Happy Birthday, Leigh Brackett!

Today was the Queen of Sci-Fi’s birthday. Last year, her centennial saw a spat of narrative-spinning articles either diminishing her contributions to the Star Wars Universe or propagating falsehoods about how she had to hide her identity and faced top-down sexism in the SF industry (an allegation she herself denied in interviews).

What’s the web saying about her this go round, with no new Star Wars movie on the immediate horizon for Christmas release?

Leigh Brackett (1915-1978) was a science fiction novelist; she was known as the “queen of space opera” for her novels and stories about Eric John Stark.  She was also a screenwriter.  She worked a number of times with Howard Hawks, on films like The Big Sleep, Rio Bravoand El Dorado, and also contributed—just how much is unclear—to the script for The Empire Strikes Back. – December 7: Happy Birthday Ellen Burstyn and Sara Bareilles, Lebeau’s Le Blog

(Worth noting, one the biggest obfuscating factors in determining her contributions is the public absence of the intermediary scripts Lucas wrote between Brackett’s first draft and the version handed off to Kasdan. Nonetheless, her original script is available for comparison against the final project, though it should be remembered that it was a first draft and the lady herself was no longer with us to make her own rewrites.)

We’re only going to talk about the SF/F Ace Doubles here; some people don’t know that Ace didn’t just do SF/F doubles, they did westerns, mystery, and the like as well. In fact, D-31 (A.E. van Vogt’s World of Null-A and Universe Maker) is actually the first SF/F Ace Double. Interestingly, it’s not as collectible—judging by price—as the next one, which was (Figure 2) D-36: Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Conqueror and Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. (We’ll get onto talking about price in a bit.) There’s been a lot of controversy over the last year or so about whether the “good old stuff” is really that good; some people claim that it—and this is a hell of a claim to make about a whole genre—lacks literary merit, is not socially acceptable any more (because of changing social morés), and is the bastion of “old white guy” writers. Literary merit is not something I’m going to argue; it’s my contention that only time will tell. Literature goes in and out of fashion, and what’s part of Sturgeon’s 90% now may well be part of the 10% tomorrow. (You will, of course, remember Theodore Sturgeon’s comment that “90% of everything is crud,” often misquoted as “…is crap,” though I do sympathize with the latter version, often called “Sturgeon’s Law.”) Social acceptability is another thing; we cannot change the past (although we could, if we wanted, revise what was written in the past), so when we’re reading something from, say, Victor Hugo’s time, we don’t attempt to revile Hugo for not holding modern societal views on theft or treatment of criminals. So should we revile Isaac Asimov for his sometimes laughable fictional treatment of women? (I’m separating this particular example from the real-life Asimov who, I understand, was somewhat of a “serial groper”; something that is entirely unacceptable today.) And for the third fault claimed above, what about writers like Leigh Brackett? You can hardly say she was an old white guy; in fact, many of the writers published by Ace were—although often white and male—hardly old at the time. –  DOUBLE, DOUBLE, WHAT’S THE TROUBLE?, Amazing Stories

Most of the Good Old Stuff I’ve read has been pretty good, but Brackett is phenomenal.

It’s fitting that at the end of her life the Queen of Space Opera Leigh Brackett wrote the early script for The Empire Strikes Back. While there’s debate about how many of Brackett’s words and creations remain in that Star Wars sequel, I like to believe her spirit — and the spirit of the worlds she created through her stories — gave the film its heart and soul. – Space operas boldly go to the heart of the human soul, Jason Sandford

Here, here!

Two points on this, one of cinema’s most famous twists and most oft-quoted lines — or, I should say, oft-misquoted lines. The actual dialogue never included Luke’s name, with Vader only saying “No, I am your father.” A minor mistake but a crucial one for something so famous. Just as Lucas hadn’t planned out multiple trilogies from day one, he didn’t even anticipate this pivotal twist, one that defines so much of the trilogy’s ultimate themes, until he was writing Empire Strikes Back with Leigh Brackett that the outline changed from his original plan for Luke to meet the ghost of his real father on Dagobah. – 6 Lies You’ve Been Told About Star Wars, Cheatsheet

#7 – Leigh Brackett’s script was discarded.

If you’ve not read Brackett, do your self a favor.  Read her.  There are very few writers who can write fast paced action adventure with complex and flawed characters like she can and do so with a sense of poetry. – Leigh Brackett at 101, Adventures Fantastic


Leigh Brackett was one of the best there ever was. As long as we live, we’ll cherish her name. –HAWKS MADE A NUMBER OF WESTERNS IN HIS LIFE, NONE OF WHICH HAD THE INTENSE IMPACT ON US THE WAY ‘RIO BRAVO’ DID, Cinephilia & Beyond

While I found far fewer big-name media sites name-dropping Brackett this week, I’d have to say that the overall quality of content regarding her has certainly improved as a matter of percentages for her 101st as compared with last year.

2 responses to “Happy Birthday, Leigh Brackett!

  1. Back a number of years ago, on my honeymoon in Bermuda, my wife and I found a bookstore. I had no idea who Leigh Brackett was but I found a copy of a big omnibus style of book called ‘Sea-Kings of Ancient Mars’. Loads of great stories in that book.

    It had me at the title. I bought it and spent the rest of our honeymoon using every spare moment to read it, usually while waiting for a bus or taxi to take us somewhere. Or at the beach. Or waiting for the plane. Or flying.

    It rests on my Shelf of Honor, next to Lovecraft and Howard. I’m very sentimental about that book because it reminds me of my honeymoon. And it was just plain fantastically entertaining.

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