I’ve seen the movie — *checks calendar* — 473 times in the theater.
FINE JEEZ NOT REALLY.
But I have seen it three times, and for a person with alarmingly little time, that’s saying something. The Force Awakens has been a big deal around this house, obviously. For one, it ties into a little self-published novel I wrote called SPACE JARS: AFTERPANTS. But more than that, this is the first theatrical release my wife has seen in almost five years. And it was the first theater-going experience for our son, B-Dub. My wife never really had a Star Wars of her own — but now she does. She’s seen it twice and wants to see it again. She has, to my knowledge, never seen a film more than once in the theater.
Like I said: big deal around this house.
(Sidenote, this is why I think you have the effect of some folks being extra-resistant to negativity around the movie, particularly that snarkier brand of criticism. It’s because this isn’t just a movie. In some ways, it’s not a movie at all. It’s a puppy. The fanbase hasn’t had a puppy in a while and now we have one and it’s cute and enthusiastic and lots of fun even though it has its proper puppy flaws, but when a stranger comes and calls your new puppy ugly or rambunctious or gassy or whatever, some folks take that less as criticism and more of an insult. Perhaps not fairly, but emotions are rarely fair, I’m afraid. Star Wars is entangled with a great deal more than just movie culture. It ties into larger pop culture, true, but it also is braided in with friends and family and childhood and — well, that’s a complicated knot is all I’m saying.)
But I wanted to take a look at the film for some of the storytelling lessons it offers — in this case, not negative lessons (of which you could find some, I’m sure), but rather, positive takeaways that might wet your mind whistle when it comes to thinking about your story or other stories or, I dunno, delicious enchiladas.
ARE YOU READY, CLASS?
*hands out lightsabers*
LET US BEGIN.
(oh, some light spoilers found below.)
Worldbuilding Can Be About What You Don’t Show
Epic fantasy novels are wont, sometimes, to put all their worldbuilding on display. That’s why some of them are big enough to snap a horse’s neck — I’ve literally read a few that demonstrated roughly 40% story, 60% worldbuilding. Not much actually happens, but we sure do learn a lot about royal crests and dishware and the sacred toe-washing techniques of faraway lands. Some of these books are soggy with details — and that’s a thing people want to read, sometimes. So, it’s cool. It’s not my bag! But if you like it, then go forth and enjoy.
Just the same, one of the things I really adored about the original SW films 30 years ago was that they took a shrugworthy FUCK YOU attitude when it came to providing details. What were the Clone Wars? What the shit is a Bothan? Where did the Empire come from and why do they have such a space-boner for planet-destroying super-weapons? (Answer to that last one: the same boner most Earth countries have for reiterative superweapons, I’d guess. “What’s next, Admiral Bob?” “BIGGER SHIPS BIGGER BOMBS BIGGER BLOW-EM-UPS.”)
The prequels had less interest in that level of mystery. In fact, they worked very hard to answer the mysteries. Which is not a bad thing, it’s just worldbuilding in the other direction — heavier on the “soaking up the details” part of the equation.
The Force Awakens goes back to the storytelling roots of the films 30 years ago, and it just puts shit out there. Why is there a Resistance? Where did the First Order come from? What is that pig thing? (Answer: a happabore.) WHY DOESN’T SNAP WEXLEY HAVE A BODYGUARD MURDER-DROID NAMED MISTER BONES AS HIS ASTROMECH? Okay, fine, that last question is probably mine alone, but whatever. I’m still asking it and I expect our next President to address it.
In fact, let’s take one particular mystery — THE OLD DUDE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MOVIE. The movie opens and there is Max von Sydow in a dirt hut with Poe “So Pretty” Dameron, and he isn’t named, we don’t know who he is, and despite being a seemingly vital character, he is immediately executed (er, spoiler!) by Kylo Ben. If you watch the credits or read supplemental material, you’ll learn his name: Lor San Tekka. Supplemental material also provides some other information, none of it properly vital. And you might think that’s a huge gap. Some do, even still, think it’s an issue that the film didn’t explain much. But for me, the movie is an exercise in providing the very bare minimum to get you to the next scene. We don’t need to know who this guy is — in fact, he becomes quite tantalizing a figure given how his language indicates that this very moment is the culmination of his character arc. He hands over the Map to Skywalker and says, “This will begin to make things right.” Whoa, what? What went wrong? Why does he have the map? Why has he been keeping the map secret? What the hell? And then, VZZRAOWKSZZH the guy is torn down like a pair of ugly curtains.
