written by George Lucas
FFC rating: 6/10
by Bill Chambers Chiefly, I bought Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Illustrated Screenplay a week before the movie opened because I wanted to know what kind of screenwriter is George Lucas. (It was also the most desirable life-preserver I could grab while caught in the recent tidal wave of Star Wars hype.) The book wound up a handy reference manual as I wrote my review of the finished film, but that doesn't justify its $21 (Canadian) sticker price. (It can be had for much less online.)
Though they may be trendy, published screenplays are hardly a new concept. Faber & Faber have been putting out trade-paperbacks of scripts for decades; in 1991, Applause released exhaustively-annotated editions of James Cameron and William Wisher's Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Richard LaGravanese's (Oscar-nominated) The Fisher King. When I heard that Lucas was going to let the whole world read The Phantom Menace in blueprint form, I expected a book close in spirit to the former--something a little immodest. Alas, ...Illustrated Screenplay is not reminiscent of the Applause texts at all, nor does it resemble the popular "Shooting Script" series from Newmarket Press. Perhaps tellingly, there's an almost-embarrassed reserve to the book.
Lucas's shooting draft has been printed on heavy newsprint-type paper and reformatted for (presumably) easier reading. (Character names are in bold type and not centred--all dialogue is flushed left; scene directions, also known as "slugs," are written in italics.) Oodles of terrific storyboards accompany the words, but there's no discussion of the development of these sketches, save for a feeble introduction by The Phantom Menace producer Rick McCallum, who explains that the script and storyboards were created simultaneously.
That the layout recalls a theatrical play rather than a screenplay is most appropriate, given Lucas's tendency to under-describe the visuals. The text can in fact be maddeningly spartan at times. Consider this introduction to the leader of those Japanese-sounding aliens who send robots to destroy Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace's opening sequence: "...NUTE GUNRAY, a Neimoidian trade viceroy, waits for a reply." Oh, a Neimoidian trade viceroy. Of course. Everybody knows what they look like. (To be fair, I've slogged through many a screenplay hampered by a density of adjectives--The Phantom Menace is a quick read.) While we're at it, the name Nute Gunray arguably disproves Francis Ford Coppola's recent public statement that Lucas "didn't slough [The Phantom Menace] off." "Nute Gunray" is the kind of moniker that winds up in a sci-fi screenplay or novel as a placeholder for a much less hastily-conceived name.
By now, most of us have seen Episode I and are aware of its myriad flaws. If nothing else, ...Illustrated Screenplay confirms that its problems are rooted in the ambitious yet underdeveloped source material. If you're an aspiring motion picture scribe, I'd recommend dozens of other published screenplays ahead of this one (not to mention the awe-inspiring quarterly SCENARIO). If you're an aspiring storyboard artist, by all means this is something you should own: Checking out ...Illustrated Screenplay is a fairly inexpensive way to admire the unsung work of Robert Barnes, Peter Chen, and others, although I wish the art had received a glossier reproduction. If you're a Star Wars completist, you'll be happy to learn that this volume contains snippets of dialogue and action that didn't make the final cut of The Phantom Menace. Originally published: May 20, 1999.
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