The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. Today’s episode contains a few bad words and also spoilers for The Empire Strikes Back, which really if you haven’t seen The Empire Strikes Back? That’s crazy. You should see that movie. Enjoy.
Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: And my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 452 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the program it’s a deep dive into The Empire Strikes Back, looking back at how this 1980 sequel to Star Wars works on a script level and a story level. To help us do that we are joined again by screenwriter Larry Kasdan who not only wrote Empire and other Star Wars films, but also Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, The Bodyguard, Big Chill, and so many more movies it’s just exhausting. Welcome back Lawrence Kasdan.
Lawrence Kasdan: Thank you. Glad to be back. I love this podcast.
Craig: We’ve arranged things so that you can see into everybody’s room. You requested that you could see into people’s rooms.
Lawrence: Some of them have stymied me there with their glossies.
Craig: Yeah. No, a few of these people have head shots up perhaps hoping to be the next Indiana Jones or something.
John: We are doing this live on Zoom. We love to do live shows for the Writers Guild Foundation. This is a live show for the Writers Guild Foundation, but instead of being in a big theater with a bunch of people around us we are staring into living rooms and bedrooms and other rooms of people here on Zoom. Thank you to the Writers Guild Foundation for putting this together. Thank you everyone who came. We have 200 and some people in this Zoom room watching us live.
Craig: On the way to 500 I believe.
John: That’s pretty exciting. Now, Larry we’ve had you on the show before. You were a guest on Episode 247. That was way back in 2016. A different lifetime. We were talking about Raiders. We were talking about the Star Wars movies you were working on. Today on this program we want to do a deep dive where we really focus in on one project and really the story and script behind that project. We’ve done this for The Little Mermaid, we did this for Raiders. And being the 40th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back we really want to talk about the process of getting from, OK, we’re doing a sequel to Star Wars to the movie that we saw.
And to do that we have you, but we also have your handwritten pages from that script beforehand. So at some points during this video I’m going to be showing you some of those pages and we’re going to talk through scenes that look like the final scenes in the movie and scenes that are very, very different. So I’m excited to get into this.
Lawrence Kasdan, talk us through how you became involved with The Empire Strikes Back. So, Star Wars was of course a phenomenon, but when was your first involvement with Empire?
Lawrence: I had just written Raiders of the Lost Ark and it had taken me about six months. And I took the script up to George, handed it over to him in a very ceremonial way. And he said, “Let’s go out to lunch.” And he said, “I’m in real trouble on the next Star Wars. Would you write it?” And I said don’t you want to read Raiders first? He said, “I’m going to read it tonight. If I don’t like it I’ll take back this offer.” But he did like it and almost immediately – I had to have a break – but a few weeks later we started this and wrote Empire very quickly.
Craig: And part of the reason that he was talking to you was because the first writer on Empire, Leigh Brackett, was pretty sick and did end up passing away. So you guys, even though you’re co-credited, you don’t really overlap in the creation of Empire.
Lawrence: No. And I wish I had met her because she’s a legendary writer, both science fiction and screenwriting, and written great westerns which I love. She’s got a credit on The Big Sleep, one of my favorite movies. So she was a giant. But I never met her because she was hired to do it and she became very sick. She handed in a draft which I maybe saw once. But when George made this proposition to me at lunch she had already passed away. He said there’s a thousand people working in England and we have no script.
Craig: When we hear someone say, or imagine ourselves on the receiving end of, “Hey, do you want to write Raiders of the Lost Ark,” it’s already nerve-racking. But Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t a thing when you wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark. But Star Wars was the thing of all things.
Craig: Did you feel anxious? Were you terrified? Or were you like, meh.
Lawrence: I was a little bit tired from finishing Raiders. I was worried about their reaction. So I was in kind of a haze. And when he said, you know, will you come on and help me with Empire you can’t really be shocked. At that point I had been trying to get into the business so long and had seen enough things. You know that once you get hired then things start to work. It’s murder to get hired. And no one wants to hire someone they’ve never heard of.
The second they have a decent credit everybody wants to hire you, even though they don’t know if you’re good or bad.
Lawrence: So I sort of wasn’t surprised. He’s in trouble. He knows I just delivered a script. Maybe—
John: Maybe you’re the guy. So, we got to read through the transcript of Raiders, and so the conversations you were having with Lucas and Spielberg about the intentions going into Raiders, was there an equivalent session with you and George Lucas and other folks involved about what the goals were going to be going into Empire? The sequel to the surprise hit movie Star Wars. What were those initial conversations about in terms of intention, and hopes, and things you wanted to see this movie do?
Lawrence: My first real conversation was in private with George. And when I had had my little break and I came back up to the ranch and we were talking alone. And he said, “You know, Darth Vader is Luke’s father.” And I said, no shit. I thought that was just fantastic. And it was clear to me that that meant the second movie was going to be very different from the first. And you must know that I love the first one. I love The New Hope. I think it’s one of the great movies. And it changed the world.
But part of its fun and why it was irresistible to people is it was so light and fast. And you never stopped for a second to talk about character or to have very much intimate scenes. There are a couple things if you get three lines between two characters it’s a big deal. But everything around it is perfect and I learned over the years with George that that’s his greatest desire to move fast and entertain people. And anything else is gravy as far as he’s concerned.
Well that was not my point of view on writing. That’s not the things I had been writing. And I could tell when he told me about Darth and Luke that that opened up a whole different kind of movie than the first one. So without taking anything away from the first one, which to me is the greatest Star Wars movie, this was going to be a different animal. And he seemed to be receptive to that. And, you know, for the next year or whatever it was as they went into production and I was around sometimes it was clear that there was always this slight frisson, a tension between my desire to have the characters to be a little more – have a little more depth, to let the love scenes play a little bit, to let Yoda’s philosophy be heard. And always George’s instinct to go fast, or faster, faster.
And looking at the movie now I think it really combines those things pretty well. And I’m amazed by how much action there is in it. And how well it works. And I’m amazed that there is a chance to know these characters. And the actors embraced that idea, of course, that now they had something more to play.
