George Lucas likes to plan ahead. Way ahead.
In fact, he was barely done putting “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” together when he was already planning for life after his famed Star Wars trilogy — putting together what would become known as the prequel films.
In a story conference held in 1981, Lucas sat down with writer Lawrence Kasdan, director Richard Marquand and producer Howard Kazanjian to discuss the background of all the favorite characters in the franchise, most specifically the boy who would become Darth Vader.
A lot of what Lucas said would actually come to pass, according to the new book from J.W. Rinzler, “The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” But there were some changes as well.
The first major change? The Force.
There were no midi-chlorians in Lucas’ original idea. Just that while the Force was always around, people were able to use it in different ways.
“The Force was available to anyone who could hook into it?” Kasdan asked during the conference more than 30 years ago.
“Yes, everybody can do it,” Lucas said. “It’s just the Jedi who take the time do it. If you want to take the time to do it, you can do it. But the ones that really want to do it are the ones who are into that kind of thing. Also like karate.”
Lucas also was obviously considering the limitations involving Yoda, who at the time was a Muppet voiced by Frank Oz.
“Another misconception is that Yoda teaches Jedi, but he is like a guru,” Lucas said “He doesn’t go out and fight anybody.”
That includes Darth Vader, who Lucas believed Yoda would never stand a chance with.
“I accept it,” Kasdan told Lucas at the time, “but I don’t like it.”
That obviously changed by the time the new movies rolled around and the puppet version of Yoda was replaced with a computer-generated one that could do just about anything — including fight the Emperor himself.
A lot of what Lucas did share would make it into the later movies. That involve the Emperor getting to know a young Anakin in the early days when he was still an elected official.
“He was a politician,” Lucas said of the Emperor. “Richard M. Nixon was his name. He subverted the senate and finally took over and became an imperial guy, and he was really evil. But he pretended to be a really nice guy. He sucked Luke’s father into the Dark Side.”
Lucas also shared the fact that Anakin would start betraying Jedi on various missions, and that his wife would start to suspect, especially after she became pregnant with his children. That leads to a showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi where the latter “throws him down into a volcano, and Vader is all beat up.”
“Now, when he falls into the pit, his other arm goes and his leg, and there is hardly anything left of him by the time the Emperor’s troops fish him out of the drink,” Lucas said. “Then when Ben finds out that Vader has been fished out and is in the hands of the Empire, he is worried about it. He goes back to Vader’s wife and explains that Anakin is the bad guy, the one killing all the Jedi.”
While the mother of Luke and Leia dies even in the original version of Lucas’ story, she lives a little longer than Natalie Portman’s character in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.” In fact, she nurses them for the first six months of their lives, but it’s Kenobi who decides to break up the family, because the line is so strong with the Force.
“Ben takes one and gives him to a couple out there in Tatooine, and he gets his little hideout in the hills, and he watches him grow,” Lucas said. “Ben can’t raise Luke himself because he’s a wanted man. Leia and Luke’s mother go to Alderaan and are taken in by the king there, who is a friend of Ben’s. She dies shortly thereafter, and Leia is brought up by her foster parents. She knows that her real mother died.”
In fact, Leia is supposed to make it clear that her mother died when she was 2.
It would be 18 years before Lucas would see this story realized on screen with “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” in 1999. He would follow it with “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,” ending that saga in 2005.
Director J.J. Abrams is taking on the latest outing of Star Wars, which is now owned by the Disney Co., and is expected to now pick up where “Return of the Jedi” left off in the 1980s. That installment is expected to hit theaters in 2015.