Long ago, in a galaxy named after a candy bar for some reason, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced–because the Mouse had bought the entire Star Wars franchise.
Everybody who grew up on the original Star Wars movies felt this pain.
However: this was before they announced that JJ Abrams would direct the first new movie.
Also: Disney also owns Marvel now, and Marvel is on an insanely successful roll.
All of the Marvel movies since IRON MAN have rocked. I figured the Captain America ones would stink, since it would be easy to make those corny and uber-patriotic, but they nailed both of them. WINTER SOLDIER is darker than dark. Loved it. On the other hand, FOX studios proves you can take a great character and great actor and absolutely blow the thing with two horrible Wolverine movies.
Marvel can’t do wrong. And now JJ Abrams, after rebooting Star Trek into awesomesauce, looks like he’s doing the same thing with Star Wars.
The only way this trailer could look and feel better is if the new Sith uses his wicked lightsaber to make a clean break with the Lucas prequels by slicing Jar-Jar Binks in half.
Disney just bought LucasFilm for $4 billion dollars, causing a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of souls suddenly cried out in pain and anguish.
Maybe because they did cry out in pain.
Now, you can argue that this is not so bad, because (1) this definitely means George Lucas isn’t directing new STAR WARS movies, which does, indeed, avert disaster, (2) Disney didn’t do half bad after it bought Marvel and started pumping out IRON MAN movies and CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR and such, which leads to the Ultimate Fanboy Fantasy of (3) Joss Whedon directing a STAR WARS movie, which would cause the universe to implode out of sheer awesomesauce.
HOWEVER: All those reasons are destroyed by the Death Star of one simple truth.
And no, that truth is not the fact that Disney buying STAR WARS means we will be swimming in all kinds of direct to video trash aimed at five-year-olds, along with special editions and special-special editions and God knows how much other new nonsense the Disney factory will pump out, month after month, year after year, until kids who grew up watching STAR WARS movies band together and march upon the House of the Mouse to burn that sucker down.
Here’s why STAR WARS: EPISODE 7 OR WHATEVER is a terrible idea: the hero and villain are both dead.
But oh, you say, we’ve still got Luke and Leia, Han and Chewie, C3P0 and R2-D2. They’re still alive, right?
Sure. I bet Jar-Jar Binks is still breathing after the Death Star blew up for a second time. That’s beside the point. Who’s the hero of STAR WARS? Who’s the villain?
Those two serious questions need serious answers. If the answers stink, or make no sense, the new movies will stink no matter how many dollars you throw at the screen in CGI nonsense.
Luke isn’t the hero. He’s only in the last three movies.
Obi-Wan seems like the hero, and is heroic, but he’s dead for the last three movies. He’s a glowing spectator, and his role is mentor anyway.
Han Solo is a great character, but he’s not the hero. He’s comic relief and part of the love subplot with Princes Two Buns on Her Head.
The Shiny Robot Who Complains A Lot and his pet tin can, hey, they’re in all six movies. Are they the heroes? No. More comic relief. More sidekick action.
Hmm. We seem to be stuck. The hero is AWOL … except he’s not.
This is really Darth Vader’s story. He’s in all six movies, and he’s got a real character arc: Darth is good, gets really whiny and turns to the Dark Side — that’s the first three (prequel) movies. Then he gets conflicted about the whole Dark Side thing, wants Luke to join him and kill the emperor (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) and finally sacrifices himself to kill the emperor and save his son.
Darth Vader goes from slave to Jedi, from Jedi to Sith, then Sith to Jedi again. He finds redemption. It’s his story.
So: who’s the villain?
Well, at first we thought it was Darth Vader, because he really was the bad guy in the first STAR WARS movie and such. The emperor barely got any screen time until RETURN OF THE JEDI.
Don’t let the sea of mini-bosses fool you. Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Jabba the Hut, the Trade Federation dipsticks, General Grevious Chest Cold — all those guys are random nonsense. They sell toys, fine.
