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Return of the Jedi's final lightsaber fight originally featured Force ghosts

Digital Spy (UK) logo Digital Spy (UK) 5 days ago Paul Moore
a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi's final lightsaber battle could have been very different and featured the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda. © Lucasfilm Star Wars: Return of the Jedi's final lightsaber battle could have been very different and featured the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might have marked the end of the Skywalker Saga, but there's still plenty to discover about the original trilogy.

It turns out that things could have been very different at the end of Return of the Jedi, especially during that epic showdown between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the Emperor in the Death Star’s Throne Room.

How different?

Well, that climactic duel was originally set to take place on a completely different location, feature the returns of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda as Force ghosts and see the Emperor meet his end in a sea of lava.

a person in a car: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - The Emporer © Lucasfilm Star Wars: Return of the Jedi - The Emporer

Phil Szostak, Lucasfilm's creative art manager and author of various Star Wars novels, shared an earlier draft of the script about what could have been in the final battle.

To begin with, the final lightsaber battle doesn't take place on the rebuilt Death Star, but in a Sith cave beneath a location called The Emperor's Castle on the Imperial City, later known as Coruscant.

This foreboding location is surrounded by a sea of lava and is described as a "cauldron of molten rock" in the script.

As you can see in this rejected piece of artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, Darth Sidious wears all white even though the Sith usually wear black clothing.

Original Return of the Jedi concept art © StarWars.com Original Return of the Jedi concept art

In terms of the duel that takes place in the earlier script, Luke gets hold of the Emperor's lightsaber but refuses to fight his father. When Vader also proves reluctant to fight his son, the Emperor unleashes bolts of Force lightning that Luke repels via an "invisible shield".

The plot description reads: "The Jedi raises his hand in defense and the bolts are deflected by an invisible shield. Whenever a bolt hits, the image of Ben or Yoda momentarily appears at the point of impact."

(At this point, we can't help but think of those scenes in the Harry Potter movies when Voldemort and Harry's wands connect and the spirits of the deceased characters reappear.)

The Emperor then tells us that the two Jedi Masters re-emerged from "the netherworld" to help Luke in this fight with the Sith Lords.

a person looking at the camera: Yoda Star Wars © Lucasfilm Yoda Star Wars

In his excellent book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, Chris Taylor elaborated on this very different ending: "Vader's loyalty wavers until the Emperor Force-chokes him, silencing that familiar iron lung breathing and seemingly pacifying his apprentice.

"There is a showdown involving Luke and the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda on one side and Vader and the Emperor on the other, which is brought to a conclusion when Vader suddenly throws the ruler of the galaxy into the lava, possibly under the influence of Yoda."

a close up of a helmet: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise © amazon.co.uk How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise

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While the planet where this showdown takes place isn't named, in terms of its physical description, it's very likely that George Lucas was already thinking about the creation of Mustafar.

As fans of Star Wars will know, Mustafar is where Obi-Wan and Anakin had their epic duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith, a fight which left Anakin badly injured after he was maimed and burned alive by lava.

The fool, he never listened to Obi-Wan's warning about the higher ground.

a blurry photo of a fire: Star Wars Revenge of the Sith © Lucasfilm Star Wars Revenge of the Sith

Fans got another glimpse of Mustafar at the start of The Rise of Skywalker, and in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story when Director Krennic visits Vader's castle on the volcanic planet to discuss the workings of the top-secret Death Star.

In terms of this alternate ending to Return of the Jedi, the showdown between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor isn’t the only major detail that’s different in the final version.

Elsewhere in this script, Han and Leia's mission to knock out the shield generator on Endor now takes place on a planet called Had Abbadon, while the half-constructed Death Star is destroyed again by proton torpedoes, not by Lando as we saw in the final version.

Obi-Wan's return to Luke wasn't as a Force ghost originally either. He was "real flesh and blood" and he wasn't alone because Anakin and Yoda also join in the conversation with Luke.

a man that is standing in the dark: Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi's Force ghost in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back © Disney Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi's Force ghost in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

In the most recent trilogy, we've seen Force ghosts become far more active in terms of shaping major setpieces and physically impacting the world around them, so it's intriguing that it could have been a thing earlier in the series.

As for the Emperor, we know that the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural, but could he have survived death by lava?

Well, if he survived falling down a reactor shaft to return in The Rise of Skywalker, we think he'd be able to shake it off.

Return of the Jedi and the entire Skywalker Saga is available to watch on Disney+. You can also own the Saga on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD.

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