Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Why Critics Get Leigh Brackett Wrong

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Wrong!

Pretty much everything anyone’s said about Leigh Brackett’s work on the internet is just plain wrong. It’s aggravating. I don’t see how her fans can stand it. It’s as obnoxious as it it ubiquitous. Time and again she is invoked in order to push forward someone else’s program.

Here’s some of the most common errors:

  1. Feminist cheerleaders distort her contributions and accomplishments in order to push some kind of girl power narrative. Example this headline at IO9 states “They mocked her ‘science fantasy.’ Then she wrote Empire Strikes Back.” Yep, the actual reporting there is more nuanced than that, but the headline is what people remember and what motivates people to share the story on social media. Being a fan of Brackett myself, I’m rather sympathetic to the claim that her work on Empire vindicates her career. But you can tell that the use of the phrases “co-wrote” and/or “first draft” would totally kill the buzz the editors are going for there.
  2. People building up the cult of personality surrounding George Lucas are primed to take any statements coming from Lucasfilm regarding Leigh Brackett’s role in developing The Empire Strikes Back at face value. All of the recent claims that Leigh Brackett’s script were “discarded” can be traced back to this. Now, people in the script-writing business inform me that this sort of thing happens all the time. But that doesn’t change the fact that this stuff is wrong and it’s plastered all over the internet in Star Wars wikis and in comment boxes by people that carelessly repeat this stuff as if it’s authoritative. The fact is, now that everyone has access to Leigh Brackett’s script, this narrative is now exposed as being the total baloney that it is. Her script was not “discarded”. Rather, it provided what co-writer Lawrence Kasdan called the skeleton of the movie.
  3. Just in time for Leigh Brackett’s centennial, the latest twist on these falsehoods is the many journalists running with the exact same bogus talking points. This time it is in the service of a naked entryist campaign that is pushing for the next script writer of a Star Wars movie to be a woman– as if it’s never happened before. The irony here is since Leigh Brackett’s script became available to anyone with an internet connection back in 2010, the truth of the matter has been right out in the open for anyone willing to take a moment to google for it. But these next generation feminist hacks are resurrecting a debunked narrative in order to take away credit that Leigh Brackett earned and instead ascribe the greatness of the second Star Wars Movie to a man that’s already demonstrated just how big of a mess he would have made without her assistance.

All that aside, how would feminists today respond to the content of Leigh Brackett’s work? Michael J. Martinez provides us with a critique that I believe is representative:

I did mention that there were some bits in Empire that didn’t age well. I think Leia’s character — really, the only meaningful female role in the original trilogy — was mostly, but not completely, positive in this film. We get to see her in charge on Hoth, which is awesome. She’s absolutely and unequivocally in command, and nobody says boo about it. In the middle, though, she kind of reverts to the love interest role, and can be a touch shrill besides — not a great look. Finally, though, she takes command again and kicks ass in the escape from Cloud City.

Maybe this guy would have changed his tune if he had known that he was criticizing the work of one of science fiction’s best writers, but who knows? In any case, as anyone that has read the first draft of the script would know, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s kiss in the sick bay on Hoth and Han Solo and Princess Leia make out session on the Millennium Falcon are in the film because Leigh Brackett thought it would be great cinema. If you don’t like it you can blame her and not Lucas.

Rio Bravo

Going by that review of Empire, I guarantee that this dude would find Leigh Brackett’s work to be problematic. If he’s not comfortable with women that swoon for John Wayne “leading man” types then I can tell you… there are significant portions of Rio Bravo, Hatari!, and El Dorado that are going to make him very uncomfortable. The rest of you… get over to Amazon and rent these movies there as soon as you can. They’re fantastic… and Leigh Brackett’s scripts are a huge part of why they are so good.

Now, people are going to tell me that this is just some dude rewatching the old Star Wars movies and that he is not the voice of feminists– in spite of the fact that he’s been indoctrinated by them and is sucking up to them. But now that I think of it, the overall tempo of the romantic arc of Angie Dickinson’s sassy card sharp are very similar to Princess Leia’s transition from stoic leader to “natural woman” in Empire. There was more “old school” to The Empire Strikes Back than just movie posters that invoked pulp science fiction sensibilities!

Anyway, as just one more example of feminists getting Leigh Brackett wrong, check out this bit from a recent review by Tansy Rayner Roberts:

Like many women in the field (including Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffrey), Leigh Brackett often mashed up science fiction and fantasy traditions, which has been used as a convenient excuse over the years to dismiss or disregard her importance as a science fiction writer…

This is a standard sort of Joanna Russ type “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” argument. It’s completely stupid, however, and will only sound convincing to people that haven’t read anything from before nineteen-eighty. (This is the same sort of ignorance that I have documented from award winning feminist science fiction writers like Aliette de Bodard, by the way.)

Really though, mashing up science fiction and fantasy was pretty normal over the course of Leigh Brackett’s career. Lovecraft and Howard mashed up science fiction and fantasy traditions. Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny mashed up science fiction and fantasy traditions. Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock mashed up science fiction and fantasy traditions. Whoever these Brackett haters are that are being invoked here, they have a pretty stupid reason for dismissing her. The truth is that average fantasy fan of the seventies would have eaten her stories up right alongside works of the other masters, as Gary Gygax’s Appendix N list attests.

I’m sick of this stuff, though. Ever since Leigh Brackett’s one hundredth birthday the other day, I’ve read countless news stories and blog posts that invoke her name. More often than not, people take advantage of either her unique stature in the field or her relative obscurity in order to push some kind of narrative or agenda that has nothing to do with the awesomeness of her works. Given just how great her books and movie scripts really are, that’s positively galling.

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9 responses to “Why Critics Get Leigh Brackett Wrong

  1. HeartbreakRidge December 10, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    *blink* I love Rio Bravo, and until now did not know I could link it and Empire Strikes Back! Now that I know, I completely see the connection. Thanks!

  2. jlv61560 December 11, 2015 at 3:27 am

    But Jeffro, why would anyone want to waste time learning about facts or anything? That takes TIME, and ignorance is instantaneous!

  3. PavePusher December 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    SJW’s fuck up EVERYTHING.

  4. Pingback: They Really Are Incapable of Getting Leigh Brackett Right | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  5. Walt G December 14, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Tastes vary. I love Leigh Brackett, but not liking her writing because she mixes fantasy and science fiction seems perfectly legitimate to me.

  6. Pingback: Michael Moorcock: Also Wrong About Leigh Brackett | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

  7. Pingback: That’s My Reporting | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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