet of clay, having been built on the shaky foundation of the previous two films. I wondered how this could possibly be what George Lucas really had in mind when he launched the saga in 1977.
Back then a lot of people, myself among them, believed there were completed screenplays for all nine movies that had been in existence since the 70s, but now I was starting to doubt that. I began to think Lucas had been lying all along, that there had never been a long-term plan for the saga. This belief grew stronger when Lucas announced there was not going to be a sequel trilogy and that there had never been a story in place for any events following Return of the Jedi – this despite his having stated in the early 80s that he had planned a saga of nine films. I was burning with curiosity to know the truth. Indeed, it became almost an obsession, and I’ve been sifting through the evidence ever since. Like the Watergate scandal, there was one simple question: What did George Lucas know and when did he know it? I’ve spent many hours scouring the internet for any tidbits I could find that might shed light on this question. My search led me to two key sources that I consider to be reliable: The Making of Star Wars by J.W Rinzler and The Secret History of Star Wars by Michael Kaminski. Both books are excellent, highly readable volumes that offer a wealth of information on the history of the Star Wars saga and I highly recommend them. In brief, here is what I learned.
George Lucas began his journey toward what would ultimately become Star Wars by trying to purchase the rights to Flash Gordon sometime in the early 70s. When he was unsuccessful, he decided to craft his own space odyssey from scratch. He first put pen to paper sometime in 1973 with a two-page treatment entitled Journal of the Whills. This version would have chronicled the adventures of a Jedi-Templar named Mace Windy and his padawan, C.J. Thorpe. After being expelled from the Jedi order, the two embark on a mission at the behest of the Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Systems. Much of the text is lifted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, A Fighting Man of Mars. Lucas quickly abandoned this version. His next attempt was a sci-fi remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai film, The Hidden Fortress. In that film, Toshiro Mifune plays a general tasked with escorting a princess through hostile territory. The character eventually became the template for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lucas was unable to secure the rights to The Hidden Fortress, so he reworked the story into something more original. Multiple drafts later, he finally arrived at the version of Star Wars with which we are all familiar. But the question remains – how much of the overall saga had he worked out when the first film was released? The answer is somewhat convoluted.
The first evidence that Lucas had any sort of overall plan for the saga comes in 1976 when he met with prolific sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster to discuss a novelization of the first film. At that time, Lucas was still negotiating his contract with 20th Century Fox and did not know if he would get to make any sequel films. For this reason, he broached the idea of Foster writing sequel novels. It was at this point that Lucas first revealed his plans for a trilogy of stories followed by a possible prequel. He told Foster that the sequel would essentially be Gone With the Wind in space, exploring the love triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. In fact, the finished version of The Empire Strikes Back lifts some of its dialogue from Margaret Mitchell’s novel. Even the poster for Empire is patterned after the poster for Gone With the Wind. So this part of the plan at least came to fruition. Lucas went on to say that the third story would be a soap opera about the Skywalker family and that at some point he might like to do one about Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young man and chronicling the rise of the Empire. No details are provided, with Lucas’s only specific instruction being that in the second story Luke and Leia should kiss. This would seem to refute any notion that Leia was always going to be Luke’s sister. It does, however, demonstrate that Lucas did indeed at least have a general idea of how he wanted the series to play out. So now we have four stories: the Luke Skywalker trilogy and a prequel about Obi-Wan Kenobi. Was that the entire plan or was there more to it? Difficult to say. All that’s known for certain is that he had a script in development for the first film and wanted to make sequels.
Things changed after the release of the first film. Lucas had expected Star Wars to be a failure, but it went on the become the highest-grossing movie ever made and an international sensation. Now Lucas could do anything he wanted and there were claims at the time that the series might go on indefinitely, like the James Bond franchise. Many story concepts were proposed. There was to be one about the founding of the Jedi Order, another about the Clone Wars, one about Wookies, one about driods, all of them only loosely connected by a shared universe and not necessarily told in chronological order. Lucas soon put a cap on the series. There would be twelve films in all, a number chosen because the old cliffhanger serials of the 30s and 40s which had been the original inspiration for Star Wars usually consisted of twelve chapters. Each film would have a different director, but then Lucas himself would return to direct the final film in the series, sometime around 2001. Mark Hamill recalls Lucas asking him on the set of the first film if he would like to be in episode IX. Asked for details, Lucas told him it would be a mere cameo, passing the torch to the next generation. Still, it indicates that during production of the first film Lucas was already envisioning a long-running series.
