Badass Writer of the Week: Leigh Brackett

By Sean Tuohy

Name some of your favorite action hero moments. Han Solo’s cocky and roguish turn in “The Empire Strikes Back” is on that list, right? Why not throw in Philip Marlowe (played by the eternal badass Humphrey Bogart) in “The Big Sleep” and John Wayne in “Rio Bravo” for a dash of wit and swagger.

Well, gentlemen, lace up your jockstraps because you’re about to find out all those characters that stole your hearts with blaster fire were written by a woman. And not just any woman. Badass writer, screenwriter, and sci-fi author Leigh Brackett.

Brackett wrote about tough, wisecracking manly men for decades. She helped George Lucas bring the next chapter in his “Star Wars” story to life by adding a little tough muscle to it. When Hollywood wanted Raymond Chandler’s famed private eye Philip Marlowe to fill a movie screen, they called upon Mrs. Brackett. When John Wayne needed to face off with some nasty villains in a shootout, Brackett was busy typing away. She helped design the modern movie leading man through her words. Hawks was once asked how Brackett was such a great writer and he replied, “She writes like a man.” Sexist? Yes, but it is probably as close to a compliment as a woman was likely to get from a male director in Hollywood at that time.  

Brackett was raised by her mother and grandparents after her father passed away in a flu pandemic. According to io9, Brackett wrote a prolific amount of sci-fi, space adventure novels (check out some of the badass titles on this complete list) and was called the Queen of Space Opera, which the post claims was not always a compliment.

In a 1976 interview with her husband Edmond Hamilton, Brackett explained her approach to fiction:

I think even the most flagrant escapist fiction is not entertaining unless it makes at least an attempt to have real people in it. I mean unless you get into the emotions of the people and try to present it like something that would really happen.

Brackett’s talent eventually caught the eye of director Howard Hawks. After Brackett’s detective novel, No Good from a Corpse, was published in 1944, Hughes hired her to pen his screenplay and the two developed a solid working relationship. It was during this time that Hollywood decided it was time to bring hard-boiled detective Philip Marlow to the screen. Who better to write this noir film than a female sci-fi writer from northern California? Her skillful screenwriting, as well as her passion for Chandler’s work, helped to make the movie a hit.  

Now, let’s teleport to Brackett’s most well known screenwriting credit. She penned the first script for a little caper called “The Empire Strikes Back.” Yes, the movie that made us all want to utter, “I know,” to our lovers in response to, “I love you,” first came to life through Brackett’s imagination. As io9 points out, Lucas didn’t end up using a lot of her script and she died of cancer before she could do any rewrites for him. However, her original script is well worth the read for its originality and earnestness.

Brackett's legend is still strong in Hollywood and in the sci-fi community. The sheriff in “Halloween” was named after her and many authors still hold Brackett’s name above all other writers. We assume she’s in another dimension, wielding a lightsaber and keeping alien civilizations safe from harm.