A forgotten force: Remembering ‘Empire Strikes Back’ writer Leigh Brackett

A forgotten force: Remembering ‘Empire Strikes Back’ writer Leigh Brackett

In the wake of this weekend’s record-breaking release of Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, USA Today released a definitive ranking of the franchise’s best films. Fan favorite Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was ranked number one - the only Star Wars film with a credited female screenwriter.

According to USA Today contributor Brian Truitt, “One could argue that it’s one of the best sequels of all time, but for this series at least, it’s the chapter that takes a cool sci-fi fairy tale with Arthurian overtones and sent it on its way to being a masterwork of storytelling.”

Though her role in crafting the screenplay is disputed, Leigh Brackett is co-credited on writing the script with Lawrence Kasdan, who went on to co-write Episode VI with franchise creator George Lucas after Brackett’s death.

Brackett was the first woman shortlisted for a Hugo Award, a literary award given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The Empire Strikes Back was awarded the Hugo in 1981, three years after Brackett’s death. Although Lucas disputed Brackett’s contributions to the final film (her original screenplay draft was never used nor published), io9 co-founder Charlie Jane Anders has written that while "It's fashionable to disparage Brackett's contributions to Empire, it's not true that none of Brackett's storyline winds up in the final movie — the basic story beats are the same." Her original draft, which contains a more overt love triangle and dramatic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, can be read at the Jack Williamson Special Collections library at Eastern New Mexico University and the the archives at Lucasfilm in California.

Though The Last Jedi was written by director Rian Johnson, IndieWire writer Kate Erbland praised the new film for putting female characters at the forefront in a Dec. 12 article. “It’s not just that The Last Jedi has roles for women, but that the franchise is pushing forward to include female characters that capture the kind of full spectrum, often only available to male characters, from ethnic background to tradition-bucking personalities.”

Gwendoline Christie plays Captain Phasma in both Episode VII and VIII. She claims that the female characters in this new generation of the popular franchise are stepping in the right direction. “It’s kind of no secret that women have been relegated to roles of the mother, or the girlfriend, or not the lead character,” Christie told IndieWire. “What I love about these Star Wars films is that we’re seeing female characters who are not just strong, they’re not just behaving like men do. That’s not what equals strong. The reason the characters are strong is that they’re multidimensional.”

Christie also went on to honor the influence of Princess Leia on her childhood - a character created by Lucas, but whose strength and presence was truly honed and refined by Brackett and Kasdan in The Empire Strikes Back.

In Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the late Carrie Fisher reprised her role as Leia, the most notable female character in the original trilogy. She is now the general of the resistance in her final appearance in The Last Jedi, shot before her death in December 2016.

“Think about new generations of kids growing up with Star Wars and what they’re going to see, the way that I saw Carrie Fisher and I saw what felt like a new kind of woman,” Christie said. “The idea that more generations of women growing up with these more inclusive characters, it’s really thrilling to me, because it means that people’s consciousness in terms of how they perceive human beings can expand.

© Georgiana E. Presecky & Brigid K. Presecky (12/18/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back & Leigh Brackett

Photo Credits: © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.