The ’70s Classic That Inspired George Lucas For Star Wars Sequels

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

One of the things that still irks critics of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy is that Disney ditched so many of the ideas that George Lucas had already developed for these films. What is striking, though, is that Lucas had the same basic idea for what would become the relationship between Rey and Luke Skywalker. However, in a fascinating wrinkle, the Star Wars creator wanted Luke to be a Colonel Kurtz-type character, an homage to the film Apocalypse Now, which was directed by his old friend, Francis Ford Coppola.

The Star Wars/Apocalypse Now Connection

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For this Star Wars/Apocalypse Now connection to make sense, we need to take things back to the beginning. Before George Lucas sold the rights to his famous franchise to Disney, he developed treatments for the Sequel Trilogy that the House of Mouse could either take or leave. Obviously, Disney declined to use most of his ideas, but in a strange twist, seemingly utilized some of his more controversial ideas for the equally controversial film The Last Jedi.

The Rey And Luke Arc

You see, George Lucas also wanted the new protagonist to be a female Jedi who would get trained by Luke Skywalker, and he even wanted the Jedi Master to die in Episode VIII, which is exactly what happened under Disney’s direction. Of course, the Sequel Trilogy discarded some of Lucas’ ideas, which would have included an extended focus on midi-chlorians (no, really). However, the main thing that changed about the Rey and Luke relationship was that the Star Wars creator wanted her to have a journey to find the Jedi Master that was reminiscent of Apocalypse Now.

For better or for worse, The Force Awakens ends with Rey finding Luke Skywalker, and their training (or lack thereof) begins almost right away in The Last Jedi. However, Lucas originally wanted Luke to be a character similar to Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. If you’ve never seen the film (honestly, you should stop what you’re doing and go check out this masterpiece right now), the plot revolves around an Army colonel who goes rogue during the Vietnam War, and the young captain who is sent to find and kill him. 

Luke Skywalker is Colonel Kurtz

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Before you ask, no…George Lucas didn’t plan for Rey to hunt down and kill Luke Skywalker, though some might argue that would still have been a more fitting final fate for the Jedi Master. Instead, the Star Wars guru wanted the Apocalypse Now connection to come via Rey having more of an onscreen journey to find the reclusive Jedi, just like much of Coppola’s war film is spent with our protagonist simply trying to find Kurtz. 

Same Archetype, Different Outcome

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As for Luke, he wasn’t going to be a ruthless warlord like Kurtz but instead a similar archetype … someone who had withdrawn from the world and was in danger of potentially falling to the Dark Side unless someone could bring him back to both the Light and the galactic community. Again, while Disney did its own thing with most of the sequels, it is interesting to note that Lucas himself came up with one of the most controversial aspects of The Last Jedi: Luke being a dark and grumpy recluse who doesn’t want (at least, at first) anything to do with saving the galaxy.

The Horror!

Mark Hamill

While we are bigger fans of The Last Jedi than most, we can’t deny that the controversial Star Wars film might have been better if it took a few more cues from Apocalypse Now. That would have given Rey and Luke a stronger narrative and hewed a bit closer to the original vision of George Lucas. Instead, we got a final film that many harsh critics might channel Colonel Kurtz to describe: “the horror…the horror.”