The original ending George Lucas had planned for Return of the Jedi would have changed Star Wars completely. According to Craig Miller, the film’s original script had a lot of differences from the movie’s final draft. George Lucas even planned on killing off Han Solo, making Boba Fett a much bigger character, and ending the film with a confrontation between Luke and his father, Darth Vader, without the Emperor being around.
None of that transpired, however, but film historian J.W. Rinzler revealed that according to transcripts of meetings between Lucas and the film’s co-writer, Lawrence Kasdan, the ending they were planning would’ve left everyone in utter shock and changed Star Wars, and the original trilogy completely as a whole.
Rinzler explained that everything was meant to go exactly the same as it did in the film’s climax, but with one huge twist. After killing the Emperor, Luke would’ve removed his father’s helmet and put it on himself, and would have turned to the dark side by proclaiming that he will destroy the rebel fleet and rule the entire galaxy. That’s an incredibly grim and shocking way to end a trilogy, and a very dark direction to take a character like Luke Skywalker. It would have meant that in all likelihood, Anakin would have died knowing that his son had turned to the dark side and would continue the reign of terror the Emperor had unleased years earlier. It would also have meant many more years of tyrannical rule over the galaxy by the Empire, and that Leia would’ve lost her brother to dark side.
Thankfully, Lucas and Kasdan eventually came up with an ending which was uplifting, full of hope and optimism for all the lead characters, and one which allowed complete redemption for Anakin Skywalker. Luke resisted the urge to turn to the dark side and helped to redeem his father. The Rebellion was a success, the Empire fell, and everyone gathered on Endor to celebrate. Over the last few years, the ending of Return of the Jedi has been slightly edited to show Hayden Christensen as the force ghost of Anakin Skywalker, instead of Sebastian Shaw. No doubt, the ending of the original trilogy is one of the happiest endings in all of Star Wars.
The entire Skywalker Saga is streaming now on Disney+.