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Origins of Luke's Severed Hand

Note: credit must be given to ABM, who provided many of the original findings for this

Ever wonder where this iconic moment first entered the picture? Luke and Darth's confrontation on Bespin was in place from the earliest incarnation of the storyline--it even appears in Splinter of the Mind's Eye, transposed in a different environment and plot, of course--but it is deceiving how late in the game the actual mutilation of Luke seems to have been added to the storyline. In Splinter, ironically, it was Vader who gets his arm dismembered.

Annotated Screenplays describes the earliest version of the confrontation in Lucas' 1977 story treatment as: "Luke get's trapped on a narrow ledge and Vader tries to win him over to the dark side. Vader wants Luke to use his anger to fight, knowing that if he gets angry enough, he'll give in. Finally, Vader tries to kill Luke, but Luke jumps off the ledge." (p. 217) Here Luke escapes apparently unscathed. Leigh Brackett modified the scene heavily for her draft, crafting a surreal scene with Vader and Luke floating amid the planets and stars, but the symbolism fades away and the scene ends similar to Lucas' treatment:

Luke turns bakc[sic] to the fight to see that Vader is rushing at him to deal the death-stroke. Valiantly Luke lifts his saber to parry; then as Vader's blade comes streaking down, Luke deactivates his sabre and darts aside. Thrown momentarily off balance because the unexpected ruse and the lack of opposition to his blade, Vader is overbalanced. Luke leaps aside and over the railing into the shaft.

As Annotated Screenplays states: "Vader cutting Luke's arm first appeared in the second draft." (p. 217) This was the draft Lucas wrote himself following Brackett's first screenplay, notable for also introducing "I am your father" to the scene's climax, a real double-blow to Luke. Note here, however, that it doesn't say anything about severing Luke's hand--only that Luke's arm get's cut. This is what appears in virtually every piece of artwork created for the film.

The Annotated Screenplays (p. 226) describes the second draft ending on the bridge of a Rebel star cruiser with Luke and Leia resolving their love triangle as Lando greets generals and commanders to search for Han; there is no scene of medical rehabilitation, like in the film, where he receives a prosthetic hand. The revised second draft now has a medical aid for Luke, however. Bouzereau (p. 226) quotes the script:

Luke's lower left arm is exposed, revealing metal struts and electronic circuits similar to Threepios.

Still no artificial hand, although his arm has clearly been badly damaged and requires a cybernetic brace or cast of some kind.

These second drafts are dated as April, 1978, which is the same date as Lucas' third draft (which I assume must be nearly identical as well). Most of the production paintings were done throughout mid-1978 from what I can tell, based off the later drafts. The particular one presented below seems to be depicting at least the Lucas drafts, since the scene of Luke hanging from the vane in a state of semi-consciousness does not appear until his drafts. You can see Luke has both his hands--but his dangling arm has been lacerated near the shoulder (it even appears to be bleeding, not very visible in the scan).

      enlargement from Art of ESB 2nd edition, p. 160

A document purporting to be the fourth draft, which would be Kasdan's first pass, has a similar turn of events to the previous ones:

Luke slashes at Vader again, renewing the fight. Luke's sword whistles past Vader and the young warrior is thrown off balance, his guard down. Vader's light saber flashes out with deadly skill and cuts Luke, almost forcing him over the edge. He can barely stand. He wipes the tears from his eyes, but still can barely focus on his massive opponent.

The document's final scene ends in a similar fashion to the revised second draft, but no mention of Luke's brace; his wound seems less severe and he seems to have recovered. The scene of Leia applying a tourniquet on Luke in the Falcon does not yet exist, either. Instead, Luke simply joins them in the cockpit.

The production painting below is even more telling.

The scene of Luke recovering in the operating bay of a medical ship does not appear in the second drafts, but Annotated Screenplays does not describe the endings for the subsequent drafts. Since the third draft was written in the same month as the second drafts, I presume it must be similar. And the fourth draft too, if the circulating screenplay is genuine, which it certainly appears to be, has no medical bay scene with Luke being healed, indicating that this scene was added after it was written--yet the painting above shows Luke with the familiar arm wound. Which means that even beyond the fourth draft Luke still did not receive amputation to his hand.

Here are the storyboards for the sequence as designed by Kershner, printed in The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives (p.73). Since drafts change scene configurations around, storyboards often are only done in later stages of script development. Checking the dialogue and scene layout against the fourth draft document, there are some discrepancies, but this is clearly not the second/third either. Which means this was probably done for either the revised fourth draft or the fifth--and final--draft, probably as it was in-progress.

Here, Vader seems to have glanced a blow along Luke's wrist or forearm area. But check the scene description: "Luke attacks again but is cut. He reels back in shock and pain." No mention of the hand being severed--only what is in every other draft, which is that he is cut. And the hand is not visually cut off either; furthermore, in the reaction shot, he is holding his upper arm still, as per the production paintings. The painting below, furthermore, seems to be depicting, like the storyboards, a version of the finale beyond the fourth draft, probably made during the cultivation of the shooting script, yet both hands are still present:

So, if not by the fourth draft of October 1978, then just when was the severed hand put in place? Not until the very last draft, as far as I can tell. The production painting scene of Luke being tended to in the medical bay does not appear in the fourth draft script--which means this painting was produced during the period between October, 1978 and February, 1979, when the fifth draft was being written. Yet even here he still has his hand, meaning the dismemberment was added very, very late, further backed up by the painting above. Seeking to increase the severity of Luke's injuries to up the dramatic ante, Kershner, Lucas and Kasdan first added the medical bay rehabilitation and then took this newly developed scene one step further by outright mutilating Luke. The first actual evidence of Luke's severed hand does not occur until February 19th, 1979: one day before the final shooting script was typed up. The evidence comes from Annotated Screenplays (p.225), which says that Kershner wrote Lucas a letter that day with a last-minute note for the final medical bay scene that had been developed. The letter said: "Whenever I see an amputee, and I am sure most people feel this way, they wonder how it is not to have any feel, any sensitivity in the fingertips." Annotated Screenplays further explains that Kershner wanted the audience to know Luke could feel with his artificial hand. "That way," Kershner says in the book, "even though he has a mechanical hand, when he puts his arm around Leia, it isn't creepy." (p.225) The prosthetic limb idea was one Lucas had used in early drafts of Star Wars, where Kane Starkiller and Ben Kenobi carried mechanical forearms from battle injuries.

So, there it is. First evidence of Luke as an amputee: one day before the shooting script was officially typed up. And apparently, it was a relatively new idea.

The scene as described by the officially released screenplay:

Then Vader's sword comes down across Luke's right forearm, cutting off his hand and sending his sword flying. In great pain, Luke squeezes his forearm under his left armpit and moves back along the gantry to its extreme end.

06/19/10

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