The Internet is in a tizzy over Michael Arndt‘s exit from “Star Wars: Episode VII,” to be replaced by Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams. But as Mike Ryan points out at The Huffington Post, this isn’t the first time in the franchise that a writer was replaced by another writer and the film’s director, as he looks at the script for “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” You know, the one before George Lucas and Kasdan got their hands on it.
To explain: after the success of the original “Star Wars,” Lucas found himself overwhelmed and without the time or energy to fully flesh out his ideas for the subsequent films. He then hired Leigh Brackett, who co-wrote the Bogart/Bacall classic “The Big Sleep,” but Brackett not only turned in a lousy draft but had the audacity to die before Lucas could commission rewrites from her.
As Ryan recounts, this version of the movie did start on a snowy planet but it’s not Hoth. The Wampas, the race of giant beasts that abducts Luke in the final version, had a much bigger role in this version of the script (they also have the ability to freeze people with their touch). This idea actually got pretty far; there’s footage on one of the home video releases of sequences shot where the Wampas attack the rebel base, which was a huge part of Brackett’s script. (It looked pretty shitty so you can understand why it was jettisoned.)
Other differences: Han Solo tries to recruit his stepfather (a character named Ovan Marekal) to join the Rebel Alliance because he’s “the third most powerful man in the galaxy.” But maybe the biggest difference is that, when communing on the Degobah-like planet (aided by Minch, not Yoda), Luke actually comes in contact with the ghost of his father. And that father isn’t Darth Vader. As Ryan notes, “this pretty much proves that the Vader-Luke, father-son relationship was not Lucas’ plan all along.”
Lando is, for some reason, a clone in this version, and he escorts our rebel friends to dinner where Vader is waiting for them, but in this original version of the script, they actually all sit down to dinner, where Vader halfheartedly apologizes for being a dick to Princess Leia and Han Solo gets good and stinkin’ drunk. (This is what happens when you rob one of the biggest twists in cinematic history from one of your central characters; instead Vader suggests Luke replace the Emperor as a semi-benevolent ruler of the Empire.)
Much of the last act sounds about the same, with a Vader vs. Luke showdown and the escape via the ventilation shaft. Oh, and as Ryan delights in pointing out, Luke says, “May the Force be with me.” At the end of the movie, Han and Chewbacca head to meet with his stepdad (still?).
While we wouldn’t presume that the Arndt script was in as bad a shape as this Brackett draft (which you can read for yourself), as Ryan points out, the rewrite could be for the best. Unless you were really looking forward to those ice-touchy Wampas and inspirational lectures from that beloved character Minch.