By the time Star Wars II went into production, Lucas scaled things back. Instead of twelve films, it would now be nine. His claim was that in the mid-70s he had written a single giant script of epic proportions that told the entire story of Star Wars. Realizing it was too big for a single film, he split it into two scripts, then further divided it into two trilogies, and then after the success of the first film he added another trilogy. The current trilogy would be the story of Luke Skywalker and the rebellion against the Empire, the second trilogy would be a prequel story about how the Republic fell and was replaced by the Empire, and the third trilogy would be set years later and focus on the rebuilding of the Republic. But was any of this true? Well… sort of.
The giant script he’s referring to is his first draft, entitled simply The Star Wars. This version of the story was truly epic in scope, with many characters and locations and of course plenty of action. An opening title card tells us that the valiant Jedi Knights have been all but wiped out by a rival sect called the Sith. The galaxy is now in the grip of a corrupt empire. The story opens on the planet Utapau where Kane Starkiller is marooned with his two sons, Annikin and Deak. A spaceship lands nearby and a Sith Knight emerges. When the Sith kills Deak, Kane immediately takes his revenge. Kane and Annikin then take the Sith’s ship, traveling to the planet Aquilae to find Kane’s old friend, General Luke Skywalker. Kane is dying, and much of his body is now mechanical, so he asks Luke to train Annikin. The planet is invaded by the Empire, so the General must escort Princess Leia across hostile territory. They flee to the spaceport of Gordon where they meet an old friend of Luke’s, a green alien named Han Solo. They are also joined by two bickering Imperial bureaucrats who provide some comic relief. Together they obtain a spaceship and flee the planet with the Imperial forces in hot pursuit. There is a tense chase through an asterioid field and the ship is damaged, forcing them to bail out in space pods. They land on the jungle planet Yavin, where they encounter a tribe of yeti-like primitives called Wookies. The Imperials catch up with them and capture Princess Leia, taking her to their space fortress, the Death Star. Annikin rushes off to rescue the princess while Luke trains the Wookies to do battle with the Empire. On the Death Star, Annikin encounters Prince Valorum, a noble Sith Lord who is at odds with the Death Star’s commander, General Darth Vader. In the end, Valorum decides to turn his back on the Empire, helping Annikin and the Princess escape just as Luke and the Wookies arrive in a fleet of stolen spaceships. The Death Star is destroyed, the Empire overthrown, and peace returns to the galaxy.
Gradually, over the course of many revisions, the script morphed into the original Star Wars which was released in 1977. In subsequent drafts, Annikin Starkiller would become Luke Skywalker and General Luke Skywalker would become Obi-Wan Kenobi. Han Solo would become human. The bickering Imperials morphed into C3P0 and R2D2. The names and details changed, but the characters and overall story structure were already more or less in place. That first draft script is by no means identical to the finished version of the entire Star Wars saga as Lucas claims. It’s just an early version of the original Star Wars. However, it does contain many concepts that were not in the original film, such as the chase through the asteroid belt and the tribe of primitives. There’s also a sequence that takes place on a city that floats in the clouds. Lucas would eventually dust off these elements and use them in the second two Star Wars films. Prince Valorum’s change of heart also foreshadows Vader’s arc in Return of the Jedi. It could be argued that in a sense the first draft script actually is a condensed version the entire original trilogy. It doesn’t have all the details, of course, but the broad strokes are there. So what Lucas told us is true – from a certain point of view.
