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First draft of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ surfaces

A look at the significantly different first draft of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.

First draft of 'The Empire Strikes Back' surfaces

By Rick Panna

 

Leigh Brackett’s first-draft script of The Empire Strikes Back, which recently appeared online—apparently without Lucasfilm’s  approval–provides glimpses at different turns the Star Wars saga might have taken. For example, Luke’s twin sister might have been named Nellith rather than Leia, and Darth Vader might not have fathered them . It is also fascinating to read about so many concepts dropped from “Empire” but which will eventually surface in the ensuing four  films. Also, even though Brackett’s script is understandably rough, there seem to be the beginnings of good ideas (in this author’s opinion, anyway) that were never explored. 

This draft, titled simply “Star Wars Sequel,” was completed on February 23, 1978. Brackett died of cancer on March 18, 1978 before she could do a rewrite. George Lucas was left to do various drafts before Lawrence Kasdan got involved. 

Among the concepts omitted after Brackett’s script but which appear in the ensuing films is the Imperial city planet. Known in this script as Ton Muund, in early drafts of Return of the Jedi it is Had Abbadon, and ultimately it’s featured in the prequels as Coruscant. 

Also, in this early draft, the native inhabitants of what we know of as Bespin, the Cloud People, seem to resemble the Kaminoans in Attack of the Clones. They’re tall, “white-skinned and white-haired” and ride on flying manta-rays. (This may be coincidental, but they also use darts as weapons, and the Kaminoans were linked to the toxic dart in AOTC.) The notion of  flying steeds is absent in ensuing “Empire” scripts (along with the Cloud People) but will be entertained for the next two films before finally getting implemented in “Clones.”  

At another point in Brackett’s script, Lando admits to being a clone, and that his family were refugees of the Clone Wars. He further explains that his great-grandfather was cloned because he wanted sons. Again, perhaps this is only a coincidence, but it seems reminiscent of Jango Fett agreeing to be cloned so that he could have a son. 

When Luke leaves “the bog world” (no name has yet been given to this planet), he is told by his elders that facing Vader and the dark side of the Force is a test he must undertake to master the Force. This, obviously, is much different than what transpired in “Empire,” but seems reminiscent of “Jedi.” (“You must confront Vader,” says Yoda in Episode VI. “Then, only then a Jedi will you be.”) 

When Vader tries to entice Luke to the dark side of the Force, he mentions that the dark side can protect loved ones from harm. Similarly, in Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine piques Anakin’s interest with his story of Darth Plagueis, who “had such knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” 

As undeveloped and rough as the script is, it touches on some interesting ideas. As many fans know, a sub-plot involving the Wampa snow creatures invading the Rebel base was (largely) filmed but left out of the released movie. This story element is more prominent in Brackett’s draft than in those by Kasdan. There are various elaborate fight scenes, including one where Chewbacca fights a beast (“Chewie is huge himself, but he looks child-sized by comparison with his adversary,” Brackett writes), and the creatures decimate the base’s life support generator.  It is revealed that the snow creatures are making a deliberate attempt to rid their world of the outsiders. This realization gives the creatures added dimension that’s absent in ensuing rewrites. 

There’s other interesting information here that doesn’t come out in the films (at least not overtly). When Minch (later to be renamed Yoda) talks about Vader turning against the Jedi and going to the dark side, he says, “I think the Knights had forgotten and grown careless.” 

While Brackett’s dialog is very rough (presumably it would have been greatly refined in her ensuing drafts), there are occasional lines that might have become memorable had they survived. During a confrontation between the Rebels and indigenous snow creatures, Han tells Luke, “The Force isn’t with you today, kid.” Later, when Threepio thinks he’s going to die  in the asteroid field, he wonders if Artoo will miss him. 

This script also provides a glimpse at a route the saga might have taken regarding Luke’s twin sister. This sister is mentioned—in Luke’s presence–but she’s someone other than Leia. She is identified as Nellith (although this name is crossed out in the script, apparently because the writer realized that her name cannot be revealed to Luke–Vader can read Luke’s mind) and was hidden by Skywalker, Sr. in a different part of the galaxy than Luke. 

Laurent Bouzereau reveals more about this lost sister in his book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays. Bouzereau mentions that Luke’s twin was discussed in story meetings between Lucas and Brackett (which occurred from November 28 to December 2, 1977):  “It was suggested that Luke’s twin sister would be going through training at the same time that he was and become a Jedi Master as well. Eventually, in another episode, the story could deal with both Luke and his sister as Jedi Knights.”  (Bouzereau, page 182) 

Hopefully J.W. Rinzler’s upcoming book The Making of the Empire Strikes Back (due out next fall) will have even more revelations about Brackett’s involvement and the above-mentioned story meetings between she and Lucas.  The two of them must have had some interesting discussions about the character of Minch/Yoda, the Force, and many other subjects (including possibly clones?). It should be interesting to find out what Brackett had to say about these subjects and if her input affected the saga.