Tag Archives: writing

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The Bones of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

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Welcome to week two of the Good Bones of the Skywalker Star Wars Saga!

Last week, we talked about Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Check it out HERE if you missed it.

Quick Recap

The Bones (or basic goals) of Episode I were the following:

Introduce the Jedi Order

Introduce Anakin aka the chosen one

Introduce Senator Palpatine and the galactic republic

Introduce the Sith

With the above accomplished (albeit badly for some) we move on to…

Episide II: Attack of the Clones

This movie was, as Episode I, both better and worse than I remembered.

As we watched it, I started searching for the bones of the story. When I finally got down to them, I almost felt bad for being so judgy about this movie. Lucas didn’t give his writers an easy job. Check this out.

The Bones:

Reintroduce all of the characters ten years later

Get Palpatine one step closer to being a dictator

Cause unrest and confusion in the Jedi Order

Discover the clone army

Anakin:

He’s super powerful!

But also super dumb.

He takes his first step toward the dark side

The love story

First off, that’s a lot of bones to fit into one story! That’s the reason I kind of feel bad for the writers. Getting all of that into one, coherent, less-than-six-hour-movie would be challenging.

Reintroduce all of the characters ten years later:

Was anyone surprised that Padmé  was in the fighter and not the Senator’s ship? Nope. So she hasn’t changed. This opening works okay for her.

Obi-Wan

Every moment Obi Wan is with Anakin he’s berating him. Like a mean older brother who thinks he knows everything. It’s hardly endearing. And I like Obi Wan. Now, the writers did use this as a starting point for his character arc (yes, it’s there…barely), so kudos for them there.

Anakin

Ten years later and he still sounds like a bratty kid trying to impress every one. Oh, that means he hasn’t changed either. Which doesn’t work.

Palpatine

Still playing the wise-old sage and ultimate nice guy. He makes my skin crawl. Good job here.

The Jedi

Ten years after being told there was a Sith Lord and they’re still shrugging the information off? Uh, I though these guys were the smart ones.

Get Palpatine One Step Closer to Becoming a Dictator

As I said, he seems so nice…but he’s playing both sides. Most of us, having seen these movies after the original trilogy, know what the outcome will be, and that makes it even worse! This is an often used writing tool—let the audience understand more than the characters. It stressed the audience out as the characters try to catch up. This is also pretty well done.

Cause Unrest and Confusion in the Jedi Order

Sith Lords, missing planets, a clone army they ordered but have no record of. If there’s one thing this movie does well is shed light on how the Jedi are not the powerhouse we were led to believe.

Discover the Clone Army

Obi Wan is front and center here, and he actually handles it pretty well. Get him away from Anakin and he’s an intelligent man. He’s hunting for the assassin that tried to kill Padmé , and ends up finding the clone army. I bet he never saw that coming. Wait, he’s a Jedi…nevermind.

I do like that this search takes us deeper into the bowels of Coruscant, and then to a distant land.  This felt okay.

Anakin

This is where Episode II falls to pieces.

Again, the writers had a lot of things to cover.

He’s super powerful!

But also super dumb.

He takes his first step toward the dark side…

He and Padmé  fall in love

These are the bones I’m going to pick at the most.

He’s so Powerful!

We’re told that Anakin is super-duper powerful. We hear this multiple times. Obi Wan is always cutting him down to size, and reminding him of his place. I’d probably be pretty ornery at this too.

Unfortunately, the story relies on Anakin chasing the assassin to show us how powerful he is. (A bit too late in the movie in my opinion, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) It comes off cocky. Sure, he’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeves, and doesn’t seem to have any fear, but in the end Obi Wan shows him up (after the writers make him look like a bit of a coward) using patience. This was supposed to be important, but again, comes off as some sort of rivalry that isn’t followed up on well.

He’s also Quite Dumb!

In order to get Anakin from little boy on Tatooine, to Darth Vader (Sorry, spoilers if you haven’t heard about that little ditty) the writers had to keep him a little immature. Or at least that’s what they chose to do with him. Can’t have a perfectly rational dude turning to the dark side, now can we?

Sure, most teenagers think they know everything, but after ten years in the Jedi order, I would imagine Anakin would have learned a thing or two about not being an idiot. That apparently hasn’t happened. They unfortunately use Obi Wan’s constant berating to make the Jedi Order look like they’re bullying Anakin. So we feel bad for him. This did not work for me. Maybe if they would have shown his anger and problems with authority in Episode I, this would have come off better.

Anakin has to take his first real step toward the dark side in this movie.

