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Although Yoda’s actions in Star Wars: The Last Jedi raise some questions about the effect Force Ghosts can have on the world of the living, for the most part the Force Ghosts in the Skywalker Saga have been passive participants in events, offering wisdom and guidance, but unable to impact events directly. That wasn’t always the case though, because it turns out that Force Ghost Yoda and Obi-Wan were originally in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi’s final battle. Take a look:
According to Lucasfilm creative art manager Phil Szostak, in George Lucas’ rough draft for Return of the Jedi, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi would have acted as Luke Skywalker’s protectors in his final battle with the Emperor in his throne room. When the Emperor used his Force Lightning to attack Luke, it would have been deflected by an invisible shield, which would actually be the Force Ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan.
The way the battle plays out now, Luke lays down his weapon and refuses to fight his father, believing there is still good in him. This leads to the Emperor trying to kill Luke, and in his final act, Darth Vader becomes Anakin Skywalker once more, saving his son Luke by killing the Emperor. Inserting the Force Ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan into that mix would have been quite interesting.
Based on the rough draft of the script, Palpatine would have understood and acknowledged this power, referencing that the Force Ghosts from the Netherworld could only protect Luke for so long. Whether they would only have a limited amount of time or could only withstand so much of Palpatine’s attack is unclear, but they would have given Luke time. The Jedi Masters who were Luke’s two great teachers would have returned to him from the Netherworld in his hour of greatest need to take part in this concluding contest.
It sounds like they wouldn’t have been able to attack Palpatine in a major way like the army of the dead in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but they would have offered some protection, like the spirits of Harry Potter’s parents in his battle with Voldemort in the Little Hangleton graveyard. It’s a fascinating alternate version of the final battle in Return of the Jedi that would have expanded the mythology and our understanding of Force Ghosts.
I like the idea that these generations of Jedi would have come together to help Luke to defeat the enemy that they could not. However, I can also see why the version of the battle that ended up in Return of the Jedi was chosen and is probably better. Limited ability to help or not, Yoda and Obi-Wan provide Luke extra protection. Without them, the burden to save Luke falls solely on Darth Vader’s shoulders. There is no cavalry coming, so Anakin Skywalker has to make a choice in that moment to turn back to the light or stay in darkness forever.
Obi-Wan and Yoda taking part in the battle with the Emperor isn’t the only big difference in George Lucas’ original ending for Return of the Jedi. Rather than Luke seeing the Force Ghosts of Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi during the celebration at Ewok village, those three would have returned to Luke in the flesh, resurrected. It seems that with the Emperor gone and the Dark Side no longer in power, the Jedi could return from the Netherworld.
This is obviously a vastly different outcome that would have surely resulted in a much different Sequel Trilogy. It would have implied that death is quite impermanent for a Jedi, which is fascinating because it seems like that may ultimately be the case, not just for the Jedi, but for Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker too.
It’s a super happy ending, and it would have allowed Luke to spend more time with these characters and for Leia to get to know them all as well, especially her father. It does reduce the stakes a bit though. There have to be costs and sacrifices to defeat a great evil like the Emperor, and this ending would have diminished that a bit.