Apparently, George Lucas’s first few passes on the original Star Wars script left much to be desired. Even after extensive script revisions, Harrison Ford still crossed out many of Han Solo’s lines in his script and scribbled in better ones. And we’re grateful for that. Fiction usually benefits from expert outside perspective.
In celebration of The Force Awakens, due out December 18th 2015, I imagined what an early beta reader might have said about the first or second draft of Star Wars. Don’t be fooled. These problems are [mostly] mine; I’m just pawning them off on George Lucas for fun.
Letter to George Lucas, circa 1973.
Finally read your script. Unfortunately, I’ll never get that time back.
In short, your ending fell flat and your characters have no soul. I’ve made some comments on the larger issues, but you’re going to need a lightsaber for this edit.
RAISE THE STAKES
I didn’t buy that final assault. You had Luke fly in there, single-handedly shoot down a bunch of TIE fighters, and detonate the core. Is this Boxcar Children? You called it a Death Star so make it look hard. (Incidentally, what is a TIE fighter? Bow-TIEs? Windsors? Doesn’t sound very intimidating.)
People need to fail. A second run down that laser trench is a must! Have the actors hold their breath, sweat, and curse. There ought to be swarms of lasers and exploding starships. Forget the effects budget for a minute, because that’s what today’s audience wants. Make them think that Luke is going down in flames.
AMP UP YOUR VILLIAN
The dude in the black suit and the James Earl Jones voice is cool, but he ought to be practically on top of the audience, breathing heavily and saying creepy things like “The force is strong with this one.” He should also be dealing out death left and right. Can you make him choke some people? For extra points, make him Luke’s actual father. Homicidal father, reckless son. Good drama.
TWO WORDS: CHARACTER GROWTH
Make the finale both universally and personally significant. Luke’s been a whiny farm kid most of this movie script. To have him blowing up the evil empire by virtue of his well-honed pilot skills is a missed opportunity. Stop talking about this mysterious force and show it. Maybe that old guy you unceremoniously killed in the second act can speak to him from beyond the grave. “Use the Force, Luke,” or something like that. Listening to advice from the “afterlife” shows either personal growth or an unhealthy fixation on death. Both are interesting.
Also, Han shouldn’t fly off at the last minute to pay his debt. He’s a scoundrel, true, but he’s also a business man, and the Death Star crowd is bad for smuggling. His own character arc will be more interesting if his self-interest is in conflict with his hidden need for friendship. Have him put that awesome-fast ship right out there on the poker table and risk it all.
NOT EVERYBODY CAN WALK AWAY.
Don’t cheapen the victory by saving every wingman. Somebody has to die. Why not Biggs, the childhood friend? (His death would also have more impact if we see him more than once in the script.)
“TIE” IT ALL TOGETHER (Ha!)
Make every moment play into the final scene. If Jawas die and generals get force-choked, then we can see a little better why dethroning Darth Breather is so important.
George, I know I’m riding you hard here, but face it: It doesn’t take a genius to write a B-grade science fiction flick. Somebody might fund this, but not me. Do yourself a favor and write another draft. Or seven. This finale could hit like a heavyweight boxer, but you’ve got to have likeable characters and a plausible plot to make emotional impact. All the special effects in the world won’t give it soul if you mess that up.