One of the traditional rules of not only screenwriting, but writing in general is that the chief protagonist should be introduced early. And at least in majority of mainstream, fast-paced fantasy and sci-fi films, this rule is maintained. But not in Star Wars. In the original film, Luke Skywalker is the obvious main hero. Yet he appears only quarter an hour after the start of the film! The droids, Vader and Leia are all introduced (in this order) much earlier. But it was not always like that. And it is a good thing that George Lucas eventually decided to do otherwise.
“But I Was Going To Tosche Station…”
Many fans would know about the deleted scenes of Luke and his friend Biggs (a pilot who later reappears, and dies, in the Battle of Yavin) hanging out at the Tosche Station. There were originally three such scenes preceding Luke’s first appearance as we know it now. The protagonist was introduced by interacting with people on his home planet on the background of the space battle between Vader’s Star Destroyer and Princess Leia’s ship.
For fans nowadays, the deleted scenes are a nice extra resource that shows something more of Luke’s daily life on Tatooine. They emphasise his friendship with Biggs – who, unlike Luke, had managed to get off-planet for a flight academy. It is true that in the film as it is now, Biggs is a rather forgettable character, and the fact that his passing should be a strong blow to Luke is lost on majority of the audience. Some fans may therefore ask, why didn’t we have more of Biggs? Why was this content removed?
The answer is that it was bad. The three deleted scenes have zero narrative value. They show Luke using his binoculars to look up at the battle overhead, then, in the next scene, talking about it to his friends (which includes not only Biggs, but several other young people just hanging out. Some of George Lucas’s friends who had seen the original version dubbed this part “American Graffiti in space”).
Finally, Luke also spends some time complaining to Biggs about his uncle not allowing him to leave the farm. While this establishes some dynamic between the two, it is irrelevant for the audience at the time. Imagine that you are watching the film for the first time: you want to follow the epic story of Vader, Leia and the droids, not some countryside kids you know nothing about. Besides, Luke’s whining to Biggs is redundant – he is going to say the same to uncle Owen himself later on.
Star Wars Protagonist Must Be Late
In the end, George Lucas decided to introduce Luke only when his path crossed that of the droids. R2 and C3PO were characters the audience already knew and was invested in. Luke was introduced as their rescuer from the Jawas, and gradually the film’s focus shifted to him. In retrospect, this was a masterstroke of storytelling – but very little could have sufficed and everything could have been different. All the extra content had been filmed and pre-cut before Lucas decided for this change.
And yet, this late introduction of the protagonist became something of a trademark to Star Wars films. The main hero of the prequel trilogy, Anakin, is introduced even later – even though we might argue that he is not the chief protagonist of The Phantom Menace itself yet. However, in the case of The Force Awakens, the pattern is maintained clearly: Rey is introduced late, in a manner very similar to Luke’s. After BB-8 gets stranded in the desert, Rey is the “native” who comes to the rescue. This is likely a mere natural consequence of J. J. Abrams’s intent to recreate the familiar feel of A New Hope, but it is something by which he, whether knowingly or unknowingly, maintained the tradition. The element of starting with a different perspective than that of the protagonist is something that can make a film more interesting if handled correctly. Perhaps future Star Wars makers should think about it.