What Star Wars Can Teach Us About Storytelling

by | 4 May 2018 | Writing | 16 comments

First of all, may the fourth be with you. In honour of this day, here’s a photo of me and my friends/family cosplaying as Star Wars characters. ๐Ÿ˜›

 

It’s Star Wars day today. The day on which we say nerdy puns and should all speak in Han Solo quotes because he’s got some of the best lines in the entire franchise. So obviously, I had to do a post about Star Wars.

George Lucas and J.J. Abrams have both had their turn at this series, and have both showcased good and not-so-good methods of storytelling. The thing is, whether it’s good or bad, we can learn from them in many ways. Sometimes following their examples, sometimes taking warning from them.

 

Mild spoilers ahead, if you haven’t watched Star Wars (particularly the original trilogy). I’ve kept them to a minimum though, and I (hopefully) won’t spoil anything more major than a couple of iconic lines and quotes and some character motivations.

 

-images from pinterest-

 

Characters are the embodiment of your theme

Characters should drive your plot, but more than that, they are living and breathing aspects of your theme. Their experiments in living show different points of view on your focusing question, and create more conflict in their different world views.

Joseph Campbell helped George Lucas use this brilliantly in the original Star Wars trilogy, with each of the characters having a different view on the theme, and living that out in a way that clearly and satisfyingly developed the theme in a strong and deep way.

 

 

Be bold in your characters and they will be memorable

The characters in Star Wars are very memorable, but personally I think that Han Solo was the best of them. His unique style and personality is absolutely unforgettable. All of the characters were bold and different from a lot of characters around that time, and they were very well crafted.

George Lucas wanted to create a character like Han Solo, but he was maybe a little less bold than he should have been. He didn’t want to take the cocky, scoundrel feel too far. But Harrison Ford didn’t like the scripted dialogue and said it was nothing like what Han Solo would realistically say.

Soย he actually made up most of his lines in the original trilogy.ย And, in making up his own lines, he crafted a memorable and realistic character. He put himself into that character so deeply, and now Han Solo is one of the most catchy and unforgettable Star Wars characters in the entire franchise.

 

Fun fact: In the carbonite freezing scene in The Empire Strikes Back, Harrison Ford discarded the scripted “I love you too” response, and spontaneously replied with “I know” as they were filming. And it’s become one of the most iconic lines of the trilogy, not to mention how much more it fits with Han’s character than “I love you too” would have.

 

 

Every part of the story needs to be connected

This one is pretty obvious. If you have split POV—with one set of characters in one place, and another set of characters in another place, and maybe even a THIRD set of characters in yet another situation—those plots should interweave and impact the events of each of the other story lines, even from opposite sides of the galaxy.

If each of the plots are disconnected from each other (with maybe an occasional exception), they’re going to feel tacked together like the two different stories they are. Like two totally different movies about different things.

To state the obvious: if they’re not connected, they won’t feel connected. (Looking at you The Last Jedi.)

 

 

How to do a three-movie/book character arc

The original trilogy is a great example of how to do character arcs over three movies/books. Luke’s character arc is started off well in A New Hope, and is an overarching part of the story all the way to Return of the Jedi. It continues seamlessly through each of the three movies, and is very well done.

If you’re writing a trilogy, I highly recommend studying this Star Wars trilogy to see how the character arcs were done.

 

 

Character. development. has. to. happen.

Following on from the previous point, this is a hugely important one. Even in flat character arcs, there’s character development of the side characters. Without character development, the book or movie is going to fall flat. It can still be enjoyable, but overall it’s not going to impact anyone.

Back to The Last Jedi. Mild spoilers if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

Poe learns: retreating can be better than jumping into an x-wing and blowing something up
Finn learns: not to run away?
Rey learns: …nothing?

You could argue that theyย do learn things and change a bit, but not in a deeply effective way. Finn’s running away wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He was trying to save Rey, not save himself—so it wasn’t selfish. At the end, where he almost sacrifices himself, it’s not a change from the precious character he’s always been. He was always kind and self depreciating and sacrificing himself like that wasn’t out of character or a change of character.

