When Richard Burbage died all of London mourned. He was the greatest actor of his generation: the thoughtful Hamlet, the heroic King Henry, the deceitful King Richard, and the lost and lonely King Lear. He was carried in pomp and circumstance through streets so thronged with mourners that the event overshadowed the death of Queen Anne 10 days earlier.

But when Shakespeare who created all the characters and plays that Burbage acted in died his passing was almost unnoticed. Now think of our day. Name some great movies you know. Wizard of Oz? Star Wars? Who were the actors? Judy Garland? Harrison Ford? Now who wrote the screenplay for those films? See? The problem is not just the silly Brits of Shakespeare day.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is one of the best and most underrated American novels of the last century. The metaphorical language. The gritty dialogue. The filmic prose. It is a wonder of concision and tension. But when it came to putting that into a screenplay Chandler declined and even William Faulkner faltered. So the studio brought in Leigh Brackett to whip the script into shape. Under her skilled hands both Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe and his doll Lauren Bacall shine in what has become the classic film noir.

Fast forward 40 years to George Lucas struggling to follow up the success of his first Stars Wars saga with a sequel that will take the story to the next level. Who does he tap? Leigh Brackett who is still churning it out at 62 but who tragically dies of cancer shortly after completing the first draft. So George Lucas brings in Lawrence Kasdan who has just recently written the screenplay for the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kasdan writes a second and then final draft of what will become The Empire Strikes Back, widely considered the best in the franchise. Kasdan will also go on the write the screenplay for Return of the Jedi before going off to write and direct his own projects.

Where is this all going to might say? Well I recently saw Solo, the most recent and most poorly received of the current rash of Star Wars films. It is, in my humble opinion, not only the best, but likely to be seen as such 30 years from now. Why? Because Lawrence Kasdan is back as the screenwriter and he knows what he is doing. The script is tight, revealing only as much of Solo’s backstory as is necessary to keep the plot moving, and eschewing maudlin sentimentality on the one hand and studied ironic cynicism on the other. Kasdan’s Solo is a believable and charming rogue, both cunning and conned and well worth second look in a sequel.

Whether he will get that look is more up to politics than the power of pertinent prose. It is Burbage that England mourned, not Shakespeare. Money and popularity have always wowed the crowd But is is Shakespeare who is remembered and studied 400 years later. And who among you knew the name of Richard Burbage before you read this post?

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