“Your option is up again, and Matt Damon wants it.”

Eric Jager could scarcely believe his eyes. A UCLA professor of English, Jager had been hoping to hear such news since 2006, when he first sold the film rights to his 2004 book The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France. And in January 2019, this email from his literary agent seemed to confirm that it was really going to happen.

It was a crazy, up-and-down journey from book to movie that had taken 15 years. The Last Duel, based on the Rashomon-like true story about the last judicial duel to take place in medieval France, centers on the 1386 battle between a knight, Sir Jean de Carrouges, and his former friend, squire Jacques LeGris, who had been accused of raping the knight’s beautiful young wife, Marguerite. It would be a fight to the death, and if her husband lost, Marguerite would be burned alive as a false accuser.

Film interest in the book began early. Jager’s agent sold three successive options: first to Paramount for Martin Scorsese in 2006; then to Studio 8 for Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence in 2015; and then to Disney-Fox for Ridley Scott in 2019. Each of the three options resulted in a script, but the first two lapsed before shooting began. The third time, however, was the charm.

News of the film first leaked out in July 2019, after paparazzi ambushed Matt Damon near Ben Affleck’s house with a copy of the book in hand. Damon and Affleck wrote the screenplay with writer-director Nicole Holofcener (in consultation with Jager), and both actors star in the film, alongside Adam Driver and Jodie Comer.

“I’m a longtime Ridley Scott fan,” says Jager, who has just finished writing a book-length memoir that describes the wild ride from option to film. “Blade Runner was my first date with my wife, Peg, and I’m thrilled that Sir Ridley and his team have brought this epic to the big screen.”

Watch the trailer:

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s October 2021 issue.