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Rediscovering Leigh Brackett, Sci-Fi Pioneer and “The Empire Strikes Back” Writer

Rediscovering Leigh Brackett, Sci-Fi Pioneer and "The Empire Strikes Back" Writer

Here’s more proof that sci-fi isn’t just for boys — and never has been. An essay from io9 published on Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) uncovers some fascinating history about Leigh Brackett (1915-1978), the science-fiction writer behind the first draft of “The Empire Strikes Back” screenplay. 

Sci-fi is of course still disparaged in some circles, but the genre’s writers, artists and fans received hardly any respect in the ’40s, when Brackett was active. She was paid less to write sci-fi than other forms of pulp fiction, and readers didn’t always welcome female genre writers warmly. Brackett was heralded the “Queen of Space Opera,” but the moniker was not necessarily complimentary. Compared to other pulp and science fiction, the subgenre of space opera was considered especially silly entertainment. 

As an essay from Brackett’s friend Michael Moorcock explains, “There was a time when the kind of science fantasy Brackett made her own was looked down upon as a kind of bastard progeny of science fiction (which was about scientific speculation) and fantasy (which was about magic).” 

But Brackett had to remain true to herself. “Why don’t you write nice stories for the Ladies’ Home Journal?” her aunt asked her once. The author replied, “I wish I could, because they pay very well, but I can’t read the Ladies’ Home Journal, and I’m sure I couldn’t write for it.” She then defended what she called “escape fiction” as a way of creating and exploring new worlds: “Space opera has been telling us tales of spaceflight, of journeys to other worlds in this solar system… These stories served to stretch our little minds, to draw us out beyond our narrow skies into the vast glooms of interstellar space, where the great suns ride in splendor and the bright nebulae fling their veils of fire parsecs-long across the universe.”

Of course, space operas were popularized in the mainstream in a helluva dramatic fashion once “Star Wars” was released. Legend has it that one of Brackett’s books was handed to George Lucas by a friend. Lucas got in touch with Brackett, and when he asked if she had experience writing screenplays, he was surprised to discover that she had a number of impressive film credits under her belt, including co-writing “The Big Sleep.” His interest in bringing her into the “Star Wars” universe was based solely on her work in pulp sci-fi. The two collaborated in story conferences, and Brackett was instrumental in creating the character Yoda and introducing the storyline of Luke’s twin sister. 

As io9 observes, Brackett’s “credit as screenwriter for one of the greatest space adventures of all time is vindication for someone who chose to write space opera at a time when that term was considered a put-down.” The feature is well worth reading in full, and offers insight into Brackett’s contribution to the “Star Wars” empire, as well as a sense of the profound courage she had in remaining true to her passions. 

[via i09

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