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Star Wars '73


So I’ve been rereading the 1973 SW story synopsis with an eye to figuring out how it might have worked as a film.

The major difference between the synopsis and the 1974 rough draft is the absence of Annikin Starkiller, the brash young Jedi-in-training. Instead, Princess Leia Aquilae is guarded by “one of her generals, Luke Skywalker,” who takes along two “bickering Imperial bureaucrats,” the forerunners of R2-D2 and C-3PO. Probably Lucas considered having the “bureaucrats” be two different alien species, like Legolas and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings.

In the 1974 rough draft, General Skywalker was a wizened man over 60 years old, based on the wise old Kambei Shimada, leader of the titular Seven Samurai in Kurosawa’s film. In the 1973 synopsis, however, General Skywalker is clearly modeled on Toshiro Mifune’s ronin character from Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The given name of Mifune’s ronin Sanjuro means “thirty-year-old”, and Sanjuro jokes about it in both films: “actually, now I’m closer to forty.” The General Skywalker of 1973 is thus a much younger character than the wizened Jedi of the 1974 script, and so more suitable as a romantic match for the Princess. (Think of the interplay between Indiana Jones and Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark and you’ll probably have the right idea.)

The story synopsis version of General Skywalker was probably the basis for young Obi-Wan Kenobi’s character in the rough-draft script of TPM: in the rough draft of Episode I, Obi-Wan was a thirty-year-old Jedi Knight on a solo mission, fully trained but still young enough to be headstrong and brash in his dealings with the Jedi Council.

Back to 1973: The Imperial vs. Rebellion conflict is in evidence here, though it’s been simplified from the Journal of the Whills fragment. In that initial outline, there was a Galactic Cold War between the Empire and the “Alliance of Independent Systems”. The planet Alderaan, backed secretly by the Empire, invaded its neighboring system Aquilae, and the Alliance sent Jedi Knights to Aquilae to provide clandestine assistance.

Here, though, the Empire is openly fighting a civil war against a “rebellion”, which has led to the occupation of Aquilae by Imperial troops. The heroes’ goal is to get Princess Leia safely to rebel-held territory, the planet Ophuchi, ruled by her uncle. Leia and the general take with them “two hundred pounds of aura-spice”, the equivalent of the gold pieces from The Hidden Fortress.

Again contrast the 1974 draft, where Aquilae stands alone against an unprovoked Imperial invasion: there is no wider Rebellion as such. The 1974 Ophuchi is the headquarters of “the chrome companies,” who would provide assistance… for a price. (Not spice, but the brains of top Aquilaean scientists, suitable for cloning in new bodies.) In the event, however, the discovery of the Wookees of Yavin provides the impetus needed to retake Aquilae and restore Princess Leia to her rightful throne.

The Sanjuro references in the 1973 synopsis continue when the party, seeking shelter from a rainstorm, arrives at an abandoned temple. There General Skywalker meets ten young boys, 15 to 18 years old, who want to become rebels and fight the Imperial occupation of Aquilae. The cynical Skywalker is at first dismissive of their idealism, but they prove themselves by killing a giant monster which attacks their camp that night.

The size of the party has now grown to fourteen – the same size as the party of heroes in The Hobbit: thirteen dwarves plus Bilbo. (The comparison to Paul Atreides of Dune training Fremen warriors in the Bene Gesserit ways of fighting is also apt.)

A few notes on design: at this stage, Aquilae is not yet a desert planet. Though it has deserts which the party crosses to elude Imperial pursuit and get to a spaceport, the overall landscape as seen from space is “blue-green,” not “reddish-yellow.” And when Skywalker draws his sword during the cantina fight, his lightsaber has a sheath like a conventional sword: it’s not a retracting pure-energy blade yet.

When they arrive on Yavin, Leia isn’t separated from General Skywalker; however, like Tolkien’s dwarves in Mirkwood, all but two of the young boys get lost in the jungle. The general’s group, riding “jet-sticks” (proto-speeder bikes) through the jungle, are chased by “giant furry Aliens” (Wookees in the 1974 draft) riding on “large bird-like creatures”.

In the camp of the furry aliens, two alien chiefs have a fight. One demands the death of the intruders, and the other walks away in anger. The aliens summon a large guard, armed with a spear, whom Skywalker fights and eventually cuts in half. This is very different from the 1974 draft, where the Wookees are more friendly to young Annikin after he saves some of their own, and the battle at the Wookee camp is an initiation ritual that ends non-violently with Annikin’s induction into the tribe.

In the 1973 draft, the aliens are incensed by General Skywalker’s victory, and take him to the edge of a cliff, tossing him down to a boiling lake below. (Milton’s Paradise Lost opens with Satan and his fellow demons waking up on a boiling lake after being cast down from Heaven. Since Luke Skywalker is named for the Norse trickster god Loki, this is probably a deliberate Milton reference.)

However, the General survives by holding on to some vines protruding from the cliff face – a moment recycled in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

After his escape, Skywalker meets up with the other alien chief, the one who wanted to spare his life. The chief takes Skywalker to see where the belligerent alien is meeting with a squadron of Imperials, selling them the princess and bureaucrats. Skywalker and the chief reunite with the rest of the boys, and capture the local Imperial base and its complement of long-range “one-man devil fighters.”

In this version, Princess Leia is not taken back to occupied Aquilae, but rather to the city-planet of Alderaan, the capital of the Empire. After some target practice, Skywalker and the boys fly off to Alderaan, using a disguise to enter “the gates”. (Is this a planetary defense shield like in Rogue One?) They rescue the princess, though a few of the boys are killed. (Perhaps three – Thorin, Fili, and Kili? 😉 )

With Leia safe, the heroes at last reach their destination of Ophuchi, the planet ruled by Leia’s uncle (presumably her mother’s brother, the Theoden to her Eowyn). They receive a parade (shades of Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars) and the surviving boys are inducted into the Princess’ honor guard.

I suspect that, as in the Journal of the Whills, the 1973 Ophuchi is a cloud city suspended in the air, providing a heavenly contrast to the urban hell of Alderaan. Again the Milton allusions!

A small note on appearance: with General Skywalker being so closely modeled on Toshiro Mifune, it’s inevitable Lucas envisoned him with dark hair. Think of Conan the Barbarian or Aragorn in LOTR - dark-haired heroes with eyes of steely gray or blue. And while the 1974 Leia has red hair, given the outline’s allusions to Milton and Tolkien, it’s quite possible Lucas in 1973 saw her as a blonde: the angel figure to Skywalker’s roguish devil.

If so, expect Leia’s head to be shaved in the Alderaan prison: besides the THX 1138 allusion, there’s also a pun in there about her going from a “golden eagle” to a “bald eagle.” (Because “Aquilae” is the genitive of Latin “eagle”. I know, it’s terrible. :p )

“That Darth Vader, man. Sure does love eating Jedi.”


Interesting stuff. Where did you find the 1973 synopsis?