Cool Space $#!% and Character

*Disclaimer: you are allowed to like movies I don’t like. I still respect you. One of my all-time favorite movies is Hudson Hawk, so I hope you can extend me the same courtesy.
The ninth core Star Wars movie is out, and it seems many people are unhappy. Arguments about weaponizing hyperdrives, reasonable means of acquiring of force powers, and what constitutes a Mary Sue rage on. Those of us that nerd out about these sorts of things are often trying to solve the problems with the films. For my part, I am dumbfounded that in this post-Lord-of-the-Rings, post-MCU, post-OG-Star-Wars-trilogy world, that people are making blockbuster trilogies without a plan. Disney invested over four billion dollars in acquiring Lucasfilm. What’s investing couple million in hiring a squadron of writers to properly plot out your new tentpole trilogy?
So there’s blood in the water and the armchair critics (and professionals too) are shredding the corpse of The Rise of Skywalker. I’m not above wriggling in there like a hagfish and tearing off a couple chunks. Because for all the plot holes and mistakes, and the decades of disappointment, most Star Wars fans and Star Wars critics seem to miss what’s actually been wrong with all the Star Wars films that aren’t numbered IV, V, or VI. There’s a simple thing that the OG trilogy had that none of the Star Wars films that followed had: likable main characters with consistent, believable motivations and nice clean arcs.
  • Han Solo – Selfish smuggler becomes a hero willing to lay down his life for his friends, and eventually the whole Rebel alliance by the third movie. Becomes worthy of a princess.
  • Leia – Snooty princess becomes a top-ranking military commander and falls in love with the scruffy nerf-herder she once thought beneath her.
  • Luke – Useless naive farmboy learns he has a great destiny of becoming a space wizard. Takes him all three movies to actually become a half-decent space wizard. Going to point out that he doesn’t actually use the force until the end of the first movie and isn’t it interesting how that made using the force seem special and difficult.
We know what each of them wants, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and why they change when they change. That’s what the OG trilogy did right that none of the films that followed have done.
All you need to make a good Star Wars movie that stands the test of time is cool space shit…AND solid characters with clean arcs.
What the heck have Rey, Poe, and Finn learned? How have they grown as people?
  • Rey – already been thoroughly ripped apart by the internet, sometimes unfairly. She starts naive and becomes less naive, slowly letting go of the dream of reuniting with her family, so that’s something. Space wizard wise she starts OP and ends more OP.
  • Poe – a rascal the flies spaceships who becomes…a rascal that flies spaceships.
  • Finn – grows more and changes more in the first 10 minutes of the Force Awakens than any other character, and then stays the same for the rest of three movies. Maybe I’m being unfair. I guess he learns to not run away twice. First lesson didn’t take. Also, who decided the ex-stormtrooper, raised from childhood to be a soldier, should be the most frivolous character? Dude should be like Grey Worm from GoT. How did he get through their neural screening systems for so long. Wasn’t he shouting ‘WOO’ during every training exercise? There should have been no ‘WOO’s until the third film.
It’s frustrating when major studios with billions of dollars behind them mess up our favorite franchises, but writing stories is hard. Storytellers make thousands of decisions and balance innumerable variables on multiple axes. Make one mistake too many and your universe will be unstable, but unlike a real universe, yours won’t collapse until it’s inside another person’s head, like a psychic land mine, and then it will be too late to save them from the discomfort of shards of fragmented plot grating against one another, and the shrill ‘WOO’s of child soldiers that forgot their traumatic pasts too easily.
I’ll leave you with a warning:
Hyperfocus on the cool space shit and neglect the characters at your peril.
(or don’t, it’s not like these movies aren’t still making billions of dollars despite their flaws, because we can’t stop going to see them.)
PS: Shouts out to Jon Favreau for the Mandalorian. It’s not perfect, some episodes have been a bit bumpy, but it’s got cool space shit and a likable main character whose motivations I clearly understand, so I’ve been having a great time.

Guardians Story Circle Cluster

In light of James Gunn’s firing, I rewatched Guardians of the Galaxy. This film has such good story structure: every section is a well wrought story circle that fits perfectly into the larger overall story circle. Guardians can be broken into four to six parts and consumed as sequential art, and each piece would be a satisfying on its own.

In light of that realization, I made a big graphic that shows the wheels within wheels of Guardians of the Galaxy’s superb structure. If you don’t know a lot about story structure, go here to learn the system my model is based on. Also, this graphic assumes you’ve seen the movie and remember the major plot points.

Guardians Story Circles2-01

Zoomable hi-rez version here.

I agree with Marc Bernardin’s take on Gunn’s firing. It will be a huge loss to fans of the series if we don’t at least get a James Gunn screenplay for Guardians Vol. 3.