But Darth Vader is clearly not Luke’s father in this version, nor is this the case in any of the subsequent drafts, and there is no suggestion of any sort of prequel. When did all this come about? Lucas has long insisted that the plan all along was for Darth Vader to be the father of Luke Skywalker, that he held onto this secret for a long time, even putting fake dialogue in the movies to throw people off. Is any of this true? Did Lucas really have the entire prequel story worked out before filming the first Star Wars? Again, yes and no. Despite having claimed early on that he had originally written the screenplays for the prequels as part of his original massive screenplay chronicling the entire saga, Lucas has since clarified that he had only ever written an outline for the prequels, and this is true. The evidence for this can be found in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the first Star Wars, published before the release of the film, which features a prologue chronicling the fall of the Republic and the rise to power of Emperor Palpatine. Though some of the details are different, this prologue closely follows what we see in the prequel films, so it’s clearly true that he did indeed have the prequel story written out at least as an outline. But despite what Lucas claims, Darth Vader was not originally Luke’s father.
This story beat came about during the development of The Empire Strikes Back. Originally marked as episode II, the first draft of Empire opens with the ghost of Luke’s father appearing to Luke to tell him he has a sister hidden away on the other side of the galaxy who is also training to be a Jedi. It’s possible this story element first entered into Lucas’s mind during the development of the first film, when he briefly considered making the protagonist a girl. The sister character would have shown up in a future episode. When screenwriter Leigh Brackett died, Lucas was forced to complete the script on his own. It was in 1978 that Lucas made the momentous decision to merge Luke’s father and Darth Vader into one character. The reason for this is unknown, but in The Secret History of Star Wars, Michael Kaminski speculates that the reveal that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father was slated for the climax of Empire. Lucas did tease in 1976 that the second story would feature a big reveal about Vader, and this may have been it. But Lucas eventually included that bit of information in the first movie, leaving the second film without the shocking reveal Lucas was looking for. After much brainstorming, Lucas must have come up with the idea for Vader to be Luke’s father. I find this theory to be plausible. So prior to 1978, Darth Vader and Luke’s Father were always separate characters.
Does this make Lucas a liar? Well… not entirely. Remember that the first draft script featured three separate characters: the Sith Lord Prince Valorum who is initially a villain but ultimately redeems himself, the partially mechanical Kane Starkiller, and the evil General Darth Vader. Aspects of all three characters would eventually be rolled together into the final version of Darth Vader, and one of those characters was indeed the father of Annikin Starkiller, who would be called Luke Skywalker in the final version. So once again, there’s a grain of truth in Lucas’s assertion that this was the original story. The elements were all there, just in a different form. Still, the fact remains that the version of Darth Vader introduced in the first Star Wars film was not intended to be Luke’s father. That aspect was introduced in the second draft of Empire. We could quibble over whether Lucas is being entirely truthful about the origins of the character, but what really matters is that not only was this a great twist, it made the backstory more interesting. It was once this new revelation about Vader was added into the mix that Empire changed from episode II to episode V. Now, instead of a single prequel about Obi-Wan Kenobi, there would be an entire prequel trilogy about the fall of Anakin Skywalker.
It is now established as fact that the scripts for the prequels were written in the late 90s and early 2000s. Before that, they only ever existed as an outline. Part of that outline definitely existed before the original Star Wars went into production, but the history of Darth Vader was added during the development of Return of the Jedi. Lucas would eventually admit that Episode III constitutes the bulk of that outline, with only about twenty percent of the rest of the material spread across the other two episodes. Characters like Count Dooku, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Jar-Jar Binks did not exist until the 90s, and Anakin was not originally intended to be a chosen one of prophecy. However, it’s also pretty clear to me that Episode I as filmed is cobbled together from abandoned story beats from his first draft of the original Star Wars as well as worldbuilding elements from his earliest notes.
When you go back to the beginning, the core elements are all there. Lucas’s early notes describe a planet called Aquilae which became Utapau in a later version and then finally Naboo – Lucas tends to play musical chairs with names. The planet is inhabited by both human colonists called Bebers (the prototype for the Naboo) and a race of amphibious creatures called the Hubble people (the prototype for the Gungans). The original script for The Star Wars features a planet being invaded by a hostile force, just as Naboo would be invaded in The Phantom Menace. That script also features a Jedi general who rescues a princess and helps her escape from her planet, which is clearly the template for the rescue of Padmé in The Phantom Menace. In interviews from the late 70s, Lucas talked about how Senator Palpatine used a crisis to maneuver himself into becoming Chancellor of the Republic, so that was already in the mix. Also, both A New Hope and The Phantom Menace conclude with the destruction of a space fortress, a story beat derived from the first draft script. So while the finished script didn’t exist back in the 70s, the story elements were already in play. There were some changes along the way, of course. In the earliest version of The Phantom Menace, Anakin was older, and Qui-Gon Jinn’s entire role was originally written for Obi-Wan. Personally, I would have preferred it that way, and I know I’m not alone. Nevertheless, the basic story is definitely derived from material that dates back to the 70s.
