Return of the Jedi Almost Brought a Major Star Wars Character Back from the Dead

Return of the Jedi went through many changes before it hits theaters in 1983, including by cutting one of its most shocking twists: a Force resurrection!

Luke and Vader in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Like A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back before it, Return of the Jedi script went through many drafts while nailing down the epic conclusion of the Original Trilogy. For one thing, the movie was originally called Revenge of the Jedi before George Lucas nixed it because “Jedi don’t take revenge.” There were plenty of other changes, too. In many ways, the early drafts penned by Lucas read nothing like the movie that released in theaters in 1983.

Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays by film historian Laurent Bouzereau takes a fascinating deep dive into those rough drafts of Revenge of the Jedi, with additional insights from interviews with Lucas and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan as well as transcripts from their story meetings. In essence, the book reveals the drastically different film that could have been, complete with a trip to a proto-Coruscant city planet called Had Abbadon, multiple Death Stars, the death of Han Solo, and a final battle with Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader in a lava lake that almost ended with the death of Luke Skywalker (who at one point could have also turned to the dark side).

It’s while going through the final third of the “Revised Rough Draft” (which you can find online) that Bouzereau reveals one of the most interesting tidbits about this early version of the movie: a surprise twist that would have seen the return of Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi — but not as a Force ghost.

Originally, Lucas intended to resurrect Obi-Wan by bringing him back from “the Netherworld” to help Luke in the final duel against the Sith Lords, with Yoda’s ghost also showing up to protect the other heroes from the Emperor’s Force lightning. In one moment, Luke would have even jumped in front of Ben and deflected the Emperor’s lightning before the villain could kill the Jedi Master once again.

Ad – content continues below

Like in finished film, the fight with Palpatine and Vader would have ended with apprentice killing master, with Vader grabbing the Emperor and sending them both into the lava lake. Somehow, Vader’s redemption at the end of his life would have also led to Yoda’s resurrection, meaning that Obi-Wan and Yoda would both been present for the final celebration with the Ewoks, but in the flesh.

As we all know, this idea didn’t stick around. Why not? According to Lucas, bringing back Luke’s mentors for the final battle would have taken away from young Skywalker’s own moment of character growth.

“Even though at some point Yoda and Ben interfered, I eventually decided that they couldn’t connect physically with what Luke was doing,” Lucas explained to Bouzereau. “I felt that one of the major issues in the third film is that Luke is finally on his own and has to fight Vader and the Emperor by himself. If you get a sense that Yoda or Ben is there to help him or to somehow influence him, it diminishes the power of the scene.”

Allowing Luke to lean on Obi-Wan and Yoda during his duel with Vader would have certainly taken some of the magic away from the powerful moments between father and son in Return of the Jedi. Luke confronting the Emperor wouldn’t have been anywhere near as terrifying, either. The stakes feel incredibly high in those scenes because Luke is alone against this great evil, but giving him Jedi backup would have robbed these moments of a lot of that tension. Instead, the scenes would have amounted to lots of laser swords on screen with less of the emotional heft.

Even though Lucas and Kasdan ditched these scenes in later drafts, it’s clear Lucas had the denouement right from the beginning. Father sacrifices himself to save his son, and two wise old Jedi Masters watch as a new generation of heroes celebrate their victory. But unlike those early drafts, old Ben and Yoda finally get to enjoy a well-earned rest, too.