Craig: There’s a moment early on in the film that I think hearing you talk embodies that for me. It’s a fascinating combination of let’s call it George and Larry. There’s a classic Campbellian story trope of the call to action. And we all know that George was kind of student of Joseph Campbell. And so early on in Empire Strikes Back there’s a call to action. Obi-Wan appears like a vision to Luke and says, “You’re going to go to Dagobah and meet up with Yoda and become a Jedi knight.” Classic. And it’s such a fascinating kind of your mentor reappearing and giving you this interesting challenge. At the same time he’s freezing to death and he’s just escaped from this monster that beat him up. And he’s going to die. And I remember even as a kid feeling like this is what movies do better than anything is they give you two stories at once and it makes sense on top of each other.
I remember just almost laughing at the thought that ghost Obi-Wan didn’t give a damn, which meant he was going to be OK.
Lawrence: Meant he’s going to be OK. You know, it’s a trap that people can fall into that maybe this character isn’t going to live, you know. But as soon as Ben tells him what his next chapter is going to be you know that he’ll be OK. Now you pretty much knew that anyway. This is Luke Skywalker. And you know that Han Solo is already looking for him. So you think [Obi pretty good]. But it’s an actual release of pressure like in a steam pipe.
John: Now, talk us through this early part of the process. You’re having these conversations with George. Was there an outline document? At what point were things being written down in terms of your marching orders and this is what you’re going to try to write?
Lawrence: Yeah, I don’t remember in detail, but I know that George – and he was under such pressure. And Leigh had passed away. And he got something down. You know, that’s a great habit to have. Get something down so you can talk about it. And George was a great one for doing that.
So I’m sure that we worked somewhat from his notes. And then very quickly Irvin Kershner became involved, the director. And he was an enormous influence on everything because he was such an unusual, eccentric character. He had actually taught George at USC briefly. He had made New York gritty human adult dramas before that. And when his name was announced to do the second Star Wars people were amazed. You couldn’t understand it.
But Irvin was the kind of guy, he would come in and just embrace. There’s a lot of his qualities in – all of us I think in Yoda. If you’re going to do something just do it. And it didn’t matter that he made The Eyes of Laura Mars or Loving or whatever. He was going to do this now.
Lawrence: And it was a big change for him, a big break for him in a way because it was a big expensive movie that he’d never made.
Craig: Well there’s something that’s happened culturally that I’m kind of fascinated by. In your mindset as a writer when you come on something like that you know you’re writing the sequel to the biggest movie of all time. It’s this cultural touchstone for every generation. But it’s still a time where a studio might say we’re making another Star Wars and everybody goes, “Great,” and they’re not particularly freaked out by the fact that somebody has been chosen as a director and this guy who has never written anything we know has been chosen as the writer.
So there’s a certain freedom.
Craig: And it strikes me that now if there’s a property, a franchise that kind of exemplifies a kind of total scrutiny it’s Star Wars. And you’ve been involved in Star Wars since. I mean, you worked on what is it, I lose track of the numbers, on eight? Seven and nine? Is that what you worked on? Seven and nine.
Lawrence: I worked on seven.
Craig: Seven. And you see the hoopla.
Lawrence: And then we did the separate Solo movie.
Craig: And then you did the Solo movie.
Lawrence: So that was four of these that I was involved with.
Craig: Did you have any sense at the time that you were kind of working under an interesting shroud of anonymity even though the property was so famous and global?
Lawrence: Absolutely. And you know Skywalker Ranch was a heavily secured area. When people got into Skywalker Ranch they felt grateful. The same way I feel every time I drive onto a movie lot. I’m sort of surprised that they let me in and I’m OK and they’re going to tell me where to park. That’s a big deal. Because for years I looked at the gates to studios and just wanted to get in there.
But Skywalker was much more intense than that. And people did not wander around Skywalker. And we were working up there in Marin and it was private. And I didn’t write up there. I wrote at home in LA. But when we had any of these meetings we would go up to the ranch. And this group of people, Kershner for sure, and then some other people would join, producers, Gary Kurtz occasionally. But Gary was really focused in England. He is the producer and he had produced Star Wars. But things were really rolling in England and so he wasn’t much involved in the story.
John: Now how early in the process did you know that you were really going to follow two very different threads? So you’re going to have Luke going off with Yoda and his whole quest line and you’re going to have Han and Leia and Lando Calrissian. How early in the process did you know that those two storylines would be separate for most of the movie?
Lawrence: I knew it immediately because that happens in the first movie. You know, the secret and the fun of Star Wars is it’s never one story happening alone. There’s always somewhere to cut to. When you get bored with the scene you just cut to the other storyline and it gives you an enormous burst of energy. Now suddenly you’re back to the other thing. Maybe the other thing, the one you were on, is playing itself out, you’re out of ideas, and now you have a whole chance to make a different movie right butted up against it.
And there’s a lot of that in Raiders, although it’s mostly from Indy’s point of view. But Star Wars, the first Star Wars was like that, back and forth. And even when they were together they get split up in the Death Star. And you’re just cutting back and forth. And so I knew going in this is going to have the same contouring.
John: All right. So we’re going to start looking at your handwritten pages and your edits along the way. But I’m really curious about the actual physical process of writing a screenplay back in, this would be 1978, ’79, ’80. And so this is probably before Final Draft at that point. What were you actually writing on? Were things being typed up–?
Craig: Or computers.
John: Was this done on a computer? Was this done on something else? What was the actually writing at that time?
Lawrence: I had always been a terrible typist. And that’s what some people here won’t even know what a manual typewriter is, or an electric typewriter, but I never mastered it. And so I was always making corrections with White Out. It was a nightmare for me, because I was never a good typist.
And so I hand wrote everything I did up until Grand Canyon. My wife and I did Grand Canyon. That’s when word processing really came in around 1990. And I was thrilled. Because now when you made mistakes it was very easy to correct them. And it changed everything.