Attack of the Clones is the entry in the series which had the most blanks to fill in. Lucas admits that this film contains only two story beats that were outlined in the 70s. The first is Anakin falling in love with Luke’s mother, a story beat that had only been developed in the most basic terms. The second is Palpatine’s reveal of an army which he was developing in secret. At some point during the prequels, the Clone Wars would have been addressed, though it’s not clear at what point they would have entered into the story. The details would have been different too. Instead of the Republic being menaced by a droid army, the main threat would have been an army of invading clones. This was revealed by Lucasfilm in the early 80s. Interestingly, they also revealed that the Imperial stormtroopers were clones too. This would eventually be changed and in the current version of the story, by the time of the original Star Wars, the clones of the prequel era had been replaced by natural-born human recruits. Still, we have proof that the concept of the Republic having a clone army had already been introduced in the early 80s.
As for Episode III, a transcript of a story meeting between Lucas and Lawrance Kasdan reveals some details about how the original version would have gone down. Having been corrupted by Palpatine, Anakin secretly begins assassinating Jedi. Anakin’s wife is pregnant with twins but doesn’t tell Anakin because she can see he’s falling to the dark side. She confides in Obi-Wan, who tries to sway Anakin back to the light. Anakin won’t listen, leading to a duel on a lava planet in which Anakin is horribly burned, becoming the Darth Vader we all know and love. Palpatine and Vader succeed in wiping out the Jedi and establish the Empire. Anakin’s wife sends Luke to Tattoine with Obi-Wan to watch over him, and she takes the baby girl and goes into hiding with Bail Organa on Alderaan, dying a few years later. From a narrative perspective, the final version seen in Revenge of the Sith is probably a little bit better, because it would have been hard to sympathize with an Anakin who is systematically murdering his fellow Jedi. His actions in the last act of the film are horrible, but having to watch Anakin committing cold-blooded murder for most of the film’s running time would probably have been too much. Lucas must have realized this, so the change was a smart move. From a continuity perspective, it still bothers me that Padmé dies while Luke and Leia are both infants – which directly contradicts Jedi, in which Leia says she has childhood memories of her mother.
I can see why Lucas did it though. He was clearly going for some poetic parallel storytelling, with Anakin metaphorically dying at the same time as Padmé, both of these events juxtaposed against the creation of new life in the form of Luke and Leia and the unnatural “birth” of Darth Vader. Admittedly, it’s a really elegantly staged scene. It’s just… not what was established by the original trilogy. But that is often the case in a long-running series. Star Wars was not the first saga to contradict itself in this way, nor would it be the last. Lucas was groping his way through the dark, trying to tell the best story he could, and given that this all played out over multiple decades, he must have been getting new ideas all the time. Those new ideas would have been exciting and enticing, and the temptation to fudge things in order to tell a better story was probably irresistable.
Much of Episodes II and III were developed in the storyboarding phase, with Lucas weaving relevant story beats from his outline into newly conceived set-pieces and introducing new characters such as Count Dooko and General Grievous as the unfolding story demanded. Revenge of the Sith also underwent heavy revisions during post production. New scenes were filmed and added into the finished film to establish that Anakin’s obsession with Padme is the reason he falls to the dark side. This created a bit of a problem, as they ran out of time in advance of the release date, so the final act does not quite align with the first two thirds of the film. It is unfortunate that the finished product fell short in this capacity, since most fans agree it is the best of the prequels. If only they’d had a little more time, it could have been better still. It would be easy to criticize Lucas and his team, but the reality is that there are often such pressures in Hollywood. Empire and Jedi suffered from similar issues. Empire somehow managed to overcome these difficulties and is now generally considered the best of the series, but Jedi would not fare so well and is widely regarded as the weakest of the original trilogy.
