You are an executive at a movie studio. A young director is coming off a hugely successful movie about teens in 1960s America called American Graffiti. For his next project, he wants more than ten times his previous budget to shoot a huge special effects feature with the catchy title Adventures Of Luke Starkiller, As Taken From The Journal Of The Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. The original two-page treatment in which he outlines the concept begins: "This is the story of Mace Windy, a revered Jedi-bendu of Ophuchi, as related to us by C.J. Thorpe, padawaan learner to the famed Jedi."
Do you write this man a huge check? Or do you call security?
This, friends, is the inspirational tale of an objectively terrible idea that only got worse ... until the finished product changed the goddamned world. The next time somebody calls your idea stupid, tell them how Star Wars came about.
It Only Seems Like A Sure Thing After The Fact
When it comes to blockbuster movie franchises, Star Wars feels like cheating. A simplistic story of good and evil told against the backdrop of the greatest special effects ever filmed and featuring a smirking Harrison Ford in his prime? Shit, how can you lose? Add in the fact that everything you saw on screen could be turned into a kickass toy or action figure, and it seems like the Hollywood version of an infinite money cheat code. That's how it looks now.
But at the time, even George Lucas didn't really want to make Star Wars. He wanted to give us a 1970s reboot of the 1930s sci-fi adventure series Flash Gordon. But the rights to that series had already been purchased by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, so Lucas had to build his own version effectively from scratch. His own expensive, totally incoherent version which still stole so many elements that it's a wonder they didn't get sued. Hell, the live-action Flash Gordon episodes would even open with that slanted crawl, stating the "chapter" and giving some backstory:
Lucasfilm"Use the flash, Luke." - Obi-Wan in early drafts
And what reason did anyone have to think that Lucas could make a world-changing fantasy blockbuster? The only thing remotely similar on his resume was 1971's THX 1138, a bleak, weird film that had been dismissed as incomprehensible by the studio and bombed at the box office. So imagine being the studio executives when this bearded guy brings in his 200-page script that's a confusing mishmash of insanity and "borrowed" ideas. Even personal friends of Lucas admitted that they couldn't understand what the script was about.
The Original Story Was A Confusing Trainwreck
So the whole thing had started with The Journal Of The Whills. It left everyone totally baffled, so Lucas wrote a new treatment, this one 13 pages long, then eventually expanded that into a full-length script called The Star Wars. This first draft is sort of like Star Wars, in the same way that getting run over by a bus is sort of like driving a car. The right elements are there (wheels, road, etc.), but they aren't doing what they're supposed to.
The story follows a fat teenager named Annikin Starkiller. Annikin's dad drags him to the planet Aquilae, where they meet General Luke Skywalker. Almost immediately, Aquilae is attacked by the New Galactic Empire for reasons that we couldn't explain without a flowchart and an advanced understanding of post-Jedi-Rebellion economic policy. Two or three more flowcharts deconstructing Aquilaean politics would be needed to explain how General Skywalker loses the war, but Annikin and the General do manage to sneak away from the planet with the last remaining members of the Aquilaean Royal Family. By "sneak away," of course, we mean "get chased and shot down over Wookiee country," which leads to General Skywalker training a squadron of Wookiee fighter pilots to shoot down the Death Star. Actual line from the script: