Why Star Wars is Better Than The Empire Strikes Back

Over the years, I have had numerous discussions on a certain topic: Which is the better film, the original Star Wars or its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back? Surprisingly, more than a handful of people favor Empire as the superior film.

They are wrong.

The reasons why Star Wars is superior to Empire are varied, but ultimately, in my opinion, its superiority can be boiled down to one writing element: character development. Star Wars is pure, clean, and even classic storytelling, and its origin element naturally means that we will be introduced to characters that we have never met before. Star Wars gave us Luke Skywalker, young and wide-eyed, with a relatable dream of leaving home to embark on adventure. And how much more of a character arc can you possibly have in one story than seeing a simple farm boy transform into a confident and skilled warrior who ends up saving an entire galaxy? Other characters, such as Han, Leia, and Darth Vader, are also well developed with goals very fitting and tailored to suit them.

The Empire Strikes Back, on the other hand, is an enhancement of that “original” story and characters. In Empire, we merely need to concentrate on story, with only slight character development, except for Darth Vader, whose transformation spans the entire original trilogy. And while it is true that Empire has an amazing storyline, we are so busy watching the constant action in the film that we really don’t get to know much more about any of the principal characters than we did from the original Star Wars.

Had Star Wars not done well enough at the box office to justify a sequel, it would still have been one of the greatest stand-alone stories of all time. You can’t really say that about Empire because ultimately it is not a complete story. However, Empire is easily one of the best sequels ever to any American film, even Aliens—a personal favorite—and it will always be recognized as such. Not a bad consolation prize.

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Screenplay 101: ROCKY

Where does a character gather the resilience and perseverance that will allow him to fight the odds and come out ahead at the conclusion of a story?  Well, in the case of ROCKY, written by Sylvester Stallone and number 78 on the WGA’s list of the 101 all-time greatest screenplays, who knows? And more importantly, who cares?

One reason why this film manages to end in such a high note at the end – despite the fact that Rocky doesn’t win the fight – is because for almost the entire film, Rocky gets dumped on, over and over and over. And that builds sympathy for him. Rocky has a terrible existence. He’s poor, nobody respects him, the aging gym trainer tells him he’s no good, and he gets called a bum multiple times. On top of all that, he really is too old to get taken seriously as a contender.

And yet, through all this, Rocky still manages to defy the odds. But he doesn’t do it in a determination no-holds-barred I’m-gonna-prove-it-type-to-them type of way (except in the scene included here, in which Rocky tells Adrian that fighting Apollo means he will be able to tell the world that he isn’t a bum). Instead, he does so with genuine optimism. His character simply bounces back from every insult and setback, period. And we’re not even sure why that is. We don’t know anything about his past or childhood that might give us an insight as to why he must succeed, except for that one photograph he looks at of himself as kid. He is simply a guy who just sort of seems to forge ahead no matter what comes at him. And in that sense, he is really a fresh protagonist.

Thou they’re labeled individually with earlier dates, the pages here are from a January 7, 1976 draft.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

Screenplay 101: SIDEWAYS

It seems like fairly common knowledge that one of the main elements for a successful story is to create sympathy for your main character.  Sympathy connects the audience to the main character; thus we end up rooting for them.

In SIDEWAYS – Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett, and number 90 on the WGA101 list – the sympathy for the main character is built in a unique and striking way.  This scene appears at page 18 in the script, and up to this point, Miles, our protagonist, has proven to be irresponsible (he didn’t move his car for the construction workers even though he was asked to), selfish (he leaves a message for his friend telling him he is on his way to pick him up yet he still takes his time to get ready and even stops for coffee), and arrogant (he cuts his friend down for not knowing much about wine).

And then, Miles steals money from his elderly mother –  on the eve of her birthday, no less.  At this point, we should hate this character.  But then, something interesting happens within this sequence, and we are hit with an emotionally heart-wrenching moment.

