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‘Return of the Jedi’: George Lucas Originally Planned A Much Darker Ending!

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We all know and love how Return of the Jedi (and thus, the original Star Wars trilogy) ended, right? The redemption of Darth Vader and the ascension of his son Luke Skywalker, coupled with the destruction of the Death Star and the celebration of the Rebel Alliance – no matter how you feel about Ewoks, that last act is a joyous and satisfying ending. But if one of George Lucas’s original plans had come to be, things would have ended on a much different and wholly darker note.

Digital Spy recently detailed these nixed early plans for what became Return of the Jedi, which came from a meeting between Lucas and the film’s co-writer, Lawrence Kasdan;

“Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing – and then Luke puts it on and says, ‘Now I am Vader’.

“Surprise! The ultimate twist. ‘Now I will go and kill the [Rebel] fleet and I will rule the universe.'” Kasdan responded: “That’s what I think should happen.”

If it’s shocking to think of this as some sort of alternate reality now, some 37 years after the film came out, just imagine how cinema audiences would have reacted back in 1983. Surely, such an ending would give Empire Strikes Back’s ending a run for its credits in terms of both shock value and sheer bleakness. Speaking of Episode V, this twist ending would have given a much more literal pay-off to this famous shot from Luke’s trials on Dagobah:

Vader then, Vader now: Luke’s dark side nature almost consumed not just himself, but the entire galaxy
(source: Lucasfilm)

You’d also hope that such a line would have gone through some sort of re-drafting, as even by Lucas’s sometimes-loose standards, that is a borderline-corny line – especially if it were to lead into what would undeniably have been the saga’s darkest (and perhaps, most astonishing) moment. Surely, there’d also have been a much more downbeat version of events leading up to Luke’s turn, as to keep this ending with Episode VI’s current plot would have felt a little sudden, possibly even illogical. Well, as producer Gary Kurtz once told the LA Times, that’s exactly what would have happened:

“The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base.”

The death of his best friend would certainly have been enough to push the younger Skywalker further down the path of evil – after all, the loss of loved ones was a theme Lucas did come to use to great effect with the turn of Luke’s father Anakin in the prequels.

Han Solo did end up dieing on an evil base, just 32 years later than first planned
(source: LucasFilm)

It’s difficult to imagine what the landscape of Star Wars (and due to its cultural impact, the wider world of cinema) would be today with these alterations – alterations which would have quite literal galaxy-changing implications. Of course, by this point fans would have had nearly four decades to digest these plotlines, so perhaps they would be as staunchly defended as the existing galactic story beats are. Maybe, just maybe, we would have seen sequels much sooner than we did; rather than a 2015 release, an earlier follow-up story may have seen a Force-sensitive Leia leading alone a coalition to take down this “new Vader”.

What do you think? How do you see the sequels – or prequels – having turned out if George Lucas hadn’t had a change of heart? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or Instagram, and make sure to download the Kernel App!

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