Author and screenwriter who mastered stories of planetary romance from 1940s pulps to Star Wars.
December 7, 1915 – March 17, 1978
Leigh Brackett has been hailed as the “Queen of the Space Opera”—a master of richly detailed stories of planetary romance. She began writing during the early years of the Golden Age of science fiction, quickly gaining prominence as a novelist and screenwriter.
A native of Los Angeles, Brackett joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society in 1939 where she met other emerging science fiction authors including Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. They would remain close personal friends for years to come. In 1940 her first published science fiction story, “Martian Quest” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction. She worked in many genres—not only science fiction, but also crime, mystery, and westerns. Most of her science fiction falls into the planetary romance style (also called science fantasy)—sagas of adventure and struggle across a fantastical solar system that included desert barbarians on Mars, jungles on Venus, and deadly storms on Mercury. Even at the time these stories were written it was known that these planets couldn’t harbor such wonders, hence the term science fantasy. She embraced the escapist nature of the genre, saying, “These stories served to stretch our little minds, to draw us out beyond our narrow skies into the vast glooms of interstellar space, where the great suns ride in splendor and the bright nebulae fling their veils of fire parsecs-long across the universe…. Escape fiction? Yes, indeed!” Notable works include Shadow Over Mars (1951), The Long Tomorrow (1955), and Alpha Centauri or Die! (1963).
Simultaneously, Brackett built a career as a screenwriter, notably with The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), El Dorado (1966), and The Long Goodbye (1973). She contributed episodes to various TV series including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Rockford Files. In 1977, director George Lucas hired Brackett to write the screenplay for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, bridging her space opera and screenwriting talents. She completed the first draft in 1978, just a few weeks before her death.