The Star Wars saga is one of the most iconic and beloved franchises in movie history. But who should fans credit for creating the universe of this sci-fi juggernaut?
George Lucas wrote the screenplays for several of the Star Wars films, and came up with the original concept. But with a franchise as expansive as Star Wars, there are many other people whose contributions are just as essential to the entire Skywalker saga. Really, the answer to the question 'who wrote Star Wars?' is as complex as the galaxy far, far away itself.
A New Hope
George Lucas first came up with the idea for the space adventure that would become Star Wars in 1971.
He had long wanted to adapt the Flash Gordon comics and serials that he enjoyed as a kid into a movie, but he couldn’t get the rights, so he decided to create his own story.
Lucas had already made one sci-fi movie before Star Wars. His feature-film debut was 1971’s THX 1138. Like other sci-fi films of the time, THX 1138 was a dark and dystopian story. After receiving mixed reviews and underperforming at the box office, Lucas resolved that his next sci-fi project would be more optimistic and kid-friendly.
He got his chance to do that in 1973 after the wild success of his second film, American Graffiti. Lucas worked on his multi-page treatment for what was then called The Star Wars that same year, and he—along with producer and creative partner Gary Kurtz—began shopping it around Hollywood.
Many studios, including United Artists, Universal Pictures (which had financed American Graffiti), Paramount Pictures, and Disney rejected their pitch. Eventually, 20th Century Fox agreed to give the film a budget and Lucas got to work on the full script.
The development of Lucas’ original treatment into the Star Wars we know today took years.
Originally, the plot focused on Annikin Starkiller and featured the smuggler Han Solo, a fish-like alien. By the second draft of the script, finished in 1975, Annikin became a secondary character to his son, Luke Starkiller, a farm boy who faces off against the evil Darth Vader.
The third draft shifted the wise mentor role from Annikin to Obi-Wan Kenobi and introduced romantic tension between Han Solo—who was now a human character—and Princess Leia. The fourth version of the script was completed on January 1, 1976, and was used when production began two months later.
The Empire Strikes Back
After the massive success of Star Wars: A New Hope, work on a sequel was begun quickly. Although George Lucas had story ideas, he was disinterested in developing more extensive worldbuilding for the series.
Instead, he brought on Leigh Brackett, a prolific sci-fi writer who was known as “the Queen of Space Opera”. After a multi-day story conference with Lucas in late 1977, Brackett got to work on the script.
Brackett’s script, which was completed in February 1978, contained several of Lucas’ core ideas. These included the reveal of Luke’s secret twin sister (though in this draft she was not Leia); the powerful Galactic Emperor; and the introduction of a small but wise frog-like creature named Minch Yoda. The script also included a final climactic battle between Luke and Darth Vader, though Vader was a separate character from Luke’s father.
Lucas had notes on how some of the characters were portrayed in Brackett's draft. But before Lucas could contact her about the script, Brackett died of cancer on March 18th, 1978.
Working on a tight schedule, Lucas penned the next draft himself. This version introduced Yoda’s famous speech pattern and the fan-favorite character of Boba Fett. Lucas’ handwritten version of this draft included the reveal that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, but the typed version did not. Lucas would later say that he had always intended for Vader to be Luke’s father, but that he kept it out of typed scripts to avoid the spoiler being leaked.
Later in 1978, Lucas hired Lawrence Kasdan to refine his draft for the movie that was now known as The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas had been impressed by Kasdan’s work adapting his story ideas into a screenplay on Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kasdan’s drafts focused on refining character relationships and improving the pacing. It was these fourth and fifth versions of the script that fully implemented the romance in the movie.
Although much had been changed from Brackett’s original draft, Lucas insisted that she still be credited with Kasdan as a co-writer.
Lucas went on to write the screenplays for Return of the Jedi with Kasdan, The Phantom Menace by himself, Attack of the Clones with Jonathan Hales, and Revenge of the Sith by himself.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy
People had pitched ideas for a sequel trilogy to George Lucas for years after the release of Return of the Jedi, but he never had any intention of making one himself.
When Lucas sold LucasFilm to Disney in 2012, he made it clear that just because he wouldn’t make more Star Wars films, he had no problem with allowing other people to make them. When the sequel trilogy went into production, Lucas served as a creative consultant and wrote a rough story treatment that was only ever read by Disney executives. He later said that Disney discarded all of the ideas in the treatment.
The first draft of the first sequel movie, The Force Awakens, was written by Michael Arndt. It contained several backstory elements for returning characters, such as Leia’s instrumental role in rebuilding the Republic after the fall of the Empire.
Arndt said that there was no way Luke could appear anywhere but the end of the film, as he would inevitably pull focus away from the new main characters. Arndt eventually left the project after he said he could not perfect the script in the timeframe Disney gave him.
Immediately after Arndt’s departure, director J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan—who was already serving as a project consultant—took over. Abrams and Kasdan’s drafts left a lot of plot elements out to give creative room for the directors of the next two films. Abrams stayed in communication with the director of the next movie, Rian Johnson, to ensure a smooth transition.
In addition to directing The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson also wrote the screenplay. He’d found the script hard to write while The Force Awakens was still being finished. As a result, filming had to be delayed for rewrites.
The trilogy’s final film, eventually titled The Rise of Skywalker, was initially set to be directed by Colin Trevorrow. Trevorrow was slated to write the script with his frequent collaborator Derek Connolly, while also communicating with Johnson to ensure a smooth transition. However, after several production delays, Trevorrow left the project due to creative differences.
J. J. Abrams took over directing and co-wrote the new version of the script with Chris Terrio. The Rise of Skywalker still retained many of the story elements from Trevorrow and Connolly’s drafts, like the transference of Force energy and Lando leading a giant fleet of spaceships. Terrio later revealed that his and Abrams’ script was also required to include specific plot points, such as the redemption of Kylo Ren.
Early Alan Dean Foster works
Any hardcore Star Wars fan will tell you that the books are just as essential to understanding the franchise as the movies, and they have been around for as long as the series has existed.
In fact, the novelization for A New Hope came out six months before the movie hit theaters. Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker was released on November 12, 1976, and was credited to George Lucas, but it was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster. Foster had already written several novelizations of Star Trek episodes.
Foster was also contracted to write a second book that could serve as the basis for a possible sequel. Since most people assumed Star Wars would not be a success, Foster’s book, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, was written to produce a much lower-budget film.
The book tells the story of Luke and Leia getting stuck on the swampy planet of Mimban while they struggle against the forces of the Empire and Darth Vader. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye also introduced the concept of kyber crystals—spelled “kaiburr” in this book—which are what make lightsabers work.
Several elements of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye are indicative of the low budget its film adaptation would have had. The book contains very little new technology and Mimban’s swampy setting could be easily reproduced using cheap fog machines. Han Solo is also not present in the story since, at the time, Harrison Ford had not committed to any Star Wars sequels. Since Star Wars ended up being a hit, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was not adapted.
Although all Star Wars novels published before 2014 were declared non-canon by LucasFilm that same year, many of the books have had a direct influence on the canon of the movies.
Timothy Zahn's trilogy
Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy inspired a resurgence of interest in Star Wars in the early 1990s, and inspired quite a bit of the material in Lucas’ scripts for the prequel trilogy. The first novel mentions how the Old Republic and the Empire had operated from a capital city planet known as Coruscant, which became a major setting in all three movies.