I seem to remember reading that there were going to be three trilogies originally in Star Wars, i.e. they would add episodes 7 - 9.
Was that ever the case? What happened to that plan?
Update: looks like that original plan might be back after all!
Many contradicting claims have been made on that subject:
George Lucas's conception of Star Wars was of a single episode in an unmade serial
In a 2004 interview, Hamill said: "You know, when I first did this, it was four trilogies. 12 movies! And out on the desert, any time between setups...lots of free time. And George was talking about this whole thing. I said, 'Why are you starting with IV, V and VI? It's crazy.' [Imitating Lucas grumble,] 'It's the most commercial section of the movie.'
I've done a bunch of research on this topic, and there just aren't many reliable sources on the matter... As with many questions on this site, there's a Wikipedia entry that lists the best sources. Bottom line is this:
Hope this sets the record straight.
EDIT: Oct 30, 2012
Disney bought Lucas Films, which owns Star Wars. Bottom line is, they are going to produce at least another trilogy, and quite possibly a lot more movies than that. See this news article.
The one thing about George Lucas that everyone needs to understand is that, since he began working on what became Star Wars in 1973, he changed its so-called "history" countless times.
I will try to do this as spoiler-free and succinctly as possible...
After American Graffiti, George Lucas wanted to make a serial sci-fi film like the ones that he grew up loving as a kid. Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola tried to get the rights to Flash Gordon but the owner wouldn't sell it to a bunch of "unknowns".
Lucas decided to write it on his own. First was a two pages outline known as the "Journa; of the Whills", in which he mentions the Jedi Windu and slowly starts to create some kind of backstory to this new universe.
But from there, nothing… Lucas couldn't come up with a story. He remembered a film he saw while studying film making, The Hidden Fortress by the great Akira Kurosawa. Lucas took the story, characters and most of the locations and changed only some of it. When he presented the first draft to Francis Ford Coppola, his friend and partner was shocked. "This is The Hidden Fortress!" said Coppola. Francis suggested that they get the rights to remake it but they couldn't.
From there Lucas simply reworked some of the elements, but the basic story and final film remained an "updated" version of The Hidden Fortress.
It was only while in principal photography that Lucas decided to change the title from The Adventures of Luke Skywalker to Star Wars. There was no "Episode IV". There was no "A New Hope". The original plan was for only one film, but Fox asked for Lucas to plan for a sequel might be a possibility if the film made some money. With that in mind, both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were signed for a sequel. George Lucas asked Alan Dean Foster to write a sequel that could be made for cheap, with the only returning characters to be Luke, Leia and Darth Vader (who could be recast since he's a person in a suit). That "sequel" became the 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye.
As you all know Star Wars was huge! A phenomenal success. It's then that George Lucas thought of the idea that he could make a new Star Wars film every year, but with someone new as the director. There would be a total of 12 films, just like the serials he loved as a kid.
Work on the sequel started for Lucas. One thing he noticed was that the Darth Vader character was among the most popular of the characters from the film. In fact, he was the most popular right after R2-D2 and C-3PO in terms of merchandise sales.
With the struggle to come up with a solution to introduce the Skywalker father, who at this point in Lucas's mind is someone completely different than Darth Vader, Lucas had to make a choice. In Star Wars, Darth Vader is simply a henchman for the Empire. He is Grand Moff Tarkin's right-hand man. He is the one that goes to war to get the job done. Vader invades the Rebels' ship at the beginning and even participates in the spaceship fight at the end to protect the Death Star.
But with the growing popularity of Vader, Lucas decided to turn things around. By the second draft of what would become The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader had become father Skywalker. It leads to one of the greatest twists in cinema history.
The sequel took so long to prepare that the plan was changed. Lucas decided that there wouldn't be 12 films in total but now "only" 9. With the theatrical re-release of Star Wars, the title was changed to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Back then theatrical re-release was a common thing.
With everything taking so long to make the first film, Lucas decided not to direct the sequel. While he refused at first, Irvin Kershner took on the directing chair for the sequel. Kershner had been a teacher and somewhat of a mentor to Lucas.
When The Empire Strikes Back was released, it had the "Episode V" in its title. The film didn't perform as well as the first one, Lucas blaming pretty much everyone but himself for it.