And that’s all you get.
Sometimes, worldbuilding is better in the mind of the audience. It gains strength there. It multiplies like an image in a house of mirrors. Mysteries compel us. Unanswered questions draw us forward. Now, they become frustrating when the lack of answers stop us from comprehending the story, but that’s not what happens here. We know just enough to move forward.
This isn’t a solution for every story, but it’s an interesting test — if you strip out a bunch of the worldbuilding, does your story still work? It’s vital, I think, that it does.
Orchestrating Key Moments Is, Well, Key
Every story has flaws. Flaws are not by themselves bad things — the bugs only become bad when they remove us from the story, and they remove us from the story when they outnumber or outweigh the features. One of the features of The Force Awakens are moments that are almost perfectly designed to be moments you talk about later. Moments you remember. Moments you anticipate on a rewatch. The best stories have these scenes and beats — Die Hard is practically a conveyor belt of those holy shit moments. TFA has several. I won’t name them here because honestly, not sure I have to. (I bet you’ve already thought of at least one.)
It’s interesting when you hear the filmmakers talk about this movie, because you learn that they began with a question: how do we want the audience to feel? Not “how will this make them feel?” But rather, how do we engineer a narrative to stir certain feelings? Feelings of nostalgia and sadness and triumph — the mythic resonance of the old films remixed in a new way?
It’s not just about drawing a map to Skywalker. It’s about drawing a map toward certain emotions. One of the ways that the filmmakers do that, I think, is by plotting these big moments. Not just moments that are exciting (though they are likely that), but moments that are big in terms of the characters — big in terms of their emotional impact on the audience. It’s worth considering how you can do this for your own work. What do you want the audience to feel? What moments will get them to these feelings? How do you draw the map to that?
Characters Who Like Each Other? A Pop Culture Miracle!
Listen, I know we all want Poe and Finn to steam up the windows of an X-Wing with their sloppy tongue-hockey skills — but for my mileage, what’s greatest about all three protagonists is how much they seem to like each other as characters. They meet and near-instantly have a rapport. They may fight or argue, but it feels like a fight between people who intrinsically belong together. They are enthused to be together. It’s not bitter or a struggle to watch them interact — the conflict comes from the larger narrative, not from characters wanting to always choke each other. They have the delight of dogs meeting other dogs. They may be guarded for a moment but then it’s like, WOO I LIKE YOU AND YOU LIKE ME AND LET’S GO HAVE SOME MOTHERFUCKING ADVENTURES. The audience sees this and they feel like a part of it. Like we’re all part of some D&D adventuring group meeting up in a tavern for the first time.
This isn’t appropriate for all story modes, obviously. But for this kind of thing? It’s a great way to smash characters together and then propel them forward on the nosecone of a narrative rocket.
Fuck Yeah, Subtext
There exists a kind of meta-narrative component to The Force Awakens. Sure, the movie is totally about STARS and WARS and AWAKENING FORCE and all that good stuff, but it’s interesting, too, that the characters inhabit a world filled with the junk of the world we left behind 30 years ago as an audience — Rey lives inside a destroyed AT-AT on a planet of debris. She flies an even junkier version of the Falcon through the bowels of a super star destroyer (which, cough cough, is the Ravager from Aftermath). Kylo Ren is a literal fanboy for the Dark Side. He’s got like, a foam finger waving about (DARTH VADER #1! WOO!) and he’s clearly adopted the Dark Side’s fashion sense, too.
Max Gladstone (who wrote a fantastic piece about TFA through the lens of Star Wars roleplaying) pointed out to me that the line of Kylo Ren’s — “It’s just us, now” — is as much about the characters on-screen as it is about the audience. It’s about generational shifts — I’m a parent now, giving over the trilogy to my son. Just as Lucas has given the trilogy over to Abrams and Disney. The film itself has its own tangled messages about parentage, about the effect a parent can have on a child. It’s a coded message to the audience that this is a passing of the story torch, man. This is an old story with new characters. Not a reboot, but also not exactly a sequel. And then you can factor in various culture-leaning feelings — if Kylo Ren is a fanboy for the Dark Side and for Vader, his petulant, pathetic rage-pleas to Rey (“YOU NEED A TEACHER…”) sound a whole lot like he’s calling her a Fake Geek Girl (“…FOR MAGIC: THE GATHERING.”). And you could lean even further that Kylo Ren starts to vibe a whole lot like fans inside pop culture who feel betrayed by the changes of their fandom (“it’s about ethics in Dark Side fashion, that’s all, and also the SJJ Social Justice Jedi are taking over the galaxy and winning all the awards even though they’re a marginal order because really Vader was much more popular…”).
