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The original 1976 Star Wars script references The Clone Wars (which wouldn't be realised in fiction until decades later):

LEIA: General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.

(Leia was referring to her adopted father, Bail Organa, and not Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, of course).

According to starwarz.com, which has copies of early drafts of the scripts, the term "clone" was added in the 3rd draft in 1975.

Third draft - August 1975

Ben: I know who you are. Stand up so that we can talk properly. You’re embarrassing me. I’m not that important.
Luke: But you are… I know your ‘Diary of the Clone Wars’ by heart. My father…

(The term "clone" isn't present in the first draft from 1974 nor the second draft) from earlier in 1975).

What struck me was that 1975 predates cloning as we know it today. While 1975 was the same year a mammalian embryo was created via nuclear transfer from another embryo, it isn't the same thing as cloning from an adult, so if this event made headlines I doubt it would have inspired the Star Wars' EU story.

Looking at Google Ngram, the noun "clone" was significantly more popular than "cloning" (the verb, implying a known process for creating clones exists) which goes with the progress made in genetic and reproductive research made since the 1960s.

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While I know Lucas was an avid sci-fi follower, I don't believe nor recall me personally coming across any sci-fi literature about clones or cloning written before the 1980s (making Star Wars a standout anyway).

  • So assuming that Lucas was not referring to contemporary genetic cloning by nuclear-transfer, what process could "clone" refer to when the script was written?
  • Was cloning and the creation of clones prevalent in the sci-fi community at the time?
  • What could Lucas' inspiration have been?
  • If the alternate to embryonic cloning is to imagining a cloning-machine like a vat which pops out a fully-grown person (replete with memories and personality from the original) then did other contemporary and prior works also refer to that as "cloning" and the product as "clones" or did they have a different word for it?
    • While "Doppleganger" comes close - it doesn't have the same sci-fi connotation as "clone" does. I think today it's used more as a synoynm for lookalike rather than identical-copy. It also doesn't imply the doppleganger has the same mind, memories or personality.
    • "Cauldron born" is a much, much older term - which could be used to describe how a massed army of orcs or demons was raised, but it's necessarily a magical or fantasy term than sci-fi.
    • Terms like Battletech's "Iron womb" are on-point, but postdate Star Wars by over a decade.

I think my real question is: "in 1975, was the term 'clone' well-understood by the general public?" or "in 1975, what would the general public of the developed western nations have understood Lucas' use of the term 'clone' as?"

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    Ursula K. Le Guin's 1968 short story "Nine Lives" deals explicitly with cloning and uses the term clone, though I have no idea if it was an influence. – starpilotsix Nov 2 at 1:46
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    This appears to have a few too many separate (admittedly related) questions; maybe this question could be refined to focus on one, and split the others out to their own questions? – DavidW Nov 2 at 1:54
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    And of course there was Clone (1972) by "Richard Cowper" where the 4 identical clones were explicitly created in a lab. – DavidW Nov 2 at 2:06
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    I would say that "Cauldron-born", assuming you're referring to the Chronicles of Prydain, has little relation to the idea of cloning or doppelgangers since they were revived human corpses and not copies of a particular person. Artificial life in a sense but closer to zombies or revenants (at least in Lloyd Alexander's depiction). – SpaceWolf1701 Nov 2 at 4:59
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    Dude the word has been around in sc-ifi in its proper form as understood today since long long b4 star wars, you could have saved yourself the bother of asking with a quick Google, cloning (the method used today) was first proposed (though it didn't have the name) in 1938 & the first frogs were cloned in 1952, the word itself has been in use for plant grafts since 1903 - & though he didn't use the word clone lets not forget brave new world by Huxley - Lucas wasn't a visionary in this particular instance, far far from it. – Pelinore Nov 2 at 5:43
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  • The protagonist of Clarke's Imperial Earth (1975) is explicitly a clone.
  • The Duplicated Man (1953) by James Blish and Robert Lowndes revolved around a machine that can duplicate people.
  • The fictional novel "Lords of the Swastika" written by Hitler in The Iron Dream (1972) featured idealized "Aryan" clones led by a clone of the protagonist.
  • Destination Void (1965) by Frank Herbert features clones as the crew of a spaceship.
  • Also by Herbert, gholas, which are basically clones, first appeared in Dune Messiah in 1969.
  • Cloning forms part of the plot of The Godwhale (1974) by T.J. Bass.
  • And do I really have to mention Invasion of the Body Snatchers (first film 1956)?

That's just a few examples of cloning and clones in science fiction in 1975 and earlier. I could find more if I spent a bit more time at it. Long story short, Lucas was not proposing anything novel or unfamiliar to SF.

