Star Wars: A Writer’s View



No spoilers

The Force can’t be resisted. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is the fastest-grossing film in history because it needed to be; the studio had to release high box office figures to jump-start a vast array of movie sequels and spin-offs that will power spending for years to come. Press editors around the world have told their writers to come up with a new angle on it; hence an article in The Guardian about the film’s knock-on effect on location tourism in the UK (part was filmed in Puzzle Wood in the Forest of Dean). That’s just showbiz.

SWTFA fits perfectly into this year’s big entertainment trend of greatest hits retrofits, and punches up its nostalgic, crowd-pleasing beats more perfectly than any other package. It does away with the bad elements George Lucas introduced into the prequels – horrible puppet-filled clutter and boring, pompous exposition scenes – and tells its stripped-back story well. And it has pleased fans simply by not screwing anything up. But what it doesn’t do is introduce one single fresh or original idea – every scene, every line of dialogue, is traceable back to an earlier one, or even a carbon copy.

Does that matter that the script is basically just a charming collage? After all, this is a kid-friendly pop culture space opera, not Shakespeare. It’s a very enjoyable romp with charming leads and friendly faces, but it would have been nice to be surprised by something.

A couple of years ago I went to an exhibition of future technology divided into two halves. The first part looked at the history of computers, and the second speculated where we might go next. Virtually everyone was in the first half, pointing to early consoles and delightedly saying, ‘I had one of those’. We’re naturally nostalgic. The theory is that in unsettled times we always look back.

Thinking positively, this helps provide a solid base from which we can look forward. Perhaps that’s what SWTFA is up to, and if so, more power to the franchise. After all, it was initially created to let Lucas look back to old Flash Gordon serials, but funnily enough Lucas had already looked forward earlier in his career with the SF movie ‘THX 1138’.

Maybe future films will branch out into brave new territory. But with this level of financial firepower and the concomitant need to make money surrounding it, there’s not much room for taking risks.



12 comments on “Star Wars: A Writer’s View”

  1. Wayne says:

    I remember going to see the first Film, Episode 4. I was young and found it amazing to see on the Big screen. Since then and watching the Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi at the same theatre I have always had those childhood memories in mind while watching the rest of the films. I think it is part of why I put up with the slightly less well made Episodes 1,2 and 3. I am looking forward to seeing the new film and seeing as you give it a positive spin here am sure I will enjoy it.

    Merry Christmas BTW. Hope you had a good one.

  2. Brooke Lynne says:

    See Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of Hayden Planetarium, comments on science non-sense of SWTFA, and elsewhere his editorials on how unimaginative and limited these “futuristic” movies are. A quick glance at the student version of Science Daily would spark more innovative thinking and perhaps writing–if the entertainment franchises cared about something other than money.

    You’ve hit upon something about nostalgia–you can look back with fond memories on your first computer without having to think about the disruption caused by high power computing on all our lives. If you venture forward to the possibility of robots who can speak, think and master super computing, you have to face the possibility of all our kind being obsolete. That’s the role of mass entertainment– to prevent us from thinking.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I don’t think the Star Wars series is intended to be futuristic. There is no earth reference to give us a time context. The planets don’t have a real existence, unless those navigational references have a meaning. No, these are fantasy, pure fantasy, and real scientists would be wise to stay under cover.

  4. admin says:

    So, SF films are fantasies that prevent us from thinking or possible routes to new ideas? How many truly original ones apart from 2001 have there been?

  5. Steven Kinsella says:

    Star Wars isn’t an SF film, it just happens to have space ships, aliens and laser guns in it. As others have said, you could tell exactly the same story in a Fantasy (as in LOTR or Labyrinth) setting. Trying to apply real scientific principles to SW is redundant because that universe isn’t built using them.
    The SW universe is built on the same simple, old-fashioned, story-telling principles as the old film/tv serials like Flash Gordon or Champion the Wonder Horse. The story governs how the universe works. If SW was SF, it couldn’t work.
    SF films can, of course, look forward and ask what if? SW films do not look forward and don’t ask us to because the skeleton on which each is built is 60/70 years old and only allows for a little variation each time. The LOTR to Hobbit transition is a perfect example of how these types of films/series work and how they iterate on the same basic structure.