Don’t be afraid to play with subtext. Know your audience and to learn to speak to them not just with what’s overt, but also with themes and ideas buried beneath a layer or two of the story.
Extra Fuck Yeah, Inclusion
I am a white guy talking about diversity, so that should already make you narrow your eyes a little bit, probably — but I think it’s vital to realize that your audience is potentially far more than just, well, people who look like me. Cultural appropriation is its own sticky subject, and as authors, it’s a damn fine idea to make sure we’re not stealing someone else’s story or experience for our own. But, a film like TFA doesn’t have to worry as much about that — it’s a book about SPACE GUNS and GALACTIC WIZARDS and isn’t really in danger of appropriating any kind of actual human culture, which means it has full license to include all kinds of people in its ranks. That has huge meaning. The new film has a much bigger female audience than other films of its genre, and its two other leads are people of color. It’s worth considering as a storyteller if your characters are monochromatic and exclusive rather than inclusive of the audience you have — or an audience you could have if you decided to actually talk to them once in a while.
(Bonus, you know who my son sometimes pretends to be? Rey. And other times? Finn. He doesn’t see why they can’t be heroes or why he can’t look up to them and try to inhabit them — it’s a big change from a pop culture world that usually asks that little girls and children of color pretend to inhabit the stories and arcs of white male heroes.)
And just in case you hear that refrain that inclusion can’t sell — please remember three non-white-male protagonists have led the biggest box office film ever. That’s no small feat, and easily disproves the lie that films with women or people of color are somehow marginal.
45 responses to “Five Storytelling Lessons From The Force Awakens”
Wait: so when Beloved Hero meets Fallen Son on the Bridge of Destiny overlooking the Mists of Forever and Epicness Happens, it’s all on purpose? Whoa…I need to watch that again. 😉
And now I’m going to TV Tropes…thanks…not 😛
I know by now people on the good ol’ internet like to roll their eyes at talk of inclusion, but fuck them. Because it really does matter. When I went to see the film on an early Thursday screening, I saw a little girl and her father dressed up for it. The first time I noticed her outfit, it was just a quick glance in the dark, crowded theater. I thought she was dressed as Luke because of the white wrap top and the thick belt holding her lightsaber. When the lights came on at the end of the movie and I saw her again, I realized she was actually dressed up as Rey.
I know the last generation of young girls had Leia, and Leia is a total badass and deserves all her fans. But Luke was always the hero and it was always his story, for the most part. As soon as The Force Awakens finished, I realized there was a whole generation of little girls who would have Rey as their childhood heroine and nothing could be more incredible to me.
I was really glad to see successful minority leads. So often I hear minorities don’t sell…the black man or the woman. My book that I plan to pitch at Sleuth fest has a biracial, transsexual as one of two protagonists. She bad ass and brassy, but absolutely lovable. I’m going into this hoping I can convince an agent that her time has come.
The only addendum I would add to the fact that this movie sold so well with three non-white male leads is that it had the benefit of what came before. I fully believe that books, movies, etc. with women or people of color as the lead can, and should, sell well if they’re done well. This movie, however, might not be the best example. It was a new Star Wars movie. People would’ve bitched and moaned about something, but it was still destined to break records all over the place.
“ORCHESTRATING KEY MOMENTS IS, WELL, KEY”
This is probably J.J. Abrahms’s strongest skill as a filmmaker. Many of his movies have a plot that’s tied together with fishing line and chewing gum, but they move with such electricity and hit those moments which strength and confidence. So you don’t really notice while you’re watching that, say, giving the alien monster a happy-ending doesn’t quite jibe with the fact that for most of the movie it was grabbing and eating people, or that it’s quite a coincidence for Young Kirk and Old Spock to be within a kilometer of each other on an entire planet. Because the moments themselves works so well.
