A Look at Star Wars Episode IV – a New Hope: The Illustrated Screenplay

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…. – George Lucas, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

In May of 1977, when the film then simply known as Star Wars was released by a very skeptical 20th Century Fox, only George Lucas knew that this youth-oriented space fantasy was just one chapter in a larger mosaic that would encompass not one but two film trilogies that would take 28 years to complete. Indeed, the original rough draft to what he once called The Star Wars was so large and so full of characters and situations that it contained the basis for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in raw form.

Every film of the Star Wars saga begins as most movies do, as a screenwriter’s words on the printed page. All of what we see on screen, from the characters to the smallest detail – a spacecraft, a lightsaber – makes a voyage from the writer’s mind to the blank page and then, finally, to the movie houses through the screenplay. Here is where the magic starts, where the written word is the master plan for the many individuals involved in making a Star Wars film to follow.

Star Wars: A New Hope – The Illustrated Screenplay is a re-issue of Lucas’ fourth revised draft (originally published in 1979’s The Art of Star Wars), shorn of the deleted scenes which introduced Luke Skywalker earlier in the film but with the modifications made for 1997’s 20th Anniversary Special Edition re-release.

Illustrated with production storyboards by Joe Johnston and other production artists, Star Wars: A New Hope – The Illustrated Screenplay contains the descriptions for each scene and the characters’ dialogue in a reader-friendly format. (Most screenplays published in mass-market books don’t follow the film industry’s screenplay format, which looks totally different.)

For instance, this is how the scene in which Darth Vader tortures a captured Rebel officer was originally written:

INT. REBEL BLOCKADE RUNNER – CORRIDOR

Captured Rebel troops are marched away. The evil Darth Vader holds a wounded Rebel officer by the neck as an Imperial officer rushes up to the Dark Lord.

IMPERIAL OFFICER: The Death Star plans are not in the main computer.

Vader squeezes the neck of the Rebel officer, who struggles in vain.

VADER: Where are those transmissions you intercepted. What have you done with those plans?

Vader lifts the Rebel off his feet.

REBEL OFFICER: We intercepted no transmissions. Aaah…. This is a consular ship. We’re on a diplomatic mission.

VADER: If this is a consular ship….where is the ambassador?

The Dark Lord begins to squeeze the officer’s throat, creating a gruesome snapping and choking, until the soldier goes limp. Vader tosses the dead soldier against the wall and turns to his troops.

VADER: Commander, tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans and bring me the passengers. I want them alive!

The stormtroopers scurry into the subhallways.

Like its companion volumes The Empire Strikes Back – The Illustrated Screenplay and Return of the Jedi – The Illustrated Screenplay, this Ballantine Books/Lucas Books/Del Rey paperback includes storyboards, which are comic book-like panels drawn by production artists (such as Joe Johnston) to allow directors to see what certain scenes – particularly special effects sequences – will look like. In a book like this one, storyboards not only give readers a glimpse into the creative process involved in the making of a film such as A New Hope, but also enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the screenplay itself.

Although Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays is more interesting because each screenplay is dissected and discussed in detail, this book is a good addition to any Star Wars or movie fan’s library.

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