With the next sequel, Lucas decided not direct it but to control everything. Return of the Jedi was more or less a rework of the original film but with a bigger budget, particularly for special effects. The cantina is now Jabba's palace. The spaceship fight is bigger. And the original ending of Star Wars where the Wookiees were to fight the Empire was reworked with the Ewoks.
Lucas's personal life was going down the toilet and this whole Star Wars thing had taken the best and worst of him. After the release of Return of the Jedi, it was announced that the other 6 films, 3 prequels and 3 sequels, would never get made.
The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn renewed interest in the Star Wars series in the 1990s. Star Wars was cool again. Lucas decided to return to the series and work on the prequels.
I have been a Star Wars fan since the very beginning. My sources are various articles, interviews and videos. More importantly, any self-respecting Star Wars fan should read the amazing book, The Secret History of Star Wars.
Depending on his plans at the time and when you asked him, George Lucas has variously said there would be one film, three films, six films, nine films or 12 films.
It was widely reported in 1980 that there would be nine films: a trilogy of trilogies.
Al Walentis wrote in the May 25, 1980 Reading Eagle:
Lucas originally envisioned "Star Wars" as a single feature, but his 200-page screenplay proved too unwieldy. He then began tinkering with his story line, cutting it apart, sorting our all the various subplots. The script finally was pieced together as three distinct trilogies.
"There are essentially nine films," Lucas said. "The first trilogy is about the young Ben Kenobi and the early life of Luke Skywalker's father when Luke was a young boy. The first trilogy takes place some 20 years before the second. About a year elapses between each story of the first trilogy. The whole adventure - encompassing the three trilogies - spans about 40 years."
Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), was also on-script with the nine-film plan. Tom Buckley of the N.Y. Times wrote on May 25, 1980's The Spokesman-Review:
"I told George I didn't want to do a sequel," Kershner said."He said, 'I don't blame you. Neither would I, but this isn't. It's the second act of the second trilogy of nine films I plan to make in this theme. I want it to be better than mine.' ..."
On the same page of the same paper, Richard Freeman of Newhouse News wrote:
Three years ago, Hamill signed up for three "Star Wars" films, of which "The Empire Strikes Back" is the second. The third - still in the planning stage - will be called "The revenge of the Jedi," and Hamill worries that these titles will suggest the various Pink Panther sequels to audiences.
If things work out, these three movies will eventually constitute only a third of the projected nine-movie "Star Wars" saga, but Hamill doesn't plan to be in any of the others.
On the following page of the same paper, Aljean Harmetz of the New York Times wrote:
The "Star Wars" George Lucas has created in his mind will take nine movies to tell. "Star Wars" is actually "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope," the first movie of the second trilogy. "The Empire Strikes Back" is "Star Wars, Episode V," while "The Return of the Jedi' is episode VI. The first trilogy deals with the young Darth Vader and the young Ben Kenobi. At the end of the first trilogy, Luke Skywalker is four years old. Only the robots - R2D2 and C-3PO - will be characters in all the movies.
He chose to start in the middle because the first trilogy is, he says, "more plot-oriented, more soap-operaish." He adds that the "central core problem" of "Star Wars" hasn't even been stated yet. Although he originally saw Star Wars as six movies, his "dream" was only for "Star Wars" to do well enough so that he could finish the three movies in the second trilogy. "If people had laughed 'Star Wars' off the screen, I'd have been less surprised than I was at what did happen," he says. "Until the day it opened, I felt it would do $16 million and, if I pushed hard, I could make 'Empire.'"
An interview with Harrison Ford in Lakeland Ledger of July 4, 1980:
Like Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Ford has already signed up for the third "Star Wars" film, which is tentatively entitled "The Revenge of the Jedi." This will conclude the middle trilogy of the nine-part series, and Ford does not know whether it signals the end of Han Solo. It is up to George Lucas, the creator of the saga.
"He has an idea of doing one (involving what happened to Solo) about 15 years from now, when I'll be 53. That's something I'd like to do."
The Phoenix of June 21, 1980 also mentions the three trilogies spanning 40 years, and:
Thereafter, Lucas will go back to the first trilogy, starting with a story so far back that it does not include Darth Vader.
If interest sustains, Star Wars could be in production well into the 1990s. David Prowse figures he'll get killed off (by Luke Skywalker?) in the seventh or eighth story.
And it seems at least one trilogy was planned from the start. One week after Star Wars came out, The Leader-Post of June 3, 1977 says:
[Mark] Hamill said he believes Lucas plans a Star Wars trilogy because all the actors are under contract for two more films.
