Hi all.

It’s Thursday, and you all know what that means, we’re taking a look at a professional script to see how the pros do things right, and occasionally wrong.

This Thursday it’s my favorite movie of all time, and for our readers a link to the script is provided below.

The Empire Strikes Back by Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas

As Luke trains with Master Yoda to become a Jedi, his friends evade the Imperial fleet under the command of Darth Vader who is obsessed with turning Skywalker to the Dark Side.

Script Pitch

I’m not going to do a synopsis of this movie because if you haven’t seen it, shame on you. However for those of you not brave enough to read the script, I found this site which does a good job of explaining the differences between the version I read and the final movie.

I think it will be interesting to see how this stacks up, not necessarily as a sequel, but as a stand alone movie.

Let’s treat it as such. (I admit this will be hard for me though, as I view Empire as a perfect movie, and the script had some flaws.)

1.) Can we visualize the description?

George Lucas created an awesome alternate world that rivals (if not beats) that of Tolkien.

It’s a very technical world too, and it’s interesting to hear stories as you watch additional features on DVDs or specials about the movies, just how crazy some Hollywood people thought he was when he did A New Hope.

Now, it probably helped that I understood the script because I have seen the movie, but I still think the writers did a good job with it.

Here are a few examples.

Page 3:

…a bundled rider on a large gray snow lizard, called a TAUNTAUN.

Now, I’d argue that I don’t necessarily think “lizard” when seeing a tauntaun, but if I’m reading this script for the first time, I can easily conjure up a picture in my mind.

Page 63:

It (meaning the imperial walker) sits dead on its tracks, like a smoking locomotive on stilts.

Up to this point you didn’t really know what an imperial walker looked like other than it had HUGE legs and feet than THUMPED the ground as it walked.

I think this description, after Luke blows one up, explains the idea perfectly.

There were a few other cool nuggets, like as Vader first appears on page 34 “like a chill wind” but for the most part it was just adequate.

One thing I’ll argue, and we definitely can’t do this, is drone on and on in the action and description. A lot of it needed broken up if not reworked because of duplication.

7 out of 10 points.

2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?

I’d forgotten how much I hate shooting scripts.

(To see what I mean start at page 54 and read most of the Battle of Hoth.)

Things we don’t need to worry about that this script does are over detailed shots, specific views of characters, scene headings, ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY SIX pages, etc.

I can’t stress enough NOT to do this in your spec scripts. (Scenes like the Hoth battle mentioned above will slow a reader to a SNAIL’S PACE which realistically means they’ve just tossed your script in the trash.)

As it’s a shooting script though, I can’t really nail anyone points-wise.

10 out of 10 points.

3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?

Did each character sound unique? Yes. (I forget how many points Roy assigns for that, and I really should switch over to the questions like he uses.)

That part was all very good, but the one GREAT thing this script points out is how less is indeed more.

A lot of exposition was dumped, Han’s cool one liners in the movie are practically speeches in the script, and some key dialogue is also missing in the script.

Page 4 – I’m glad Luke just got a Wampa beat down instead of saying his cheesy “Son of a jumping..” line before getting hit.

Page 8 – Sets up the decent dialogue between Han and Leia that lasts the rest of the movie.

Page 10 – Han starts to run long with his “There’s no accounting..” line. He’s really preachy to Leia in the script.

Page 80 – Luke and R2 run long as R2 seems to go all C3PO on him for going to Dagobah instead of returning to the Rebel Fleet. Luckily most of this was dropped. (Exposition via “As you know R2…”)

Page 151 – Is missing this (read the actual line in the script to see if it’d have the same effect).

Page 163 – Vader never says, “I am your father.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this was mainly because Lucas wanted to keep that fact a secret. Even the dialogue acted out while filming was different than what was in the movie. (I believe Ben was said to be Luke’s father when acted out.)

The last part I’ll slide, but one of the main differences from the script to the movie is the whole Han and Leia love story.

If the script were to have been shot as is, I’m not sure we would have bought into it so much. I’m curious who made the changes in the film, because comparing the two you can truly see how GREAT the dialogue in the movie actually is, and why America fell in love with Han Solo.

As it’s written now, it feels more like the Anakin/Padme love story than the Han and Leia one. And we all know how well THAT turned out for the prequels. (I’d argue not having a scoundrel storyline in those movies took a lot away from them.)

Another technical note before we move on was for Chewie and R2D2. They don’t speak English. Chewie growls and R2 beeps. This stuff belongs in the description.

The script started out that way, but then around halfway through they started getting formatted as dialogue even as they were still only beeping and growling.

Chewie
Growls in agreement with Han.

We can’t do this. If a character doesn’t speak words, put however they communicate in the description.

Chewie growls in agreement.

The dialogue was the weakest part of this script, and although 60% of it is what’s in the movie (or a shorter version of it) I’d argue there’s definitely a dire need for streamlining.

4 out of 10 points.

4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?

Impressive. Most impressive.

The Battle for Hoth.

The Millenium Falcon outrunning Vader’s Super Star Destroyer in an asteroid field.

A City in the Clouds?!

Yeah, good luck getting all that on a stage.

Not to mention the trailer.

10 out of 10 points.

5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?

This particular brand of storytelling is where Lucas is at his strongest. I feel bad that creating the entire Star Wars franchise isn’t enough for him (and that it forced Mark Hamill into voice acting), but other than Indiana Jones, there’s no other place he’s stronger.

(And again I’d argue Star Wars trumps the Indiana Jones saga except where of course Indiana Jones flies away at the end of the 4th movie to become Han Solo.)

I mean look at how good Willow ended up.

Anyway, he’s got a fantastic mind, but stick to Star Wars, and stop fooling with them before all the blasters are replaced with walkie talkies…clip? No? Oh sorry.