“ORCHESTRATING KEY MOMENTS IS, WELL, KEY”
Yes. True! However, the most key moment of the entire film didn’t land emotionally. It was almost just a blip, and “and then this happens”. The parts weren’t all in place, and even though the dialogue and the actual moment was well delivered, the whole story it didn’t converge there correctly. We didn’t feel it the way we felt the very similar moment that occurs in Episode IV. There were other moments that also didn’t land, that should have been huge (were huge in the trailer but were all but imperceptible in the feature). Something’s off here.
“However, the most key moment of the entire film didn’t land emotionally.”
“It was almost just a blip, and “and then this happens”.”
I completely disagree.
“whole story it didn’t converge there correctly.”
Again, disagree. Even so, part of this feeling probably comes from the fact that we haven’t been told the “whole story” yet. TFA, moreso than any other Star Wars film save, perhaps, Empire, isn’t meant to be a self-contained narrative.
“We didn’t feel it the way we felt the very similar moment that occurs in Episode IV.”
I can only assume you’re using the Royal “we” here, because I’m not included in your “we”. Most of my friends wouldn’t be included in your “we”. You may have these problems with the movie, but those issues are *yours*, not *ours*.
“There were other moments that also didn’t land, that should have been huge (were huge in the trailer but were all but imperceptible in the feature).”
“Something’s off here.”
For you. The story may not resonate with you, but that doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t bajillionillions of people for whom it *does* resonate. I count myself among them.
The emotional beats you deride here landed pretty hard for me, and the story coalesced just enough to keep me salivating for more.
I agree, the story is not wrong or bad. In fact, I mostly loved the movie. I even thought that scene was well-delivered, as I said, but I wished the storyline had flowed more naturally to that point. Perhaps you are right that we haven’t heard the whole story yet and that’s why it’s not connecting for me. Perhaps. But somehow this incredible moment just didn’t hit the way I feel it deserved to. Terribly sorry about how much the “we” offended you in that one sentence. For me, those moments were so alike and yet landed so very differently. And of course we are all entitled to our own opinions.
I’m right there with you, Luke. Emotions. Salivating. All of that.
I’ve only been fortunate enough to see it twice but #3 is in the works and it’s possible that I’m more excited than I was on opening day.
Interesting that you think so. For me, that “most key moment of the entire film” was absolutely perfect. I don’t think it could have been written more perfectly. It was the catalyst to move one character forward and a satisfying culmination to the character arc for the other. I can’t say much else without spoiling for others, but in my opinion, the latter character evolved leaps and bounds in the space of this one movie, much more so that he did in all three of the original trilogy. In the seconds leading up to that moment, I knew what was going to happen, and while it was crushing, it also felt right. I might – MIGHT – have cried actual tears. It was, I’m sure, a controversial thing to do, killing off that particular character, and I’m glad they didn’t back down from it. I’m sorry the movie fell short for you, but for many, many of the rest of us, it was everything we’ve been waiting for so many years.
With regards to Lor San Tekka, where the movie stumbled is it left a lot of people with the impression that they were maybe *supposed* to know who he was, and that they’d missed something. I had a lot of people ask me, afterwards, if he was someone we already knew. (I figured I was certain we hadn’t seen Max Von Sydow before, so either he was a new character or a re-cast character, and if the latter, the movie hadn’t bothered to signal it.)
With regard to “why is there a Resistance?” that one actually bothered me a lot. My impression going into the movie was that there was open warfare between the Republic and the First Order, and the fact that our heroes were “the Resistance” and not, y’know, “the army” contradicted that. It made for some confusing whiplash that threw me out a bit right in the middle of the movie.
In general, I *love* worldbuilding-via-offhand-reference. Lovelovelove it. But I think the movie stumbled on the two particular cases above.
A third case, IMO: Snoke. I hated Snoke. HATE HATE HATE HATED SNOKE. Not visually, he was actually a pretty awesome thing to look at, whether he’s being scaled up by the hologram or no. But the complete “Giant Space Flea From Nowhere” essence of his character was jarring and, I think, unnecessary. I don’t think A New Hope even referenced the Emperor (fun fact: he’s in the novelization, but only mentioned as a senile old figurehead the Moffs are using), and he isn’t named in any dialogue until the prequels came out. He’s just the Emperor, and that’s enough.
If they’d skipped Snoke’s stupid name and just referred to him as Supreme Ruler I think I would have been fine with it, weirdly enough. Giving him a name just forced me to think of him as a character that needed to have a history established beyond his job title by the end of the movie, and I got grumpy when there was nothing.