The short montage of the photos on Miles’ mother’s dresser, which guide us through Miles’ early promise (promise which ultimately led to failure), immediately gives the character the permission to be all of those nasty things – self-centered, arrogant, etc. – and the sympathy meter quickly jumps from idle to full throttle. Like magic, we suddenly care for this guy.

We invite you to revisit this scene in the script, shown here in our undated draft – a scene that most people who have seen SIDEWAYS might not even remember – and try, just try, not shed a tear as you read.

Sideways_undated_17 Sideways_undated_18 Sideways_undated_19 Sideways_undated_20

Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

Screenplay 101: THE VERDICT

Inciting Incident 101 – We all know the term – it’s that certain plot point that occurs early on in the story which changes the trajectory for the main character. In other words, it’s what gets the story going.

In this scene from THE VERDICT (Screenplay by David Mamet, based on the novel by Barry Reed, and #91 on the WGA 101 list), Mickey confronts Frank Galvin (in the script you’ll notice his name is Joe Galvin) about his drinking, and tells him that he’s through looking out for him. This situation forces Frank to make a choice to either stop drinking and work on the legal case that Mickey brought to him, or keep drinking and continue on his downhill spiral. And even though it might be easier for a severe alcoholic to simply continue drinking, this latter choice would end the sole remaining friendship Frank has left.

This scene is also a great example of “raising the stakes”, and it’s done with just one word change. Note how in the script Mickey says “I get this people to trust you – they’re coming here tomorrow by the way”, but in the final film, the word tomorrow is changed to noon, which raises the stakes for Frank because it is now late morning and he has to pick up his office, which he just trashed, and get it ready for the client, who is due in a matter of hours, instead of the next day.

Finally, the dialogue in this Nov. 23, 1983 draft serves as only a blueprint for the final film. If you watch the movie, you may note the dialogue was refined.  It just sounds better. This could either be that this was earlier draft of the script, or it could be a credit to the two great actors in the scene.

Verdict_1983Nov23_5 Verdict_1983Nov23_6

Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).

SPEC CHAT: No, not that Blacklist

Spec Chat is written by Javier Barrios, the WGF’s Acquisitions Manager.

Hi everyone, and welcome to Spec Chat – a periodic and informal rant on speccing and other television writing issues. Our first topic is simple, short and sweet: The new network shows. If you’re wondering what new fall shows might become the specs of tomorrow, here are two dramas and three half hours that you might want to keep on your radar, and why.

ONE HOUR DRAMAS

THE BLACKLIST – a ratings hit for NBC, and people are really enjoying this show. One fan I spoke to was so enthusiastic he told me beat by beat the twist and turns of the second episode. This might be good series to show off your better-than-average procedural chops. Also, it looks like the show might stick around for a while, which is always great for a spec’s longevity. But keep in mind that this may be a show that could get overspecced later the future, so the earlier you get to it, the better off you might be.

SLEEPY HOLLOW – here is a show that I feel could replace FRINGE as a hot genre spec. Not everyone will be speccing it, but those do have a chance to explore eerie, supernatural themes and simultaneously flex their cop-procedural and serialized muscles.

HALF HOUR COMEDY

Comedy is a tricky one this fall season because so far, there doesn’t seem to be a breakout hit in half-hour as there is for in the one-hour category (That hit being The Blacklist, of course).

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE is being heralded as a smart workplace comedy with fresh characters. One fan I spoke to told me that she felt like she had been watching the show for a few years because the characters seemed so comfortable in their settings and in their relationships with one another. The only danger for this series is cancelation, but hopefully that won’t happen.

The next two shows, THE GOLDBERGS and TROPHY WIFE, are probably lesser choices with similar strengths and weaknesses. A review I read about THE GOLDBERGS mentioned that the series seemed to be figuring out exactly what it was, and for TROPHY WIFE, another review mentioned that there was so much going on in the show, it’s hard to figure out just what the show is. Time will tell if the shows find their legs as far as ratings, so it’ll be interesting to see what develops.

We at the library will do our best to secure scripts from the above mentioned series and others, but please bear in mind that sometimes it can be an arduous process and always takes time.