What Writers Can Learn From Star Wars’ Mistakes

Originally Published on WordPress March 5, 2020

I just got done responding to another person who felt Rise of Skywalker was lacking because it pandered to fans too much. So, it seems a good time to step back and take a look at the general errors that have so much of the fan base annoyed. Not surprisingly, many of the errors are the same as ones I discussed in an old post on mistakes comic book writers are making. It could also be said to apply to Star Trek, as it’s writers have made nearly identical mistakes with “Discovery”.

Change With No Real Logic Behind It.

Even with canon or lore that may only be one book old, if you’re doing to turn it upside down, there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Most readers want to see a logical progression of events and character development. The longer standing the canon, the more this is going to be true. Two examples from the Disney Star Wars movies are the change to the nature of the Force in the prequels, and the character assassinations of Han and Luke in the sequels.

In the case of there now being no light or dark side to the Force, Disney just decided to push Hollywood moral relativism on people with no real logic to it in the film. There was no great “enlightenment”, nor did the Force turn out to be sentient and simply shift it’s own ideals. We’re simply left with Yoda going from spending 2/3 of Empire Strikes Back lecturing Luke about the perils and pitfalls of the dark side, to his ghost talking to Luke about how idiotic the Jedi principles were. You know, the same principles that per lore defended and guided the Republic for a thousand years… Yeah, let’s just flush that.

Character Assassinations of Existing Characters:

Character assassination of existing characters is getting to be a widespread problem as newer writers take over franchises and want to spread some sort of message or just make their own mark. Captain America was turned into a Nazi to justify giving his role, title and shield to the Falcon. Thor lost his role and Hammer to Jane Foster, Tony Stark was replaced by a black teenage girl. In Disney’s Star Wars, Luke went from ultimate idealist who willingly risked all to redeem his father, to somebody who would kill his twin sister’s son with barely a second thought. Again, with no natural progression to sell it to fans. Han basically went from rogue with a good heart in the original canon to a complete bum in the newer movies. He had a great backstory as an Imperial officer who threw it all away and became an outlaw to rescue a freighter full of slaves, including Chewbacca. He volunteers to lead the ground team in Return of the Jedi, risking himself to help others and a greater cause, then Disney comes along and he abandons his family, friends and the new Republic.

Mark Hamill read the script to The Last Jedi and said “I fundamentally disagree with everything you’ve done to this character BUT it’s my job as an actor to bring your vision to life”. Ironic that he can’t get roles beyond voice work due to a facial scar while primadonna actors fight with producers and directors every day.

The Mary Sue:

This ALWAYS seems to follow the trashing of old characters nowadays. Insecure writers seem to feel it’s necessary to build up their own characters. Dislike for Rey is one of the biggest gripes I hear from irate fans.

Well, she uses the force and a lightsaber with no training, and manages to beat Kylo Ren in a dual the first time she really holds a lightsaber. Luke and Anakin were Marty Stu for sure, but even they required training. Luke couldn’t defeat the Emperor, neither could Yoda. Rey can do it even after he drains the Force from her. 90% of fans don’t care that she’s a woman, or what her sexuality might be. They care that she’s poorly written and developed. Daisy Ridley’s acting is the only thing that saves the character.

Again, follow a logical progression of character and power level development. If there’s a sudden growth in power, have the character struggle to learn the control and self discipline that’s needed to harness the power.

Poorly Defined New Characters:

A cardinal sin among comic book authors. Never throw in a new character just because you need another woman, or a Muslim, you have a flashy new general concept, or whatever. Inclusiveness is great, BUT have some depth to the character beyond that label. Think about why they’re in the story, What role will they play in the conclusion? What connection do they have with the heroes and/or villains? What unique role do they fill on a team? What makes them unique personality wise and what other characters would that lead them to bonding with instead of others?

Weak characters make for a poor story. The audience won’t feel any real connection to them. Rose from Last Jedi is a good example here. She seemed to serve no real role other than as a tag along for Finn while planetside. Would anything have changed if she was never in the movie? Not much. She needed to be better developed.

Poorly Thought Out Plot Ideas and Twists:

Rise of Skywalker excelled here. Most of it due to not thinking out the hows of trying to make the movie appeal to the core fan base. Net result: Things feel fake and contrived. The Emperor is back! How? WHY did he hide his presence at all, esp after Luke’s reborn Jedi Order collapsed? Why the obsession with super weapons beyond creating terror? We know it’s the writers being fixated on MacGuffins but put some logic behind it at least. Even going back to the original trilogy, the whole Luke and Leia and Vader all being related felt pretty contrived until the prequels put things into a better historical perspective.

Attack Your Critical Fans:

All over the blogisphere, there’s advice about taking criticism graciously. Apparently this goes out the window when you’re a “famous” Hollywood writer or director. THEN when your fans object based on the items above, you can turn around and call them ignorant, narrow minded, bigoted, homophobic, etc… Both the Star Wars and Star Trek Discovery development teams made this mistake, and made the criticism they took 50 times worse than it had been. And of course having viewership fall off because of it.

Reality is you have to pick your battles on this kind of thing. You can’t spend all your time explaining your thinking to fans. You’ll also never make everyone happy no matter what you do. If you’re trying to turn a profit from your work though, the worst thing you can do is insult your customer and tell them to piss off.

Pushing Social Issues TOO Hard:

I’ll probably get some pushback on this idea. There’s a popular school of thought that fiction has to have some underlying social message to it. Pure entertainment is somehow a waste. I disagree there, to an extent.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to push the social issues thing also. Most folks today only understand yelling and bludgeoning. Try a gentler sell with social themes. Let’s say we go back to introducing a lesbian character for example because you want to promote acceptance. You can pummel people over the head with her gender identity and make it the center piece of her character, OR you can create a character who is three dimensional, has real life struggles like everyone else, and also happens to be a lesbian.

Or let’s take something completely different. Say you want to spread religious ideas. You can either hammer people with a “you’re all going to hell” approach, or you can sell the upside of how it’s benefited you in your life.

If your story reads like a twitter flame war… Well, readers have Twitter for that already, right?

Want to know why almost everybody likes “Rogue One”? It didn’t do any of the things above. Good story, all the characters were well defined, as were their roles, no Mary Sues, etc… OK, it had the obligatory MacGuffin, but it still did everything right otherwise.

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