And Rey. Yes, she went through some odd things, but the only sort of doubt I can find is perhaps the conflict of her wanting to know who she is. And at the end,ย maybe one could take a stretch and say that she knows now. But honestly, I don’t think even that quite works. She hasn’t changed her stance, but it’s not a flat arc either, because she doesn’t have enough doubts and dillemas for that. I could probably do a whole post on this, but we’ll leave it at the fact that I simply can’t see any character arc for her at all. She has none.

The Last Jedi could’ve beenย so much stronger if there had been some solid character development. Plot problems can be looked past if there are deep and meaningful themes and development. Sadly, there wasn’t really any of that and it lost half of the potential it offered. (Though it did have some good lines.)

 

 

The protagonist and the antagonist should be (almost!) the same

In the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker was one bad choice away from becoming Darth Vader. And that makes the two characters—protagonist and antagonist—so much stronger in their relationship against each other. Luke could so easilyย be Darth Vader that the stakes areย that much higher as you can see how close he is. One choice and he could cross the line between hero and villain.

The storytelling is such that when it comes to the climax, you can’t know for sure what the outcome will be. Which, in turn, leaves the viewers sitting on the edges of their seats in suspense.

Unless you’ve heard spoilers, in which case, I am very sorry and my heart is breaking for you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The same applies in our novels. As soon as there’s a similarity between the protagonist and antagonist, seeing the differences is so much bigger and more effective. You’ve got to scare your readers with how similar they are. Make your readers realise that the Hero could just as easily be the villain.

 

 

Know everything about your book, so you don’t contradict

You should know absolutely everything there is to know about your novel. The toughest questions, the most obscure facts. You don’t have to include them into the story (in fact, you shouldn’t in most cases), but you have toย know them.

If you don’t have an absolute understanding of your world, characters, and story, sequels and prequels can contradict. The prequel trilogy of Episodes 1-3 have inconsistencies in story facts, knowledge of the audience, and knowledge of the characters. These are the main reasons why you’ll see the most avid Star Wars fans disliking that trilogy specifically.

 

 

Don’t forget who your protagonist is

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s still a trap that can be fallen into. In the second trilogy, Anakin was supposed to be the main character, but he was sidelined in the majority of both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and only really took the main stage inย Episode Three. This meant that the trilogy as a whole didn’t have the strength that it could have, and didn’t end up supporting the original trilogy as well as it should have. With proper development, Anakin’s story could’ve highlighted Luke’s story and made it even stronger, but instead it became a backstory less developed and less deep than the original trilogy.

It’s possible to let side characters over shadow your main character and steal the stage. If that’s happening, maybe you’ve chosen the wrong character as the main character. Or maybe you just need to rework your plot and characters. Your main character doesn’t have to be the strongest, the fastest, and the bravest, but he should certainly have the most screen/page time and the deepest connection.

 

 

There’s many more things we can take from Star Wars, both the good and the bad, but this is just a few of them. Now go forth and eat chewie cupcakes and millennium falcon pizza. You know you want to. ๐Ÿ˜›

 

 

Which is your favourite Star Wars movie? Who’s you’re favourite character? Are you looking forward to the ‘Solo’ movie, or are you skeptical? (I’m on the nervously skeptical side, myself ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) Let’s chat, and may the force be with you!

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Adventurerโ€”exploring the endless wonders of Godโ€™s beautiful creation. She started writing by accident, but since the very beginning has loved the enchantment of words on paper. If you say anything about pizza, superheroes, books, or any of her many, many fandoms, sheโ€™ll come at the double. Aside from crafting worlds using only twenty-six letters, she is a passionate Jesus-lover, freelance editor, self-trained martial artist, songwriter, and musician. In her spare time, she's often off on random adventures in the name of story research. She seeks to inspire her readers to step out and become the heroes of hope this world needs.

16 Comments

  1. Hannah Gaudette

    I so agree! Especially with what you mentioned about the sometimes startling similarities between protagonist/antagonist. (Those are fun to write, aren’t they?) ๐Ÿ™‚

    As far as Star Wars goes, I have only ever seen Rogue One. And I liked it. But most of my Star Wars knowledge comes from my dad and my cousin. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Personally, I’m more of a Star Trek fan. *sheepish smile*

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Yes, they’re a heap of fun to write. There’s so many creative ways to do it too.