But for every movie I did before that I was dependent on a typist who was the middle person between my handwriting, which you’re about to see, which is not good handwriting. But I have everything – all those movies – in handwritten pencil on long legal sheets. And it’s sometimes amazing to me how few changes I made.
Lawrence: And I do think it gets to the heart of something that’s very important to me which is there’s a completely different feeling about writing longhand than there is working on a computer. And you’re very careful. You don’t want to go back and rewrite that whole paragraph. You can mark out some stuff, but basically you’re thinking about every sentence and every word very carefully. More like a novelist would do. And then you move on.
And, you know, at the end of the day – I’m left-handed which is a terrible thing to be when you’re a hand-writer – and my hand would be cramped and I could not even move it. But Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, Big Chill, they all exist handwritten in pencil on long legal pads.
Craig: Well it’s the difference in an analogous way to the way we used to edit on old Moviolas where you cut the film and you spliced the film together. And that’s obviously with the advent of nonlinear editing that goes away. And there is no such thing as a semi-permanent cut. Nor is there any more tolerance for the little glitch bits that used to be fairly common in the way that things used to be edited together.
Lawrence: And the impact on the art itself, whatever you’re doing, is enormous. You know, I often think, oh, I would like to work that way again, you know. Because not being able to change everything immediately, not being able to lift out paragraphs and sentences and move them around is completely different. So you’re committing emotionally and in your story to that thing it took you so long to hand-write.
And as you go through the process and people said, well, we want this to be different, and different, then there are typists who come in and it’s not quite as imposing.
Craig: Yeah. Well, thank god you had Gayle. I was looking through these pages and I was like is Gayle, was she like one of the producers that I didn’t know? Because you’re like, “Gayle,” and it seemed like you were talking to her like, Gayle, forget this stuff. This is no good. I’m so sorry I wrote that. This is what matters.
It turns out Gayle is the typist.
John: Yeah. And so I’ve been a hand-writer of scenes for a very long time. And so generally first drafts I would write by hand going back to Go and early things. And so Rawson Thurber and Dana Fox, they were typing up all of my pages. And I didn’t not because – I could type really well, but I did really like the fact that I was committing to a thing. And I wasn’t going back and editing stuff. I was writing the next scene and writing the next scene.
One thing I often notice if I start writing on the computer is that I will just keep rewriting those early pages again and again and again and won’t move on. And handwriting is a way to break yourself of that habit.
Lawrence: It really breaks – you don’t want to go back. You don’t want to go through that physical thing again. And when people cavalierly say, “Well just change all that,” it’s a much bigger thing. And you’re thinking about it. You’re going back to the pencil. And the same thing as Craig said, in editing the way movies are edited is completely changed by the way we now edit.
Craig: No question.
John: Let’s take a look at this draft. And so if you’re watching this live you’re going to see this on your screen. We’re going to take it over. If you are listening to this episode after the fact we’ll have the slides as a link so you can see what it is that we are talking about with this. But this is an early draft and you can tell us when we would have started seeing this. So everyone on their screen should see, we’re going to start with Scene 8. This is your left-handed in pencil writing version of The Empire Strikes Back.
John: So, what are we seeing here? This is–?
Lawrence: And this was very early on in the process. It’s at the beginning of the movie. You’re in the Hoth which is like the first act of the movie. And I get everything – when I was handwriting all my originals and everything I always did it in sequence. It’s not necessary to do it that way, but I always did. I wanted to know what was behind me. I never wanted to jump ahead.
So I wrote Empire in sequence as I had done everything else. And so this was very early in the process. And because I was writing so fast, this is, you know, a few days in, and we’re in the Hoth, you know, in the corridors, which is an incredible set that I was lucky enough to visit. I had barely been on a movie set before. And then to have my first real experience be in the ice corridors of Hoth that was pretty amazing.
John: So, Craig, should we take a read through this for our listeners at home? I’d love to hear sort of both the scene description and this dialogue which is so iconic. So this is a long scene between Leia and Han. Really establishing the beginning of what their arc is going to be over the course of this movie. So, Scene 8, INT. ICE CORRIDOR. Han strides down a corridor covered from the ice. Leia follows quickly, agitated. Behind them, unnoticed, the arm of a Wampa Ice Monster suddenly detaches from a seemingly solid section of the wall.
Leia says – so do you want to be Leia or Han? Craig, you choose?
Craig: Oh, I want to be Leia, obviously.
John: Go for it.
Craig: Captain Solo.
John: Han steps in the quiet corridor and I can’t even read the next word. Going towards Leia.
Lawrence: And turns to face Leia.
John: Turns to face Leia. Thank you.
Craig: Captain Sol—Han. Why are you leaving us now?
John: That bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell reminded me of what I’ve got to do.
Craig: Does Luke know?
John: He’ll know when he gets back. Don’t give me that look, sweetheart. Every day more bounty hunters are – help me with the word?
John: Searching for me.
Craig: [laughs] Is this how it went on that day? We need Gayle.
John: If I don’t pay off Jabba soon – ah, Jabba – there’ll be too many to stop. Remotes – help me out there?
Lawrence: Gang killers and who knows what else.
Craig: Oh, Gank killers. Now just to pause for a second. Do we ever hear about the Gank killers? I don’t think we heard about the Gank killers in the movie.
Lawrence: You know, I’m the worst person to ask. And this has come up many times over the years because when you do gatherings or you’re promoting the movie or you’re at Comic Con people ask you questions. They’re very detailed. They devoted their life to knowing these details and I’ve forgotten. I’ve gone on to other things. So I’m a terrible reference. Pablo Hidalgo who is the head of the history of Lucas Film, he knows everything.
Craig: I feel like Gank killers didn’t make it.
John: Yeah. And who knows what else.
I’ve got to get that price off my head while I still have a head.
OK, so he’s setting up the danger for Han. Important in this movie, but especially important for future movies. Leia says–
Craig: Han, I need you here. The Rebellion needs you.
John: Oh, so it’s the Rebellion.
John: Not you?
Craig: Me? [laughs]
John: My little princess. I’m afraid you don’t know yourself very well.