Reporting on the film's record-breaking success, an AP story in May 26, 1978's Schenectady Gazette says:
Lucas had originally conceived of "Star Wars" as a trilogy. Work on the first sequel is well under way...
An article by Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times, printed in The Tuscaloosa News of June 15, 1979, quotes The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz:
Kurtz says that there are on paper the makings of a grand design of 12 films, including three stories that would historically precede the Skywalker takes (prequels, as they are dreadfully know these days).
A May 5, 1980 article quotes David Prowse as saying "They plan to do 12 movies."
Finally, this 1979 promo advert for Kenner Star Wars claims:
"That's right, Star Wars is forever. George Lucas and 20th Century Fox have plans for twelve more block-busting chapters to the Star Wars story.
So does that make 13?
Lucas is selling Lucasfilm and the Star Wars rights to the Walt Disney Company who according to CNN (October 31, 2012) will make at least three sequel films, and then another film every two years (which might might not be sequels), and also possibly a television series:
"It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers," George Lucas said in a written statement. "I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
Lucas said he will work as a creative consultant on Star Wars Episode 7, the first of a planned new trilogy of live-action Star Wars movies. It is targeted for release in 2015, Disney said.
Disney hopes to essentially relaunch the Star Wars film franchise, which had its last installment in 2005 with Revenge of the Sith. Following the three planned sequels, the company envisions releasing even more Star Wars movies at a rate of a new film every two to three years.
Future movies may not be sequels but movies that focus on fringe characters. Disney also believes there is potential for a television series.
Some fantastic answers here, but I thought I'd just add a little more detail, that I don't think has been included in any of the others. Firstly, as has already been said, STAR WARS was only ever one film. Vader wasn't Luke's father, Leia wasn't Luke's sister, no further films were planned.
Even the original 1977 opening crawl looked like this:
That's right. No "Episode IV : A New Hope".
It's difficult to remember now, but STAR WARS was HUGE. I mean TITANIC big. Adjusted for inflation it's actually still the second highest grossing movie of all-time (AVATAR is only number 14).
So Lucas and his friends set to work on expanding the universe, much like the Wachowski's did with THE MATRIX. Lucas's "second in command", from the beginning of his Hollywood career, was a man called Gary Kurtz. Kurtz produced Lucas's first "Hollywood" feature, AMERICAN GRAFITTI, which in itself was a big success (currently 44 on the highest grossing films of all time list), STAR WARS, and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
Lucas worked with Kurtz (and many others) on producing a rough outlines for approximately 8 more movies, making 9 in total. The EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was made according to this plan.
After the success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (the project Lucas put together with Steven Spielberg), Lucas decided that cinema-goers wanted more of a rollercoaster action movie, and so changed the 9 movie plan.
Kurtz and Lucas were at logger-heads over a lot of things. Some of them technical, some of them artistic. According to Kurtz they agreed they should go their separate ways before RETURN OF THE JEDI began, with Kurtz taking the opportunity to work with Jim Henson on THE DARK CRYSTAL.
- EPISODE 1: Was to focus on the origins of the Jedi Knights and how they are initiated and trained
- EPISODE 2: Introduction and development of Obi-Wan Kenobi
- EPISODE 3: Introduction and life of Vader
- EPISODE 4: There were seven different drafts of the film. At one point, they pursued buying the rights to Hidden Fortress because of the strong similarities. At one point, Luke was a female, Han was Luke's brother, Luke's father was the one in prison (interesting point for some debates) and the film featured 40 wookies [sic]
- EPISODE 5: Once written, the screenplay of Empire is almost exactly what is seen on screen. The only cut scenes were those involving wampas in the rebel base (cut because of time and unsolved technical glitches) and about two minutes of Luke/Yoda Jedi training with no real dialog.
- EPISODE 6: Leia was to be elected "Queen of her people" leaving her isolated. Han was to die. Luke confronted Vader and went on with his life alone. Leia was not to be Luke's sister.
- EPISODE 7: Third trilogy was to focus on Luke's life as a Jedi, with very few details planned out.
- EPISODE 8: Luke's sister (not Leia) appears from another part of the galaxy.
- EPISODE 9: First appearance of the Emperor.
(I believe he went into greater detail in an issue of SFX magazine, but I've been unable to find a copy of the text on the internet... I bet it's there somewhere!)