      Aw really? Well, Rogue One is one of the best, in my opinion (though I didn’t include it as one of my inspirations for this post). So you’ve got a good starting point. ๐Ÿ˜›

      Haha nice. I haven’t actually watched Star Trek, so there you go. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  2. MiddleEarthMusician

    EEEEE!!! A whole post about Star Wars and storytelling!!! <3 XD I definitely agree with you about the storyline of The Last Jedi and the Prequels…but I still love them all. ๐Ÿ˜€ My favourite Star Wars movie is a cross between Rogue One (which was AMAZING, I personally think :-P), and The Return of the Jedi. The Star Wars Rebels TV series is also one of my favs; the character development was INCREDIBLE in that show, and the storyline was awesome. I would highly recommend that TV series. XD My favourite characters are Hera Syndulla (SW Rebels), Ezra Bridger (SW Rebels), Han Solo (4,5,6,7), Rey (7,8), Jyn Erso (R1), Cassian Andor (R1), Qui-Gon Jinn (1), and Luke Skywalker (4,5,6,7,8). ๐Ÿ˜€ I am excited about Solo, but also a little skeptical. I mean, it's not Harrison Ford! :-Z
    Besides Han Solo, who's your favourite SW character?
    May the 4th be with you! XD

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Haha, yep! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I quite like them all, despite their faults. Rogue One is definitely a great one.

      I’m going to have to wait to hear opinions about this new Han Solo before I venture to watch the movie.

      Probably Chewie. xD But Luke is also a great character and his character arc was done really well.

      Reply
  3. Catherine @ The Rebelling Muse

    Happy Star Wars Day! Great cosplays, I love it!

    I have to agree with all of this (even though I’ve only seen about half the Star Wars movies). Harrison Ford, in spite of his inexperience, really made a name for himself with Han Solo and I love his lines the best :).

    Great post, Jane!

    Catherine

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Thank you! ๐Ÿ˜› That was from when we went to see Episode 8 at the end of last year.

      He really did, and he did it amazingly well.

      Thanks again! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Reply
  4. GJE

    I LOVE Star Wars!!!! My sister especially loves the ones with Anakin in them. ;P

    Reply
  5. Jenna

    What an appropriate post for today! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I really like it when people review movies for the writer’s education; things really stick with me better that way. So my thanks to you!
    I’m both super excited and skeptical about the Solo movie. Ford did him so well, anybody else just wouldn’t seem right. So, we’ll see ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Aw I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful. ๐Ÿ˜€

      That’s exactly my thoughts on it too. ๐Ÿ˜› We’ll just have to wait it out and see, I guess.

      Reply
  6. J.A.Penrose

    I’m a day late…
    May the force be with you then. Seeing that I’m too late for the pun.
    Ooooh, this is good. *nodnod* Lots of great ideas for writing. (And the fun facts, but, y’know!)

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      And may the force be with you also. ๐Ÿ˜›

      Thank you! It was a lot of fun to write, too.

      Reply
  7. S.F. Dekreel

    I like this!! Except for the fact that I think The Last Jedi is awesome, and reading it being critiqued like that… Is saddening to say the least. I’m not mad at you though. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s really sad how poorly-written movies are these days. Makes me wish that I was a movie writer…

    My favorite Star Wars movie is The Last Jedi (KYLO!!!!), but I haven’t seen the older ones in a long time.

    “Chewie cupcakes and Millennium Falcon pizza…” Jane, I’m starved enough as it is right now… XD

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Thanks! Disclaimer: I DID really enjoy the movie, don’t get me wrong. I loved it and I was engaged and I really like the characters. But the actual story structure of the movie isn’t well developed and laid out, so storytelling-wise there’s not very much to learn from it. We can still enjoy it though. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Ah nice. Kylo is certainly a complicated character. I’m definitely interested to see where they go with his character in Episode Nine.

      You’re welcome. XD

      Reply

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