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The Lost Star Wars Stories: Episodes X-XII

There is an element of some mystery surrounding the fourth "trilogy" that was once attached to the Star Wars. Lucas today denies that he had any plans or story for the third trilogy (Episodes VII-IX), which isn't the case, but we can do one better: what was the story for Episodes X, XI, and XII?

Am I crazy? If you've read Secret History of Star Wars you will know what I am referring to--in early 1978, it was announced in Time that there were twelve Star Wars films in the franchise. This isn't a typo; Lucasfilm referenced them frequently in publications such as Bantha Tracks from 1978 to 1980, and Lucas himself even addresses them in the May 1980 issue, stating he had limited the series to nine films instead.

The leaves the issue dangling: what were these films? I have been over some hypotheses in Secret History of Star Wars, and these seem to remain accurate in light of discoveries I have now made. Lucas in 1977 decided that Star Wars would be a franchise, and had it set at unlimited possibilities, like the James Bond series--the films would continue indefinitely, and generally stand alone. Gary Kurtz at the time says the films aren't chronological, and would bound around in time from one film to the next--Lucas himself states that he would like to one day do a film showing the fall of Darth Vader and the murder of Anakin Skywalker.

Lucas had developed some story ideas with Leigh Brackett in November 1977, but based on The Annotated Screenplays this doesn't amount to that much--some info on the Clone Wars is developed, but the only concrete sequel story point is that Luke has a twin sister, as his father's ghost reveals to him, who is also training to be a Jedi across the other side of the galaxy. However, a few months later, in March 1978, Lucas announced to Time magazine that the series would comprise of twelve films, but doesn't offer any specifics. By 1979, in an interview for Alan Arnold's 1980 book, Lucas now has something very different in mind--nine films, comprising three trilogies, chronologically connected, with twenty years in between each set, later elaborating that the third trilogy is about "the re-building of the Republic." He says in Bantha Tracks in May 1980 that the three remainders from the 12-episode plan were "tangential" to the saga, and so axed.

There are some very practical matters here. In Secret History of Star Wars, I maintain that there was little concrete story development done when Lucas had announced the twelve film plan in the new year of 1978--one can see this from the outlook and development of the Empire Strikes Back story conferences of November 1977, where Lucas had few or only vague ideas as to where his story was going. The number twelve, attached to the films just after this, was likely put in place because twelve was the traditional number of episodes in a serial, and so The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, as the series was then called, would run for twelve episodes. I stand by this.

However, I now discover evidence of some of the types of films Lucas was interested in exploring, as he states in 1980. This shows evidence of the undeveloped Bond-like structure from 1977 and 1978. As a precursor, this is what he says in August 1977, in an interview for Rolling Stone:

"I think the sequels will be much, much better. What I want to do is direct the last sequel. I could do the first one and the last one and let everyone else do the ones in between...I would want to try and get some good directors, and see what their interpretation of the theme is. I think it will be interesting, it is like taking a theme in film school, say, okay, everybody do their interpretation of this theme. It's an interesting idea to see how people interpret the genre. Nobody has to worry about what a Wookie is and what it does and how it reacts. Wookies are there, the people are there, the environment is there, the empire is there...I've put up the concrete slab of the walls and now everybody can have fun drawing the pictures and putting on the little gargoyles and doing all the really fun stuff. And it's a competition. I'm hoping if I get friends of mine they will want to do a much better film, like, 'I'll show George that I can do a film twice that good.'...One of the sequels we are thinking of is the young days of Ben Kenobi. It would probably be all different actors."

Gary Kurtz' more recent comments on sequel and prequel ideas show that Lucas had also brainstormed ideas about doing a film about the origins of the Jedi Knights, and a whole film focusing on the Clone Wars. This indicates that Lucas probably had a lot more conceptual ideas for spin-offs than just the three he would later reveal, which is why he originally set the series at twelve films long in 1978, giving him ample room to churn out these ideas (and more importantly, support Skywalker Ranch for most of his professional lifetime). However, Lucas nixed this idea once he had finished writing Empire Strikes Back in 1979, which unexpectedly put in motion a family soap opera revolving around Luke Skywalker's past and future, and which Lucas decided would form the basis of the series in the form of three trilogies.

