Sep 14, 2015

What was the role of Leigh Bracket in bringing The Empire Strikes Back script to the silver screen?

How much of Empire Strikes Back script did Leigh Brackett write?

Leigh Brackett's name famously gets a nod in the credits of The Empire Strikes Back as having been part of the writing team with George Lucas and Larry Kasdan. Who is she and how much of the movie did she draft?

Who is she? In this modern era of post Jedi, Thrawn and Clone Wars, I would bet three of our Earth dollars that most of this generation hasn't read a single Leigh Brackett science fiction novel or probably even watched some of the other film she wrote scripts. That's not to blame them for anything, neither has this author!

But back in the day, Leigh Brackett was a popular writer of science fiction novels such as, The Starmen and Alpha Centauri or Die! and had written a few movie scripts, notably Rio Bravo and The Long Goodbye. Rio Bravo is considered an all time great movie if you were wondering.

Eventually George Lucas decided he needed some help with his second Star Wars film as his world had become so big after his ANH success and he asked Leigh for a draft of the the film based on some of the ideas he had come up with.

Lucas relayed this story as their first conversation:

Lucas: Have you ever written for the movies?
Brackett: Yes, I have. Rio Bravo, El Dorado, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye...

Lucas then paused briefly

Lucas: Are you that Leigh Brackett?
Brackett: Yes. Isn't that why you called me in?
Lucas: No, I called you in because you were a pulp science fiction writer!

The sad twist of fate is that shortly after completing her first draft, she died. Bracket and Lucas never even had a chance to talk about the words she wrote for him. Cancer is a bitch.

George Lucas has been quoted from 'Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays' as saying:

"Writing has never been something I have enjoyed, and so, ultimately, on the second film I hired Leigh Brackett. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out; she turned in the first draft, and then she passed away. I didn’t like the first script, but I gave Leigh credit because I liked her a lot. She was sick at the time she wrote the script, and she really tried her best. During the story conferences I had with Leigh, my thoughts weren’t fully formed and I felt that her script went in a completely different direction."

Lawrence Kasdan later said of Leigh's draft “I only skimmed it. It was sort of old fashioned and didn’t relate to Star Wars. The characters all had the right names, but her story’s spirit was different. I’m sure that had Leigh lived, she could have made the changes that George wanted in an excellent way.”

Is that the end of it? Not really. Lawrence Kasdan is also quoted in Cinefantastique Vol. 28:

"What I worked on was a draft of the script George had written, based on the story George had given to Leigh. I don’t know what of Leigh’s draft survived into the draft George wrote. What George handed me was a very rough first draft, really somewhere between an outline and a first draft. The structure of the story was all there – it was the skeleton for a movie. What was needed was the flesh and the muscle.”

But Larry then totally sharpens his thoughts:

"Look, there's no question that Leigh Brackett was one of the great screenwriters of all time. But it was an odd job for her, and there's nothing of that draft left in "Empire."

Now, we should take some of that with a pinch of salt and understand that Kasdan was speaking in broad terms and a lot of what Bracket wrote in the first draft would have been changed, restructured and dropped and added by Lucas who did the second draft. Effectively Kasdan comes in as the writer of the third draft and changed it all up again, including Han going into carbonite and the infamous “I’ll be back” line that became “I know”.

But while that last Kasdan quote may ring around one's ears a wee bit, we can totally read Bracket's draft and decide for ourselves what carried over from her draft into the final move, and what didn't.

So what are some differences between Brackett's draft and what was the final story line?
  • Han Solo was not frozen in carbonite. 
  • There were no bounty hunters like Boba Fett or IG 88. 
  • Lando Calrissian's last name was Kadar and he was a clone of his grandfather... 
  • Planet names are different or changed around. Hoth is not an ice planet. 
  • Yoda is called “Minch”. He was quite a serious character in tone from the get go, rather than the jokester we first met in Empire 
  • There's plot where Han Solo needs to speak with his step father which was to lead into the events of the next film. 
  • Luke doesn’t have his arm severed by Vader - but is still rescued by Lando and ... Han Solo. 
This is not to say the ideas that Bracket and Lucas came up with in their first run aren't there thematically or didn't make it into production:
  • The opening of Bracket's work took place on an ice planet with Luke Skywalker getting lost whilst riding a white lizard (hey, remember that lizard Obi-Wan rode in Revenge of the Sith...) the lizards became taun taun and Luke was still attacked by some kind of snow man. 
  • Vader still used Han Solo as bait on the Cloud City to try and trap Luke. 
  • C-3PO still ends up in pieces on Bespin. 
  • Lando still is forced to cut a deal with Vader.
A bigger idea that was cut from Empire but introduced in Return of the Jedi was the relationship between Luke and Leia. The concept of Luke having a twin sister was introduced in Bracket's first draft. Bracket named the sister Nellis. This idea was obviously transferred to Leia’s character.

You can read the Bracket’s draft here and make up your own mind!

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