Craig: What do you mean?
John: When I met you I thought you were not only beautiful but brave. Now I see you’re only beautiful.
Craig: I fear nothing in this galaxy.
John: You’re afraid of your own feelings.
Craig: And what are they? Please, tell.
John: And the parenthetical here is “flip,” so just like–
Craig: I thought I nailed that.
John: I thought you did, too. But I want to make sure for the folks who can’t read this.
You want me to stay because you care for me.
Craig: I respect you, of course. You’re a bold fighter. Maybe not the brightest.
John: No, you’re highness, those aren’t the feelings I’m talking about.
Leia looks at him. She knows exactly what he means. But pretends to understand only now. She laughs.
Craig: You’re imagining things.
John: Han steps closer and Leia instinctively steps back. She’s almost against the wall.
Craig: Whoever – if anyone had ever been inspired to write slash fiction about you and me, this is it, man. It’s happening now.
John: This is the John/Craig slash fiction people have been craving for 450 episodes.
Craig: This is hot. Keep going.
John: And I cannot even begin to describe what a terrible job I’m doing of this dialogue.
Lawrence: You’re fine. You seem fine.
John: All right.
Lawrence: When we did our last one on Scriptnotes and what you guys have probably done more than anyone in the world, you’ve created a library of reference about screenwriting that never existed before and it’s more voluminous than any book you can get or anything. And it’s a wonderful resource for people. And what I’m interested in talking about whenever you want to and whenever you can is the writing itself. And this scene that we’re in the middle of, in the corridor, is a perfect example, it’s in the movie. As you say, it sets up a lot of things. In fact, nothing really changes, which is her denying her feelings toward him. His being very cocky but uncertain. And that plays throughout the movie.
But what interests is me is there’s always two, three, four things happening at once. So that when he starts toying with her about your feelings, she denies it. But it’s clear from Carrie Fisher and from Harrison that she’s very much in love with him. She’s very drawn to him. And all her denials are baloney. She’s playing a role as a princess.
That kind of stuff is so rich, you know. If the audience – it doesn’t have to be explained to them at all.
Lawrence: You just know. They look at human faces and they say he’s not telling her the whole truth. She’s not telling him the whole truth.
Craig: Correct. And it sets up a pattern. Because a great scene, and you know, I’m obsessed with relationships really. We talk about character and I’m always thinking really what we mean is relationships. Because that’s the only way character makes any sense. And that scene as delightful as it is, that kind of meeting, these two people recontextualizing their relationship, sets up a pattern that then influences and enhances every scene to follow between them. Because they will repeat this pattern over and over until he kind of gets it right.
Craig: Which is wonderful.
Lawrence: And she is softening every time, too.
Lawrence: It works on her.
Craig: And just like with Luke in the snow, dying, and Obi-Wan showing up and saying while you’re dying I have the exposition for you, they’re going to have this in the belly of a creature that they thought was really an asteroid while they’re hiding from the TIE fighters. So these layers of things make everything better.
Lawrence: And, you know, one thing I was reminded looking at the movie is there are two scenes about he’s going to split off and leave the Rebellion and she can’t rely on him and what kind of man is he. And what happens is they get into the Millennium Falcon and they’re together for the rest of the movie.
Craig: Right. Right.
Lawrence: So all this splitting up turns out to be irrelevant.
Craig: That’s another kind of writing question I had for you. There’s a moment that you know about as the writer that nobody else knows about. And sometimes those are kind of the juiciest moments. You know that in Hoth, shortly before they get wind that the Empire is about to attack, that Luke and Leia are going to have the last discussion they’re going to have until the end of the movie. They’re not going to see each other again. And you know that. And sometimes I think writers don’t take enough advantage of the secrets they know that the audience doesn’t know. Because there are things going on in there that just make it all so much more interesting because you’re aware of that.
Lawrence: Yes. And that to me is a good part of the fun of screenwriting.
Lawrence: Because that’s always happening. If it isn’t happening then the scene is probably flat. The scene is probably too simple. It’s always – and the audience, which is so fast, it doesn’t need anything explained really. They get it from one look from an actor. And a lot of stuff is totally redundant when you say it. So they know, oh, these are people and they have mixed feelings about each other. And maybe he knows something she doesn’t know. That’s what gives it all the juice.
John: Going back to the scene with Han and Leia that we were just reading through, you talk about in the first movie Lucas was so obsessed with speed and just getting through stuff, this scene actually has more banter than probably any scene in the first movie does and more sort of romantic comedy kind of banter. And yet while we could see some of that stuff with a look, you also need those characters to be in a space and actually enjoying it and you need to see them playing the sport. Because we need to see them hitting back and forth.
Lawrence: You know, in A New Hope it starts, but because it was moving so fast and because it was a certain kind of idea of what a movie should be it never pauses to let that play. So they get two strokes and they’re out. And they’re wonderful strokes and people quote those lines for 45 years now. And they’re wonderful. But you really want a little more. What happens after she has that quick comeback?
John: So let’s talk about the relationship between Han and Leia and also between Luke and Leia. Because coming off of the first movie we could anticipate that this was going to be a love triangle. And it seems that that was maybe the initial conception of it. But in your movie it’s not that. So at what point was there a conversation about sort of what Luke and Leia’s relationship is going to be? And what point did you know what that was going to be like?
Lawrence: You know, there’s a gray area, a mystery area whenever you talk to George because to hear him tell it, and I think it’s true, he always thought this would be a trilogy. That there was more to the story. On the other hand, if Star Wars had failed there would have been no trilogy. So he wanted it as a standalone. No one really believed there was going to be a sequel to it. When it was coming out no one had any idea what it was going to be.
But once this enormous success happened, it changed everything in George’s life. Not only his acquisition of land and ILM and so on, but it also changed his attitude about what the first one was. And he can find the seeds of everything in the first one. And they’re there because that was his instinct. That was the story he wanted. But they’re not the details. And I honestly believe that he didn’t know about Leia and Luke when he was starting this.