But what about the sequel trilogy? Lucas was already talking about that when Empire was still in production, though he was tight-lipped for decades about what it would entail. All he would say was that it would focus on the rebuilding of the Republic and themes of morality and passing on knowledge to the next generation. In the early 90s, Timothy Zahn released his popular trilogy of novels which continued the story after the events of Jedi, leading many to suspect these were novelizations of Lucas’s planned sequel trilogy. However, while Lucas did offer his input and had veto power over any story decisions, Zahn largely crafted these novels on his own. It is unlikely they reflect what Lucas would have done with a trilogy of films.
Further adding to the confusion, in the early 2000s, Gary Kurtz, who produced the first two Star Wars films, shared details of what he claimed was the original plan for the whole saga. In interviews and convention appearances, he said that Jedi would have seen Han die and Leia crowned queen of the surviving people of Alderaan. Luke’s sister would have returned from the other side of the galaxy, and the twins would have carried on the fight alone. Eventually, in the final episode, they would face the Emperor together. Lucas has not corroborated these claims, however, and they do not align with what is known of the plans for the original trilogy. It’s true that if Harrison Ford had elected not to sign on for the third film, Han would have been written out, but that was only ever a contingency plan. Lucas intended for Han to survive the film. Also, it was always intended that the Emperor appear in Jedi and the Empire be overthrown. Every draft of the script reflects this. On a side note, in early drafts of the script, the final confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor took place not on the unfinished second Death Star, but on the city planet of Had Abbadon, which would later appear in the prequels, having been rechristened Coruscant by Timothy Zahn in the expanded universe novels. As for the sister character, that story was abandoned when Lucas decided to merge the characters of Darth Vader and Luke’s father in the second draft of Empire. It was felt that Vader having one child was already stretching credibility. Two would have been too much. Obviously Lucas changed his mind when he made Leia both Luke’s sister and the “other” that Yoda refers to, but this was only a convenient solution to a problem. By 1983, Lucas’s marriage was falling apart – largely due to his involvement with Star Wars consuming his life and leaving him no time for his family. Lucas decided to scrap his plans for all future Star Wars movies and wrap everything up with Jedi. Had he gone ahead and made more Star Wars movies, it’s possible he would have dusted off the sister character for use in the sequels, but there is no concrete evidence that was his plan. The simple fact is that only George Lucas knows what his plan for the sequels was back in the 80s, if indeed there was any plan at all.
Years later, after he’d had some time to heal, the special effects revolution brought about by Jurassic Park prompted Lucas to revisit Star Wars and finally do the prequel trilogy. Having scrapped the sequel trilogy in favor of wrapping the whole thing up with Jedi, that gives us a fully-realized narrative in six parts: the rise and fall of Darth Vader set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of the Empire. At that point in time, Lucas claimed he had no story in place for a sequel trilogy and that he was done with Star Wars. And yet when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney a few years later, it turned out that treatments for a Star Wars sequel trilogy were part of the package and that new films were going into production. So what’s the story? Was there a treatment for a sequel trilogy or not? It’s impossible to say for sure, but given that Lucas had been talking for decades about making sequels, he probably did have at least some notes stashed away and maybe even a basic outline. But after all the criticism hurled at him over the prequels, he was just tired of it all and lacked any motivation to go ahead and do the films. And that attitude is understandable. So how closely does Disney’s sequel trilogy align with Lucas’s plans? That’s difficult to say. It depends a lot on just how much material Lucas had worked out. If his notes were vague, then the films probably had to be invented largely from whole cloth. We simply don’t know just how detailed they were or exactly what changed between his version and Disney’s.
We do know a few things about George’s version though. For starters, Leia would have been the focus of the story and would ultimately have been revealed to be the chosen one (this at least was clearly a recent development, as the chosen one story element had been invented in the late 90s). Lucas’s sequels would have focused on rebuilding the Republic. There would have been remnants of the Imperial army that refused to surrender, much like what was depicted in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. These Imperials would have formed a terrorist organization, carrying out attacks on the New Republic. This aspect isn’t all that different from the First Order seen in the Disney version. Also, Luke would have become a recluse and he would have trained a female apprentice, just as happens in the Disney films. Luke was even going to die in George’s version. So at least some of what happens in the Disney films can be traced directly back to Lucas. Whether these were things Lucas came up with in the early 80s or were recent inventions only Lucas knows.