The villain through all six movies, however, is clearly the emperor.
Accept no substitutes.
Here comes the Big Stupid Problem
And now we come to the giant flipping problem with any future STAR WARS movies: who’s your hero and who’s your villain?
Because your real hero, Anakin / Darth Vader, is a goner.
Your real villain, Emperor Wrinkly Pants, got thrown down a bottomless pit in the Death Star right before that sucker went all kabloomy for a second time. He ain’t coming back.
Unless the new movies are going to be space opera-style romantic comedies about Han and Leia’s Big Fat Alderan Wedding, or Christmas on Tatooine, you need a villain worthy of the surviving band of rebels and Jedi, seeing how they’re not rebels anymore. They won. They’re in charge.
Sure, there are all kinds of books out there, books I don’t read, that supposedly tell the story of what happens after the Ewoks do their jub-jub dance and shoot off all kinds of space fireworks. People tell me the Sith aren’t really done for, that Luke sort of turns bad, or Han Solo and Leia have a dozen kids and half of them turn into angsty teenage Vader wannabes or whatever. And that there’s some kind of thing where the emperor gets cloned, or random Sith Lords and remnants of the old Imperial army and navy and marines (no Air Force?) come back for more space battles and such with stormtroopers who can’t shoot straight to save their lives.
None of that will fly.
Why? Because the first six movies kept telling us, over and over, that Anakin / Vader was The One, just like Neo in the Matrix.
They beat us on the head with the fact that the prophecy told us Anakin would wipe out the Sith and bring balance to the Force, and peace to the galaxy. Also, that he would cut marginal tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate capital gain taxes entirely, because that’s how you create jobs in places like Tatooine.
Either they lied to us for six movies or they didn’t.
Another hurdle: Yoda and others kept saying stuff like “always two, are there” when talking about the Sith — a master and an apprentice. Now, this wasn’t entirely consistent, since the emperor had Darth Maul and Count Dooku at the same time, but those movies also included the anti-reality field known as Jar Jar Binks, which means anything that happens in those flicks doesn’t really matter or count.
A third hurdle: if you bring in a secret new villain from the outside, or invent five new villains to throw at our remaining collection of random heroes, then it just becomes an incoherent mess.
The bottom line is we’re in for more movies that may stink more than the prequels, if that is possible. And more commercialized nonsense like this Darth Vader – Emperor dance-off on Kinnect or whatever.
Whether you write (a) for fun, (b) for money or (c) for all the fast cars and groupies, I bet you’re specialized.
Specialized in the kind of writing you do. Specialized in the kind of education that got you there.
Journalists usually go to journalism school and screenwriters to film school. Playwrights all come from this MFA program in Wisconsin for some reason, and all kinds of novelists spring forth from the middle of Iowa.
Maui, I could understand. Iowa is cornfields, right? Never been there. Why the cornfields is a fiction mecca, I don’t know.
Anyway: You can divide writing into three areas, based on the goal:
1) Writing to INFORM (journalism, papers of news, TV, radio, all that)
2) Writing to PERSUADE (the lost art of speechwriting & rhetoric)
3) Writing to ENTERTAIN (novels, movies, plays and, as much as it kills me to say it, poetry, though not Gertrude flipping Stein)
Now, I know enough about all three to be dangerous, and this split is something I’ve used when teaching seminars and such.
HOWEVER: It is all bunk.
Total nonsense. Absolute horsepucky. My friends across the pond would call it completely daft.
Col. Potter would use other words. Take it away, Potter.
What are you really trying to do?
Journalists aren’t really trying to inform. Sure, that’s part of it.
Reporters want people to read their story, and to make that happen, they need to persuade their editors to assign them the juicy serial killer piece instead of an obituary about some man who was the once president of the Scranton Valley Chamber of Commerce back in 1985. Then you persuade sources to give them quotes and scoops that other journalists aren’t getting. Next, you write an amazing story to persuade other editors that your story belongs on top of A1 instead of buried on page 18 next to a wire story about Snooki’s baby daddy getting arrested or whatever.