Craig: Yeah. It doesn’t seem like it, but that’s OK. I mean, one of the benefits that it seems to me you had from a writing point of view, and I’d love to hear your feelings about this, is that because A New Hope was so compressed in its characterizations and sentiment and relationships that unlike a lot of sequels where you are trying to squeeze a little bit more blood out of something that was plenty bloody to begin with and isn’t so much anymore, you got to kind of create the real relationships. Like I’ve often said one of the reasons that my wife ultimately married me is because–
Lawrence: I’ve wondered so much about this.
Craig: Yeah. So here it is. But she is a huge Empire Strikes Back fan. And in particular when Han Solo says to Leia, “I think you like me because I’m a scoundrel.” You know, I was her scoundrel. And there was something about where in New Hope, and again an amazing movie, there’s no space for that stuff at all. It’s just sarcasm and fly boy and let’s get out of here.
So you had kind of a unique opportunity with the sequel that I don’t think many people ever get.
Lawrence: Absolutely. And that applies to everything in Empire because walking into that room with George and hearing about Vader you say, oh, this is going to give us room to do anything we want. And these characters who were so amusing and charming and fast in the first one, now let’s see who are they? And that was a great invitation. And the same thing applied to the story, because his resources were so much greater now. Every effect didn’t take forever. There were millions of people working on it which there hadn’t been before. So everything got more complicated.
Craig: You had this writing challenge of writing for a puppet. And–
John: We need to get into Yoda, yeah.
Craig: Yeah. We have to talk about Yoda because of all the stuff that – and I don’t know if we’re able to show–
John: We think we’ve got it fixed. I think we’ve got it fixed without people being able to hijack us. We’re going to try it.
Craig: OK. Try. If they do I’ll freak out again. But of all the stuff that’s handwritten and in this, it seems to me that the Yoda stuff is probably the closest to 1:1. So much of it is there. And it’s kind of goose-bumpy to see and maybe because Yoda was voiced by Frank Oz but not an actor/human being, the dialogue just carried through more linearly from your left hand to the screen. But it’s a remarkable challenge to write for this – it’s not just a new character. It’s not a person that you can even imagine.
Lawrence: I know. When George told me there would be a character who played that role in the story and he didn’t know what it would look like yet and he wasn’t sure about what it knew and what it could do, I was excited. Very excited. And he said this is someone who we’ve never seen. We didn’t see in the first one. And I need for him to talk in a new way. Need to have it be very distinctive how he talks. But more importantly and this – both George and I love Akira Kurosawa. The Kurosawa movies, which are the greatest movies in the world, and he is my favorite director, they are full of characters like this.
In fact, the first Star Wars, A New Hope, is practically a mirror of Hidden Fortress in that there’s two little droids, except they’re human beings, and so on. But all through the Kurosawa universe there is a mentor character and there is the son character. There is the innocent and the experienced and the wise and the naïve. And when we were talking about Yoda it was clear that this is a guy that’s in Seven Samurai, my favorite character in Seven Samurai, which is Shimada, the leader of the samurai. And he always has a different reaction to what happens in the scene than everybody else in the scene.
He always sees the big picture and his slower to react because he’s figured it out. And the brilliant thing, and this is good for any writer, is our introduction to him is a beautiful ballet [unintelligible] of violence. You know, it’s approached so calmly and he calmly cuts his samurai [nada] and it takes a long time.
Lawrence: And then it bursts into action and it’s over in seconds. And so you know before he starts being the wise patient one he is also this incredible samurai and physically awesome.
Kershner was such a different person than George. And that created this wonderful friction between them. And if you look at Kershner’s movies you’ll see a lot more run up to the joke. Run up to the gag. Run up to the action. He takes his time. And George likes to just go, go, go. And he ceded it correctly. But it makes all the difference in the world when you look at a movie how quickly you get to the [unintelligible].
Craig: Yeah. Well that’s, I mean, Yoda is a great example of Star Wars kind of taking its time. And so we have here the – and so this is a combination of typed and handwritten which is wonderful. So, this is INT. Creature House. So you called him creature. This is a question that we get all the time. When a character becomes revealed, their identity is revealed, what do you call them at first? Well, Yoda’s name was creature. INT. Creature House. The inside of the house is very plain but cozy. Everything is in the same scale as the creature. The only thing out of place in the miniature room is Luke who is cramped by the four-foot ceiling. He sits cross-legged on the floor of the living room.
The creature is in an adjoining area, which serves as the kitchen, cooking up some incredible meal. The stove is a steaming hodgepodge of pots and pans. The wizened little creature scurries about chopping this, shredding that, and showering everything with exotic herbs and spices. He rushes back and forth putting platters on the table in front of Luke.
John: Good this will taste. Wait and see, wait and see.
Craig: Luke looks around rather amused by his surroundings.
Well, it smells good anyway.
John: Why wish you to become a Jedi Knight?
Craig: Because of my father, I guess.
The creature gives Luke a questioning look.
My father was a Jedi.
John: Yes, yes. But why wish you?
Craig: I know it was meant to be.
The creature seems irritated, defensive.
I feel it, that’s all.
John: Think you Yoda will be satisfied with that?
Craig: Yes…I think so. Yoda will understand. Where is he anyway?
John: Very near.
Craig: When will I see him?
John: When you allow yourself to see.
Craig: The creature places a plate of steaming food in front of Luke. The young warrior studies the creature a long time through the steam thinking. Suddenly he understands.
You…you are Yoda?
John: That is my name. Why so surprised are you?
Craig: So let’s pause for a second. This is not how it works in the movie. And we were talking about this before. And so Larry I want to – this is one of these areas where the movie did a much sort of compressed, faster reveal of Yoda as Yoda. We hear Ben’s voice. Luke hears Ben talking. Then he realizes, oh wait a second, you’re Yoda.
But this was a different conception. And talk us through why this is a preferred way of doing it for you.
Lawrence: For me?
