George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie but he couldn't get the rights. He pitched his own original space opera and almost everyone passed.
Eventually, he got a green light and the entertainment world hasn't been the same ever since.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people who got this script in 1976. In the world of Watergate, and movies like Network and The Godfather. Before TV had more than 5 channels. Before comic book culture ruled the day.
Crack open this script and read just how descriptive and fascinatingly specific Lucas was about this bizarre universe all the way back then.
There are lots of legends and rumors about how the movie began its life as The Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller and luckily evolved from there. That'll be for another day.
Today we're just going to dive into this phenomenal and original script that served as the blueprint for the franchise we know and love. We'll speak a little about world building, the heroes' journey, and what lessons you can take from this screenplay.
Let's make the jump to light speed.
The Star Wars Script Nails ALL the Basics
The first thing to look at when you read the Star Wars Screenplay?
How amazingly well it nails all the basics. What basics are we talking about?
Things like plant and payoff. One of the most time-tested rules of screenwriting that great scripts do and lesser ones do poorly or ignore. Well, Star Wars does it perfectly. This rule is just that you introduce an element early on, and bring it back at the end. Think Chekov's gun!
Or how about writing Internal and External conflict? Luke was an internal conflict in his desire for adventure and to get his life started. He has an external conflict in that he needs to save a princess... and a galaxy.
How about creating a captivating character arc? Is there a better, cleaner, version of this than Han Solo? The rough around the edges gun for hire who doesn't believe in the force, and doesn't go out on a limb for others but has a change of heart and does both at the perfect moment plot-wise?
There are many more examples of how well the original Star Wars script does things. Let's cover more!
World Building in Star Wars
Star Wars is one of the greatest examples, if not the greatest, of world building in cinema. So much of the load is carried on the screenplay page. But let's start with a few obvious things.
The world is huge.
Space is vast and offers endless planets, aliens, and possibilities. But how can you wrangle your world down so the audience can understand it?
The scroll was a genius way to distill this information down, but now it sort of feels weird outside of a Star Wars movie.
One thing I think Lucas did especially well was to give us a world that resembled our own but was left of center. Take the cantina scene. We all know what bars are, and we know about racism. So what about a bar that's racist against droids?
Another thing you'll see here is that the action writing gives you just enough to set the scene without taking you out of the story. It's always relatable on each level. Even the drunks there, which are creatures, feel familiar enough to keep us connected to the story.
As the world gets bigger, we understand that the Empire is an overbearing presence, so we don't need definitives to describe who they are an what they rule, just that they're everywhere our heroes want to be.
The same goes with the rebels, we don't need that much backstory except that the rebels have been fighting this war for a long time and are always recruiting.
The Hero's Journey in Star Wars
The 1970s saw the decline of the Western genre and more of an interest in science fiction. That was fostered by 2001 and Lucas's THX 1138. Still, no one was ready for the pulpy space opera that was the Star Wars script. Star Wars had almost no direction until Lucas embraced Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.
Look at the way he introduces Luke to the audience:
From the first frames, we're seeing Luke as the chosen hero, ready to embark and become who he has always meant to be. A balance in the force. But the subscription to the monomyth doesn't stop there. Everything in this story feels like it's part of an on-going journey.
From being called "A New Hope" and "Episode IV" to the history of the world and backstory built into Luke's saga.
This gives the entire screenplay a retro, almost King Arthur feel. With a lightsaber being Excalibur.
Star Wars' memorable Villain
Can you remember the first time you saw or heard Darth Vader? I was maybe six when I saw Star Wars and I don't think I had ever been that intimidated by someone on screen. While the story of Luke is excellent, this movie really sets itself apart from other adventures and became an instant classic because of its villain.
In the superhero, one and done, the culture we have now, it's hard to imagine a world where villains survive the movie and feel like a presence over the entire saga and its prequels.
Vadar is an icon. He became synonymous with evil and part of the cultural lexicon from the get-go. Creating a villain like this is not easy, but villains can be the backbone of your story. Vader has wants and needs, just like Luke. When you're crafting your story, make sure you treat the villain with as much deliberate characterization as you do the hero.
What's next? Come back to Earth and read Juno!
The Juno screenplay PDF was passed around Hollywood after the Academy Awards. Everyone was talking about the unique voice, tone, and screenwriter. So what else can you learn from Diablo Cody's screenplay?