Early Scenes with Luke

The main character of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker, does not appear until about 15 minutes into the film. Instead, the movie starts off from the point of view of R2-D2 and C-3PO as they escape from the Empire and wander the desolate desert of an alien, seemingly uninhabited world. Luke does not appear until his family buys the droids.

This was not the case in the shooting script, which features three scenes of Luke cut in between scenes of the Empire attacking the Tantive IV and the droids’ journey.

The first scene depicts Luke noticing the battle between the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator and the Tantive IV from the surface of Tatooine and watching with a pair of binoculars.

In the next scene, Luke drives his landspeeder into Toshe Station to tell his friends about the battle he witnessed. He is excited to see his friend Biggs Darklighter, who is on leave from the Imperial Academy. When Camie, her boyfriend Fixer, and Biggs go outside to see if Luke’s battle is real, they just see the two ships flying in orbit and no longer firing. Luke’s friends tease him for thinking there was a battle going on.

The final scene is a one-on-one conversation between Luke and Biggs. In it, Biggs reveals that he is planning on deserting from the Imperial Academy and joining the Rebel Alliance. Luke is jealous of Biggs’ success and expresses frustration with having to stay on Tatooine, but it is clear that Luke feels he has a duty to stay and help his uncle on the farm. The friends say farewell.

This final scene is particularly notable for its political undertones, written in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. Both Luke and Biggs want to attend the academy, but as Biggs says, “I'm not going to wait for the Empire to draft me into service. The rebellion is spreading and I want to be on the right side - the side I believe in.” Luke also says he won’t be drafted into the Empire’s military, echoing the anxieties and sentiments of millions of young American men who tried to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.

This scene also speaks to a greater theme Lucas explored in Star Wars – how ordinary people become heroes:

“When the challenge comes with Ben at his home after he gets Leia’s message, Luke immediately rejects it. He wants to go fight the Empire, you can tell that he wants to, but he doesn’t feel that he can take on the responsibility. As a result, destiny comes into play. Because if you don’t do anything about the Empire, the Empire will eventually crush you. There is a scene where his friend Biggs explains that you can’t avoid the issue forever. Eventually it will catch up with you, and then you will suffer the consequences.
“To not make a decision is a decision. It happens in all countries when a certain force, which everybody thinks is wrong, begins to take over and nobody decides to stand up against it, or the people who stand up against it can’t rally enough support. What usually happens is a small minority stands up against it, and the major portion are a lot of indifferent people who aren’t doing anything one way or the other. And by not accepting the responsibility, those people eventually have to confront the issue in a more painful way, which is essentially what happened to the United States with the Vietnam War.”

- George Lucas[1]

Why it was cut

Despite the particular significance of the scene between Luke and Biggs, Lucas and his editors decided to cut all three of the early scenes with Luke during the editing process. Interviews with film editors Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew reveal their thinking on this change:

  1. The initial cut of the film bombarded audiences with too many characters and storylines to keep straight at the beginning: the droids, Darth Vader, Leia, and Luke. Removing the early scenes with Luke made the thrust of the plot a lot clearer: Leia has the film’s MacGuffin: the Death Star plans. She gives the plans to the droids, the droids escape, and then the droids meet Luke, at which point Luke becomes part of the story.[2]

  2. Lucas originally wrote the story from the point of view of the droids, going all the way back to the second draft summary of January 1975, which was largely inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film, The Hidden Fortress, in which the story is told from the point of view of two peasants.[3] When Lucas was writing the third draft, his filmmaking friends Matt Robbins and Hal Barwood thought Luke needed to appear earlier in the film so that audiences would have a protagonist to connect with early on.[4] Removing these scenes returned the story to how Lucas previously conceived it.

  3. Cutting the scenes also makes the early desert scenes with the droids wandering alone more alien and mysterious, since the audience does not yet know that the planet has humans on it. The first characters the droids meet are the hooded, troll-like Jawas, and the droids and audience do not see any humans until Luke and his uncle appear.

  4. Lucas did not like the performances in the early Luke scenes.

  5. Lucas and his editors wanted to increase the pace of the film to get to the cantina scene and the heroes leaving Tatooine faster.

  6. Luke’s relationships with Han, Leia, Obi-Wan, and the droids are stronger and more significant to the film than his relationship with Biggs and other Tatooine friends.[5]

[1] J. W. Rinzler, The Making of Star Wars (New York: Del Rey Books, 2007), 108.

[2] Rinzler, The Making of Star Wars, 232.

[3] Rinzler, The Making of Star Wars, 26.

[4] Rinzler, The Making of Star Wars, 58.

[5] Rinzler, The Making of Star Wars, 232.