Lawrence: Because the mood and the pace that all the Yoda stuff has up to this point, when he first encounters him out in the swamp, when he’s making the dinner, it’s all about this, which dovetails perfectly with Yoda’s character, which is you do one thing at a time and you take your time and you don’t rush anything. And it’s quiet. It’s very quiet. This is after you’ve seen a third of the movie already practically. And it’s been bang, bang, bang, and fast, fast, fast, and monsters and rocket ships. And here is this quiet place.
In fact, even up to the point where Luke splits off from Han and Leia at Hoth it’s different from that moment on for Luke, for Luke’s story. Theirs continues very much in the same tone.
Craig: Inside of this you are like the scene in the movie contrasting the essential problem Luke has, which is impatience, which is immaturity, which is therefore connected to fear, which leads to hate, which leads to dark. It’s all there in him being a young man who just—
Lawrence: And in fact even with this beginning that you’re talking about that never made it to the movie that is where it goes very quickly. It goes to a discussion about his patience. It is Yoda interrogating Ben in the after why does he believe in this guy. He seems so impatient. He seems so young. He seems so callow. And Ben is defending him. So that’s always, for writing again, this is a good rule which is when two other characters are talking about someone it reveals all three of them.
Craig: Right. Right. That’s a great way of putting it.
John: Larry, tell me about the choice of how Yoda speaks? Because it’s so distinctive. We’re so familiar with that now, but you had to come up with that. And so what was the process of getting his verbs inverted and what his voice was going to be like?
Lawrence: I think it was what I could think of.
Lawrence: And it immediately got a positive response from George. And we never turned back. And I don’t know why. A part of it has to do, you know, it’s sort of Shakespearian in that you don’t start with the subject. There’s that. It slows things down. You have to worry through the sentence to understand. And then that way you’re paying more attention.
You know, it’s funny, in this pandemic we’re in a lot of people are trying to meditate and it give them some relief in a stressful day. But when you look at the introductory scenes of Yoda, he might as well be a meditation teacher. What he says to Luke from the time he lands in the swamp is you’re not looking at the thing itself.
Craig: Well let’s read that, because this is one of my favorite – I mean, so I’m reading this from your handwriting and this is what Yoda says.
“To become a Jedi takes the hardest work, the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. But you, Skywalker, I have watched for a long time. All your life have you looked away, to the horizon, to the sky. Never your mind on where you were, what you were doing. Adventure, heh,” I’ll add that in. “Excitement, heh. A Jedi craves not these things.”
That’s like, OK, so I just want to say from a sort of writing is magic point of view that’s magic. Because, again, your left hand put that there. And then it sort of went into the puppet and now it’s not just something that everybody knows and shares from a cultural point of view, it is in a weird way a fundamental part of our understanding of Zen, in the west. This is – you kind of gave us Zen through Yoda.
Talk about how – I mean, it’s one thing to say like, look, Yoda is 800 years old or whatever he was and he knew these things. It’s another thing to say that you were not 800 years old and how did you know these things?
Lawrence: Well, you know, I was very interested in, and my brother who is very deeply involved in it and from the second I learned some of these precepts. And they resonated for me. Because I was – to this day I have a problem with not doing one thing at a time. I’m always splitting my decision. And so you turn away. You knock things over. You forget why you came in the room. And it’s not just age, which Craig will say. You’re too distracted. The pandemic is an added distraction to a world that was already incredibly distracting. And so when you can focus and do the thing you really want to do, and feel it, and live it, it can be three seconds, but if you really live it and you pay attention to it it changes everything. And I like that speech.
But what’s unusual about that speech is it really goes to the heart of A New Hope and him looking into the distance, wanting to get away from the ranch, the farm. And you know. So the audience knows, because they knew A New Hope perfectly. Yeah, that’s what he was like on Tatooine.
Craig: That’s him. That’s him. Yeah. One other thing I’ll mention about this scene that’s sort of legendary, and a sign of how good of a writer you are, and a crystallization of what good writing is is that you have this wise character who is imparting these deep lessons of wisdom and there’s this young man who now understands that this is a wise old guy who is going to help him. And the ghost of his other mentor has appeared. These are all calming, stabilizing things.
And you understand inherently that in a movie, any movie, but particularly this movie that comforting, stabilizing, explanatory scene has to end in the most destabilizing, threatening way possible, which is Luke saying, “I’m not afraid,” and from your left hand Yoda says, “You will be. You will be,” which is terrifying. The freaking eyes go yeah. It’s always terrifying and I say that to my wife all the time as well, because it’s fun. But that to me is the essence of what it means to craft a great scene. You understood that it was going to begin here with a young man who doesn’t even know what this little thing is and it was going to end with that little thing terrifying that young man.
Lawrence: I always struggled to look and usually did not find. But you’re looking for the thing at the end of this scene that throws you into the next one, even if it’s different characters.
Lawrence: You just want to be sling-shotted ahead. And when he says, “You will be,” it opens up the promise of, oh, this movie is going to be cool.
John: Had you left that scene earlier on a place where Luke was comfortable or at least like was excited about this next step you wouldn’t have had the same energy jumping into the next scene. You would have lost energy on that cut. And instead you gained a lot of energy by ending the scene on that moment.
So let’s jump ahead to Luke being scared and being afraid, which is this final fight with Vader. And he’s cocky in it and then he’s losing to Vader. And then one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history is the revelation that Darth Vader is actually his father.
Craig, let’s you and I look through the pages that lead up to that. But I’m really curious, you know, you say that Lucas told you, oh, Vader is Skywalker’s father – were you always anticipating that the revelation would happen during this fight, during this moment? Did you experiment with other places?
Lawrence: You know, when he said that in the sanctity of his office at Skywalker Ranch it was understood that no one was to know this for the next two years.
Lawrence: And that’s not so easy on a movie. You know, you’ve seen it, how hard it is to keep secure anything. And this was a giant thing that the whole world suddenly would be interested in. So, it was from that moment on never mention it. Never talk about it in public. Never say, you know, in the story conferences. You did not reveal that. And when it came to shooting there were fake pages. And then the very last second it was revealed to the actors.
