Imagine no Leia in Star Wars. Although A New Hope is generally considered to be one of the most perfect movies ever made, it’s not like the story arrived in George Lucas’s mind fully formed. One of the most fascinating things about the 1977 film is the patchwork creation of its script.
In the second major draft of “The Star Wars,” Lucas got rid of the one character who made the whole thing work— Princess Leia. Here’s the story of how Carrie Fisher’s iconic character was almost left out of Star Wars.
The original Leias
It’s no secret that George Lucas was heavily influenced by the Buster Crabbe-centric movie serial versions of Flash Gordon. In several versions of Flash Gordon, Dale Arden is kidnapped by Ming the Merciless, and Flash is nearly always assisted by a character named Princess Aura, who betrays her evil father, Ming. Although both Dale and Aura might scan as “damsels in distress” without agency, both characters essentially save Flash Gordon in different ways. Dale is a no-nonsense wisecracker, while Aura is adept at magic and combat.
The Princess Leia we saw on screen in Star Wars is a pseudo-composite of Dale and Aura, but in Lucas’ early drafts, Leia’s identity was constantly shifting.
Leia vs. Deak Starkiller
In the 2021 oral history book Secrets of the Force, authors Mark A. Altman and Ed Gross reveal the moment when George Lucas basically ditches his idea for a princess character.
“In Lucas’ next draft [second draft, roughly] the Princess is reduced to a minor character,” they write. “Instead, evil Sith Lord and Imperial operative Darth Vader captures 25-year-old Deak Starkiller at the outset of the story.”
The books Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas by Dale Pollack and Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays by Laurent Bouzereau corroborate this detail. At this point, Lucas was playing around with a lot of different concepts, so calling this the true “second draft” is a little tricky. Some sources say there were essentially three versions of what would later be called the first draft. Lucas also wrote several outlines and synopses during this time, too.
However, this doesn’t change one fascinating fact. At some point after he created a vague notion of a princess, Lucas decided he didn’t want that character to be central to the narrative and cut her out of “The Star Wars.”
In early versions of the story, traces of Luke Skywalker could be seen in a character called Deak Starkiller, and an older “General Luke Skywalker” was friends with the Starkiller family. So, in the revision process, Lucas cuts out his unnamed princess and has Deak [proto-Luke] get kidnapped by Darth Vader. Clearly, this would not have been the hit movie we all came to love!
The return of Leia
Foreshadowing the 14-year-old Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace, George Lucas also considered making Leia an 11-year-old princess. However, most scholars and experts all agree that by this third major draft and synopsis, a princess character much closer to Leia was reintroduced into the story, effectively saving Star Wars.
According to researcher Eric Townsend in Secrets of the Force, the impact of this was huge:
“With Leia back in the story, the character of Luke Starkiller switches back to being a young boy. It was here that the idea of both characters being twins emerged since the two of them were essentially developed out of one.”
Eventually, the Starkiller and Skywalker families were combined into one, and Leia became her own character, who may or may not have had connections to Luke and Darth Vader. Although Townsend points out that the idea of Luke and Leia being twins seemed to come from this moment, Lucas clearly wasn’t sure they were twins until writing Return of the Jedi.
If you need evidence for this, it’s pretty clear that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back lean in heavily toward a love triangle between Han, Luke, and Leia. In fact, if you watch an early teaser trailer for Empire (hilariously narrated by Harrison Ford!), a romance between Luke and Leia seemed to be a big deal.
Still, after several revisions, George Lucas did decide that Deak Starkiller getting captured by Darth Vader wouldn't be cool, and instead, he created Luke and Leia, the latter embodying all the qualities of Dale Arden and Princess Aura from Flash Gordon.
If Leia had been a minor character, a child, or replaced by somebody named Deak, there’s no way the 1977 Star Wars would have been a timeless classic. Lucas said repeatedly that Leia was the whole reason A New Hope works and even considered making Leia the true “Chosen One,” in what would have been his vision for a sequel trilogy.
It’s easy to imagine various Star Wars movies and projects with more Princess Leia. It’s difficult to imagine any version of this galaxy without her. The Force is always out of balance in Star Wars, but a Star Wars without Leia would have reduced the Force to vapor.
Star Wars: A New Hope is streaming on Disney+.