George Lucas’ Episode VII

Everything we know about George’s vision for the seventh Star Wars movie.

Death Star Underwater Trench concept art by Doug Chiang and Ian McCaig. From February 2013.

In late August 2012 Star Wars fans from all around the world gathered in Orlando, Florida for the sixth official Star Wars convention, Celebration VI. The lineup was strong despite the live action movies, always the brightest and biggest stars in the franchise’s galaxy, coming to an end seven years earlier. Though he was not scheduled to attend, series creator George Lucas was there. Publicly, he was just there to make a surprise appearance during the panel for the animated The Clone Wars TV show. But privately he was there to talk to original trilogy stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. They were brought to a conference room away from the convention floor where George broke the news: he was working a new Star Wars trilogy and wanted them to reprise their iconic roles.

My wife casually said, “What if he wants to do a new Star Wars movie?” and I just laughed at her. — Mark Hamill

George’s motivations were not purely creative. He’d decided to sell his prized company Lucasfilm and wanted a sweetener to entice prospective buyers. And there was nothing in the industry more desirable than a new live action Star Wars movie. After coming up with some ideas for this new sequel trilogy, Lucas tapped Oscar winning screenwriter Michael Arndt to begin working on a script for Episode VII, brought on Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi writer Lawrence Kasdan as a consultant, and contacted Hamill, Fisher, and Harrison Ford to gauge their interest. Even Ford, long known to have an uneasy relationship with the role of Han Solo, agreed to return.

As summer of 2012 began to turn to fall, the Disney/Lucasfilm buyout negotiations entered their final stretches. Once the broad outlines of a deal were agreed upon, Lucas relented to letting a few Disney executives see the treatments for the new trilogy that he had been working on with Arndt and Kasdan. Disney CEO Bob Iger, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, and Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy Kevin Mayer were the selected few, with Lucas even having them sign NDAs to protect his story. “We thought from a storytelling perspective they had a lot of potential,” said Iger. On September 6th, 2012, new Lucasfilm co-chairperson Kathleen Kennedy addressed the assembled divisions of the company to announce her intention to produce more Star Wars films [1]. On October 30th, the sale of Lucasfilm was announced to the public, along with the news of a new Star Wars trilogy.


On December 18th, 2015 Star Wars Episode VII — The Force Awakens opened to glowing reviews and massive box office returns. After the initial high wore off, people began wondering what George’s plan for the movie had been, since both he and director J.J. Abrams had sad his outlines were abandoned. Through various interviews and the Art of books, details have slipped out. The following is everything currently known about George Lucas’ plan for Star Wars Episode VII, circa 2012.

“We’re making seven, eight, and nine.”

When George decided to make a new trilogy, he moved quickly. He reached out to old friend and all-star film producer Kathleen Kennedy sometime in the first half of 2012, hoping to bring her on as co-chair of Lucasfilm. The two then approached screenwriter Michael Arndt about writing the entire trilogy around May. He demurred, but the allure of a young woman becoming a Jedi was enough to get him to sign on for Episode VII. When Kennedy was officially announced on June 1st, many saw it as a signal that the company was getting back into the movie making business. But the cinematic Star Wars universe was thought dead, so most speculation was about Indiana Jones 5. Later that same month, members of Lucasfilm’s story team learned the news. Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinsberg were brought on as consultants sometime around then. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were told at Celebration VI in August, and Harrison Ford was likely called and informed at roughly the same time. Lucasfilm as a whole was then made aware in September. Then the sale to Disney happened in October and the world was told. And things really got going.

In December of 2012, production designers Doug Chiang and Rick Carter and ILM Creative Director David Nakabayashi met to pick artists for the “dream team” for Episode VII. The day after the meeting, Rick Carter met with George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. The design team had its first meeting on January 9th, 2013. In attendance were writer Michael Arndt, who had recently turned in a 40 to 50 page treatment of the story, and director J.J. Abrams, though the latter would not be officially announced as attached to the project until the 25th and due to post-production on Star Trek Into Darkness would only attend weekly teleconferences with the team until May when he joined full time [3]. The design team, or “Visualists” as Rick Carter would call them, would meet with George Lucas on January 16th at Skywalker Ranch, where he would be shown art of Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Temple he had exiled himself to, and the training of Kira. This appears to be his last involvement with the film.

Kira Training by Karl Lindberg. From January 2013.

Early outlines for the movie centered around the characters Sam and Kira. Arndt described them, respectively, as “pure charisma” and a “loner, hothead, gear-headed, badass.” [1] While its been widely reported that Vanity Fair said the leads of George’s outline were “teenagers,” George himself said they were in their 20s, which fits the early concept art better. He also said the story was about the grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker.

Kira and Sam from January 2013. By Ian McCaig, Doug Chiang, Karl Lindberg, and Erik Tiemens

That’s the only released concept art of Sam from early 2013. Kira would morph fairly seamlessly into Rey while Sam would go through numerous changes before settling into Finn.

From the very beginning we sort of settled on very quickly that we wanted the girl, Rey, to be a scavenger. We always wanted her to be the ultimate outsider and the ultimate disenfranchised person, because that person has the longest journey… And then we were struggling to figure out who the male lead was going to be. I remember we talked about pirates and merchant marines and all this stuff. — Michael Arndt

According to original screenwriter Michael Arndt, his first attempts, even when he was still working with George, ran into a Luke Skywalker shaped stumbling block:

Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass. It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012. It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over. Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.