And finally, journalists want to persuade you to read the story — and for the people who judge journalism contests to give them some kind of prize, maybe even a Pulitzer, so they can convince a bigger newspaper to hire them and let them write bigger stories for slightly bigger paychecks.
Novelists, screenwriters and playwrights aren’t really trying to entertain. Their biggest challenge, again, is persuasion. There are 5.983 gazillion cable channels, radio stations and movies on Netflix competing for your attention. There’s also an insane diversity of free diversions on the Series of Tubes — and even this place old-timers used to call “outside” and “the real world,” where people sometimes KISSED A GIRL.
Entertainers are competing against all that for your free time and, more importantly, your money. In the two seconds of your attention they have, entertainers need to hook you with a book cover, movie poster or guitar riff, then convince you to blow two hours and $23 bucks on a hardcover book or tickets to THE AVENGERS in 3D plus overpriced popcorn or the Greatest Hits Collection of ABBA.
In the end, it’s all persuasion.
The lost art
The thing is, nobody really teaches rhetoric and persuasion these days.
How many of you know somebody who majored in rhetoric? I bet you know all kinds of people who majored in anthropology, art history and other majors that begin with A and are not exactly in demand. It used to make news when some professor started teaching a class where students dissected episodes of Star Trek, and now it only makes waves when you can MAJOR in pop culture / Madonna songs / Snooki fashion choices during Season 1 versus Season 2.
Even people who did speech and debate don’t exactly get an education in the art. They basically throw you in the deep end of the pool. If you swim, you stay on the team and spend a lot of time riding in vans, sleeping in cheap motels and cutting evidence cards.
Yet the art of rhetoric is more important than ever.
In the old days, you could get by on intimidation and fear. The biggest, toughest, meanest caveman ran the show. If you tried to win a debate with him, he won by using the unstoppable rhetorical device the Greek masters dubbed “crushing your skull with this rock.”
Today, the entire planet runs on oil. Lots of oil. Also, coal, windmills and nuclear power, though the Japan tsunami thing kinda screwed up the whole nuclear shebang. But aside from oil, the world runs on ideas and words — on persuading other human beings to work with you.
The world only works because we can, and do, persuade each other without resorting to rock vs. skull.
You see rhetoric in action every day, whether it’s persuading your four-year-old to brush their teeth, getting a coworker to help on a project or dealing with a tough client.
And unless you work in an ice cave, you’re doing something (a) creative with (b) other human beings (c) in a group. That takes the skills of rhetoric. Also, free bagels sometimes. That greases the skids.
The biggest moments in life aren’t about informing or entertaining. They’re 100 percent persuasion: asking somebody to marry you, getting the bank to hand you MASSIVE PILES OF CASH to buy a home, persuading a boss to hire you, getting the jury to believe you — it’s an endless list.
But we don’t truly teach this. Not in journalism school or film school. Not in that MFA program in Wisconsin or the fiction mecca of Iowa (I like your John Deere hat). And certainly not in high school or college, though it’s not an accident that elite private school and colleges do teach rhetoric, and make students write speeches and deliver them. They know that future CEOs, U.S. senators and presidents sorta kinda need to know how to give speeches and persuade other people to do things.
It’s not like these are big dark secrets. Philosophers were writing all kinds of books on rhetoric TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, a long time ago in a European country that’s far, far away. These books are still for sale in places we used to call “book stores.”
HOWEVER: Maybe we should talk about such things a little — the basics, nothing crazy advanced or complicated — and save you from reading all 616 pages of Ian Worthington’s A COMPANION TO GREEK RHETORIC.
P.S. Ian the Worthington, I think you rock.
P.P.S. Aristotle was a genius, Socrates was cool and Plato was kind of a fascist jerk.