(He is referenced in A New Hope. When Tarkin announces the Senate has been dissolved.)
Maybe Snoke is just a stand-in for the truly evil Sith Lord Jar Jar Binks…
https://www.reddit.com/comments/3qvj6w (article about the theory that Jar Jar was something different…maybe you all have seen it…)
This is true for a lot of people. On the one hand, it’s nice the movie trusts you to pick up on things. Is it important to know how the Resistance started? No, all you need to know is there is a resistance. However, knowing WHY there is a reisstance is a different reason all together, and that isn’t in the movie at all.
Reading Aftermath gives some hints, but even that doesn’t answer. It’s one of the points I wish the movie had taken 2 lines in the opening crawl to reveal, because it makes the movie even more enjoyable.
I mean, the movie gave us three big puzzle pieces – the Republic, the Resistance, and the First Order, and do a great job of explaining how they fit together. They just needed to drop “the Republic is nominally at peace with the First Order” on us somewhere.
Hahahahahaha. Biggest takeaway from this article the words “alarmingly little time” which make me want to say: “oh I get you, brother!” I probably get it times ten because I am a multi-tasker and an over-achiever. Which means I over achieve even at multi-tasking.
So anyway. I really think you are bang on about that stuff about details. And II wanted to run this by everyone who is nodding their heads and saying “Yeah!” About how writers sometimes add too much details. I was in my critique group once and I was talking about this same thing in regards to someone’s work and I ask: “but why is this detail here?” And I got an answer like: “because” *shrug*. And I said that IMO everything serves a purpose in a story, everything has to has to be there for a reason. And someone else piped up that that was only true for short stories and not novels. Which makes no sense to me.
I mean there is a reason why don’t we see people pee in books. But they must pee at some point while we are with them. I mean these books unfold over the course of days it must happen. It is a DETAIL but we don’t put it in because there is no reason to, unless it serves a purpose like the main character is pregnant ergo she always has to pee, ergo it is character development.
So my argument is that the whole thing about only short stories need to make every sentence “count” for something and novels can ramble about irrelevant stuff is bunk.
Anyone have any thoughts on that?
Your comments are on target. It is quite simple. Anything in a novel, short story, or otherwise that doesn’t pertain to the theme or move the story forward is extraneous. Fiction writing is a craft. It is not mindlessly transcribing random observations, infusing the pages with “details” just to seem “authentic.”
We all know the romantic fairy tale about some inspired writer who just pounded out a masterpiece in a fit of madness.
Heh. Real stories are hard work.
It happens through that bane of editing.
Storytelling lessons learned from The Force Awakens: take a story out of the same franchise from the ’70s, change surface details like names, skin color, gender and technology design, market heavily towards wide-eyed children who will lap up anything and nostalgic patents who just want their kids to feel the magic they did, profit wildly.
Sorry, Chuck, but you and yours are the demographic Disney set out to fool. And they fooled you hard. Now you’re sitting on the internet trying to not feel fooled with phrases like “passing the torch” and “world building is better in the minds of the audience.” You’re even looking for subtext that isn’t there. You’re legitimizing a lazy, sloppy movie to hang onto the Star Wars magic.
Search your feelings; you know it to be true.—-> And that’s the sort of breath-stopping stuff I fear I’ll never get again, not without it being an empty rehash.
This criticism seems a bit harsh – the movie is really good. It is the best-selling movie of all time, in record time, and Disney and Abrams have added to a delicate franchise extremely well. I am a Star Wars fan, and I loved TFA. My wife was not a Star Wars fan, and she loved TFA (enough to finally go back and watch the original trilogy). My nerd-snob 8-year-old loved TFA. My heartthrob-romance loving teenage girl loved TFA. My mindless-action-movie loving coworker loved TFA. It was just well done – and as an author, there is no better storytelling formula to follow than one so successful as this, so this post here is solid advice.
It’s like Leonardo DiCaprio movies – everyone sees them, most people like them, but for some reason some bougie Academy dudes want to give awards to The Piano instead. Masterful storytelling, I am sure, but we’ll never know cus it was hella boring and we didn’t actually watch it. Which movie would you rather make?
I think credit should be given where it is due – Disney and Abrams and Lucas combined have made a helluvalot of money telling a story that – for better and worse – spans generations. As an aspiring storyteller, there is really no better end-state. Hence, we take lessons from the successful; it is a mistake to dismiss outright the success of TFA as “lazy, sloppy” storytelling and miss out on the valuable learning points.