Other aspects were very different though. It was going to turn out that Darth Maul was still alive. He seizes control of the criminal enterprise left vacant by the death of Jabba the Hutt and works to sow chaos throughout the galaxy. He also begins training a new apprentice – Darth Talon, who had been introduced in the comics. Han and Leia’s children would have been part of the story, and their names would probably have been Sam and Kira. Sam would have been a cocksure pilot like his father, and Kira would have sought Luke out to be trained as a Jedi.
Lucas has also said he would have delved into a “microbiotic world.” We would have met the Whills, the beings who control the Force and are essentially the gods of the Star Wars universe. That would have been interesting to see, assuming Lucas didn’t botch the execution. It’s possible the microbiotic world of the Whills would have just been weird, and if he’d handled it as awkwardly as he did the introduction of the midichlorians in The Phantom Menace, it might have been painful to watch. Nevertheless, both concepts date back to the 70s and were part of the genesis of the saga all along, so it’s not surprising that Lucas would eventually want to bring them in.
Would Lucas’s version of the sequel trilogy have been better? Maybe, maybe not. It may have just been different. I do think that he would have introduced new concepts and new worlds rather than retreading old material just as pure fan service the way Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams did. But it probably would have had its own problems too. Certainly I take issue with some of what he was going to do, my biggest problem being the return of Darth Maul. That character clearly died at the end of The Phantom Menace and to resurrect him just seems tacky to me (I feel the same way about Boba Fett, by the way). I think it would have been much better to introduce a brand new Sith character to be the villain of the new trilogy. Snoke had the potential to fill this role well if they’d handled his backstory better. Alas, they screwed that up completely. But while I would have preferred a new character, if you’re going to resurrect a villain, Palpatine actually makes much more sense than Maul as it’s established in Revenge of the Sith that Palpatine is seeking immortality. Also, his return unites the whole saga under one main umbrella villain and ties it all together.
And in fact, the return of Palpatine was something of a turning point for me. When The Force Awakens was first released, I had mixed feelings about it. I was already conflicted about Lucas selling the property to Disney. All of the Star Wars movies up to that point had been released through 20th Century Fox. Hearing the Fox fanfare at the opening was part of the experience of watching a Star Wars movie. To this day, if I hear the Fox fanfare with the Cinemascope extension, I have a Pavlovian response where I expect it to be followed by the Star Wars theme. So when the lights came down and the movie opened with silence, it just felt off out of the gate. On top of that was the knowledge going in that Lucas had been pushed out of the process. Say what you will about the quality of the man’s work, he’s still the original author. He created this wonderful universe that we all get to enjoy. To dismiss him like that was just disrespectful. For a long time, I had trouble thinking of the sequel trilogy as anything but really expensive fanfiction. Things didn’t get any better when The Last Jedi came out. I’d waited all these years for the triumphant return of Luke Skywalker only to find he was some bitter old recluse who’d turned his back on his family and friends. It was just utterly disappointing. But then came The Rise of Skywalker. As the date approached for me to finally see it, I realized this was the last time I was going to see a new Star Wars movie. Oh, sure, there might be new movies like Solo or Rogue One, but as far as the nine-part Skywalker saga was concerned, this was it. I decided I was going to try to be less critical, try not to nitpick over little things and just have a good time. In effect, I tried to see the film through the eyes of the child I had once been when I saw the original Star Wars so many years ago. And I had a blast.
Yes, there were aspects of the plot that were redundant or didn’t make any sense. Yes, there was a bit of fanservice on display. Yes, some of the dialogue was cheesy. But I didn’t care. There were spaceships and laser battles and lightsaber duels and droids and aliens and it was all just a heck of a good time. And then there was Palpatine, as delightfully evil as ever and it was awesome. Some people complained that his return didn’t make any sense, but as far as I can see, none of the rules of the universe were violated. We know that in the Star Wars universe cloning is a thing and we know also that Force Ghosts are a thing. So Palpatine continued after his death as a Force Ghost, then inhabited the body of a clone that had been grown for him. Simple, really. The movie doesn’t belabor the explanation, but it’s there if you care to look. But simply having Palpatine repeat his line from Revenge of the Sith tells you everything you need to know: “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” Boom, there you go. Dark side spooky spooky, Palpatine back, moving on. I accept that it didn’t work for some people, but it worked for me.
