Yoda was originally named Buffy. No, really. In George Lucas’ earliest outlines for the sequel, Luke meets a supernatural entity named Buffy, or Bunden Debannen. Here’s how Lucas described it:
Buffy very old — three or four thousand years. Kiber crystal in sword? Buffy shows Luke? Buffy the guardian. ‘Feel not think.'”
And Lucas concludes by saying Luke will become the chosen one, “the human Buffy.” In later drafts, he thought of Yoda as a kind of small frog, and Yoda had a full name: Minch Yoda. In the earliest script draft, Minch has the immortal line: “Skywalker. Skywalker. And why do you come to walk my sky, with the sword of a Jedi knight? … I remember another Skywalker.”
Lucas considered having a scene where Luke’s face gets injured. Mark Hamill was injured in a car accident in 1977, and his face had to be reconsctructed — so for a while, George Lucas planned on including a sequence where Luke’s face is damaged, and we see it getting patched up by a droid. This got as far as filming — there’s a set picture showing the droid bandaging Luke’s face — but was cut out of the movie.
Luke’s journey to becoming a Jedi Knight would have had a lot more bumps. One idea that got tossed around a lot in the early stages of planning ESB was the notion that Luke’s light saber had a crystal hidden in the hilt, with secret encrypted information on it — including the coordinates of Minch Yoda’s planet. And Luke would have been “humiliated” when he couldn’t use the Force to stop an attack by a bunch of ice monsters on the rebel’s Hoth base. (With Han telling Luke, “You’re not a Jedi knight, and you never will be.”) Meanwhile, Darth Vader senses that Luke used the force to destroy the Death Star and there’s a new wannabe Jedi in town — so Vader uses telepathy to choke Luke in his spacecraft, nearly killing him — except that R2D2 jumps the ship into hyperspace and takes it to Yoda’s planet.
We could have visited other planets. Possibly including a “water planet,” with an underwater city, and a “city planet,” with the whole planet built over. And at one point, Lucas considered having a visit to the Wookiee homeworld (some of which ended up in the Christmas Special), and Ralph McQuarrie did some concept art of a young Chewbacca. (Also, Lando Calrissian’s home would have been the planet Hoth — not the ice world, but another planet named Hoth — and there might have been a whole alien race living there. And in one early draft, Lando was a clone warrior, one of the many clans of clone fighters left over from the wars.) Here’s the concept art of Young Chewbacca, plus a Beast of Burden from Chewbacca’s home world, both of them dating from November 1977, or early in the process:
Darth Vader would have had a castle. And it would have been an evil fortress — in some versions, it’s surrounded by lava, and full of gargoyles who are Vader’s pets.
Vader wasn’t Luke’s father at first. In Leigh Brackett’s first script draft, Luke meets his real dad, who says he sent away Luke and his secret sister for their own safety. (Luke’s sister has been training to be a Jedi knight in secret, just as Luke has.) And Papa Skywalker administers the oath of a Jedi Knight to Luke, in which Ben, Minch, Anakin and Luke cross lightsabers, and Luke swears to “dedicate my life to the cause of freedom and justice.”
The Luke-Leia-Han love triangle is a much bigger deal in earlier drafts of the script. It’s at the root of Luke’s struggles for self respect and his humiliations. When Darth Vader is trying to win Luke over to the Dark Side in the second draft, written by Lucas himself, Vader says, “You’re in love with Leia. You don’t want to lose her to Han Solo… But you will, if you lack the courage to use the strength that’s in you. A strength as great as mine, Luke.” And then at the end, Leia flat-out tells Luke that he’s not the one she loves, because she’s into Han. Also in this version, Han doesn’t get frozen in carbonite — instead, he just flies off to take care of business, leaving Luke and Leia watching the Millennium Falcon disappear.
The film posed unique challenges for special effects and model work. Darth Vader had a new Star Destroyer, which was supposed to be 16 miles long! And they built a full-size Millennium Falcon, which was 65 wide and 80 feet long. Also, ILM had to start a new stop-motion animation department just to make the Imperial Walkers and tauntauns work. (They tried a man-in-a-suit tauntaun, with “hilarious if not film-worthy results.”) And then there’s the challenge of Yoda — as we reported the other day, they considered everything from a monkey in a mask to a small child or little person to play the Jedi sage, before deciding to go with Frank Oz’s puppetry.
Stanley Kubrick nearly killed the movie. Empire was sharing studio space with The Shining, and there was a huge fire that burned down Stage 3 at Elstree Studios, destroying The Shining’s sets. That meant that Empire had to give up some of its own studio space, and The Shining went way over schedule, especially as Kubrick used the delay as an excuse to rethink his own movie. “Timewise, it is doubtful the picture will recover,” one crew-member wrote at the time.
Miss Piggy had a cameo in one of Yoda’s first scenes in rehearsal. When Mark Hamill first met Frank Oz, he asked him to do a brief Miss Piggy cameo during rehearsals on set, as a practical joke — but when the time came much later, it caught even Hamill off guard. During one scene, Yoda tells Luke to follow his feelings. Luke protests that he has followed his feelings — and suddenly, Frank Oz whips out a Miss Piggy puppet, saying “Feelings? You want feelings? Get behind the couch and I’ll show you feelings, punk. What is this hole? I’ve been booked into dumps before, but never like this. Get me my agent on the phone!”