When Star Wars exploded onto cinema screens in 1977, I had the opportunity to see it in both 70mm and 35mm versions in north Texas. In Dallas, the film played at the NorthPark Cinema II, where it opened on Friday, May 27 (though, it wouldn’t be until December 23 that the 70mm version would play there, as reported by the Dallas Times Herald that day. See Michael Coate for a list of 70mm screenings.). I traveled some 60 miles to see it on the second day, Saturday. Standing in line, a couple talked about why they had come to see it. “Because Time magazine called it the Year’s Best Movie,” one said.
The film opened in Sherman, my home town, at the Sher-Den Mall Twin on July 15, in 35mm. All told, I watched Star Wars a total of 12 times that year.
In some screenings I noticed the following scene, as described by Alan Dean Foster in his adaptation of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, published the previous November:
As soon as the troops had passed, Artoo finished removing a socket cover and hurriedly shoved his sensor arm into the opening. Lights commenced a wild flashing on his face and smoke started issuing from several seams in the small ‘droid before a frantic Threepio could pull the arm free.
Immediately the smoke vanished, the undisciplined blinking faded to normalcy. Artoo emitted a few wilted beeps, successfully giving the impression of a human who had expected a glass of mild wine and instead unwittingly downed several gulps of something 180 proof.
“Well, next time watch where you stick your sensors,” Threepio chastised his companion. “You could have fried your insides.” He eyed the socket. “That’s a power outlet, stupid, not an information terminal.”
Artoo whistled a mournful apology. Together they hunted for the proper outlet.
In the next scene, Luke, Han, Leia and Chewbacca arrive at a window overlooking the hangar. Luke turns on the comlink, “See-Threepio, do you copy?” The story continues from there.
The audience loved it.
But, for some reason, the Artoo-fries-himself scene was missing in other screenings and ultimately, in subsequent film versions. This, I thought, was odd. Why was the scene removed?
Other fans noted the scene’s removal. Alderaan was a letterzine for Star Wars fans, published in Toledo, Ohio. The deleted scene was noted by Kathi Lynn Higley of Mystic, CT (June 29, 1978) in Alderaan #3, September 15, 1978, page 8,
and by Chris Callahan of W. Hyattsville, MD in Alderaan #7, February 10, 1980, pp. 4-6,
and in Alderaan #10, October 1, 1980, pp. 5-6.
For you researchers, the University of Iowa has fanzine archives, among them the Mariellen (Ming) Wathne Fanzine Archives Collection, which includes Alderaan and many other Star Wars ‘zines.
In November 1979, Ballantine Books published The Art of Star Wars, edited by Carol Wikarska Titelman, featuring the screenplay by George Lucas. The Artoo-fries-himself scene was missing from the text. Why? Presumably because Mr. Lucas wanted it that way. The screenplay was edited the way the film was edited.
The Third Draft script contains the scene. So does Fourth Draft, used by the cast.
On Twitter, Peter Mayhew started posting pages from his script,
and continuing here:
Some pages are from the Fourth Draft (January 1, 1976). Some are from the Revised Fourth Draft, March 15, 1976, and some are revisions dated April 19, 1976, while the film was in production.
The Artoo-fries-himself scene is on a page dated January 1, 1976, which Mayhew posted April 8, 2016, here:
Daniel Wallace talked about Artoo frying himself being originally conceived for Star Wars, and written in the novel, in Star Wars Insider #49, May/June 2000, “Lost and Found Concepts,” p. 65.
On August 29, 2017, I interviewed Gary Kurtz for The Star Wars Historical Sourcebook series. (His comments can be read in Volume 1 and successive volumes.) I seized the opportunity to find out why the Artoo-fries-himself scene was discarded in the original Star Wars, and later restaged for The Empire Strikes Back.
Gary’s key comment was, “I think it was just cut for time and also the energy of the moment that we didn’t want anybody to think that Artoo was dead or in any way incapacitated at that moment, but I’m pretty sure that’s all it was because there was a lot of quick editing right at the very end and I think there were a couple of scenes that were slightly different in the different versions because of how long the sound mixes took. That was the reason that one was removed at the time and it was a good gag, so we used it in Empire.”
This is audio from our discussion:
Audio © 2020 W.R. Miller. Do not upload, download, reuse or repost.
So now we know why the gag was removed from the original Star Wars.
I am honored that Gary endorsed The Star Wars Historical Sourcebook.