There's also a great interview with Kurtz here, where he goes into a bit more detail:
The one story thread [in Return of the Jedi] that got totally tossed out the window, which was really pretty important I think, was the one of Vader trying to convince Luke to join him to overthrow the Emperor. That together they had enough power that they could do that, and it wasn’t him saying I want to take over the world and be the evil leader, it was that transition. It was Vader saying, “I’m looking again at what I’ve done and where my life has gone and who I’ve served and, very much in the Samurai tradition, and saying if I can join forces with my son, who is just as strong as I am, that maybe we can make some amends.” So there was all of that going on in Jedi as well, that was supposed to go on. So the story was quite a bit more poignant and the ending was the coronation of Leia as the queen of what was left of her people, to take over the royal symbol. That meant she was then isolated from all of the rest and Luke went off then by himself. It was basically a kind of bittersweet ending. She’s not his sister that dropped in to wrap up everything neatly. His sister was someone else way over on the other side of the galaxy and she wasn’t going to show up until the next episode.
What is now Episode IV was originally released as simply "Star Wars". It was chosen out of all the stories Lucas had come up with in that universe because it was best able to stand alone as a single movie. Had it been only modestly successful as the studio thought it would be (most of the people working on it actually thought it'd bomb), it probably would have been the only Star Wars movie, and Lucas would have either moved on with the Indiana Jones stories he had in the works, or faded into obscurity. As it was, the film was so successful that Lucas could afford to bankroll ESB himself (something not normally done especially at the time, though the model has since been replicated by Spielberg, Cameron and several other prominent screenwriter/directors).
I realize this is long after the fact, but I just happened to stumble across this interview with Gary Kurtz on mashable.com ('Star Wars' Producer Blasts 'Star Wars' Myths) where he says this (The original Star Wars wasn't really supposed to be called "Episode IV" back in 1977):
We were toying with the idea of calling it Episode III, IV, or V — something in the middle. Fox hated that idea. They said it’ll really confuse the audience — and actually they were right. If you go to see a film, and it’s been touted as this new science fiction film, and it says Episode III up there, you’d say, “What the hell?”
We were a bit clouded by the fact that we wanted it to be as much like Flash Gordon as possible. Because if you went to Saturday morning pictures and came in and saw episode eight of Flash Gordon, you’d have the scroll at the beginning, the rollup, which we imitated. So we thought that would be really clever. But it was stupid at the time, because it’d be impossible to explain to anybody what it meant.
Along with this (On George Lucas' frequent claim that he made Star Wars by taking the first draft, chopping it into thirds — which then became the original trilogy):
That’s not true. There were a lot of little bits and pieces that were reasonably good ideas and that ended up being in the final draft. But once the final draft was actually locked and the Huycks did their polish on it, there wasn’t enough material to do other movies.
There were some odd ideas that got thrown out, like the Wookiee planet; that was a cost factor. There were some other ideas that might have been included if there was more budget. Some of those ended up in later films. But [George's story on how it is written] is perpetuated by the fact that he and I did interviews at the time of the opening of Star Wars, saying we took a section out of the middle because there was too much material and we want to do more films.
After the film opened, Fox said, “Can you do another one?” And we said it’s possible, but for cost purposes it would be better if we committed to two more because we can amortize the cost of sets and everything that way. So that’s really what happened. But the story material was not fully formed.
There are a lot of other neat little tidbits in there as well, so the interview is certainly worth a read. But, the gist here is that it looks like, when Episode IV was originally being filmed, there wasn't really a plan for anything else to be made (no sequels or prequels). There were ideas that were thrown out for Episode IV that ended up making it into the other movies, but it wasn't "planned that way", per se. They may have "wanted" to do more, but there wasn't a specific plan or outline that already included the framework for anything other than one movie.
I suspect some of this is a generational difference. I just bet a student, who was adamant that George Lucas never wrote episodes 7 - 9. I came back from the Peace Corps in 1977 after having read a promotional article about Star Wars in Time magazine, hoping the movie would still be out. My memory is of seeing it, with the "Episode IV: A New Hope" in the crawl. This would have to have been August or September. I suppose this was the re-release described above. Somehow I have always had in my head that we still were not finished with the saga because we needed episodes 7-9 (and thus I had little tolerance for viewing what I saw as prequels in episodes 1-3). My student's generation is all about who wrote what, who directed, and who is making the money from episodes 7 to 9. A different point of view.