The Death of Spock

Jack Sowards not only wrote a great movie, he may have saved a franchise in the process.

Written by Robert Elisber and Originally Published on Elisberg Industries on March 6, 2013

A friend of mine is screenwriter, Jack Sowards.  Jack was a joy.  A crusty, warm-hearted, nurturing free-spirit -- recognized by all for his gray ponytail.  He'd had a long career, first as a very minor actor, and then as an accomplished writer (almost exclusively for TV).  However, in his long career, he only wrote one feature film.  But boy, howdy, it was a doozy.  For his one feature film, Jack Sowards wrote Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan.


Great as Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan was, it almost didn't come to be, at least not in the form we know it.  That's because after a lifetime of being fed up playing the character of Mr. Spock -- even to the point of writing an autobiography titled, I Am Not Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy had finally had enough.  He wouldn't play the character again. 


The film's producers were ready to throw in the towel.  They'd tried everything to interest Nimoy, but to no avail.  That's when Jack Sowards stepped in.  He'd been signed as the screenwriter of the film, and told the producers "I know how to get Leonard to agree."  All he asked was that the producers set up a call between himself and Leonard Nimoy. 


When Jack Sowards and Leonard Nimoy spoke, the actor adamantly reiterated his decision to not appear in Star Trek anymore.  Jack just asked on simple question -- "Leonard, how would you like to play Spock's death scene?"


And that was it, that was the magic question.  Not only would Leonard Nimoy get to play an actor's dream -- a big, heart-wrenching dramatic scene that would garner worldwide attention -- but (and perhaps this was even more important), he would never have to face a question about playing Spock ever again.  Never more.  Spock would be dead.


"I'll write the scene near the beginning of the movie," Jack told him.  "You'll play Spock's death scene.  You won't have to be in the rest of the movie.  And the others can go on without you."  It would be a week or two of his time and Spock would be finished.


That was all it took.  "Leonard is on board," Jack told the unbelieving producers.  They didn't care that Nimoy wouldn't be in the whole film, all they cared about was being able to make a Star Trek *movie that had Mr. Spock in it and that could be advertised as starring Leonard Nimoy.  If Spock died in the first 10 minutes, so be it.  It still would be *Star Trek II with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.


It was was brilliant move by Jack Sowards -- but -- (and this is the big point) it wasn't *the *brilliant move, the move that saved everything.  Because, in addition to being a wonderful writer, Jack Sowards was a really smart guy, and a Hollywood veteran who knew far more than a thing or two about storytelling and drama.  He had another trick up his sleeve. 


Jack went back to the drawing board, began writing the screenplay to Star Trek II, wrote the death scene for Mr. Spock that indeed took place as he promised early on in the script, and showed it to Leonard Nimoy.  The actor loved what he read, and couldn't wait to film the scene.  Fine, great, thanks very much.  He went off, and Jack went back to working on his screenplay


But, of course, like any good professional screenwriter, there's always a lot of rewriting done.  And so, as Jack continued along with the draft, he did what he had always planned to do from the first -- he shifted things around.  Spock's death was still there -- but...well, it got moved back a little.  Now, it was about a third of the way into the script.  The new draft then got shown to Nimoy, and he still loved the death scene, and the thing is, he also liked the new material Jack had come up with for Spock. 


And Jack went back to...rewriting.  And in the next draft, the death scene was now pushed back to halfway into the story. 


Again showing it to Leonard Nimoy, again getting his approval and in the next draft, it was moved a little further still.  And then moved back some more.  All the while, Leonard Nimoy was always shown the script, really liked the death scene, but was now especially enjoying the new Spock material, what Jack was doing with the character.  What Jack had intended to do all along.


And then, finally, Jack Sowards had pushed the death scene all the way to the end of the movie.


By this time, Leonard Nimoy absolutely loved everything Jack Sowards had written, loved the script, loved the character, and was there to play Mr. Spock -- for the *entire *film.  Right up to his death scene.


But even that's not the end of the story!


Because, you see, what Jack Sowards had done was turn the Spock character into something that Leonard Nimoy liked so *much that he not only agreed to make *Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan -- but he wanted now to keep playing Mr. Spock.  And he came back for all the rest of the Star Trek *films.  He also wrote a new autobiography, I Am Spock -- *and even agreed to portray the character yet again when the new *Star Trek *movie re-launch was made, giving the new franchise an important sense of legitimacy.


And in the end, Jack Sowards not only saved Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan -- but he well may have helped save the rest of the *Star Trek *movie series...which, in turn, arguably allowed there to be enough interest to start the new franchise all over again. 


Jack Sowards is a name you should know.  And if you like Star Trek, be grateful to a man who really took the meaning of "Live long and prosper" to heart.


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