Empire Strikes Back First Draft Secrets: The Sister That Never Was

Two years ago, Leigh Brackett’s first draft of Empire Strikes Back –or Star Wars Sequel, as it is titled–was leaked online as a PDF. No doubt, this was leaked from the research material for the in-progress The Making of Empire Strikes Back book; a year earlier, the exact same thing happened with the Raiders of the Lost Ark story conferences ahead of the release of The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. The Empire first draft was an additional treasure trove for one reason: it appears to be George Lucas’ editing copy. Handwritten notes and edits are made over top of the typed original in pen or pencil in a manner which suggests that it is future second-draft screenwriter George Lucas himself providing some help and tweaks. This probably was made in the period during which Brackett was hospitalized.

There are also typed XXXXX’s over some words. This may be because, being typed on a 1978 typewriter, there was no backspace button like in a computer word processor, so when the typist made a mistake, he or she would reset the page and type XXXX’s over the incorrect word and then continue on with the corrected passage. Another explanation is that it was Brackett herself typing it, and would spontanously come up with better wording and edits as she typed (as there are sometimes sections XXXX’d out without any replacement). In my opinion, the answer is both.
Many of the handwritten edits are superficial and unimportant–re-write a line here, eliminate a line there, an annotation of additional character insight. The sort of thing you might expect from a story editor going through the rough first draft and providing a bit of input for future improvements.

However, the details that Lucas had changed or eliminated–clearly visible underneath the lines with a pen crossed through them, or additional info scribbled over top–have never been reported. For instance, the first draft that Annotated Screenplays analyses appears to be the version typed up which incorporates these further edits. As such, this screenplay copy is the true first draft of Brackett’s. This in itself is highly interesting, and while most of the changes are relatively minor in nature, there is indeed a huge area that fans of early Star Wars lore will want to know about: the original scene between Luke Skywalker and his father.

This survived even in Lucas’ edit of the first draft. As Annotated Screenplays and The Making of Empire Strikes Back describe, Luke first summons the spirit of Ben Kenobi. This is a power that the first draft developed, that those strong in the Force have the ability to summon spirits of the dead from another realm. Ben then says he has brought someone with him–Luke’s father, who is referred to as Skywalker. He tells Luke that he has a sister and that she is hidden on the other side of the galaxy to protect her. Luke then takes the oath of the Jedi from his father, sworn in to Jedihood.

This scene itself is a fascinating one, for the alternate view it paints of the storyline compared to how Empire Strikes Back ended up. But in fact, Leigh Brackett’s original version is even more interesting.