Would Star Wars have been successful with changes in course?
Here’s a list of possibilities.
It all makes sense. Opening scrolls. Evil Emperor. Brave heroes thrown into galactic conflicts. Sound familiar? Of course it does. Those ingredients are essential to Star Wars. They started with the old serials George Lucas watched as a child.
Lucas was seeking to channel his love for the format in a new style of Cinema. Adapting Flash Gordon was an initially obvious move. But the rights were with Dino De Laurentiis, who went onto produce his own Flash Gordon movie. Necessity forced George to invent Star Wars.
Right Move? Of course! Flash alone would never have inspired the entire universe of ideas and experiences that now fall under Star Wars’ banner. The project could also have flopped and deterred Lucas from making another movie (perish the thought). We have yet to see someone make a huge commercial success of Flash Gordon in film or television post Star Wars (cult status for the 1980 film does not really count). Star Wars was the better bet.
THE STAR WARS / ADVENTURES OF STARKILLER
Lucas’ treatments and script drafts initially had a grander vision for the epic space opera. Skywalker was a veteran General; Han Solo a green skinned alien. Darth Vader was there too but in reduced capacity (basically a galactic SS Officer). The hero’s name is ‘Starkiller’ rather than ‘Skywalker’ (though both names feature).
Right Move? Yes. Things HAD to be simplified. The epic story strands still survive, integrated largely via expositional glimpses. No loss to the series. The drafting process remains fascinating and there is life in ideas that did not quite make the cut. See: ‘The Star Wars’, a graphic novel version of the early script iterations. It’s worth a read.
CAST IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT
Harrison Ford IS Han Solo; same way he IS Indiana Jones.
That wasn’t always the case. For a few brief screen-test and casting brainstorm moments, there were others in line for the chair of the Falcon and the love of Princess Leia. Al Pacino! Christopher Walken! Kurt Russell! Sylvester Stallone!
There were also rumours (really fan-boy wishes) of Kenneth Branagh playing young Obi Wan Kenobi in the prequel films. Ewan McGregor was cast. And Leonardo DiCaprio (Leeeeoooo!) was almost Anakin Skywalker? There were tentative talks, apparently. We know George Lucas loved Titanic.
Right Move? A mix of big yes (Ford as Solo) and ‘don’t know’ (anything prequel related is up for debate). Ewan McGregor was great as Obi Wan, but his age is a problem. He has to play older than his years in episodes 2 and 3 and we’re never really clear as to how much older that should be. It restrains his natural charisma (which could have fused Luke Skywalker’s youthful enthusiasm to Han Solo’s worldliness).
An older Obi Wan (Branagh) might have played better and more logically in the plot, with Ewan perhaps taking on the Anakin part? But re-casting Anakin is ultimately an irrelevance. He is written as a robotic James Dean. That makes sense in terms of Lucas’ vision. Hayden Christensen competently delivered the brief he was given as an actor.
Directors and Darker Takes
One of the myths about George Lucas is that he somehow failed to be collaborative or welcoming of others’ visions and ideas. Yes, he wrote and directed the prequels single handed (and has taken the blame for their mixed reception, painfully). But he actively encouraged new writers and directors to come forward when prepping both Star Wars trilogies. Empire Strikes Back is great partly because Lucas trusted Irvin Kershner as Director.
David Lynch was offered the Director’s chair on Return of the Jedi. One assumes there would be more hints of horror. But the film would probably have been much the same: sand dunes and demonic Emperor fit Lynch’s staples even if an army of Ewok fur-balls doesn’t. Steven Spielberg was also approached, but politics with the Directors’ Guild precluded the move. He made up for it by helping the pre-visuals process on Revenge of the Sith (the darkest Star Wars to date).
Writer Lawrence Kasdan also had ideas. He wanted a death for Han Solo (Harrison Ford approved) and a more downbeat ending to the original trilogy. Lucas overruled him but at least listened to possibilities. That might explain why Kasdan had no part in the prequels (though he returns for The Force Awakens) and account for the absence of other mooted contributors (Frank Darabont, David Fincher) from those frequently dissected films.
Right Move? ‘Impossible to tell’. (Yoda).
The Force Awakens is released in December.
Words: James Murphy