Friday 7 December 2018

Gloria Katz, 1942-2018: The writer who gave Star Wars some of its best lines

Gloria Katz with George Lucas

Think for a moment of some of the best lines in Star Wars – the wittier ones, that remind you of the golden age of movies.

The chances are that you are thinking of lines that were written by the late Gloria Katz and her husband Willard Huyck.

LUKE: Listen, if you were to rescue her the reward would be...
HAN: What?
LUKE: Well, more wealth than you can imagine
HAN: I don't know. I can imagine quite a bit.

HAN: Uh ... had a slight weapons malfunction,. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

LEIA: You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought.

HAN: Stlll, she's got a lot of spirit. I don't know, what do you think? Do you think a princess and a guy like me?

Those are just some of the lines that we know were contributed to Star Wars by Huyck and Katz, the friends of George Lucas who worked on the film without credit.

Gloria Katz dies aged 76

Wilard Huyck and Gloria Katz

Gloria Katz died of ovarian cancer on November 25, at the age of 76. She and her husband Willard Huyck had been friends of George Lucas since the 1960s and were there for many of the highs and lows of his career.

Katz had been an English major in the 1960s at Berkeley before going to UCLA, where she switched courses from history to film, becoming one of only four women in a film-making class of 50. Initially interested in editing, she turned to writing with Huyck, the University of Southern California graduate she had married.

When George Lucas was trying to write American Graffiti, a script based on his own experience of cruising the streets of a small Californian town in 1962, he knew he needed help. He called on Huyck and Katz, but they were committed to writing and directing a horror film in the UK – Messiah of Evil.

Lucas turned instead to USC classmate Richard Walters. Unimpressed by Walters' script, he tried writing himself, and as soon as Huyck and Katz had finished their film, he brought them on board.

It was the first of several Lucas films on which Huyck and Katz would be credited. But their names would be absent from the biggest of their projects with Lucasfilm – Star Wars itself.

How much of Star Wars was written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz?

"You came in that thing? You're braver
than I thought" was among the lines
Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck
contributed to Star Wars

George Lucas laboured alone for four years over his script for Star Wars. Let's not take away any of the credit that's due to him for that.

He had reshaped the idea and overhauled the plot and characters, writing four drafts of the screenplay – he first two of which bore hardly any resemblance to the film we know today.

He was determined to produce the script himself. But, as almost everybody who read the scripts said, dialogue was not his strong point. And towards the end of the process, he called in his Graffiti co-writers.

According to JW Rinzler's book The Making of Star Wars, Lucas had been getting up before dawn during the first quarter of 1976 to rewrite his fourth draft script, while preparing to begin shooting that March. 

Lucas said:
At the very last minute, when I'd finally finished the screenplay, I looked at it and wasn't happy with the dialogue I had written. Some of it was all right, but I felt it could be improved, so I had Bill and Gloria help me come up with some snappy one-liners.

Katz recalled in this interview with
George was writing the script and he had a lot of reservations about it, but he knew filming had to start. He said, 'Polish it – write anything you want and then I'll go over it and see what I need.' George didn't want anyone to know we worked on the script, so we were in a cone of silence...
We just tried to help with the characterization, to add as much humour as possible. We didn't want to take the credit away from him – he had been working on Star Wars for a very long time.
George Lucas has estimated that his co-writers were responsible for around 30 per cent of Star Wars' dialogue.

Princess Leia, Katz said, was intended as a "Hawksian woman", with the character traits of one of the hard-bitten characters of a film from golden age director Howard Hawks – "she can take command; she doesn't take any shit, but at the same time she's vulnerable and to write her as really focused, instead of just a beautiful woman that schlepped along to be saved".

With most screenplays, it's hard to know which screenwriters contributed which elements. But thanks to the 1997 book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, we know more about the contribution of Huyck and Katz. The book puts asterisks next to their main contributions. And just about all of the movie's sharpest, wittiest lines belong to them.

Huyck and Katz after Star Wars

Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz and George Lucas

Huyck and Katz visited the set of Star Wars and later told how dejected Lucas seemed. They were there at the first screening of the film to Lucas's friends, when it was mocked mercilessly by Brian De Palma. But who knows whether they would have made more films themselves if their names had been on Star Wars.

As it is, their filmography is a mixed bag. They wrote the critically-slated comedy thriller Lucky Lady (1975), the romantic comedy French Postcards (1970) and the 1984 Dudley Moore-Eddie Murphy vehicle Best Defense. Yet their fortunes were mostly tied up with those of Lucasfilm.

Working from Lucas's story ideas, the pair wrote Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. They were rewarded for that huge success with the chance to make Howard the Duck for Lucasfilm, with Huyck directing. That 1986 movie was a critical and commercial flop which Lucas's detractors revelled in ridiculing. 

Hollywood gave them very few further breaks, but Lucas did produce an update of a script they had written in the early 1970s and which had spent two decades in development hell – Radioland Murders (1994).

They were considerable writers who might have become notable directors. As it was, Goria Katz and Willard Huyck's careers were defined by their early friendship with George Lucas, and they left their mark on the biggest film of all time. 


Robert Cass said...

Thank you for writing this post. I never knew which lines were Katz's and Huyck's in "Star Wars," although I'd always heard they'd rewritten "30 percent" of the dialogue and contributed many of the film's funniest lines (it's too bad they weren't hired again for the prequels). I also enjoyed reading this interview with them from 2014 shortly after I found out about Katz's death late last year:

Anonymous said...

Star Wars has one of the most effective dialogues that have in-depth meaning to it and all credit goes to the amazing writers and George Lucas's dialogues were one of my favorite. Okay, just by reading this I have got these strong urges to watch star wars again, and since I have time in my hand because I have hired one of the best dissertation writers UK-based to get my dissertations done. Anyways can’t wait for the weekend because I will be binge-watching star wars!!!

johntaylorjr195 said...

The creative brilliance of Gloria Katz and Willard Hayek left an indelible mark on the Star Wars universe, decorating it with some of the most iconic and memorable lines. Their witty skill not only contributed to the cinematic excellence of the series, but also embodied the essence of the golden age of cinema. Reflecting on the standout lines that have become synonymous with the magic of Star Wars, it's highly likely that many of these gems come from the brilliant minds of Katz and Huyck. Their legacy continues to shine through timeless dialogue that continues to captivate audiences and transport them to a galaxy far, far away. If you'd like to purchase an essay on their influence, turn to for the burst of creativity and inspiration woven into the fabric of the Star Wars narrative thanks to Katz and Hyuk.