Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

How Leigh Brackett’s Manta-ray Riding Aliens Became Star Wars Canon Anyway

Hoth wasn’t always an icy world full of abominable snowmen. In Leigh Brackett’s script for The Empire Strikes Back, the word meant “cloud”– and it was the name of what would later become Bespin, home of Cloud City.

It was also home to some unusual native peoples:

The subplot surrounding these guys clearly did not survive into subsequent iterations of the script, but author and game designer James Cambias has commented here with the surprising story of how aliens like this ended up becoming a part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe anyway:

I made up the “Wind Raiders of Taloraan” for a Star Wars Adventure Journal piece back when West End Games had the Star Wars license. Everything became Property of George Lucas, and apparently someone at one of the video-game projects liked my inhabited gas giant with flying manta rays because Taloraan was developed as a setting for an (abortive, I think) game project. That in turn apparently inspired the Dark Horse comics writers working on the Clone Wars comic a couple of years ago, because I took my son to the comic shop and he picked out a comic about Anakin and his cute young apprentice having adventures on . . . Taloraan.

When I was able to demonstrate to my son that I invented that planet, I ascended (briefly, to be sure) to God-Emperor Cool Dad status.

All of which means I know exactly where Leigh Brackett got those flying manta-rays, because I’m willing to bet she stole them from Arthur C. Clarke’s “A Meeting With Medusa,” same as I did.

Love to see that tabletop gaming stuff make it back into the real thing. Neato!

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6 responses to “How Leigh Brackett’s Manta-ray Riding Aliens Became Star Wars Canon Anyway

  1. ckubasik December 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

    I’m fascinated you’re digging into this.

    As a screenwriter (I created and wrote a series called “The Booth at the End” that played on Hulu and around the globe on F/X cable; I just finished an adaptation of a Japanese anime for a live action film; I’m going into meetings this month at HBO, Netflix and others for a limited series; and next month I’ll be pitching a pilot around town), you should know that this stuff is incredibly complicated and contentious. And weird.

    When does a draft stop becoming a draft and become discarded? Is the basic story structure the key to determining the value of a script that other drafts are built from? The dialogue? The character arcs.

    There Writers Guild of America (WGA) has a lengthy arbitration process in place to determine credit whenever there is doubt about this. And it matters a great deal since name on script determines who gets money from the film in terms of residuals after release. Some people find the process suspect and arbitrary. But given the questions in the previous paragraph, I think the matter will always be an arcane process.

    Keep in mind that screenwriting, along with everything else is filmmaking, is a social process. Lucas met with Brackett in a length story meeting. She went off to write. She came back with something that wasn’t was he was looking for.

    Quick! Does that mean everything wasn’t wasn’t what he was looking for? A few key moments? A tone? WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HE MEANS BY THAT STATEMENT.

    I have found that people are sensitive to the slightest things in script development. The thing that makes a draft “thrown out” might only be a small portion of the script in terms of page count… but it can also be the thing that really does turn the whole script into a different light.

    Also, here’s the thing: The last person to touch a script often feels like he wrote the script. And I mean that literally. The story beats of a screenplay might be completely nailed down for a script… but if an actor changes a few lines in the script he will claim that he wrote it, because that is the part he is focused on. Director’s who come in try to do the the same thing.

    Examples!

    Here’s an example of what happened on ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/why_is_robert_redford_claiming_he_wrote_all_the_presidents_men
    http://www.slashfilm.com/robert-redford-biography-claims-william-goldman-write-all-presidents-men/

    And here is how James Gunn tried to take credit away from Nicole Perlman’s work on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY:
    http://www.ibtimes.com/welcome-gunn-show-how-nicole-perlman-being-written-out-guardians-galaxy-1659036
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/04/guardians_of_the_galaxy_co_writer_nicole_perlman_vs_director_james_gunn.html

    As someone who knows Nicole, I can tell you that Gunn’s claims are preposterous.

    Is the draft Gunn wrote different from the draft Nicole wrote? Absolutely! But here’s the thing: When a person makes changes to the script, he assumes those are the changes that ARE the script. Why? i don’t know. We’re human. We’re flawed. We tend to overvalue our contributions to any project.

    I say all this simply to add to your discussion, not to make a final statement at all. The kind of work you’re doing right now, digging around, is the kind of work that happens in both arbitration cases for credit and for research on beloved movies decades after the fact.

    But the truth is a movie is shaped by dozens of people over time making a thing. However, most people don’t know this. No conspiracy of any kind is needed to explain why many people talk about Brackett’s draft being “discarded.” Most people have no idea how complex and weird the process of getting a script developed and a movie made is. And they assume there is one controlling vision on a movie. The truth, however, is far different.

    Making a movie is a big mess. The wonder is that coherent, good movies get made at all.

    • Rindis December 10, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      Yeah, my roommate Smudge sat me down a few years ago and ran me through how the process of ‘writing’ a script for an animated movie typically works (the Disney method, which has been in use in a lot of American studios).

      I’m amazed there has ever been an animated movie with a coherent plot.

    • Cirsova December 10, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      The question that’s been rattling around in my mind the last couple days: under similar circumstances, only with the writer of the first draft still being alive and trying to find work in the industry, would such a public dismissal of the writer’s contribution to a work be considered actionable or defamation? I mean, Disney was forced to pay Paul Atler over a quarter million dollars for an actually discarded script. Does receiving authorial credit before the fact that your work is publicly trashed mitigate things?

      • ckubasik December 10, 2015 at 12:50 pm

        I linked to a couple of examples above.

        The answer to the question is, “Generally, the writer lets it slide.”

        In the case of Goldman, he didn’t comment at all, letting the writer of the piece dig into the facts.
        In the case of Perlman, she held her tongue for most of it, simply stating once things were simply out of hand, “Gunn put his stamp on it. My work is there as well.”

        It’s a small town. Creative collaboration is tough. You move on with these facts, or you turn into someone who makes every slight a fight. And no one really wants to deal with that.

  2. Pingback: Why Critics Get Leigh Brackett Wrong | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  3. Pingback: Non-Spoiler Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

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