  6. steve 2 says:

    How about Bladerunner, Soylent Green, Children of Men, Jurassic Park, Robocop and The Matrix to name some others? SF is a broad church and is flexible enough to accomodate a wide variety of stories, themes and ideas. As with other genres the movies that are made are dependent on the studios’ views of what will generate the best return from audiences but with the added complication that SF movies can cost more money than other genres! Consequently SF movies ends up being less risky than SF in other media. Judge Dredd is a great example of a SF property that at its best can comment on and discuss society on a number of levels.. Look what happens when movies are made. I think your comments are very kind to the new Star Wars film, this is one long term fan that wasn’t pleased to see a collage! It will be interesting to see whether the current general view of the film changes once the initial excitement dies down.

  7. Ken Mann says:

    Compared with literary SF science fiction cinema has always been decades behind imaginatively. The new TV series “The Expanse” seems to be one of the few things based on a book more recent that 40 years ago (not that I’ve seen it yet so can’t comment on how successful it is). It would be nice to see an old space opera done faithfully just for the weirdness value – starships with lookouts, all male crews who smoke, and engine rooms full of thermionic valves.

  8. Brooke Lynne says:

    “Real science should stay undercover…” Did you just email this? Are you using your mobile today? Plan on having a medical procedure soon? Or an watch out for the drones.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Sorry, Brooke, I think I’m missing your point.You don’t ask a professional chef for comments on witches’ potions, nor do you ask animal behaviourists to comment on cartoon animals. To ask astrophysicists or aerospace technologists to comment on space fantasy seems just as unrealistic.
    The space stories where science can be engaged is the kind where the ships and technology have take a step or two ahead of current capabilities and someone with current knowledge can fill in the distance from one to the other with logical steps. I think Star Trek was closer to that situation than Star Wars ever would be, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to the newish Star Wars. It may prove to be a better base for forthcoming sequels – without really annoying characters.

  10. Terenzio says:

    Helen and others have raised a good point. Star Trek, especially the original television, was based more on science or at least what the future may hold for space travel and colonization of others planets. That is if we were to fully exploit scientific innovation. Remember this is the time we were striving to go to the moon. Unfortunately the only reason was to beat the Russians. In the coming decades we abandoned such ambitious plans such as a base on the moon. Even with air travel and the Concorde we never developed the technology enough to make it financially feasible. But, Star Wars is pure fantasy. The technology…the Death Star etc. was never meant to be taken seriously. It was a great story and narrative..good versus evil, father/son issues etc. that happened to take place in a far away Galaxy. This latest reincarnation I found clunky…more like scenes just put together; whereas, the first three films had a good narrative flow….beautifully told. I understand why they rebooted the series…to introduce a new generation to the story. And it’s possible the younger audience prefers this type of story telling. I might be just an old fogey. I also (unfortunately) can remember the 1977 version too well so I found it boring because they basically used the same plot…even the final scene with the new and improved Death Star is shot almost exactly the same as the first film. And I’m sure the second film will be quite similar to The Empire Strikes back, except instead of an oppressive Imperial empire with an Emperor there is the Fascist/Nazis First Order with a Supreme Lead. The scene with the legions of Storm Troopers with the salute is right of the Nuremberg rally in Germany in the 1930s. This being said, I found it entertaining. Definitely should see it on the big screen.

    Not in the mood to sign off in my usual and probably annoying way so I shall leave with…hope everyone is having a great day….be well T

  11. Wayne Mook says:

    The new one is fine, I enjoyed it. There is enough difference from the original and some nice changes too. Nostalgia is a big part and that’s fine. Star wars was never hard SF any way, here’s a hint to what it is, A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….. it’s as much a western, as a fairy tale and an old serial as it is SF.

    It’s a solid base with some nice twists, one of the to young leads being a major change.


  12. Helen T says:

    This SW is unoriginal with nothing new to interest me. I loved the first movies from the 70s and 80s, but there’s nothing in this new one to keep me watching.

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