Posts Tagged ‘star wars’



I’ve been watching the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, and it’s made me think about some of the perils and benefits of “prequels,” stories that explore the backstory of something we’ve already seen, so that we already know the outcome for some of the major issues.

In this case, I thought the fact that we already know the fate of most of the main characters in the series, so we knew who would survive, made it bearable to watch. I don’t know if I could have handled the tension and suspense if I hadn’t known that most of the characters I cared most about would survive. Even knowing that, it got tense, and I had to repeat to myself “You already know when he/she dies, and this isn’t it.” I know that some viewers felt otherwise, like there was no point in watching it when you already know what will happen to the characters and what the outcome of everything will be.

I guess that comes down to whether you focus on the journey or the destination. Is the point of a story being surprised about the outcome or is it about the experience along the way and learning things about the world and the characters? I like surprises, but I think if enjoyment of a particular story hinges on being surprised by the outcome, there’s probably something lacking in that story. A really well-executed story should still be enjoyable even if you already know the outcome — even better, it should gain a layer when you already know all the revelations. I often refer to that as the “Shawshank Redemption Effect.” That movie becomes an entirely different story the second time you see it once you know what’s really going on. You get the same sort of thing with The Sixth Sense. It’s best to see it the first time without knowing the outcome, but once you know, it’s worth watching again because it becomes a different story. I suspect the “if I know how it ends, there’s no point” crowd don’t do a lot of rewatching or rereading, while rewatchers/rereaders are more focused on the journey than on the outcome.

I think a good prequel has this sort of effect on the later stories. In the Star Wars universe, Rogue One added a layer to the original movie that gave it a bit more meaning. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series adds a whole lot of emotion to that original movie when you factor in the histories it gives some of the characters — and it works even though George Lucas had none of it planned when he wrote that original movie. There’s a throwaway moment in the first movie that now will probably make me cry.

The prequel films were a bit less successful at that, in my opinion. They did flesh out some of the backstory and relationships, but about the only addition I get from having seen those when I watch the original trilogy is the weird sense that I’m seeing young Ewan McGregor looking out through Alec Guinness’s eyes. Lucas was trying to show how things came to be the way they were in the original trilogy, but I didn’t feel like there was much emotional depth, just a checklist of questions that needed to be answered. A prequel has to be about the journey, the experience, since the big-picture outcome is already known, but those prequels focused more on answering questions than on truly providing the journey and fleshing things out. I feel like I got more understanding about what made Darth Vader tick from his appearances in the Obi-Wan series than I did in watching his journey from childhood to adulthood in the prequel films.

I’ve written a few prequel things for my series and I have ideas for some more. It helps when I already have a pretty good sense of what was in the past before I write the “present,” so I don’t find myself frustrated by what I’ve already written when I go to address the past. I didn’t necessarily have the entire backstory of everything in Enchanted, Inc. made up before I wrote the first book, but I figured out a lot of it while I was writing that book. That’s made it a little easier to write shorter pieces taking place before the events of the first book.

I think after watching the Kenobi series I’m going to have to do an epic Star Wars rewatch to fit all the pieces together — probably not including the animated series because there’s just so much of that to deal with. I may wait until the fall so I can start watching a movie after dark and still finish before I’m falling asleep. Those movies really work best in the dark, and my living room stays light enough to be distracting until close to 9 p.m. these days. I either need to get blackout curtains or watch things that can be enjoyed in daylight.

Splitting the Team

I’ve been reading some Old School epic fantasy, and this weekend I read the novelization of The Rise of Skywalker and rewatched the movie, and it’s reminded me of one of my “epic” pet peeves: splitting the team.

I usually get into a story because I like the characters and the dynamic among them. The story usually starts with the team coming together, often beginning with an existing group, and then adding members along the way. And then just as I’m enjoying that, it generally seems that the author feels the need to split them up, with different groups going off in different directions on different missions. I suppose that’s necessary to make things truly epic. We can’t see enough of the world and what’s going on if we only see the small slice experienced by one group of people. That means we need multiple groups, and it’s easier to establish the characters and make readers care, so they have to start out together before splitting up. Usually in an epic fantasy series, they make it through the whole first book together and split up about a third into the second book, which is where I tend to lose interest in series. I may keep going to find out what happens, but I don’t enjoy it as much.