All this being said, you did make one good point: Chuck definitely could have included “Epic Marketing” in his lessons learned – boy did they hit the mark with the expectations and crossing the entire spectrum of consumers for maximum eyeballs. How the hell do we as writers get that kind of presale game?!?!?!
Anyway, the earnings and presale numbers of Ep VIII will let you know how much was just marketing/”foolery” and how much was legit moviemaking. Remember, they weren’t just trying to get you to buy into one movie, they have 2 more they want you to come back for. You can’t get that to happen with a “lazy” first-run (look at TPM! or the Hobbit!)
Please don’t be rude. Suggesting that you think they fooled me suggests too that you think I’m an idiot. Otherwise, you might have to admit I actually saw what they did and liked it very much.
I think calling the movie lazy and sloppy is insulting to everyone who worked on it. Not only J.J. Abrams, the Disney team, and the stars of the movie, but also the supporting actors, the crew, the studios, the post-production teams, etc., etc. If you watch a few Abrams interviews, you will see that he considers himself a big Star Wars fan, and there are so many indications of that in the movie. He brought Ewan McGregor in to record a line for the movie and even managed to work in a sound byte from Sir Alec Guinness. Nobody would go to that sort of trouble if they were being lazy or sloppy.
In regards to the sort of breath-stopping stuff from the original movies, I found one line from Kylo Ren to be quite tingly and portentous: “I will finish what you started.” He is an adorable, emo little brat, but that moment was orchestrated nicely and it was a nice tie-in to the originals. A bit o’ torch-passing, methinks.
Also, considering the Penmonkey has written a novel in the Star Wars franchise, he may actually be privy to more details than the average person. So if this is all just a big “fooled ya!” then I think he would probably already know about it.
Huh? That’s coming on a bit strong, isn’t it? If you didn’t like the movie, that’s fine. But I think your slagging the intelligence of the people watching it, and calling them “fooled,” is uncalled for. “Search your feelings; you know it to be true,” is more than a little condescending. I enjoyed the movie myself; as far as I’m concerned, it’s not the best SF movie of the year (that honor goes to Fury Road). But for you to blithely dismiss the people who genuinely like it, and don’t feel “fooled,” is not cool.
When you build the worlds WELL without showing it, like this franchise does, nobody does care. You are so right about it. I was in my teens on my first ‘car date’ in the 70s, and am in my 50s now and saw TFA with my son. Never have I questioned the backstory (or front-story, as the case may be). Great read! Thanks~
On the idea of characters who like each other, I am (struggling/)writing a novel where I have a good group of characters who all “enthused to be together” and are trying to accomplish the same goal since they’re all going to benefit from it. They’re old characters, have been around since 2011. I took a break to write other novels, but I’m coming back to these guys.
I’m on chapter one and I’ve lost their voices completely. I have no idea how to continue, and that line “they have the delight of dogs meeting other dogs,” has haunted and troubled me. Any advice? 🙂
And excellent post as always. The worldbuilding section of the post has helped me (re)build the world they’re in.
I’d say make sure they have things to do as individuals and not just as a group?
I had to reread that line three times before it hit me. It hit me deeper this fourth time. Thank you. 🙂
And I think part of the problem is that some circumstances aren’t the same and that my writing style has matured a bit. I’m working with old, somewhat outdated characters in new situations with no idea how they would handle certain things, because it’s been a while since we’ve last talked. Wish me luck.
[…] morning I came across a brilliant post by Chuck Wendig, Five Storytelling Lessons From The Force Awakens (inclusion, subtext, world building can be what you don’t show, orchestrating key moments, […]
Great post, except it’s totally incorrect to say that Star Wars doesn’t have to worry about appropriating any kind of human culture.
The word Jedi comes from the Japanese jidai-geki. The fighting styles and code of honor come from samurai. The clothing resembles Japanese kimono. The names of many people and planets are Japanese or derived from Japanese. Lucas has even stated how much he was influenced by Kurosawa’s films and how Obi-wan was originally going to be played by an Asian actor (who declined the role because he thought the films would be disrespectful to Japanese culture).
This article goes more in depth: http://www.lardbiscuit.com/jidaigeki/intro5.html.
