Premise: (from Black List) Based on the confusing, sometimes offensive, borderline-insane memories of David Prowse, the irascible Englishman behind Darth Vader’s mask.
About: We just covered The Black List yesterday and this is the first NEW script I’m reviewing from the list. It’s written by two newcomers. Nicholas is a composer who worked in the music department for John Carter of Mars and Dalton is an actor. By the way, if you only came to the main Scriptshadow page yesterday, you did not see the full Black List post. For whatever reason, when I updated, it didn’t catch. So if you only saw the 5-line “Black List Holding Post” message, click here to get the full article.
Writers: Nicholas Jacobson-Larson & Dalton Leeb
Details: 117 pages
What’d you think I was going to choose for my first 2017 Black List review? It’s freaking Star Wars week, man. And by the time you read this, the review embargo for The Last Jedi will have been lifted. Which means we get reviews from people other than those looking to keep Disney happy so they continue to get pre-release access to their big films. Oh, Carson, you’re so cynical! I know. I hate it. However, I am hearing, from the few people brave enough to speak negatively about the film, that the big criticism is that it’s tooooo sloooooow. Hmm, I wonder who predicted that? Could it be the person who said 2 hours and 30 minutes is way too long for a Star Wars film? I wonder. :)
Not to worry. We’re going back in time to when Star Wars was pure. When studios could actually hide all of the negative stuff that was happening on their films. And one of the most infamous of those stories is that of David Prowse, the man who would play Darth Vader.
David Prowse’s career was looking up. He had a role in A Clockwork Orange, and was one of the only actors with the balls to stand up to Stanley Kubrick. At least that’s what Old David Prowse, now 80, is telling the journalist who’s come to interview him about why George Lucas banned him from representing Star Wars.
Prowse dives back into his life as a bullied kid who took up bodybuilding, grew to 6 foot 7, and became enamored with acting. He was in his 40s, with a wife and kids, when a young director named George Lucas wanted him to play the big baddie in his low-budget science-fiction film, Star Wars. Prowse leapt at the chance, especially because this finally seemed like his opportunity to show he could act.
Almost immediately, Prowse put people off on the Star Wars set. He was clumsy, always knocking down and breaking expensive props, and annoying, constantly assaulting George Lucas with pointless questions about his character. But even as the rest of the cast – especially Harrison Ford – turned on him, Prowse was driven by the promise to finally show off his acting skills.
So you can imagine his reaction when he went to the premiere only to find out his voice had been dubbed over by James Earl Jones. Prowse was furious, but encouraged when he learns in Empire that his mask will be coming off. At least now they’ll be able to SEE him. Except that doesn’t turn out the way he hopes either (they used another actor).
In a final grand act of defiance, Prowse informs the Daily Mail that Darth Vader dies in Return of the Jedi, spoiling the film well before its release. That’s the rumor anyway. Prowse claims he had nothing to do with the leak as our journalist wraps up the interview, not quite sure why he wasted the last 4 hours with this man. Did he really learn anything new? Was Prowse being truthful about anything? The only one who will ever know is Prowse himself.
Let me start by saying this. This script has a great final scene. It’s so damn powerful and moving that I was in tears. Unfortunately, the rest of the script doesn’t stack up to the ending, as it’s unsure of what tone it wants to strike and who it wants to portray David Prowse as. And it’s frustrating. Because there’s obviously a lot to work with here.
The script uses the interview framing device to tell its story. This is where an interviewer attempts to find some truth about the protagonist, and before the protagonist can give you that truth, he must tell you how he got there. And hence we have a reason to tell his life story. This device is most successful when the truth the interview is trying to get at carries with it high stakes. The golden example of this is Titanic. They interview Old Rose to find out where the 100 million dollar diamond they’re searching for might be. That’s stakes!
We don’t get stakes anywhere approaching that in Strongman, and this is one of the script’s primary weaknesses. The question that sends us into Prowse’s life is “Why do you think you were banned?” The stakes are so low with this question that within 20 pages, I’d forgotten what the question was. It wasn’t until the final ten pages, when we’re back in the interview room and the question is repeated that I remembered it.
This is a good double-tip for screenwriters using any plotting device. Make sure the goal has some stakes attached to it. And don’t be afraid to REMIND the audience what those stakes are. Even the most attentive audience member is going to have trouble remembering what the point of the movie is if you go 100 pages without mentioning said point.
However, this wasn’t a script killer. This script lives or dies on the depiction of Prowse. And that was a mixed bag. It’s strange. The script is told almost entirely as a comedy. We get lots of scenes like Prowse dressing up a mannequin like Obi-Wan with a mop and doing pretend lightsaber battles with him. There are a good 30 prat falls throughout the script. The goofy characters he played in previous films – like Frankenstein – start following him around in ghost form telling him what to do. And yet it wants you to take Prowse’s journey seriously. When he’s sad about being overlooked, it wants you to be sad too. And it’s hard to do that when Prowse is erroneously remembering Carrie Fisher saying stuff like, “I’m wetter than a Dogobah swamp right now.” (an admittedly funny line)
In fact, I could never tell whether the writers wanted us to laugh with Prowse or at him. But most of it plays like we’re laughing at him, and I don’t think you can do that with a biopic. We have to sympathize with the character, to believe he’s got a leg to stand on. And Prowse is mostly depicted as a clueless unpleasant asshole.
The script shines most in its final third when it begins to ditch its comedy aspirations and focuses more on a man’s struggle to be seen, to be taken seriously, to not have to hide behind masks for the rest of its life. It also covers the complicated fact that Prowse was taken advantage of and used every step of the way of the Star Wars trilogy, even if some of it was his fault. There’s a poignant moment late when Carrie Fisher comes to him and says, “David, maybe people would like you more if you were a little nicer.” And he doesn’t understand what she means. He sees himself as a good guy.
So I don’t know what to make of this. It’s a mixed bag. I will say this – on the comedy side, Harrison Ford is fucking hilarious. He has NO respect for Prowse whatsoever and constantly screws with him throughout the productions, his go-to move being to point his pretend laser at Prowse’s penis and say, “Pew pew pew!” which infuriates Prowse to no end.
And then that ending. You know what? Now that I think about it. That ending doesn’t work unless some of what came before it worked. So maybe I’m underselling this. But it’s a weird script. It’s good sometimes. Bad sometimes. And ultimately leaves you confused about what the point of it all was. Funny. That’s what I’m hearing about The Last Jedi as well. :)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re a writer writing about an era before you were born, don’t insert phrases and language from the current era. I’m pretty sure nobody was saying, “What’s up, bitches?” in 1977, as Harrison Ford says in this script.
P.S. Please continue to share your thoughts about any Black List scripts you read in the comments. I love seeing what you guys think about these scripts. It also helps me determine what I should review.