The Star Wars annotated screenplays are good. I promise it’s not just because “Star Wars.”

Star Wars: The Annotated ScreenplaysStar Wars: The Annotated Screenplays by Laurent Bouzereau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What is fascinating about these annotated screenplays is that such an authoritative text actually deconstructs its own authority, the idea of canon/continuity (so important to so many fans), and even the idea of a core “true” narrative. Just as fascinating, I cannot determine whether Laurent Bouzereau set out to achieve this.

The screenplays in and of themselves are fairly straightforward, though even here there is ambiguity. Some descriptions, for instance, simply do not match the final film (the bounty hunters in Episode V, for example). Then again, what is the final film? With the original films, then special editions, DVD versions, and Blu-ray versions, the classic trilogy at least does not really offer a single definitive version of events to choose from. These screenplays, published in 1997, allude to the beginnings of these changes, with some blocks of text printed in parallel, original edition on one side and special edition on the other. These recurrent, sometimes subtle, challenges to a single primary text (and they are challenges, since even ignoring the special edition, these screenplays at times contradict the scenes in the films) feel quite…postmodern, whether that was the intent or not.

There are many excerpts from interviews with several creative personalities behind the movies, and interspersed throughout there are also summaries of different drafts of the screenplays. These blocks of text interrupt the reading of the screenplays, constantly encouraging the reader to step away from the script as pure narrative and to instead review it as a constantly evolving creative work, changed both by time and collaboration.

The summaries of older drafts are fascinating, to see how ideas were dropped and remixed–many dropped ideas could easily make interesting independent stories of their own, and I suppose there was an attempt to demonstrate this reality years later with The Star Wars comic series. The interview snippets can be just as fascinating, and not everything involves story development; as Bouzereau says in the introduction, while some non-story-development excerpts detail how production impacted design of creatures or could have impacted character development, “I’ll admit that some of the stories were just too good to be dismissed!” These interviews offer more challenge to the idea of authoritative Creation or Creator. There is some tension between different accounts of certain events, and perhaps most interestingly, one can see George Lucas himself fluctuate between honesty and the myth-building that he has always been prone toward.

I have had this book for many years, since childhood. I often skimmed through passages or looked up lines, but I never actually read it from front to back until now. On the one hand, I feel like I have really been missing out on a delightful pseudo-history; on the other hand, I wonder if I would have even recognized the most tantalizing tensions present in this meta-narrative at a young age. This book can be a fun way to “read” the films, but it can offer a lot more if you’ll let it. I would certainly recommend the latter.

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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!