It’s frustrating to read and watch when that group and those friendships are what you love and then the writers take it away from you. I think that was in part why I was a bit disappointed in The Empire Strikes Back when I first saw it. I loved the trio of Han, Luke, and Leia. They bounced off each other so well. There was Han’s world-weariness, Luke’s idealism, and Leia’s focused determination. Luke on his own could be a little too earnest, but when he was bouncing off Han, he had to rise to the occasion and match the snark. Leia didn’t suffer fools and goaded both of them into taking action. The best parts of the movie were when they were all working together once they teamed up. They did split up a bit as they were running around the Death Star, but that was only for minutes. When The Empire Strikes Back started, it was a joy to see our friends again, all together as a team. And then they were split up for the entire rest of the movie, Luke off on his own (where he became a bit less interesting) and Han and Leia on their own. They had this wonderful team, but we didn’t really get to see them working together. The opening of Return of the Jedi was so much fun because it brought the team back together, and it looked like the rest of the movie would be that way, but then Luke went off on his own again. I get that he had to deal with that situation one-on-one, but I still feel like a lot of the energy left the movie once the team split up.

The newer movies did a weird thing where they teased the possibility of a team, with us just seeing a couple of different combinations of characters, then split the team entirely, then didn’t bring them all together until the third movie, where the dynamic was so much fun that I felt robbed of what might have been. And then they split them up again.

I guess one benefit of mostly writing in first person is that you can’t split the team. If you want the characters to be in the story, they have to be around the narrator. I haven’t really written that kind of “found family” team yet, even though I love that trope so much. It’s on my list of things I want to do. And then maybe I’ll be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to split my team up.


Looking Back at Star Wars

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been rewatching all the Star Wars movies. It’s been an interesting experience, since I hadn’t rewatched most of them in ages. I hadn’t watched the original trilogy since the prequels came out, and I hadn’t watched the prequels since their original release era. That meant I hadn’t really looked at the originals in terms of what was revealed in the prequels, and I hadn’t considered any of them in light of the newer films.

I have to say that while the first movie still holds up really well, the rest of the original trilogy doesn’t. Some of that is because Lucas undermined himself with some decisions he made in the prequels. For instance, all the “Luke is our last hope, no, wait, there’s another Skywalker” drama. Well, the Jedi were supposed to have been celibate. They weren’t allowed to marry and have families. There’s only a Skywalker bloodline because Anakin broke the rules and married. That means the Force-sensitive people who were Jedi candidates had to have just randomly appeared all along. If it was strictly a genetic trait, then making the people who had that trait be celibate would have led to it dying out. Where did the Jedi find their candidates all along? Wherever that was, couldn’t they have found those kinds of people again now? The galaxy should have been full of “hopes” who had just as much potential as the Skywalker kids, maybe even without so much Dark Side potential.

In fact, why were they waiting around for Anakin’s kid to grow up, with no effort to train him? They had twenty years to prepare. They didn’t find Force-sensitive people and get them to Dagobah? What would have happened if Jyn Erso and the Rogue One crew hadn’t defied orders to get the Death Star plans, which led to the droids ending up on Tatooine and bringing Luke into the fray?

I know a lot of people were really distressed by the revelation in The Last Jedi that Rey was nobody, that her parents were nobody. While I’m not sure I believe that, since Kylo Ren was trying to manipulate her at the time, where did they think the Jedi came from during the glory days? They were all nobodies. There was no noble line of Jedi families because the Jedi were celibate.