Craig: Right. And a little slightly different here. The way that you reveal it is frankly more subtle I guess is what I would say, from your left hand.
John: Yeah, so talking through this, the pages that we’re looking at, it starts in Scene 140 and there’s a Zero-Cold Chamber. Some familiar dialogue here. Some stuff has changed a little bit along the way. And it looks like an addendum page, it’s called Insert A, add to the bottom of Scene 146 or whatever it is. Luke’s sword whistles past Vader and the young warrior is thrown off-balance, his guard down. Vader’s light saber flashes out with deadly skill and cuts Luke’s arm off at the elbow! Luke’s forearm flies away in the wind as the boy himself almost goes over the edge. He can barely stand.
He wipes the tears and blood from his eyes, but still can barely focus on his massive opponent.
And then the next page Vader says, “Search your feelings, my son. But you will know it to be true. Come join your father.” Luke is horror-stricken. Bewildered.
So, Larry, is this an example of that line and that information is being held back from the actors until the very last moment?
Lawrence: Yes. That’s right. They did not know. And I had written another ending. I don’t remember what we were dealing with all the time during production, but that was not in there.
One thing, you know, when you’re talking about it John, one of the things that interests me most in life and I try to get into screenplays is this feeling of you do sense things that are not told to you. And we all do it. And you walk into a room with someone and you get a feeling off that person. It could be good, it could be bad. Maybe like I’m getting nothing from that person. And when you think about your own life and you think why did I do that? That’s one of a million mistakes I’ve made. And you feel in your body what is that thing in you.
So, I think that George rightly from A New Hope was playing on something we all know to be true, which is you don’t have to say it, no one has to tell you. You have feelings about the situation. And so when Darth is working on him he’s saying you know this to be true. He wants him to admit it because he knows it is.
Craig: And that sequence I have a sense memory as a 10-year-old watching that sequence and knowing early on, like you say, you have a sense of things, even the audience as we’re watching, something is wrong. This is not the usual thing. Where like, good, it’s the good guy versus the bad guy. The good guy is going to shoot the bad guy and it’s over. Or they’re going to have that classic fist fight at the end of the movie and then one of them is going to get kicked off the, you know, the side of the thing and that’s the end of that.
Something is up. You can tell. And the reason you know something is up is because Darth Vader isn’t acting like Darth Vader. This is a guy who randomly just chokes out people. One of the very – by the way, the other thing about you I should say is you’re funny. You are a funny writer. You are a really good, strong comedy writer. And so things like for instance Vader’s, like the running gag of Vader choking out these successive admirals and captain is just funny. But then we get to the end here and he’s not doing it.
So what happens from a writing point of view is instead of us sitting there waiting to see how the inevitable battle concludes. We are now waiting to see why this relationship is not working the way we expect it. And then to satisfy people with what they were not expecting and to make sense of it all retroactively is just tremendous sleight of hand. It’s incredible craft.
And I think sometimes people forget because they think that all it is is like write-write-write, swing-swing, hit-hit, I’m your daddy. What? It’s not like that. Doesn’t work like that at all. There are a billion bad versions of that scene and it’s a credit to the writing that it works.
Lawrence: Well thanks. But in A New Hope, you know, the ultimate is in the scene “Feel the Force, Luke.” He’s trying to get the shot down the tiny little hole in the Death Star. And the entire movie is about being in touch with the Force. And he meets Ben who is very much in touch. And in his limited time Ben tries to get this kid to be open to it. And Luke and his father, Anakin, Darth, he knows it. He can track his son across the universe because of feelings that he’s getting.
And that to me is metaphorical for all of our lives. You know? And you just have – you go into a meeting and you have that funny feeling. Wait, this is not right. Why are we having it now? They’re going to tell me something I don’t like here. Or you have a conversation with your family and you say, “Let’s start again. I’m not getting this clear to you. And you’re reacting and we’re not hearing each other.” It’s all there.
The whole saga is about are you in touch with the feelings that are swirling around you.
John: That is our show. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro. Thank you to the Writers Guild Foundation, in particular Enid and Dustin for getting us here.
Craig: Thank you guys.
John: We love your outros, so Matthew is doing the one for this week, but you should send us your outro for these shows. Send them to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
Larry Kasdan, are you on Twitter? You’re not on Twitter. You should not be on Twitter.
Craig: No. But John Kasdan is on Twitter.
John: Yeah. Follow John Kasdan. He’s always there.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. We’ll try to put up some slides, the pages we showed. You’ll also find the transcripts. We get those up the week after the episode airs. And Premium members can sign up at Scriptnotes.net for the bonus episodes and bonus segments. Larry Kasdan and everyone, if you guys want to put yourself on video again and wave to Larry Kasdan.
Craig: Yeah, we can see you now. Let’s look back into your rooms.
John: Aw. We want to see all your rooms.
Craig: See, look at you in gallery view. Thanks guys. Thanks for—
John: Look at everybody.
Craig: Look at how many of you there are.
Lawrence: Goodbye everybody. Thanks for coming.
Craig: There’s so many.
John: Thank you very much for joining.
Craig: Thank you guys.
John: And thank you to the Writers Guild Foundation.
Craig: Thanks everyone.
Lawrence: Thanks everybody.
Craig: Bye-bye everybody.
Craig: Well maybe we should get in touch with some of the feelings of the folks that are watching and listening. That’s my segue. I’m being Segue Man now. I’m very proud of myself. Yeah.
John: Matthew asks, “The ending of Empire Strikes Back is incredible to me because it feels so satisfying yet so many threads are left open. Can you speak to how that was constructed and what some of the challenges were in achieving that?
Lawrence: Yeah. That gets to the heart of the movie for me, because I was trained in classical dramatic construction. And if you think of the three-act-play which is what we worked with generally, the first act you get the situation, you get the characters. And then in the second act everything goes to shit. And you want, you know, ideally at the end of the second act it looks like doom. And how will those people ever get back together again? How will they ever forgive each other? Anything like that. It’s always open-ended at the end of the second act. And then the third act hopefully resolves in a way that’s very satisfying.