I have seen how they took a lot of the fashion (Padme’s in particular) in the prequels from other cultures, so that’s a very good point — the Jedi from jidai-geki is a bit more strained and never confirmed. That’s one of those ones that gets repeated a lot but isn’t really iron-clad.
In terms of what I’m talking about, I simply mean that a POC hero or a woman hero in a SFF universe isn’t robbing pre-existing culture or automatically diminishing the chance for someone else to tell a story that belongs to them more than it belongs to you, etc.
Thanks for your reply; I appreciate you addressing the issue. I’m still a bit unclear as to exactly what you’re saying in the second paragraph, but I know you don’t have bad intentions. I’m just exhausted from shows/movies that borrow elements from Asian cultures and then barely cast any Asian characters in said shows/movies. (Star Wars, Firefly, etc.)
To be honest, I am all for a female protagonist, I really am. I might have actually enjoyed the sudden S-tier protagonist twist they gave Rey had I actually cared for her. Fact is, I just didn’t. She didn’t move me in any way. I just didn’t even know what her character was. She was a scavenger… an abandoned, independent scavenger… That’s about it.
The reason why Finn outshines her, imo, is because we can see ourselves in him in the sense that at some point in our lives we have been afraid of something. Finn was a coward but he found enough strength and courage in someone he cared for. But Rey? She was just in complete composure throughout the whole movie, only being fazed by some random flashbacks that really made no sense to me. Sure, you can file it under the “less is more” argument, but it still didn’t move me in any way because I don’t know how those flashbacks relate to her getting to who she was. I feel that this movie didn’t even let me know what I was going to see in the second movie or what the loose threads were.
For example, the Fellowship of the Rings had some very obvious loose threads, but the movie made sure to tell you what those loose threads were. Frodo and Sam escape, Boromir is attacked, Pippin and Merry are taken and the gang is without any assistance from Gandalf. Pretty big open endings, but you know what you’re expecting for these characters.
I don’t know what I want for Rey because I don’t even know who she is… She ends up finding Luke, and that was an awesome moment, but what exactly am I waiting for? Overall, I liked the movie, but I feel compelled to disagree on all this praise for her character since she was pretty bland. No disrespect to the actress, just talking about her character.
Rey was afraid as well. (Spoilers!!! for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie.) She was afraid her family would never return, and she was afraid to leave Jakku because her family might return while she was gone. (We don’t know her story, and I don’t think it’s relevant at this point. A ton of her backstory wouldn’t do anything but bog down the plot line.) She also seems to be afraid of the Force in general at first (maybe because of past events in her life?). She had to overcome those fears to move forward as a character. That whole “Force Awakens” thing in the title? It was referring to her. She can’t accept her destiny (a concept we were introduced to in the original trilogy) until she overcomes the fears holding her back. She does, and so we see her approaching Luke Skywalker at the closing moments of the movie. She appears hopeful, and perhaps a bit apprehensive, leaving the proverbial ball in Luke’s court.
Also, despite how badly she has been treated in her life, she has a strong sense of right and wrong and a strong sense of loyalty. She’s a bit prickly about the people touching her thing, but she has a big heart. She defends BB-8 from the scavenger, she helps Finn, she decides that getting BB-8 back to his master and the Resistance base is more important than getting right back to Jakku, and she doesn’t understand when Finn decides to run away. She’s competent, more so than Finn in the beginning, and he was a trained stormtrooper. She can shoot, she can fly, she can fight, she rescues herself instead of waiting for someone else to do it, and she makes hard decisions. But she isn’t obnoxious about it. She’s just a scavenger, no one special…except that she is. Even people who think they are insignificant can make a difference. I find so much to love about Rey, and Finn, and Poe, and Leia, and in his own way, even Kylo Ren. I think in the next movie, we’ll see Rey making more hard decisions about her life and the Force, we’ll see Luke making some equally difficult decisions, we’ll see the First Order’s response to the destruction of Starkiller Base, we’ll see the Resistance’s next move against the First Move, we’ll see Kylo Ren continue his training, and maybe learn more about Supreme Leader Snoke. (Is he really that big or is it just a trick of the holoprojector?)
All those feats are great and all, but they really don’t add much to her character. Other than the fact that she’s a flawless badass, there’s really not much else. All of the things you said, about caring about Finn and BB-8, we see no clear motivation for her to be doing all that. Like, she does it all, but that’s it. I’m not asking for a ton of backstory, just a clear motivation. Finn doesn’t get that much backstory besides him being a rebel storm trooper. We see him rebelling against the cause when he realized all of the needless killing and that gave him a jump start going against the First Order.
