It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy.
Evading the dreaded Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker has established a new secret base on the remote ice world of Hoth.
The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space… – Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, The Empire Strikes Back: The Illustrated Screenplay
Even though George Lucas had conceived Star Wars (which would, after 1981, be officially re-issued as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) as one chapter in a trilogy, in 1977 he only had a vague outline for the next film in the series. He had, after all, written a story treatment that contained the building blocks for not just one movie but all three. However, the struggle to make the first movie and his own low expectations for its success prevented Lucas from sitting down and writing the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back on his own.
But Star Wars broke all the existing box-office records, becoming the first film to earn over $200,000,000 in ticket sales and becoming a cultural phenomenon, prompting 20th Century Fox and millions of fans alike to ask, “When is the next Star Wars movie coming out? And what’s it going to be about?”
As early as November of 1977, Lucas was working on a story treatment for what he then called Star Wars Episode II, which he planned to hand over to Leigh Brackett, a renowned science fiction novelist. As he later told film documentary maker Laurent Bouzerau:
Writing has never been something I’ve 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 that she wrote the script and she really tried hard. During the story conferences I had with Leigh, my thoughts weren’t fully formed and I felt her script went in a completely different direction…. – Lucas to Bouzerau, quoted in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays
Fortunately for Lucas and legions of Star Wars fans everywhere, Lawrence Kasdan had just completed the screenplay for another Lucasfilm project, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and with lots of input from Lucas (who was executive producer) and director Irvin Kershner, the young screenwriter rewrote the script, taking the approach that The Empire Strikes Back was neither a remake or simply a sequel to a successful film. Rather, it would be the second act in a three-act play, with no clear-cut beginning or definite conclusion, but increasing the dramatic stakes for the heroes and villains introduced in Episode IV: A New Hope.
The 1998 re-issue of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Illustrated Screenplay contains the final draft of the script as rewritten by Lawrence Kasdan. It’s the basic blueprint for what is still considered by many fans to be the best Episode in the Star Wars saga. Illustrated with production storyboards, the screenplay contains the descriptions for each scene and the characters’ dialogue in a reader-friendly format. (Most screenplays published in mass-market books don’t follow the film industry’s screenplay format, which looks totally different.) Unlike, say, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back Notebook, this edition doesn’t have notes on the margin by Lucas, Kasdan, or Kershner, but it does include some of the material written for the 1997 Special Edition re-issue of the Classic Trilogy.
For instance, this is how the scene in which Darth Vader and the Emperor discuss the emergence of a “new enemy” was originally written:
INT. – VADER’S STAR DESTROYER – VADER’S CHAMBER
The Dark Lord, Darth Vader, is alone in his chamber. Vader kneels as a strange sound enters the room.
VADER: What is thy bidding, my master?
A twelve-foot hologram of the Galactic Emperor materializes before Vader. The Emperor’s dark robes and monk’s hood are reminiscent of the cloak worn by Ben Kenobi. His voice is even deeper and more frightening than Vader’s.
EMPEROR: There is a great disturbance in the Force.
VADER: I have felt it.
EMPEROR: We have a new enemy – Luke Skywalker.
VADER: Yes, my master.
EMPEROR: He could destroy us.
VADER: He is just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.
EMPEROR: The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.
VADER: If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.
EMPEROR: Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?
VADER: He will join us or die, Master.
(This scene was altered for the 2004 Star Wars Trilogy DVD set, with new dialogue and a re-shoot of the Emperor’s hologram done during the filming of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
As in all the Star Wars screenplays, there are no references to camera angles, just general stage directions and the lines for the actors.
Like the 1980 The Empire Strikes Back Notebook, this 1998 Ballantine Books/Lucas Books/Del Rey paperback includes storyboards, which are comic book-like panels drawn by production artists (such as Joe Johnston) to allow directors to see what certain scenes – particularly special effects sequences – will look like. In a book like this one, storyboards not only give readers a glimpse into the creative process involved in the making of a film such as Empire, but also enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the screenplay itself.
Although Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays is more interesting because each screenplay is dissected and discussed in detail, this book is a good addition to any Star Wars or movie fan’s library.