Keen eyes may have noticed the name Jonathan Hales as being credited as a scriptwriter on the Star Wars prequel movie Attack of the Clones. While the story was George Lucas', Hales was called in to help with the third draft as time was running out, filming was due to start and the script was not yet finished – what a mess! Essentially, Hales was tasked with saving the film.
When it was a live site, The Secret History of Star Wars noted that Lucas' first rough draft – not yet even a proper first draft – was completed in March of 2000 and it was typed up as he was boarding the plane to leave for the studio, as the production would begin in June.
He was a writer for Lucas' Adventures of Young Indiana Jones and clearly had the trust of Lucas to get the scripting job done.
Production was well advanced and it was in a position that producer Rick McCallum described as being like trying to build a skyscraper without a foundation. Ultimately the final production script was only able to be read by the actors three days before filming!
So what contribution did Hales make?
The Secret History of Star Wars (now a defunct website) surmised that, given Lucas also re-wrote Hales' last polish, his contribution to the script was tenuous.
This may not be a fair assessment, as Hales did receive a full screenwriter's credit and, under the Writers Guild of America screenwriting credit system, a screenwriter must contribute more than 50 percent of an original screenplay or 33 percent of an adaptation to receive credit.
Despite the suggestion of Hale's work being a mere polish (well, if that is the case, how did he not pick up on the Anakin's sand quote business? Or did he write that line into the script himself?), Lucas must have been happy enough with his contribution to the script as Hales continued to do a fair bit of writing for the Adventures of Young Indiana Jones series.
All this aside, Lucas gave Leigh Brackett a credit for The Empire Strikes Back, despite evidence from Lawrence Kasdan suggesting her work did not contribute materially to the final version of the movie.
As a side note, some famous film rewrites or script doctoring moments have gone uncredited including Star Wars' very own Carrie Fisher as a script doctor for Hook, Sister Act, and Lethal Weapon 3 – but even Fisher couldn't save Last Action Hero.
In such circumstances, script doctors often deliberately go uncredited, even when they do major work.
But what is this business referred to as “script doctoring” and why is this discussion suddenly taking place?
To answer the latter question, it's an interesting tangent and it gives a good reason to talk more about Star Wars. The first part of the question refers to a scriptwriter taking an existing script and giving it “another go” with a major restructure or simply tidying up some pacing issues, improving dialogue, fixing scenes that weren't quite working, or coming up with a more suitable ending.
Did you ever hear of a scriptwriter called Tom Stoppard? If you've ever had a cup of tea in his living rooming, you'd have probably noticed his big shiny Oscar gathering a fine layer of dust on the mantlepiece. He won it for a delightful film called Shakespeare in Love. He's a Hollywood scriptwriting legend.
Tom Stoppard also has a massive connection to George Lucas which fans will be amused to consider. Lucas once asked Stoppard to do a rewrite of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He did the final version of the film but is uncredited – screenwriting credit for the movie is shared between five people, none of which are Stoppard.
Now if we cast our minds back to Revenge of the Sith, the movie turned out a lot different from what was the original script – and we're referring to the fall of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force here. As the film was pieced together, Lucas felt Anakin's turn was too abrupt and not logical.
Lucas did two sets of extra pick-up filming to ensure his new storyline of Anakin turning to the dark side of the Force was in response to his need to save Padmé's life. So who helped Lucas get this very late piece of story incorporated into Revenge of the Sith? It must have been Stoppard who is credited as being the uncredited scriptwriter that saved the film.
This was a secret let out of the bag by Hayden Christiansen in an interview with Playboy.
So there we have it – a small insight into Hale's work on Attack of the Clones leads us to learn that Carrie Fisher is an actual script doctor herself and that one of the most famous scriptwriters in history, Tom Stoppard, helped Lucas with Revenge of the Sith. The connection there is because Stoppard worked a turn on Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
The tale of how Leigh Brackett wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back is a great one.