Optimism is NOT Arrogance

Arrogance is the belief that you are BETTER than others. Optimism is the belief that you have the same CHANCE as others. We all have the chance to achieve our dreams. Don't ever let anyone tell you differently.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Core of Good Writing - And Why Star Wars The Force Awakens Missed Its Mark

Full Disclosure:  In 1977, as an intensely creative 10 year old, I sat in the front row of a small theater and saw the Star Wars scroll explode on the screen for the first time not long after it opened.  There had never been anything like it, and to date, very little has come close to matching it.

I don't geek out over it because I'm now 48 and no one wants to see a chubby Stormtrooper (or as Leia would say, "Aren't you a little dumpy for a stormtrooper?")

In many ways, Episode IV, A New Hope, is a near perfect story.  Good plot lines have conflicts.  Good characters are conflicted.  Great stories have both.

Not so with The Force Awakens, at least not matching the hype.

I have no issue with the antagonist.  Rey is a blend of confusion, conflict, strength, determination, and delusion.  She is a less whiny version of Luke Skywalker from Episode IV, but still prone to crying and fits of rage at her situation, which many of us can relate to.  The fact that she's a female is irrelevant, as it should be.  I related to her as much as I did Luke.

Too bad she wasn't as central to the story as Luke was.

The movie starts out with Po Dameron, who is an ace pilot and tough guy and that's about all we know about him.  No internal conflict.  No back story.  No reason to feel anything for him other than he delivers a couple of one liners well.  Useless character clearly meant to move things along.  The conflict in the plot exists with or without him, and he has no connection or interest in the hero, even after the movie ends.  (Don't get me started on the "what the hell is Max Von Sydow doing in there?")

Secondly, there is inner conflict in the main bad guy, Kyle Ren.  Which is a BAD idea.  Inner conflict in the antagonist is fine to some degree, but when it shapes the bad guy's motives and intentions, the audience loses interest in the hero winning against the bad guy.  If anything, towards the end of the movie, you find yourself rooting for Kyle Ren to die just so you won't have to hear him whine anymore.  Darth Vader never had an inner conflict in Episode IV.  He did in Episode VI, which, not coincidentally, is the worst of the original three.

Imagine if Hannibal Lechter began to question whether or not eating people was really such a good idea.  He wasn't even conflicted about his feelings for Agent Starling.  He was steadfast.  Bad guys are immovable, unshakeable, and Kyle Ren struggled so much with his daddy issues that I waited earnestly for him to fall into a fetal position and start sucking his thumb. 

Good antagonists have no inner conflict.  It weakens them.

Finally, this movie clearly was written with two additional movies in mind.  Bad idea.  Good series, either books or films, can stand alone without much knowledge of previous or latter series.  Episode IV was labeled as such because Lucas had an idea of what happened before and what would happen after, but wrote it and filmed it as if it were just going to be one movie.  There was only a hint that a sequel could be coming, but if it didn't, we were fine with the way things turned out.

You can't write a book or a film and tell the audience "Oh, don't worry, that'll make sense in the second book (or film)."  You may never get that chance. 

So while I will recommend the movie, if for no other reason than the hero Roy's journey, I would caution anyone going to it thinking it's a shoo-in for best picture.  It's not.  And for you writers, there's a lot of lessons in there on how to write great plot lines, characters, and conflicts.  Watch Episode IV as if you've never seen or heard of Star Wars.  Then watch Episode VII the same way, and you'll see the difference.

Take that with you, and WRITE ON!

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