Who Was Leigh Brackett? A Screenwriter’s Life

She again returned to screenwriting for television and film during the mid-1950’s onward, authoring numerous scripts for Howard Hawks’ John Wayne westerns Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Rio Lobo as well as Hatari! and Man’s Favorite Sport?.  She wrote two episodes in 1963 for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour – Terror at Northfield and Death of a Cop  –  and the Rockford Files in the early 1970’s.

Brackett-EmpireIt was her background with The Big Sleep that led Robert Altman to hire Brackett for the neo-noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye for the screen. The adaptation took many liberties with the original novel in order to make the 1950’s Chandler material work for the 1970’s audience.

Brackett was later asked by George Lucas to write the initial script for his story Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. She delivered a finished first draft to Lucas before her death in 1978 and received credit with Lawrence Kasdan for the screenplay. She and Kasdan were the only two writers who wrote complete film drafts for Lucas.

Although her original final draft was changed by Lucas for the screen, and she succumbed to cancer before he could commission rewrites from her, her contributions to the story are too numerous to list…here are a few points found in her original script:

  • In her draft, Han is tasked with meeting his stepfather.
  • The Wampa ice creatures are far more malevolent, described as moving through ice like sharks through water. They even attack the Rebel base during the Imperial attack, as soldiers are cocooned in ice.
  • There is no Boba Fett or carbon freezing, but Lando Calrissian is in the story, as Lando Kadar, a clone, who looks after Cloud City with the help of the indigenous cloud people.
  • Yoda is called Minch, and he fights a ghostly Ben Kenobi with light sabers to show Luke he is who he says he is.

This brief look into her unique and fascinating story describes a woman with the skills to work successfully in science fiction pulp, novels, books, television and films during a time when few women did any of these things…and she did them for most of her life writing more than 75 stories, scripts,novels and books.


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