I dunno. She just felt off. She kind of just jumped from one thing to the other, letting the plot move her along. When she confronts Finn about leaving, she doesn’t bring any reason to keep doing the mission other than “we have to”, considering the fact she realized a few minutes earlier that Finn was lying about him being a resisty. She never brings it up, she doesn’t seem hurt or amused by it… She just tries to convince Finn by doing “the right thing”.
I’d concede to your point of her not thinking herself special, except that throughout the whole movie she’s perfect at everything she does. Again, I would have immensely enjoyed her shift to main protagonist had she had flaws and was only a decent pilot/scavenger, because then there’d be tension about her having to learn new skills in order to defeat Kylo Ren (which she did, incidentally). Instead, we see she literally needs no help for anything. She defeats Kylo with relative ease, she uses the force almost casually, she can mind-control… I just can’t feel excitement or tension if she’s already capable of doing it all, you know?
Also, you might interpret apprehension in Rey, but all I remembered were blank expressions as she talked to forward the plot. I dunno… I really hope the second movie is able to fix this and give Rey a genuine struggle.
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Thank you! This is awesome and exactly what I felt after seeing the movie–though you put it better than I could have. I’ve lectured a few folks who trot out the “seen A New Hope? Then you don’t need to see The Force Awakens.” And given them my own opinions about storytelling and the deliberate sense of this movie.
[…] Love this. (If you love Star Wars and writing, you’ll love with all the heart emojis too. Also, I think I may be the only Star Wars lover on the planet who hasn’t gotten to see the movie yet. No worries. Drew told me all the spoilers. . . ) […]
I loved this post! I recently made a similarly themed YouTube video: what every writer can learn from Star Wars (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq7dwl6vS2o&list=LLy1DzNK3y1hu8N1EnDnBuNw). Touched on the world-building as well! I love your point about characters who meet up, bond like happy dogs, and immediately get excited about adventuring together. That’s how it should happen in real life.
Btw, what’s a key moment in your mind? I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say: Millenium Falcon chase + confrontation on the bridge (obviously…).
Time constraints. Everyone feels an affinity towards Finn because we are all the new initiates in this last trilogy. He has fallen out of the Stormtrooper comfort zone of the rank and file. Next, he is given the ability to actually decide what he will do as he is adapts into his new reality. The newcomer in a strange land is one of the most common scenarios in the fiction-writers hand-book. We feel this a’Finn’ity because we are newbies that must learn about this new world, too. Rowling made her fortune when she put young Harry Potter on a train bound for Hogwarts. Finn and Rey get along well because they are, essentially, the same character. Finn is the first year student trying to decide if he’s a Slyth or a Griff. Rey is the seventh year student wandering in the woods as his friends prepare for war.
Rey has already been through the school of hard knocks. By the time we meet her, reality holds no feminine charms. We are left to imagine what she might have endured. We know that she worked all day for only partial rations, but didn’t complain about it. What good would it do? It might even make things worse. That’s what people do when when they can’t trust anyone. They clam up.
But, she is still a hero and defiant against poor treatment. She could have traded BB-8 for a small fortune to buy food or anything else she wanted. The trader, in turn, would have made an even bigger profit. He actually looked interested until she walked out with BB-8 close behind. Maybe the droid was cute and it made her feel special to own something so valuable. More likely, it was that fatal blow to his bank account that helped to make up for a thousand hungry nights she spent in the desert. That’s character.
I love to see a female role that is self-sufficient and able to defend herself and others in hard times. She did it so well, didn’t she? It was great to be able to watch an entire movie with a heroine that didn’t step back and let the man save her. She didn’t scream in terror or trip over her own feet as she ran from danger. But, Rey has found Luke and I can only imagine that the bar is going to be set very high for her. Every character must show some flaws, I suppose. Luke surely did. That will be a good thing. I would hate to see that the baddies of darkest force could be trumped by an orphan girl (presumed). It would be worse to think that generations of Jedi Knights could have skipped years of laborious training and just collected scrap metal in the desert. TFA was Finn’s introduction. It was a great homage to Books IV, V, and VI. I really want to get to know Rey in SWVIII.
Harry, Frodo, and Luke were orphans, too. Just saying.