Yet, even as he revealed this there was still his original public announcement of 12 films--given his 9-film story revision, he had room for three more of his original, episodic/conceptual stories if he wanted to do them still. This is why he could only frame the "missing" episodes as the three remainders--no doubt he had more, as Gary Kurtz' statements imply, but unless he wanted to admit he made it all up as he went he was prevented from speaking of them. All of these were tossed aside because, with the saga self-contained with the three trilogies he now had in place, they truely were outside of the structure--and besides, the nine films themselves would fulfill their main purpose anyways, which was to give long-term financial support for Skywalker Ranch.

In May 1980, Lucas announced in Bantha Tracks the 12-film approach had been scrapped:

"Bantha Tracks: At one point there were going to be twelve Star Wars films.

George Lucas: I cut that number down to nine because the other three were tangential to the saga."

The information below, however, has never been re-printed before. It comes from a 1980 special issue of Prevue magazine.

The first hint that new info is surfacing comes from the July-August issue, which was a 100-page special dedicated to Empire Strikes Back. In a section titled "Afterword from George Lucas", Prevue writes, "Even [Lucas] did not know the full extent of the Star Wars epic, but estimated it to be a total of twelve stories, grouped into four collective trilogies. Since Star Wars, Lucas had refined and polished the complex narrative, finally settling on three trilogies and three additional, related tales which are separate from the primary action."

Where did they get this info from, though? Well, in a very rare special pull-out booklet (which I am not even sure which issue it came in, though it seems from around the same time), they printed an entire interview with George Lucas where he expands on this and states what some of these films would have been. Although he distorts the screenwriting process of the original film here, he does state that as he was writing the scripts (and, probably, pondering sequel ideas throughout the post-release period), he developed a number of ideas for one-off films, stating that one would be about Wookies, and another about droids (think: Wall-E), without much dialog or human characters--more in line with his more abstract early films. In fact, the Wookie idea was incorporated into the dreadful Holiday Special of 1978, which was based on a story idea from himself. These ideas also show his interest in anthropological study, devoting whole films to fleshing out the psychology and personalities of fictitious cultures. The exchange:

"Prevue: Do you plan to make any separate films about the characters? Like a film just about Han Solo or perhaps Chewbacca, the Clone Wars or the Jedis?

Lucas: I can answer that best by describing the history of the way Star Wars developed. The original screenplay, which was very involved and lengthy, like War and Peace, took me about eight months to write. Afterward, I said, 'I can't possibly shoot this movie; it's going to cost eighty million dollars, and take five years to make. I'll cut it in half and make two screenplays' So I did, and rewrote the second half. When I looked at that screenplay, it was still very long and complicated.

Prevue: How many pages, do you recall?

Lucas: A little over 200 pages. It was like a worm. I cut it in half and both halves got to be as long as the original.

Prevue: That's about twice as long as most ordinary screenplays.

Lucas: Yes it is. Most screenplays run about 100 or 110 pages. That was my second screenplay. I decided it was too long. It covered too much material, and what was in the script wasn't really filled out enough. It was too episodic and too fragmented. So I took the screenplay and divided it into three stories, and rewrote the first one. As I was writing, I came up with some ideas for a film about robots, with no humans in it. When I got to working on the Wookiee, I thought of a film just about Wookiees, nothing else. So, for a time, I had a couple of odd movies with just those characters. Then, I had the other films, which were essentially split into three parts each, two trilogies. When the smoke cleared, I said, 'This is really great. I'll do another trilogy that takes place after this.' I had three trilogies of nine films, and then another couple of odd films. Essentially, there were twelve films.

Prevue: Do you still plan on producing all twelve?

Lucas: No, I've eliminated the odd movies, because they really don't have anything to do with the Star Wars saga. It gets confusing trying to explain the whole thing, but if I ever do the odd movies about the robots or the Wookiees, it'll be just about them, not necessarily about Chewbacca or Threepio--just about Wookiees and robots. It's the genre that I'm intrigued with, not necessarily the characters. I'm just going to keep it pure. It's a nine-part saga that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It progresses over a period of about fifty or sixty years with about twenty years between trilogies, each trilogy taking about six or seven years."

In a few months, The Making of Empire Strikes Back will be released--I wonder if any of this information will be contained within it, or if this is to be the exclusive reference to entirely undiscovered Star Wars ideas.

01/23/10

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