The Empire Strikes Back is often considered the best movie in the series, but I’ve never liked it that much. Some of that was because nothing could have lived up to the anticipation, some because I was so thoroughly spoiled from reading the novelization so many times before I saw it that I had the movie memorized before I saw it. But analyzing it from a story perspective, I think it’s pretty weak, mostly because the stakes are actually pretty low. After the opening battle and escape from Hoth, the Rebellion no longer matters. Everything becomes entirely personal — will Han and Leia manage to escape, will Luke be able to train as a Jedi, will Darth Vader catch Luke. Personal stakes aren’t necessarily bad, but in something that’s supposed to be epic, you need a bigger story question than “will they repair the ship?” And we have more undermining from the prequels — there, becoming a Jedi is a lifetime thing, with children taken away from their parents at an early age, then going through an extensive program of training, followed by apprenticeship. Luke can’t have been on Dagobah more than a few days, and yet he’s declared fully a Jedi. I guess the other Jedi wasted a lot of time. And how did he learn to build his own lightsaber? Did he find a YouTube video?

The Last Jedi follows a similar story arc and pattern to The Empire Strikes Back, but the stakes are much higher — the survival of the Resistance. It’s not just whether one ship can escape, but whether any of them can. Rey isn’t meant to have had a full Jedi training while with Luke. She gets a crash course in connecting with the Force, but there’s no “you’re a full Jedi now, I have nothing more to teach you.” The bit about Rey already having everything contained in the sacred Jedi texts wasn’t because she’d learned it all but because she’d already stolen the texts.

I found the newer movies a lot more engaging than everything but the first one. I have a lot more thoughts about the views of heroism and all that, but this is getting long and I need to think more.


Revisiting Star Wars

Since Saturday was Star Wars day (“May the Fourth be with you”), I rewatched the original movie for the first time in ages. I’m not sure how long it’s been. It holds up really well. I even think the somewhat more primitive special effects look pretty good because they look a lot more real than all the slick CGI stuff.

I have that movie more or less memorized, but I still got really tense during parts of it, as if I didn’t know what was going to happen. I guess that says something, when you can recite the lines along with the actors, but you still find yourself holding your breath about whether or not the good guys are going to win this time around. I’m not even sure how they did that. I suspect it has a lot to do with all the emotional subtext, with the music and the editing that trigger your brain to feel tense.

There’s a part of me that almost wishes it had been left with this little gem of a movie rather than building a whole mythology because the mythology doesn’t quite work for me. It made something that was just a lot of fun into something pseudo portentious. Plus, a lot of that mythology was added retroactively, and the series then had to try to make it fit, but it doesn’t always fit well. For instance, making Luke and Leia twin siblings. That was not originally intended (Alan Dean Foster wrote a romance into Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and Lucas made changes to that book based on the idea that it would be the sequel if the first movie was successful, but he didn’t change the romance). The first movie is clearly setting up a romantic triangle and that revelation came totally out of the blue later. Then there’s the issue of “hiding” Luke from his father by giving him his father’s last name and taking him to live with his father’s stepbrother. They’re lucky that Vader apparently put home way behind him and never checked up on what was going on with those people and never seemed to have considered that Padme had her baby(s) before she died.

At the same time, there are moments that really seem to fit the overall continuity even though they couldn’t possibly have been planned, so it’s fun to look at them in that light. Like Ben’s reaction when Luke mentions that R2-D2 was looking for Obi Wan Kenobi. I guess they roll ‘droids off an assembly line, so there could have been others like R2, but Ben does a double take, looking at R2 again with a look of realization on his face, as though realizing that this actually is the R2 unit he once knew.

I think in the fall, before the next movie comes out, I’m going to have to watch the whole series chronologically. Although I haven’t written any space opera (well, not that’s come close to being publishable), this series has been a huge influence on my desire to write and tell stories, and it’s a fun universe to visit.


Solo and Star Wars

Now that I’m back from my trip and had a holiday weekend to recover, I’m ready to hit summer. This means getting up early for a walk, and I hope to spend the days indoors, making incredible writing progress. It’s looking like it’s going to be a hot summer, but I may be able to fake myself out. I’ve discovered that Amazon Prime has “sleep sounds” videos of rainy nights, so I may be able to fake a good rainy writing day by closing the blinds, sitting under the ceiling fan, and playing the rainy night video.