And then information started to leak about what George had been planning for the sequels. With each new tidbit, it began to feel more and more like the sequels had followed George’s original plan much more closely than it initially appeared. They began to feel less and less like fanfiction and more like a legitimate continuation of the story. And while they deviated from the original treatment in certain respects, it’s important to remember that all of the movies evolved during their development. There never really was a master plan in the first place. Only a vague idea that yes, there would be more movies, but what form those movies would take was always in flux. It all grew out of the same pot of ideas, the same creative soup that George Lucas cooked up way back in the early 70s. There were many creative voices who contributed to the original Star Wars trilogy. Marcia Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, Ralph McQuarrie, Willard Huyk, and Gloria Katz to name a few. And even in 1983, a burned-out George Lucas said that any future Star Wars movies would be someone else’s vision, not his. Going back even further to immediately after the release of the original film, we find George’s statement that each film in the series would be helmed by a new director, with the story going in any number of possible directions. All this prompted me to reassess some of the movies I’d criticized so harshly.
Rewatching the prequels now, having seen them so many times, I can much more readily accept their flaws. Jar-Jar, while annoying, is not quite so unbearable to me as when I first encountered him. And finding out that midichlorians were part of the world-building all along has helped me to warm to that particular element, so I no longer cringe so much at their mention. Anakin and Padme… yeah, that’s still a disaster. But it’s set against the backdrop of so much cool action and sci-fi spectacle that I can deal with it even if there are problems I can’t fully overlook. The prequels are not the greatest movies ever made but they’re still entertaining – to me, at least. I still complain about all the problems, but at the end of the day I have a good time watching them. The same goes for the sequels. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with the sequels that isn’t also wrong with some of the other films. Yes, The Force Awakens recycles plot elements from A New Hope but so does The Phantom Menace. Yes, Starkiller base is just a retread of the Death Star, but Return of the Jedi also features an unnecessary extra Death Star. Yes, we play ping-pong with Rey’s identity, but it’s not any more painful than the nonsensical reveal that Leia is Luke’s sister, which really adds little to the overall narrative and retroactively makes the previous two films somewhat icky. Despite some pacing issues in The Last Jedi and some other problems here and there, I find the sequels to be fun. And as I said before, they do use at least some story elements from George’s version.
Ultimately, we got what we got. It isn’t perfect, but in hindsight, the original trilogy wasn’t perfect either (I’m looking at you, Jedi). In any long-running saga, it stands to reason that there are going to be some entries that don’t live up to the rest. Really, it’s amazing the overall Star Wars saga is as good as it is. The point is, we do finally have the nine-part Skywalker saga that Lucas promised us in the early 80s. It may not be exactly what we were expecting or even what we wanted, but that doesn’t automatically make them terrible. For my part, now that I’ve had some time to process and get used to what both the prequels and the sequels gave me, I’ve actually found much to love about them. Ian McDiarmid’s dual performance as the devious Senator Palpatine and cackling Darth Sidious is a delight. Natalie Portman eventually grew into her own as the cerebral Padmé. And Ewan McGregor’s turn as a swashbuckling Obi-Wan Kenobi was plenty of fun. There’s lots of action and spectacle, and thanks to modern special effects, the Star Wars universe is finally revealed in a way that the original trilogy could only hint at. I thoroughly like the character of Rey, and Daisy Ridley’s performance is right on the money. Kylo Ren, who failed to impress me at first, finally won me over thanks to Adam Driver’s tortured performance. And while at first I didn’t care for the idea of a rogue Luke Skywalker, upon reflection I realized that this was a really interesting and unexpected direction to take the character. In the end, I came to the conclusion that there’s more for me to love about all nine movies than there is for me to complain about. And at last I have the complete nine-part Star Wars saga sitting on my shelf in nice, pretty packaging just like I always wanted and it’s wonderful. I’m at a point now where I can make my peace with the saga’s flaws and just have a good time. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy some Star Wars.