Table of Contents

Books

reviewNextPrevious

The Annotated Screenplays

A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW


Another look at the Star Wars scripts and how they might' have turned out based on the original drafts.

Review by Robert Michael Perry


Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays
written and compiled by Laurent Bouzereau
published by Del Rey

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.


THE FORCE IS USED FOR KNOWLEDGE & RE-WRITES...
     The trade paperback book from Del-Rey; the predominantly non-narrative side of SW publishing; actually manages to shed new light on well-worn material. Not only are the public versions of the trilogy screenplays included, but author Laurent Bouzereau, a journalist and film documentarian, interweaves the bulk of each screenplay with behind-the-scene information and opinion. To call Bouzereau's research exhaustive is an understatement. No less than fifty sources were compiled - including interviews, previous drafts, story treatments, conference notes, even marginal comments - and all have been conveniently sub-sectioned and notated at the beginning of each individual screenplay/chapter.

     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.


THE EMPIRE WRITES BACK
The Empire Strikes Back offers some of the book's more intriguing discoveries. For instance, has anyone ever wondered what exactly was Leigh Brackett's (The Big Sleep) contribution? Well, according to Lucas, the aging (and very ill) screenwriting-legend submitted a first draft that "went in a completely different direction," to what Lucas intended and was discarded. Insisting that his ideas weren't fully formed at the time of his and Brackett's lengthy story conferences, Lucas admits "he didn't like it, but gave Leigh credit because he liked her a lot." Bouzereau also uncovers that Lucas himself wrote at least two other drafts before giving the job to initiate Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Yet Lucas' name doesn't appear anywhere beyond story and executive producer; all this points to a fairly misleading screenplay credit. Interesting since most critics at the time of the film's release cited Lucas' apparent lack of script involvement as one of the reasons The Empire Strikes Back's dialogue and characters were more fully realized. As the director admits, "writing has never been something I have enjoyed."


RECIPE FOR A JEDI
Just as the right ingredients of ideas and writing can produce a work like The Empire Strikes Back, the third chapter, focusing on Return of the Jedi, manages, inadvertently I suspect, to examine how such a process can hinder a picture. Beyond the obvious revelation of Return of the Jedi's infamous name change (something Lucas defends as his intention all along to throw off the story's intent) the big surprise here belongs to his indecision regarding his galactic grand finale. From mis-matched story treatments to frantically written script drafts, Jedi, more than both of the other installments, seems to have appeared in theaters with precious little gestation.

     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.


THE WRITE SIDE OF THE FORCE
     In a way SW: TAS does for the scripting department of Star Wars what the Art of Star wars books did for the art department - they shed new light on areas previously shrouded in mystic ambiguity, broadening our understanding of the creative process from inception to editing. And to those looking ahead to the next trilogy, the book leaves a tantalizing sense of speculation. Bouzereau illustrates Lucas' sly inventiveness in keeping things successively cryptic throughout, enough to keep as many back doors open as possible to the stories that lie ahead.

     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. End of Article

 
(Robert Michael Perry, was unable to see Star Wars in 1977 because his mother thought it would be "too frightening." A English/Film Studies graduate, today he has undertaken far more frightening tasks, attending teacher's college, and writing independent comic books for a number of small press publications.) 


Previous PageTable of ContentsNext Article