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Why This Luke And Leia Scene Was Cut From The Empire Strikes Back

When The Empire Strikes Back first hit cinemas in 1980, audiences didn't yet know (40-year-old spoiler alert) that Luke and Leia were twins — or that Darth Vader was their father. So when Leia kissed Luke early in the movie in an effort to make Han Solo jealous, it was played as a joke that introduced some mild sexual tension between the three main characters, and upped the will-they-won't-they Leia and Han relationship stakes. 

It was only three years later, in Return of the Jedi, that Luke and Leia learned that they were fraternal twins, and audiences started to look back at that moment as less funny and more... well, incestuous. We find it a little bit funny that in a franchise full of aliens, lightsabers, and hyperspeed space travel, the moment Star Wars fans still struggle to accept the most involves humans. (And no, we don't mean the one Rise of Skywalker scene that's being censored.)

If you still cringe thinking about that kiss, just know that it could have been so much worse. Thanks to a deleted scene that was released on Disney+ in November 2019, we now know that the relationship between Luke and Leia almost got even more romantic. Here's what happened, and why this Luke and Leia scene was cut from The Empire Strikes Back.

That Luke and Leia scene was almost a declaration of love

In the version of the scene we all know and are retroactively uncomfortable with, Han and Chewbacca come to the medical bay to say goodbye to Luke, who's recovering from his near-death experience with the wampa. Han tells Leia she's secretly into him, she calls him a "scruffy-looking nerf herder," and Luke looks uncomfortable. Finally, Leia brusquely kisses Luke in front of Han, then exits triumphantly.

Apparently, Luke wasn't just feeling like a third wheel: he was jealous of Leia and Han's obvious sexual tension (buried under a thin layer of mutual resentment). In the deleted scene, it's plain that nearly being ripped limb from limb has awakened Luke to his romantic feelings for Leia. 

He tries to explain this to her when she visits him in the medical bay, but when he goes in for a kiss, ever-reliable C-3PO interrupts. The moment gone, Luke tells Leia that he plans to leave. She accuses him of deserting her and the Resistance, just like Han, who then arrives with Chewbacca, and the original scene plays out.

Yes, the kiss is bad once you have all the info. But this longer version introduced a love triangle subplot that would have created a totally different dynamic in the movies. Luke secretly being infatuated with Leia would have thrown a major wedge between the three main characters and potentially stalled his Jedi training, since Jedi frown on trivial matters like love. (For reference, we direct you to the entirety of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.)

What did George Lucas know about Luke and Leia, and when did he know it?

Say, here's an interesting question: did director and creator George Lucas know that Luke and Leia were siblings by the time he was making Empire? If he did, it would explain why he decided that this would-be romance had to go. Annoyingly, he has deftly avoided the subject of the lost "Luke and Leia incest" story line, but he does like to hint that he knew how the Star Wars saga would play out all along, which is partly why Lucas started Star Wars with Episode IV

That would mean that he's fine having siblings smooch when they don't know they're related, but he's not about to have one declare a full-on crush on the other. However, there is some evidence that Luke and Leia hadn't been identified as siblings at this point in the franchise. The fact that they got as far as filming the deleted version of the medical bay scene suggests that there was some question about what kind of relationship the two characters were going to have. Also, in earlier drafts of the Empire script, Vader was going to play on Luke's romantic feelings for Leia to turn him to the Dark Side (via Wired). 

Also in these earlier drafts, Luke was supposed to have a sister, although she was meant to be a totally new character who wasn't going to appear until Return of the Jedi. The theory goes that this extra character proved to be one plot element too far in a story already teeming with subplots (via HuffPost). After Leia confessed her love for Han at the end of Empire, Lucas decided to kill two Stormtroopers with one blaster shot and have Leia be the sister — and that's how it all worked out for Han, like it always does.