It’s fair to say the 1977 release of Star Wars changed the landscape of cinema forever. Heck, some argue that it changed the world. Understandably, pretty much everyone involved with the world of entertainment wanted in on the action…
Among the would-be bandwagon jumpers? Science Fiction writer turned religion leader, L. Ron Hubbard.
After a brief stint working as a reporter for a student magazine, Hubbard started writing stories for pulp fiction magazines in the 1930s. He used a slew of pen names (Winchester Remington and Joe Blitz being my personal faves), with over 140 short stories seeing print. Sci-Fi and Fantasy comprised much of Hubbard’s output, through he also scribed tales of travel, westerns, and romance (!). His first published novel, Buckskin Brigades, saw print in 1937.
Around this time, Hollywood came knocking on Hubbard’s door. According to the Church of Scientology, anyway. He wrote the 15-part movie serial The Secret of Treasure Island for Columbia Pictures in 1938, leading to the most profitable matinée serial in Hollywood history! Or so claims the Church of Scientology. Ahem. And despite a lack of independently verifiable evidence, the man also wrote/contributed to a further slew of popular Hollywood projects.
Though his followers suggest otherwise, Hubbard encountered multiple missteps in the early years of his writing career. Attending a 1948 science fiction convention, multiple reports claim Hubbard said:
"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.”
George Lucas, concoctor of The Force, may well agree.
Dianetics aside, L. Ron Hubbard’s best-known work is the sci-fi novel Battlefield Earth, which was to later become a movie starring Scientology aficionado John Travolta. Initially titled “Man, the Endangered Species,” Battlefield Earth was published in 1982 to a mostly positive reception.
“Revolt in the Stars”, the screenplay Hubbard wrote some five years earlier, isn’t quite so well known. Telling the story of Xenu, a galactic dictator who teleports victims to Earth and vanquishes them via atomic bombs, the script’s premise dramatizes events that Hubbard said took place some 75 million years ago. (In a lofty level of Scientology scripture called OPIII—Operating Thetan, Level III.) Despite promotion around Hollywood through the late ‘70s, attempts at fundraising and obtaining financing were fruitless, leaving the project in limbo.
Aside from unofficial copies drifting around the Internet, anyway. I won't link directly to a PDF here, but remember: Google is your friend. Well, sometimes.
Living in seclusion in Sparks, Nevada alongside three members of the Church of Scientology, Hubbard wrote Revolt in the Stars between July and December of 1977. A former scientologist and Sea Org member informed the Los Angeles Business Journal that Hubbard intended to distribute the film publicly. Why? Well, aside from raking in Star Wars-sized mounds of cash, viewers inhabited with thetans (as in, a spirit or soul) would become "restimulated and upset," inspiring them to research Scientology.
A production company called (wait for it) “A Brilliant Film Company” announced plans to produce Revolt in the Stars as an independent film, with the New York Times reporting that a $49 million budget was in place to make it happen. Gregory F. Henderson, a man involved with the abovementioned A Brilliant Film Company, even went so far as to sign a contract to shoot the film. But then (one last time) A Brilliant Film Company went bankrupt, and that was pretty much the end of that.
Elements of Revolt in the Stars' story (along with Xenu teachings in general) have been compared to the most recent remake of War of the Worlds, starring fellow scientologist Tom Cruise. Jim Emerson, editor of The Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert website, highlights how critics of the 2005 remake drew parallels between the War of the Worlds and Scientology mythology. I’m assuming the bits where extraterrestrials arrive on Earth, hell-bent on obliterating large portions of humanity.
All in all, L. Ron Hubbard was unable to replicate George Lucas' cinematic success. But he certainly wasn’t the only one…