Review by Robert Michael Perry
What is there left to know about Star Wars? We've all seen the films a dozen times over (a modest estimate, to be sure); we've all collected the action figures and lunch pails, watched the "making of" specials on television, and read the articles in our favorite Sci-Fi magazines. So what more is there? In these days of electronic information, the bombardment of knowledge amassed regarding everyone's favorite "galaxy far, far away . . . " borders on the infinite. It just ain't like it used to be.
One of the particular perks provided by cyberspace is downloadable screenplays and transcripts from television and motion pictures. There are literally thousands of free TV and movie scripts at the collective disposal, and taking up a large chunk of the memory is Star Wars. At last count various independent web pages have offered five individual drafts of A New Hope (including rough and revised versions), and at least two scripts forThe Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. So what, then, is the point of this new $12.95 ($17.95 in Canada) book, Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays?
Surprisingly, a great deal.
But don't be misled, this isn't a reference book. Bouzereau manages to keep things moving along nicely with a brisk, 'running commentary' style that belies the extensive work involved. Half-way through, you get the impression he was working on this long before anyone had even heard the word 'Internet.' And because the contained screenplays are public versions (he even includes modified sequences relating to the Special Editions), readers will find themselves breezing over those sections eager for the next nugget of information. They won't be disappointed. Everything from discarded concepts to major plot revisions to post-production alterations are touched upon; even personal recollections that, as Bouzereau himself admits, were "just too good to be dismissed."
It's clear from the outset that the book demands a healthy (or not-so-healthy, depending on your point-of-view) understanding of the Star Wars universe. There are some very specific references to places and characters that might otherwise frighten away the uninitiated (though I suppose anyone reading this has grown far beyond that virginal state). Aside from Star Wars, though, the work provides an interesting look into the actual creative evolution of making movies. The development behind the story-writing process and its transformation at the hands of directors, editors, even distributors, is startling. It's a crucial area of filmmaking that is all too often ignored.
Though A New Hope gobbles up the lion's share of the page count, it will, I think, prove to be of less interest to the ensconced Star Wars fan, since many of the informational tidbits - such as Luke's evolving incarnation from young girl to old general to pudgy, teenage Starkiller - have already become the stuff of Lucas Legend. If you've gone to the trouble of downloading the five drafts of The Star Wars; The Adventures of the Starkiller; etc . . . this won't come as any big surprise. On the upside, however, it is one hell of a time saver. Of particular interest are the notations (found as asterisks within the screenplay) acknowledging American Grafitti's Willard Huyk & Gloria Katz's contribution to the dialogue; for example, Luke and Han's famous exchange regarding Leia's rescue. Their involvement has always been an established piece of SW mythos, but has always remained murky on specifics. Not anymore.
Yet Jedi's hurried, just-add-water cinematic presentation belies the uncertainty the script development took - surprising to see given the apparent focused energy of Empire. And because so little discussion has surfaced regarding Jedi's creative incubation, Bouzereau's comes as a refreshing viewpoint. Major characters are shifted and discarded with sweeping ease, vital plot revelations are toyed with ceaselessly. Suffice it to say there would have been more than just two funerals in Return of the Jedi had earlier drafts survived. All this makes Bouzereau's Jedi discoveries more potent to the methods behind the Star Wars Trilogy. It's simultaneously sad and fascinating to discover that the "Real Disney" himself was at times just as unsure of where he was going as any of us faithfully reading our "Bantha Tracks" newsletter and waiting patiently for May 1983.
But if anything SW: TAS illuminates the greater consistency and time needed to expand this established universe; if anything, it is a process that demands the focus of a central, encompassing vision. But it is also a process of intense, unwieldy experimentation, where inspiration, often at the latest possible stage, is crucial to success. Bouzereau makes this clear: the first trilogy was, for all its sprawling momentum, a grand experiment. I have little doubt that Lucas will take what he has learned and pass it on to his youngest cinematic children.
What more can we know? Is it possible to learn anything new about Star Wars? Well, I have to admit that after reading this book, the answer is yes. My only criticism is that there is not enough - my appetite is whet for more. I would hope that prospective book-buyers faithfully consuming the unending stream of "Essential Guide to . . ." books, and forgettable novelized adventures are as equally hungry to know something new. If so they would do well to bend an eye toward this fascinating study. Perhaps even a glimpse of the future can be found in this unearthing of the past.