Well, Empire Strikes Back is the second act. And that makes it – when I realized that immediately I thought this is really fun. Because we don’t have to wrap everything up. We don’t have to tie it all together. We want it to be chaos at the end of this movie.
Craig: Right. Ties into this next question from Hillary who asks, “Do you approach writing ensemble dramas like The Big Chill and Grand Canyon differently than writing genre films like Raiders or The Empire Strikes Back? What is different, if anything, about the approach to writing for a franchise with a fantastic intergalactic story world as opposed to something that is very much feet on the ground like Big Chill or Grand Canyon?”
Lawrence: I don’t make a big distinction between them. I really think the job is always the same. Within the reality that you’re creating, it doesn’t have to be our reality. But within that there has to be some sense of logic to the world that you’re creating. And that’s true in The Big Chill and Grand Canyon and Star Wars. You know, it’s just – that’s what you want. You want the audience not to be comfortable, not to be put to sleep, but to say I recognize something true here.
Lawrence: So I’m not just thrown out because the guy does something crazy. You know? Or if he does something crazy then it teaches me that he’s crazy.
Craig: Right. It’s intentional. It’s always intentional.
John: So Federico asks, “Any dos and don’ts regarding the weaving of world-building and story, especially when setting up a film’s universe in act one?”
So, I’m thinking about this in terms of Yoda, which we just talked about. You don’t do a lot of world-building about who Yoda is or what Yoda is. That universe – he existed in himself and you’re setting up his planet, but only the degree to which you need it. Did you have other documents that are other things thought through in terms of what all this is? Or is your world-building just what we see in the movie?
Lawrence: I’m not drawn to that. And the reason I don’t generally, you know, I don’t like development and I don’t like story conferences too much, it’s a very intimate thing to me. It’s got to be the principal is doing it. I don’t want to talk about it intellectually. I don’t want to write it. And I want to know in a material way what is going to happen, what are the props here. Where are we trying to get to within this scene from here to here? What will we use to get there? What will be revealed while we’re doing that about the people in the scene? Even if they just walked into the scene.
Those are the movies I love. It’s not my movie, it’s every movie that trusts the audience and says, “You’ll get it. Just relax.” And you do get it. I remember watching Gravity and thinking she’s doing things in the capsule, I don’t know what they are but know they’re really intense and that she’s running out of time. They don’t ever say that. You know, it’s all lights and stuff on the thing. And she’s working as fast as she can. And I so admired that. The presumption that the audience will figure it out.
Craig: Great. Let’s see if – want to do one more question?
John: I was going to do Jeff’s question.
Craig: Great. Do it.
John: Jeff asks, “It’s always fun to hear about discarded early ideas. What were some wild ideas you or George had early on that were never shot and were discarded?” Do you remember some things that came up early in this process that like what if we did this and you [crosstalk]?
Lawrence: No. I don’t have that kind of memory. And this scene that we talked about that did not get shot the way I had written it, it had been reprinted in [Unintelligible] Magazine, my handwritten pages. And when I saw it after many years, I thought, oh, that’s pretty good. You know, when you’ve come upon something you’ve written years and years ago you say that’s pretty good. And I thought it was in the movie. And then watching the movie the other night it wasn’t there. I was freaked out. I said well this other scene is there and I like mine better. You know? And they both end up at the same place, but they start completely differently.
So, memory is really tricky. And, you know, you think you remember something but in fact you’ve created a new history that you’ve convinced yourself is real.
Craig: Well, I’m sorry that we played any part in disrupting that history for you. [laughs] I feel terrible now. The movie had been perfect.
John: One of the reasons I was really excited to talk with you about this movie though is that I think we do rewrite a history and make it seem like everything was inevitable. That it was inevitable that off of Star Wars you would have Empire Strikes Back, but it was the furthest thing from inevitable. It went through Leigh had done a script and Lucas was struggling to get a script. You were able to sort of deliver a thing that could be shot. But it wasn’t at all obvious how you make a sequel to that movie, or even if it was a good idea to make a sequel to that movie. Because sequels were not a popular thing.
I mean, Empire was the reason why we have sequels to a large degree to these big franchise movies and we even come into some of these giant movies with the idea of like “and then we will make it into a trilogy.” That whole thing starts with Star Wars. So it’s so helpful to have you talk through these initial stages.
Lawrence: Speaking to that, I will say that I find, you know, I’m a big basketball fan, sports fan. When someone wins the Super Bowl, my guy wins the Super Bowl for the sixth time, you say well there’s something – he’s the greatest there ever was because who could do that? But what you know if you’re a really big fan, every one of those seasons if you watched every game there was a moment when they almost lost. You know, if it wasn’t a rout.
And somebody made a catch you couldn’t believe, or someone dropped a pass that you can’t believe. And all those things, it happens in basketball all the time. The last minute shot. The fumble. The turnover. And what looks inevitable when they’re standing there, him holding the championship trophy, was not inevitable at all.
And I feel that moviemakers are like that, too. When you put it out there there’s a sense of like well that’s going to be it for now. I’m not going to change this. And there is kind of solidity to it. But up to that moment in the cutting room everything is up for grabs. And there is no inevitability about it.
Very often the things you thought would make it inevitable are superfluous and the audience doesn’t need them.
Craig: So, see, that’s what good writers sound like when they talk. He knew that we had come to an end and proceeded to deliver a perfect summary. A wonderful anecdote with an analogy that wrapped everything up and made it perfect.
Craig: Outrageous. [laughs] It’s outrageous. You just know how to do it. God, it’s just–
Lawrence: You’re very nice. I love being with you guys.
Craig: We love you, too. We love you, too. Greatest living screenwriter, Larry Kasdan. I’ve said it a million times. And I’ll say it after you’re gone. [laughs]
- Find Lawrence Kasdan’s Handwritten Script here.
- Scriptnotes 247, The One with Lawrence Kasdan
- Thank you to the Writer’s Guild Foundation for hosting us!
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- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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