On the town square in Kinsman, Ohio, you’ll find a bank, a veteran’s memorial, and a used bookstore with an owner who will unhesitatingly volunteer the assertion that Yoda was born here.
And he’s right — from (yes, you know what’s coming next) a certain point of view.
Because rural Kinsman — which is almost 19 miles from the nearest Interstate and surrounded by the expansive fields and woods of the state’s northeast corner — boasts ties to a pair of science fiction legends as well as the classic middle chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The Empire Strikes Back has always been special to me not just as a movie, but for the memories and feelings it sparks. I have never experienced anticipation for a movie the way I did when I was nine years old, waiting for the sequel (Sequel? I don’t even think I knew the word existed. All I knew was “MOAR STAR WARS!”) to the Greatest Movie I’d Ever Seen. It was a time of teaser articles in National Geographic magazine and of getting a thrill just seeing that amazingly cool new Empire movie logo, and it ruled.
Which is partly why I love the back side of Ohio Historical Marker 10-78:
“Two of Leigh’s popular movie scripts were Rio Bravo and Star Wars II.”
You so rarely hear Empire referred to that way, and I love it.
A bit of background: Edmond Hamilton was a prolific and hugely influential early science fiction writer, and one of the pioneers of space opera, a sub-genre which eventually included Star Wars. In 1946, he married another successful and ambitious science fiction author, Leigh Brackett, and they moved to Kinsman. Both continued to write for several more decades.
Don Sutton, owner of the Book Den in Kinsman, is quick to note that Edmond and Leigh were his neighbors when he was a kid, and that his English teacher was Leigh’s sister-in-law. And he’s happy to show off a section of shelves dedicated to the pair. Backyard photos of Edmond and Leigh hang on handmade posterboard displays that detail their achievements and pen names. There are pulp book cover reproductions, pictures of the interior of their underground fallout shelter, and postcards bearing black-and-white snapshots of the authors with a friendly robot added to the background.
After the success of Star Wars, George Lucas asked Leigh to draft a screenplay for its follow-up, based on his own story outline. She provided her script shortly before her death from cancer in March of 1978. (She and Edmond, who passed away in 1977, are both buried in Kinsman.) Although the script went through major revisions before hitting the big screen — including the alteration of the diminutive Jedi Master’s name from Minch to Yoda — Leigh Brackett still received a screenwriting credit for her work, capping a long and distinguished career.
And providing an interesting link between a science fiction legend, the Star Wars saga, and a small, quiet town in Northeast Ohio.
John Booth is the author of the book “Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek” and still has his first Kenner X-Wing — minus the canopy and two-and-a-half S-foils. He writes at johnbooth.wordpress.com and is on Twitter @JRBooth.