One thing I did over the holiday weekend was see Solo. I really enjoyed it — it might not have been quite as awe-inspiring as some of the other Star Wars movies in that I doubt it would have made me a lifelong fan of the franchise if this was the first movie I saw, but it was still a great summer action movie involving characters I like. It kind of had a Firefly vibe, right down to using a spaceship to rob a train, and for me that’s a feature, not a bug. We get to see how Han met Chewbacca, how he got the Millennium Falcon, and exactly what the Kessel Run was all about. They even addressed what’s always been seen to be an error in the original movie. Ever since the time Han bragged about making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, people have been talking about how that’s a unit of distance, not time, so he was bragging about running the 100 yard dash in 40 yards. Well, this movie explains exactly how that worked (spoiler: it’s a shortcut).

They had a great cast and some fun characters. There’s room for at least one sequel and possibly a spinoff with a character who seems to be a setup for her own story. It wasn’t as moving as Rogue One, but it was just the sort of thing I wanted right now.

Watching Solo reminded me that I hadn’t finished watching the special features on the DVD set of The Last Jedi, and the “The Director and the Jedi” documentary was really interesting. It’s a glimpse into the creative process behind a movie like that, going from figuring out the budget and the sets they’re going to need, to the preproduction, to the filming. Obviously, a lot of hard work goes into these films, but it was nice to see that everyone also seems to be having fun even while taking it all quite seriously. Also, I may have developed a teeny crush on Rian Johnson. Is it a sign you’re getting old when your celebrity crush from a movie is the director?


Origins and Influences: Star Wars

I finally had a chance to watch my DVD of The Last Jedi this weekend. I saw it at the theater, but it’s been a while, so it was still relatively fresh, aside from already knowing the various twists and outcomes.

It reminded me that I have yet another chapter to share of my origins and influences: Star Wars. Although I’d always been a big reader and had always indulged in the kind of play that involved making up stories, Star Wars seems to have been the trigger that made me really want to be a writer, someone who told stories.

And to think, it almost didn’t happen. As my parents never tire of telling me, I didn’t want to see the movie. I was in elementary school when the original film came out (yes, I’m old), and I was so not into that sort of thing. It was Labor Day, and my dad had the day off but I had school, so my parents had celebrated by renting a steam cleaner and cleaning the carpets. They were still damp in the evening, so they thought it would be a good idea to go out to a movie, which would give the carpets time to dry. My dad had heard people at work talking about Star Wars and decided that’s what we should see. I was rather adamantly opposed because I’d read articles about it in Newsweek and didn’t like what I’d seen. The Slipper and the Rose, a telling of Cinderella, was on the other screen at that theater, and that’s what I wanted to see. I even proposed me going to see that while everyone else went to see Star Wars, but my parents said we would all go to the same movie, and I was outvoted.

Even though Star Wars had been out for a few months at that time, every show still sold out and there was still a long line at the theater. This was back before the days of multiplexes and the same movie showing in multiple theaters. There was one screen in town showing Star Wars. We barely made it into the theater. And then about 30 seconds into the movie I was totally enraptured.

Looking back, I find it a bit ironic that I wanted to see a fairy tale movie instead because this movie was basically a fantasy story that happened to have science fiction trappings. I think that was a lot of the appeal for me. It took all the stuff I liked about fairy tales and added a lot more action. Yeah, there were robots and spaceships, but the story was basically about a farmboy (who wasn’t all that different from all those third sons of woodcutters in fairy tales) rescuing a princess with the help of a wizard and carrying out a quest by trusting in the secret magical knowledge given to him by the wizard. While this was also the entry level to me getting into science fiction, I think it still had a lot to do with me becoming a fantasy novelist. I remember thinking as I rode home from the movie, looking up at the stars and imagining them being TIE fighters I was shooting down using the controls on the window crank knob, that I wanted to tell stories like this.

I also wanted to be Princess Leia. I absolutely loved the way she was introduced. We saw the ethereal figure in a white robe, looking beautiful and vulnerable as she sent R2-D2 on his mission. And then when the stormtroopers arrived, she whipped out a blaster and started shooting at them. After she was taken captive, when Darth Vader loomed over her, looking menacing, she sassed him. This was so much better than any fairytale princess. I think most of the characters I created in my earliest stabs at writing were more or less versions of Princess Leia.