10 out of 10 points.

6.) Does the script have a hook?

Alright the script jumps right to the action in the beginning.

We’re presented with an ice planet, and there’s a rider on the back of a snow lizard.

Bit of talking with Han, going to explore a meteorite and then BAM, Luke’s taken down by a giant snow monster called a wampa.

If anything I’d argue this is one aspect the script handles better, because with the movie we start off with the imperial star destroyer launching probe droids. (Now as a sequel this obviously works better as it becomes the establishing shot for the original 3 movies.)

We, as unknowns, gotta hook ’em good, and hook ’em fast.

15 out of 15 points.

7.) Is that hook effective?

Yep.

Han and Leia are introduced to the tension that surrounds them due to Han leaving.

We also notice (not in the movie) that wampas have invaded the Rebel Base.

Luke hasn’t reported in, so Han goes out to find him, risking his own life in the process due to falling temperatures.

Luke has been taken by the wampa and uses a new Force trick to escape.

Han saves Luke and they spend the night outside. (I was hoping the movie might explain more of the shelter that Han set up, because I always wondered about this in the movie, but all it really hinted at was some sort of tent.)

The inciting incident for the script is when Han more or less gives up saving himself to save Luke.

This differs from the movie, where the inciting incident is said to be when the probe droid finds and reports the Rebel Base.

Still though, I wish I could write like this, lol.

15 out of 15 points.

8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?

The Midpoint Strikes Back

Much like my Jurassic Park review, I was very interested to see how the midpoint would play out for Empire.

It was almost dead on (remember duplicate pages in this pdf so it wasn’t exactly halfway through) and it halved both stories almost perfectly.

Luke arrives at Dagobah and transitions from boy using the Force to a Jedi Knight starting down the path to mastering it.

Han and Leia’s story is also changed as they literally enter the belly of the beast, in the asteroid (and the worm inside it) and they finally catch a break and stop running from the Empire.

Yoda and Lando also have decent reveals in that they’re not what they seem.

Yoda reinforces the lesson of not judging a book by it’s cover, while Lando encourages us to consider who our friends really are.

Both play beautifully into the plot as it creates friction for Luke wanting to become a true Jedi, and drama for Han and Leia as they’re trapped on the Cloud City.

One of the things the script did well was show more turmoil in Luke trying to ward off the Dark side. He struggles with it both on Dagobah (as he and Yoda have a bit of exposition about it) and then mainly when fighting Darth Vader. He actually pauses a few times to calm himself.

I thought this was cool, as it reinforced Ben and Yoda’s hesitation to have Luke leave Dagobah prematurely, but a lot of it was inner feelings that couldn’t be shown on screen, and that’s not a cheap shot at Mark Hamill’s acting ability.

All in all though, the movie set a great pace.

10 out of 10 points.

9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?

Overall there’s a reason this is considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

As I mentioned though, I wonder if it’d be as popular if it were shot exactly as it was in this version of the script we read.

One major thing that audiences would have had a problem with, and was the true beginning of the Han and Leia love story, was in the asteroid while repairing the Falcon, they have a steamy make out session, where Chewie and C3PO are forced to watch.

It was gross and cheesy, like “watching two high school teens walk down the thoroughfare in a mall with their hands in the others’ pocket while giving each other tonsillectomies with their tongues” kind of gross.

SO glad the movie handled this with a quick kiss, C3PO interrupting, and then neither really discussing their feelings.

This is another important lesson we should learn. If the tension is set up right, we’ll get two characters are in love, so they don’t have to talk about it, and in fact NOT TALKING about it actually adds more conflict to the story.

The other problem that was in the script, and still in the movie, is where Yoda tells Luke he can’t go save Han and Leia if he respects what they were fighting for.

This never made sense to me.

Maybe someone can explain it here, but if Luke DIDN’T go, Han and crew would at best be prisoners of the Empire, and at worst be killed. And what were they fighting for, the Rebellion? I’d argue they’re much more valuable alive and fighting than dead and unable to.

I wish this would have been changed to a line of dialogue that made more sense.

7 out of 10 points.

Conclusion

Roy and I are always going on about how much we can all learn from reading scripts.

Reading this in particular I was reminded how much more we can learn when reading a script and then watching the film to see what made the cut and what didn’t.

Empire Strikes Back is a good script, but was streamlined into a GREAT movie. (Which is probably why so many specials have been made about the saga.)

Looking at it for the elements of story is another great example, and although it’s a sequel I’d argue it could stand by itself if need be.

The reason I think this is such a great movie, is it’s one out of the three where they LOSE. Constantly running from trouble and into it, the story actually ends on a tragic note, but with the final scene (especially pair up with the epic score) we’re left with hope, the one thing that keeps the human race going.

Total 88 out of 100 points.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Just a quick note on Yoda’s dialogue about saving Han and Leia:

    I always thought he was saying that Luke was really the only hope for the rebellion, and if Luke rushed off to face Vader prematurely, he would die and completely destroy everything that Leia and Han fought for, which wouldn’t be honoring their cause. Luke needed to respect what they were fighting for by showing restraint and waiting for the right time (when he was properly trained) to fight Vader, or everything would go down the crapper.

    I guess it kind of sounds a bit cold hearted for the beloved Green One, but Yoda was essentially saying that Han and Leia didn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. It would be better to sacrifice them than for Luke to go and get himself killed.

    • Chris,

      Thanks for the explanation, as I guess I never thought of it like that before. It still comes across though (and why I always hated the original line) as him trying to make Luke feel guilty and do what he wants, which I don’t think fits Yoda’s character. It’d be much better if he came out with a blunter version summing up what you said above.

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