Star Wars’ Most Iconic Planet Was Supposed To Look Very Different
Instead of as a desert, the iconic Star Wars planet Tatooine was originally conceived as a jungle planet.
One of the enduring ironies of Star Wars is that Tatooine never leaves the story for long, in spite of it being set in a vast galaxy of inhabited worlds. What you may not know is that, as impossible as it may be to imagine Tatooine as anything but the bleak desert planet we’ve seen so often, it was almost a much different environment. George Lucas originally wanted the hero of his movie to be introduced on a jungle planet.
In 1977, George Lucas told Time Magazine that not only had he originally envisioned Luke Skywalker’s home as a jungle planet, but the idea went so far as to send producer Gary Kurtz to the Philippines to scout for locations. Had the Star Wars creator settled on Tatooine as a jungle, it would have placed the latter half of A New Hope‘s production in the Philippines at the same time as another very different kind of epic filmed there; principal photography on Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now began in the Philippines in March, 1976.
Apparently, George Lucas’s imagination was bigger than his constitution. Time says the thought of shooting Star Wars in the jungle for months made the director “itchy” and so Tatooine was turned into a desert. And so, instead of in the Philippines, the name “Lucasfilm” would become a familiar one in Tunisia.
It is curious to consider what would have happened had Star Wars gone with the original idea of Tatooine being a jungle. Assuming it didn’t impact the success of the film series, the franchise’s original trilogy would have looked a lot different. For the 1995 home release of the remastered versions of the films, film critic Leonard Maltin interviewed Lucas (via YouTube), and the director said he came up with the different environments of the movies in contrast with one another.
“In the first movie, we’re on a sand thing; it was all kind of a brown color. And so in the second one I put it in the snow and it was all kind of white, and then I did the green, you know, swampy kind of thing… And in the third one… a forest was really the only thing I had left.”George Lucas on his choices of environments for the original Star Wars trilogy
In other words, if Star Wars had gone ahead and featured Tatooine as a jungle, all of the other terrains would likely have been different, as well. Hoth, Dagobah, Endor, and Bespin could have all been completely different kinds of planets.
In fact, it wasn’t just the terrain of the Skywalker home that was almost much different; Star Wars came close to not calling the planet “Tatooine.” As CBR recalled, in the first script for Star Wars, the planet’s name was instead Utapau and Lucas would again try to use the name for the world that would eventually become Naboo in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Audiences finally got to visit Utapau in 2002’s Revenge of the Sith; it’s the site of Ewan McGregor’s beloved “hello there” moment before fighting General Grievous.