Some of the very first concept art done for the movie was that of a remote Jedi Temple where Luke Skywalker was hiding out. George approved at least one such piece [2], the only art piece we know of that he approved:

Concept art of a Jedi temple by James Clyne that was given a “Fabulouso!” stamp by George Lucas.

Phil Szostak, author of The Art of The Force Awakens and The Art of The Last Jedi, revealed that the Luke Skywalker seen in The Last Jedi had his genesis in ideas from late 2012.

So, the late-2012 idea of a Luke Skywalker haunted by the betrayal of one of his students, in self-imposed exile & spiritually in “a dark place”, not only precedes Rian Johnson’s involvement in Star Wars but J.J. Abrams’, as well.

Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now was an inspiration for this take on the character. Doug Chiang created a concept piece of Luke’s X-Wing submerged in the waters of the planet he was exiled on in February 2013 [2].

Another late 2012/early 2013 idea appears to be Mono Lake in California as inspiration for the planet that would become Jakku. The planet being strewn with junk comes from Michael Arndt at the very first meeting of the design team on January 9th [1], so it may have originated from the Lucas/Arndt days.

Junk Castle Landscape concept art from February 2013 (left) by Erik Tiemens. Photograph of Mono Lake in California (right).

While not much about Han Solo or Leia Organa’s roles in George and Michael’s treatment is known, there are several pieces of concept art from early 2013 of the Millennium Falcon on or above the planet of Felucia, which was briefly glimpsed during the Order 66 Jedi purge montage in Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.[1] During an art review meeting in February 2013 glimpsed in the official behind the scenes documentary included with the home release, an entire art board can be seen devoted to the planet[3]. Text in The Art of The Last Jedi implies that Han would have shown up later in The Force Awakens than he does now. Additionally, Harrison Ford told GQ that as he remembers it, his first call with George Lucas about Episode VII included the detail that Han would die in the movie.

Ford’s least expected late-career reprise was his return to the world of Star Wars. “I was surprised,” he concedes. The first call came from George Lucas. “It was proposed that I might make another appearance as Han Solo. And I think it was mentioned, even in the first call, that he would not survive. That’s something I’d been arguing for for some period of time” — Ford had unsuccessfully lobbied for Solo to die in Return of the Jedi in 1983 — “so I said okay.”

Darth Talon, a character from the Star Wars Legacy comic series known for seducing one of Luke Skywalker’s descendants to the dark side, makes a curious amount of appearances in early concept art. Interestingly enough, George Lucas was known to be fond of the character, asking game development studio Red Fly to include her in their Darth Maul game around the same time he likely started thinking about a sequel trilogy.

Concept art of Darth Talon by Ian McCaig from January 2013.

The art above is accompanied by the caption “The tattoos are a lot simpler. The follow a rhythm and they flow. And that’s the evil thing puppeteering her from behind.” Darth Talon also appears in a series of storyboards titled Seduction from February 2013, the earliest known storyboards from the movie.

“Seduction” storyboards by Ian McCaig from February 2013.

She also appears on the very edge of a piece just titled “Bar” by Christian Alzmann from the same month.

“Bar” concept art from February 2013 by Christian Alzmann. Note Darth Talon on the far left.

Originally, R2-D2 and C-3PO showed up together, but Lawrence Kasdan told Michael Arndt to split them up.

Around the release of Empire Strikes Back, George mentioned that the sequel trilogy would be “much more ethereal.” In the companion book to the AMC TV series James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, there’s a conversation between Cameron and Lucas where the latter reveals that the Whills would have had a role in his sequel trilogy.

[The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world. But there’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force.
Back in the day, I used to say ultimately what this means is we’re just cars, vehicles, for the Whills to travel around in…. We’re vessels for them. And the conduit is the midi-chlorians. The midi-chlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force.
All the way back to — with the Jedi and the Force and everything — the whole concept of how things happen was laid out completely from [the beginning] to the end. But I never got to finish. I never got to tell people about it.
If I’d held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told.

While mentions of the Whills first came up all the way back during the early drafts of the very first movie, some of which were said to come from the “Journal of the Whills,” who or what they are has never really been defined in any canon media.

According to Mark Hamill, George’s overall plan for the sequel trilogy had Luke training his sister Leia in Episode IX before dying at the end of the film, though it’s unclear if Mark was referring to Lucas’ plans at the time of the sale to Disney or if this was from the numerous ideas he’d shared with the actor in the 80s.

Updates

(1/3/2018)

Just days after posting this, Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo tweeted out some information about the early versions of Episode VII (Skyler is another name for the Sam/Finn character).

Skyler and Kira (and Kira wasn’t the first proposed name either; she had at least two others) became, after a fashion, Finn and Rey. The Jedi Killer morphed from Talon corrupting the son to becoming the son. Uber became Snoke. The starting point shifted. Yadda yada yada.

The son falling to the dark side was always in the mix. The movies just ended up having it already an established fact.

Skyler was the son in some versions. And as for how all that was gonna go down, that ain’t my story to tell.

And in 2016, he confirmed that Thea (Kira/Rey), Skyler, Darth Talon, and the planet of Felucia were in George’s plans.

(1/6/2018)

Added quote from Harrison Ford about George Lucas telling him during their first Episode VII related call that Han would die. Also added more information about the timeline.

(1/17/2018)

Added to the timeline thanks to a transcript of an interview with Michael Arndt.

(6/14/2018)

Added information and quotes from George about the inclusion of the Whills in his sequel trilogy.

(6/26/2018)

Added information from Mark Hamill about Luke training Leia in Episode IX before dying.

[1] The Art of The Force Awakens

[2] The Art of The Last Jedi

[3] The Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (Blu-ray/DVD Documentary)