The only problem was that she was pretty much the only girl in the movie. There might have been three female characters, at most, who even had lines. That meant things got complicated when the neighborhood kids got together to play Star Wars as we ran around the neighborhood. There was a big fight over who got to be Leia. For everyone else, we had to make up characters to play. That was some of my earliest writing activity, not just acting out existing characters, but creating new ones.

That’s also one of the areas where this new age of Star Wars is a distinct improvement. There’s more than one woman with lines. After this latest movie, there’s Rey and Rose for the younger generation. There’s Maz if you want to be an alien. If you want to be in charge, there’s Leia and Admiral Holdo. And then there are the various female pilots and support staff who could easily be fleshed out if you’re looking for roles to play. Though, in spite of what a lot of the manbaby Internet whiners claim, there are still a lot more choices for the boys. Still, it’s a much bigger universe than we had to work with in my childhood.

After I discovered Star Wars, I started reading science fiction, starting with the works of Alan Dean Foster, since they seemed most like the Star Wars novelization I devoured, and since he wrote the (now non-canon )“sequel.” I didn’t realize until later that he also ghost wrote the novelization. I also started reading fantasy around that time, with The Hobbit being one of the first real fantasy novels I read. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Star Wars was essentially a fantasy story and that there may be more connection between that and stuff like The Lord of the Rings than there is between Star Wars and things like Star Trek. Now it makes perfect sense for me as a fantasy writer to cite Star Wars as an influence.


Catching Up on Star Wars Rebels

One thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately is knitting, since I have a gift I need to get finished. And something I’ve found that makes good background noise for knitting is the Star Wars Rebels series that Disney has put on demand, going all the way back to the first season. I watched the pilot when they aired it on ABC and wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the “teen with attitude” main character, and I really hated the animation/character design.

But I kept hearing good things about it, and then apparently they worked in stuff from the movies (and vice versa), so since I needed something to watch one day, and since most of the episodes are about 22 minutes, so they fit into small chunks of time, I decided to give it another shot.

I’m still not crazy about the character design and animation. It’s weird that the scenes, the ships, and the droids are all beautifully rendered and gorgeous, but the characters themselves look like the kind of animation that was in video games about 25 years ago. The way the faces are rendered reminds me of the kind of book covers that showed up on small-press romance novels back in the 90s, when there was apparently some kind of software that generated pictures of people, except they looked weirdly (and creepily) lifeless, more like people wearing masks, and with cold, blank, dead eyes. This is why this is a good background noise show. I can’t just sit and watch it, but I can listen and look up occasionally.

The plots in early season one struck me as very Disney sitcom-like. It was sad how many of the stories involved the characters getting into trouble because they did something childish and stupid. I think they thought that since this was on the Disney XD channel, their target audience was tweens. Then somewhere along the way the writing really got a boost and it started to feel more like Star Wars and less like a tween sitcom in the Star Wars universe.

There are two other things that make this a good show to listen to: the music and the voice acting. They use the original John Williams themes and weave them together to make a good score that fits — when we see walkers, we hear the walker music from the Hoth battle; when someone uses the Force, we hear the Force theme, etc. They also have an excellent voice cast (that even includes at least one Oscar nominee among the regulars). I was really impressed by how right Darth Vader sounded, and then I looked it up, and they actually got James Earl Jones. When Lando shows up, they have Billy Dee Williams. It’s just a pity that they don’t back up this excellent voice cast with better character animation and design.

What I’m enjoying is getting a broader look at that universe from other perspectives. Plus, since I have four seasons to catch up on, it’s amazing to be able to have new Star Wars content every day. I remember waiting years for the next movie and having nothing new in between movies. Now, whenever I turn on the TV, I can have new-to-me Star Wars stuff. And I haven’t even started delving into Forces of Destiny. I tried one episode of Clone Wars and had the same cheap animation problem, with a side of wrong voices, but maybe I should check that out of the library and give it another shot.