The most iconic character in the “Star Wars” franchise is arguably Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill. But as famous as Luke Skywalker is, many fans don’t realize that this fan-favorite character originally had a very different last name. And according to George Lucas himself, the character’s name change had something to do with the infamous Charles Manson murders. Here’s what you need to know about the origins and evolution of the character who would eventually become Luke Skywalker.
Luke Skywalker’s Original Name Was ‘Luke Skykiller’ (Lucas Thought a Change Was Needed Because of Charles Manson)
In an early draft of what would become “Star Wars: A New Hope”, the character of Luke Skywalker was called “Luke Starkiller” instead. This is alluded to in the tweet from Mark Hamill above, where he recalls using the Starkiller name on set. That is because, according to Yahoo!, Hamill’s character was not re-named to “Skywalker” until after over a month of filming had elapsed. When the character’s name was changed, the scene where Mark Hamill used his character’s full name had to be re-shot.
For context, according to the Mary Sue, Hamill sent this tweet as part of an effort to share a “May the 24th” memory with fans, as he was 24 years old at the time of filming. His use of “May the 24″/”May the 24th” is a play on the well established “May the 4th” fan holiday for “Star Wars” fans, which came about because the date “May the 4th” sounds a lot like “May the force”, as in “May the force be with you”.
According to Salon‘s reporting on the history of early drafts of the “Star Wars” script (itself an excerpt from “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise” by Chris Taylor), there was a 1975 draft of the screenplay which bore the title “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode One: The Star Wars”. In the version of the film that eventually made it to theaters, the character of Luke does ultimately “kill a star”, in the form of destroying the “Death Star” base, so the original name does make a kind of sense.
It’s only a difference of a few letters, but the name change from “Luke Starkiller” to “Luke Skywalker” creates a shift in the way someone expects that character to act. Starkiller, admittedly a cool name, also sounds potentially more villainous. Clearly, others had exactly that reaction, as Lucas himself was eventually forced to admit. According to Yahoo! Entertainment, Lucas was convinced to change the name of his hero after people started “confusing” the character with someone more nefarious. Yahoo!’s report includes the re-printing of a quote from Lucas originally attributed to the book “The Making of Star Wars”. In that book, when asked why Luke’s last name was changed to Skywalker, Lucas stated: “That I did because I felt a lot of people were confusing him with someone like Charles Manson…It had very unpleasant connotations.”
Charles Manson was the head of a “family” of criminals who were found guilty of murder. According to the LA Times, Manson and three members of his “family” were found guilty of 27 counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to murder in 1971. The first “Star Wars” film hit theaters in 1977, according to IMDB.
While it is true that “Luke Starkiller” never made it to screen in the film’s final cut, Dark Horse released a series of “Star Wars” comics inspired by the early drafts of “Star Wars”. These comics included characters like a reptilian Han Solo, a Jedi named Annikin Starkiller, and General Luke Skywalker.
Is Luke Skywalker Named After George Lucas?
Some “Star Wars” fans have noticed a possible connection between the hero of “Star Wars” and the creator of the franchise. One is named Luke. The other is Lucas. Did George Lucas name his hero after himself? While it seems possible, Lucas has yet to issue a definitive statement on the similarity between his last name and Skywalker’s first name. That being said, writers such as Alex Zalben have previously noted the similarity between the names.
In a 1997 analysis of names origins in the “Star Wars” universe, the New York Times noted that Luke Skywalker’s first name had a thematic reason for being “Luke”. As the Times noted, “the name of the character played by Mark Hamill derives from the Greek leukos, or light, an interesting contrast to Darth Vader.” In the same rundown, the Times alluded to the similar between Luke’s name, and the last name of his creator, George Lucas.
“An early draft of the script was called ‘The Adventures of Luke Starkiller.’ It’s easy to read Luke S. as a stand-in for Lucas,” Times reporter Eric P. Nash noted.
That same report from the Times featured a comment from Lucas himself, who explained the process he used to generate character names for his characters from a galaxy far, far away.
“Basically, I developed the names for the characters phonetically,” Lucas told the Times. “I obviously wanted to telegraph a bit of the character in the name. The names needed to sound unusual but not spacey. I wanted to stay away from the kind of science fiction names like Zenon and Zorba. They had to sound indigenous and have consistency between their names and their culture.”
What Other ‘Star Wars’ Characters Went Through a Name Change?
While the character of Yoda didn’t appear in the original “Star Wars”, the character was introduced in the original trilogy’s second installment, “The Empire Strikes Back”. But according to StarWars.com, Yoda had a different name early in the film’s development. The character was first known as “Buffy”, and then later as “Minch Yoda” which was eventually shortened to just “Yoda”.
Name changes have also happened during the development of more recent “Star Wars” films. Rey from the “Star Wars” sequels went through something of an identity crisis during development. According to Dave Filoni’s book “Star Wars: Fascinating Facts” (excerpted at LRMOnline), the production team went through a laundry list of names before finally landing on Rey, including Taryn, Thea, Echo, Sally, Kira, and even “Winkie”.
Even the bad guys from the “Star Wars” universe aren’t immune to name changes, although they sometimes occur after the character has appeared on-screen. Such was the case with Boba Fett. As ScreenRant notes, the character of Boba Fett was given a “real name” (Jaster Mereel) and entirely different backstory for a “Star Wars” tie-in novella, but that backstory was jettisoned when George Lucas began work on the prequels in the 1990s.