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    I know the concept existed - but when did people start using the term “clone”? Only the first example you mentioned uses the word (as far as I know) – Dai Nov 2 at 2:24
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    The word was used in biology starting at the beginning of the 1900’s. npr.org/2011/03/11/134459358/… – BSteinhurst Nov 2 at 3:01
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    While not explicitly called "cloning", the Bokanovsky's Process from A Brave New World (1932) is also quite an early example. – Chronocidal Nov 4 at 8:29
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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word clone first entered English as far back as 1903 to describe plants that were duplicated through grafting (or similar). Another early use of the word describes asexually reproduced cells. This sense dates back to at least 1929.

The "duplicate person" sense of clone can be found as far back as 1970, in a book called Future Shock, talking about the future of science:

Through a process known as “cloning” it will be possible to grow from the nucleus of an adult cell a new organism that has the same genetic characteristics of the person contributing the cell nucleus.

And here is another early example of clone (this time as a verb), from the 1973 movie Sleeper:

We're gonna make an attempt to clone the patient directly into his suit.

Also Star Trek: The Infinite Vulcan (1973):

COMPUTER: Planned to clone perfect specimen prototype into master race.

  • Good catch on "Future Shock" -- it was very popular and influential in its day (and beyond.) – Roger Nov 4 at 15:20
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Cloning as a scientific process might not have been mature in 1974, but the idea of a Doppelgänger had been around for hundreds of years

A doppelgänger (literally "double-goer") is a non-biologically related look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a ghostly or paranormal phenomenon and usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck. Other traditions and stories equate a doppelgänger with an evil twin. In modern times, the term twin stranger is occasionally used. The word "doppelgänger" is often used in a more general and neutral sense, and in slang, to describe any person who physically resembles another person.

A lot of clone stories have probed this, since a clone is literally a copy of another person. In 1970, there was The Man Who Haunted Himself, which was another in that vein.

There's also the evil twin idea.

I mention these because science fiction of the day simply told you what science might be able to do someday. The first person to describe what we know as cloning was in 1938

German scientist Hans Spemann proposes a "fantastical experiment" to transfer one cell's nucleus into an egg without a nucleus, the basic method that would eventually be used in cloning.

This made its way into esoteric science fiction

Long before the word "clone" became popular, sf writers had considered the possibility of duplicating people for Eugenic purposes. Poul Anderson's "Un-Man" (January 1953 Astounding) refers to its cloning process as "exogenesis". Here and in John Russell Fearn's The Multi-Man (1954 as by Vargo Statten) the idea is used as a gimmick, and the possible consequences of such technological development are left unexplored. A more ambitious application of the notion is found in "When You Care, When You Love" (September 1962 F&SF) by Theodore Sturgeon, in which a rich woman attempts to reproduce her dead lover by growing him anew from one of the cancer cells which have destroyed him. Among the nonfiction books that popularized the term was Gordon Rattray Taylor's The Biological Time-Bomb (1968), which commented on the implications of experiments carried out by F C Steward in the early 1960s on the cloning of plants: "It is not mere sensationalism to ask whether the members of human clones may feel particularly united, and be able to cooperate better, even if they are not in actual supersensory communication with one another." This possibility has been widely explored in such stories as Ursula K Le Guin's "Nine Lives" (November 1969 Playboy), Pamela Sargent's Cloned Lives (1976), Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) and Fay Weldon's The Cloning of Joanna May (1989) – televised as The Cloning of Joanna May (1991) – in which intimate human relations are examined in depth and with some sensitivity.

There's plenty of material contemporary to him. But most notable would be THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)

In the 25th century (as stated in the novel; the film never specifying a year), sexual intercourse and reproduction are prohibited, whereas use of mind-altering drugs is mandatory to enforce compliance among the citizens and to ensure their ability to conduct dangerous and demanding tasks. Emotions and the concept of family are taboo.

This sounds like a society of synthetically gestated humans... which sounds a lot like they might use cloning (or some form of genetic engineering).

You'll note that Lucas never bothers to define what a "clone" is, just that

  1. Star Wars has it in-universe
  2. There was some previous war involving them

He probably just threw the word in for worldbuilding at the time.

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    Cloning as a scientific process has been mature since before 1000 BC (2000 BC in China) but we only understood the process as "cloning" around early 1900s. Once we understood what the process actually means people very quickly theorized about it's possibility in animals (the original cloning process was developed for plants) but it took quite a bit of time to make that happen - still, the idea of animal cloning in fiction predates the development of animal cloning precisely because we started thinking about it a long time ago – slebetman Nov 3 at 3:55
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According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction one of the first uses of "clone" for people instead of plants (where the usage is much older) was the book The Biological Time-Bomb (1968) by Gordon Rattray Taylor:

It is not mere sensationalism to ask whether the members of human clones may feel particularly united, and be able to cooperate better, even if they are not in actual supersensory communication with one another.

