Bounty Hunters!

I’ve always thought the bounty hunters presented in The Empire Strikes Back were so cool. Most of them were wrapped in heavy armor or obscuring layers. Two of them are apparently autonomous bounty hunter droids! They all looked weary and dangerous and mysterious. And, except for Boba Fett, the single introductory scene with Darth Vader is the only time that these bounty hunters appear in the film. It’s easy to quickly conjure up interesting potential stories about these characters and their exploits; so much intriguing character is visually communicated in a moment, and yet they largely remain blank slates.

As a kid, Tales of the Bounty Hunters was my favorite Star Wars anthology because it gave these characters some stories, some insight into their personalities. The “canon” status of those stories was gradually eroded; Greedo was old enough to confront Anakin in The Phantom Menace so not an overconfident young hotshot when he confronted Han Solo in the cantina, and Boba Fett was a clone of Jango so most certainly not a former lawman named Jaster Mereel. It hardly mattered, as even before the old EU became Legends these were legends about bad, dangerous men, the kind of wild stories and whispered rumors you could imagine being told about them.

Anyway. I mention the bounty hunters today because I’ve only just realized how much the characters changed between page and screen. The novelizations often diverged from the finished films, so I noted the discrepancy but did not see it as significant when Donald Glut described the gang as follows:

[A] particularly bizarre assortment of fortune hunters, including Bossk, whose soft, baggy face gawked at Vader with huge bloodshot orbs. Next to Bossk stood Zuckuss and Dengar, two human types, battle-scarred by innumerable, unspeakable adventures. A battered and tarnished chrome-colored droid named IG-88 was also with the group, standing next to the notorious Boba Fett. A human bounty hunter, Fett was known for his extremely ruthless methods. He was dressed in a weapon-covered, armored spacesuit, the kind worn by a group of evil warriors defeated by the Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars. A few braided scalps completed his unsavory image.

Compare those descriptions to the actual appearance of the mercenaries:

bountyhunters

Not exactly the same thing.

I’ve mentioned that I love to leaf through Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, reading snippets of interviews or plot summaries from older drafts, and occasionally checking dialogue. I’d noticed in the past that even where something was suggested to be improvised on set, it was typically recorded in the screenplay, so I had assumed that it matched the film more or less one to one. I’ve been going through The Annotated Screenplays in my first attempt to read them sequentially, and I was surprised to see that the bounty hunter scene did not really match the film in description:

The group standing before Vader is a bizarre array of galactic fortune hunters: There is Bossk, a slimy, tentacled monster with two huge, bloodshot eyes in a soft baggy face; Zuckuss and Dengar, two battle-scarred, mangy human types; IG-88, a battered, tarnished chrome war droid; 4-LOM, a bounty hunter, and Boba Fett, a man in a weapon-covered armored spacesuit.

Besides the inclusion of 4-LOM, the screenplay basically matches the novelization rather than the film!

This prompted me to recognize a rather large gap in my knowledge regarding the production of the films. How were the bounty hunters designed? I knew that Boba Fett originally appeared in the Star Wars Holiday Special, and I’d seen the little cartoon in that program with Boba Fett in it, but that was it. The Annotated Screenplays include some discussion about the design of Boba Fett by Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, but it’s limited to Boba Fett alone. Wookieepedia provided a little clarity: each of the articles for the bounty hunters has a brief description of the design development or portrayal of the characters, and some have cool concept art.  See Bossk, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, IG-88, and Dengar, and check the Legends tabs for a little more Behind the Scenes details. Still, I imagine that out there somewhere, perhaps scattered over a few different books and interviews and commentaries, is a more complete picture of the development of these characters. I just don’t know where!

Reading the films

I’ve finished my read of the novelizations for the first six Star Wars movies. Above is an image of my own battered copies of the books. They’ve been folded and marked up and underlined and occasionally dropped, and my cat became a bit too fond of the taste of the prequel collection.

I’ve posted reviews on Goodreads: prequels here and originals here. The books were okay. I mean, they’re novelizations; it’s sort of a different standard with adaptations of films than with other forms of literature. It’s interesting to see where books and films diverged, though. I’ve enjoyed learning about the development of the Star Wars movies–and as someone who has always loved to read and write, I’ve especially enjoyed learning about the development of the stories and screenplays for the films. It’s interesting to see how much these films were a collaborative effort, including the screenwriting, and to realize how elements of the films continued to evolve all the way through post-production. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always enjoyed flipping through Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays.

Maybe most interesting to me, although it’s not really a comment about the merits of any particular novelization, is how Matthew Stover’s adaptation of Revenge of the Sith so often echoed visual metaphors used in James Kahn’s adaptation of Return of the Jedi (shadow and darkness, of course, but even the use of a metaphorical dragon). This makes sense; Episode III is in many ways a dark reflection of Episode VI, a story where the hero is not able to withstand the temptation to act selfishly. If Stover drew from Return of the Jedi‘s language in crafting his own adaptation, I admire that attention to detail; if not, then it’s still an interesting coincidence.

Overall, III and VI were my favorite of the novelizations. They both benefited from some of the best characterizations of the protagonists (and villains). Kahn offers a compelling supplement to Episode VI; Stover might actually exceed the film version of Episode III. R.A. Salvatore’s Episode II novelization was also pretty good, and I especially appreciated the development of the Confederacy into a more realistic secessionist government with real motivations and goals, rather than the cartoonish league of villains in the films. This novelization and the course of The Clone Wars TV show, paired together, I think are the best examples of convincingly elaborating on the Confederacy.

Regardless, I’m glad that I can now say that I’ve read the Star Wars novelizations, flaws and all. It’s been an interesting experience.