I downloaded all the original drafts before Episode I came out. Had I downloaded them after that time, I would have believed that they were an elaborate hoax of fan fiction because of all the parallels to scenes in The Phantom Menace and references to different characters, even some of the names are mixed and matched differently than the end version. The FBI writing experts that confirmed the identity of the Unabomber would have little trouble with this actually, there are subtle but distinct ways of phrasing dialogue and staging scenes that could only be Lucas. There are a number of interesting pieces here and there which indicate this it not a fake, particularly the descriptions of things which preceded their physical realization. For example, in one scene R2D2 "nods." Obviously he hadn't been worked out. He and 3PO's personalities are reversed in this draft and R2 talks as well.
This screenplay actually sounds a lot more like The Phantom Menace than A New Hope, except that there is a Death Star in it. There is even a scene which would later be used in RotJ in which a Jedi character (sort of a homologue of Luke or a young Obi wan) saves a group of wookies from slave traders and they revere him as a god. In another scene the army of wookies with "large, shiny shields" engage a group of hover tanks. Sound familiar? One of the most interesting scenes is the first in the screenplay in which an older Jedi with a young boy not quite 10 years old battle a dark robed Sith warrior in the desert. That's a little reminiscent of TPM as well.
There aren't too many scenes from this draft that make it into the first movie, however. Only two really stand out: In one, the characters escape into a trash compactor. However, they escape when the power is knocked out when the attack on the Death Star succeeds, not because of the droids. The other one is the scene where Ben cuts off Walrus Man's arm in the cantina. The dialogue is almost exactly the same (there is just a little more of it).
Interestingly, General Luke Skywalker is present but sounds more like old Ben Kenobi than the protagonist we're familiar with. Annikin Starkiller is a central character in this draft and shares much in common with his homologue in the prequels. The name Bail Antilles turns up here as well as being mentioned in TPM as a possible replacement for Chancellor Valorum... whose name is shared by Prince Valorum, "the black knight of Sith" in this draft.
There are also characters who have the names Biggs and Darklighter, though neither character resembles his namesake from A New Hope. Mace Windu's name was similarly formed from a pilot named Mace and a combination of a child (brother of Biggs and Leia, incidentally) named Windom who is referred to as Windy. "Windu" also sounds much like Bendu as the Jedi were referred to in all the early drafts. Chewbacca is a wookie and is described very much as he would eventually appear in the final version, but there is curiously a character named Chewie who is "a young hotshot [starfighter pilot] of about sixteen years."
As you might imagine, this draft is the most different of the lot and the one from which more elements from the prequels can be found, all the way through up to and including Revenge of the Sith. It is definitely worth a read.
The second draft resembles the movie much more closely. The personalities of R2 and 3PO are correctly aligned and R2 now speaks in beeps. In this draft, almost everyone has the personality with the name with the role in the plot. The first draft was a little intimidating because I couldn't say to myself, "Oh, So-and-so is really Luke and this other guy is really Han." It was a lot more complicated and most of the story was different.
The story is also considerably more focused in this draft. Instead of this huge epic, this one is like reading Star Wars: A New Hope from a parallel dimension. Little things are different (everyone, even Chewie, has a "laser sword"), but the arc of the story is virtually identical. It starts with Luke on Tatooine (though called Uatau -Tatooine came the from the name of a town in Africa near where those scenes were filmed). The droids arrive with a message for him. Next Luke meets up with Han and Chewie and they try to rescue Luke's brother Deak (instead of his sister, Leia who is back on Tatooine with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru). They escape and travel to the Fourth Moon of Yavin (which is a little reminiscent of Dagobah with its bogs) where they plan and eventually attack the approaching Death Star.
The main difference is that there is no Obiwan (Luke already has some Jedi training in this version, so he gets by okay). Also, there are very few scenes with the bad guys. You never see Vader and Tarkin talking, let alone the whole council room of Imperial officers. Vader doesn't come in until the very end. There are a couple other Sith Knights, but they don't contribute anything to the story (hence their eventual deletion).
Still, there are interesting bits scattered throughout this draft. For example, Alderaan is the capital of the Empire and is described as "an island city suspended in a sea of cirrus methane." Another familiar ring, no? It is mentioned similarly in the first draft as well. When the heroes arrive there, the description reads "The magnificent domed and gleaming city is perched, mushroom-like, on a tall spire which disappears deep into the misty surface of the planet." I'm glad he dredged that idea back up. Bespin was always one of my favorites.
There is a cute section of the story in which Han steals the Millennium Falcon (though not named in this draft) from the real captain (Han's just a cabin boy) by tricking the old drunkard into thinking the reactor is about to melt down and explode. As soon as he runs off the ship, Han closes the ramp and takes off.
Another moment I liked was when Han and Luke steal the officers' uniforms (they don't describe them as stormtrooper armor. In fact, Han has to conceal a blood stain on the outfit he steals). A little bit later Han knocks out another officer, this time a superior, and steals his uniform. As he puts it on he says, "I've just been promoted."
Of note is that in neither of these two drafts do we have to sit through the awful origin of 3PO. What a miserable experience that was! I haven't read the 3rd draft yet, so there may be a few surprises, but the evolution from the 1st to the 2nd was so significant that I don't see much room for any earth shattering revelations.
I think at least one of these screenplays was scanned in because there are odd misspellings here and there. For example, "e" replaced with a "c" in at dozens of spots and a "c" for an "o" elsewhere, and the "I" in "Imperial" replaced with a lower case L, and "king" instead of "kind." I wish I could find a program that scanned intelligently. I'm always getting packets of handouts that I have to type up myself. It would be a lot nicer to scan them, then edit them after the fact.
On the surface this one seems just like the movie, but there are so many subtle changes that it really seems like a Twilight Zone episode. There are little exchanges here and there that put things in a different light. This draft has more things in place than the previous. As a result, it's the little things that stand out so much more than entirely new scenes.
The first description of the Tie fighters appears in this draft, pretty much as they end up looking like in the movies. Curiously, this draft makes the trash compactor scene separate from the fight with the monster in the water. Instead, they jump into a "tunnel" and make their way out through the other end of it with minor drama. They don't end up in the compactor until right before they escape the Death Star. Ben manages to survive the entire draft, although he is injured when battling Vader.
There is a mention of "multi-layered" doors in at least 2 or the 3 drafts (recall Han jumping through the doors while trying to escape the Death Star), so Lucas definitely had some idea what things were going to look like. He describes 3PO as shiny, golden, and with an "Art Deco" surface in all three drafts. Also, the light sabers are consistently described as making a low buzzing sound.
The two Sith Lords mentioned in the previous draft are again in this one, although (once again) they have little impact on the story. Darth Vader is in this draft also, but he doesn't contribute much either.
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