In the same year George Baker, writing as "P.T. Olemy", wrote a novel The Clones where, again according to SF Encyclopedia "Clones, because of their powers of communication, may be able to save Earth from invasion by aliens; or in fact help Earth invade other planets in turn."

So I think we can say that by 1968 the term "clone" was being used for duplicated humans in the way we understand it now, though that doesn't speak to how well known it would have been, or if George Lucas would have been aware of it yet.

  • There is no unusual communication related to clones at all, they do not even know each other, or that they are clones. So it describes something different. – Volker Siegel Nov 3 at 3:58
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    @VolkerSiegel The theory here is that clones, being perfect duplicates, understand each other much better than other people, because they're more in sync, so to say. The same is true for identical twins. – Mr Lister Nov 3 at 9:54
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    The older meaning of the word 'clone' is of a set of organisms (or cells). If you take a spider plant and let the runners grow into individual plants, which you detach from the original, then all of those plants will be, collectively, a clone. This older meaning is what's being used in the quote here. – Mark Foskey Nov 3 at 20:10
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The most widespread exposure to science fictional ideas comes though television, radio, comic strips, and comic books, since those are the cheapest to the consumer media and experienced by the largest audiences, often being experience by more persons than any but the most popular movies, to say nothing of being experienced by more people than science fiction novels and short stories.

I am not a great expert on science fiction in every form of popular medium from before the Star Wars script first mentioned the Clone war, but I can remember at least two mentions of duplicating people from science fiction television show from before star Wars.

In "The Infinite Vulcan", which was broadcast on 20 October 1973 (and was also mentioned in Laurel's answer):

COMPUTER: Working. From Earth history file. Stavos Keniclius. Earth scientist, period, Eugenics Wars.

(The image on the screen does appear to be the giant, wearing a lab coat with a nice array of pens in the pocket)

COMPUTER: Planned to clone perfect specimen prototype into master race. Concept considered anti-humanistic. Banned from community. Disappeared. No evidence of death. No further data.

MCCOY: There used to be a story about a modern Diogenes wandering the galaxy looking for someone special.

KIRK: Someone special. A perfect specimen, perhaps. Yes, I've heard it too.

MCCOY: It couldn't be Keniclius. He'd be over two hundred and fifty years old.

KIRK: Not if he cloned a new copy of himself every so often to carry on the search. Remember, he said he was Keniclius Five.

And:

STAVOS: It's too late, Captain Kirk! In a few minutes your friend will be gone. But as Keniclius One lives on in each of his clones, so will Mister Spock. Behold, gentlemen, the dawning of a new era, the salvation of a galaxy! Spock Two! (A giant Vulcan looms over them)

And:

STAVOS: More than just drained. It's been transferred, relocated into the mechanism itself. I can duplicate exact physiological structure. I cannot duplicate that which is learned. Just as my predecessor transferred his knowledge to me through his apparatus, I have done that with Mister Spock and the first of his clones.

So watching "The Infinite Vulcan" would be enough for George Lucas to hear of clones and cloning.

The Outer Limits (1963-1965) had an episode, "The Duplicate Man", December 19, 1964, where a person creates a disposable duplicate of himself to hunt a dangerous alien monster. It was based on the story "Goodnight, Mr. James" (1951) by Clifford D. Simark.

I don't know whether the duplication process was described as cloning or the duplicate as a clone.

So there are two prominent examples, that I could remember, of duplicating persons in science fiction television shows from the 1960s and 1970s. And the later episode definitely used the words "cloned" and "clones".

And there might have been other television episodes, and radio shows, and comic strips, and comic books from the 1960s and early 1970s which featured duplication of people and perhaps mentioned clones and cloning.

  • +1 For the underappreciated ST:TAS. :) – Lexible Nov 4 at 3:30
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Just to draw some analysis from all of the good answers here, I can see two relevant connotations of cloning that were in the air at the time. First, there was the idea that you could find one ideal source and clone a perfect army. Lucas clearly used that one in the prequels. And second, there was the idea that there might be some kind of mysterious connection, perhaps a telepathy or some kind of shared identity. This reflects a poor scientific understanding, but it was clearly in the air. Lucas doesn't seem to have used it later, but it may have affected the vibe when he mentioned it in the original film.

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The British sci-fi TV series "Timeslip" (1970-71) consisted of four stories, the second, third and fourth of which dealt extensively with clones, and referred to them as such:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeslip

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