To be honest, this wasn’t bad. Using his mother’s pain and then death to send him over the edge was a brilliant plan. There were a few things that I thought could have been added or changed to improve this:

They should have added a few lines to another scene, where Anakin sincerely asks Obi Wan about his visions and if they can go and check on his mom. Show me the concerned son. Obi Wan would tell him they’d been over this and the Council won’t allow it. That would give a whole lot more credence to Anakin’s blaming Obi Wan later, and show how much Obi Wan is trying not to be like Qui Gon, which is actually against his character.

Anakin blames Obi Wan for everything, saying he’s jealous of Anakin’s powers. If this had been better shown earlier, this comment would really have cut to the bone. I think Obi Wan is jealous, but we have to really search for it.

When Anakin and Padmé  are in the garage and he freaks out after the attack on the village, the entire planet should have been shaking. Padmé  should have been terrified. Yes, at this point she would go to him, but there should be more uncertainty.

Anakin and Padmé  Fall in Love

Ugh. This is one of the worst love stories ever. It’s written and acted horribly, which I blame George Lucas for.

We’re delving into this one, because it is actually the most important relationship in the first six movies. *cracks knuckles*

I’ve really been harping on Showing and not Telling. It’s a writers thing, but it’s powerful.

For Padmé to fall in love with Anakin, she needs to see him as the man he’s become and not the boy she knew ten years ago, when she was barely in her mid-teens. I’m not going to play-by-play rewrite the whole movie, but this should have happened before Anakin and Obi Wan got assigned to protect her. Padmé should have seen Anakin doing some awesome and noble Jedi thing—preferably rescuing her in some way—and have been seriously impressed. Then she finds out it’s Anakin, and that gives us a foundation for her feelings. It also would have shown the audience just how crazy powerful he’d become.

Having him being such a puppy dog to her is…endearing? I found it annoying. If she would have shown interest first the entire love story would have flowed much better. Even just a flirting comment when they meet after she sees his heroism would have worked. Give the poor kid hope, instead of having him slobbering behind her for the first half of the movie, making us all feel awkward.

“I’m a Jedi. I’m super cool.”

“You’re so pretty.”

“I’m super cool. Look at my parlor tricks.”

This goes back to Episode I, but the age difference between them should have been closer. Or Anakin needed to be acting like the 20 year old he was, instead of a high school student. Relying on him simply being overwhelmed by “love” didn’t do this movie any favors.

I also don’t think the two of them actually agreed about very much. Relationships are built on common ground, and their discussions usually ended on a “we can agree to disagree” tone.

I found this as a summary of four crucial parts of a romance story:

  • A hero and a heroine to fall in love…Stop here. The fact that this wasn’t believable makes the other three points moot.
  • A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Do they have anything that isn’t tension?
  • A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. Can I put air quotes around special?
  • A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. They resolve nothing. They go behind everyone’s back and begin living a lie.

So there you go. The love story needs some serious help. Actually, I think that simplifying it would have been better. In many cases, less is more. Show, don’t tell.

This love story did produce one of my favorite soundtrack songs in the prequels. Their song is so sad! It’s beautifully haunting. Love it.

The climax of the movie is okay. Loads of action, some humor from the droids, and a Yoda light saber fight that is pretty great. We get Obi Wan’s payoff as he tells Anakin that he can’t take Duooku alone, showing that he’s growing as a character.

Fun fact: I watched this movie for the second time, years ago, after I went to Dublin. I was totally flabbergasted that the Jedi Library looks just like the library at Trinity College! Trinity College was so amazing I might have cried. And I felt pretty awesome for having recognized their inspiration.

What are your thoughts on Episode II?


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The Bones of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

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Next month I’m moderating a Star Wars panel for a conference. The subject is all nine of the Skywalker saga films. The love. The hate. All of the emotions!

I haven’t seen episodes 1-3 in years. And I mean years. I only saw episode two twice and episode three once, so honestly, other than remembering that they weren’t great, I didn’t recall much. We started watching from the beginning last week. It’s all coming back to me now…

For the next nine weeks, I’m going to talk about the bones of each Star Wars movie, and how I would have told the story differently for better effect.

There’s no right or wrong answers, just my ramblings. I hope you enjoy them! Also, feel free to leave your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

The Bones:

(Things that needed to happen for the rest of the franchise to work)

Introduce the Jedi Order

Introduce Anakin aka the chosen one

Introduce the Sith

Introduce Senator Palpatine and the galactic republic

The Jedi Order:

If the Jedi are the bringers of peace and harmony in the galaxy, episode one doesn’t show us very much of that. Qui Gon plays hard and fast with people’s lives, not really listening to anyone, as he lies and cheats his way to getting them off of Tatooine. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, but his actions don’t really endear me to the Jedi. Nor does Obi Wan’s whining.

I would have loved it if the movie would have explained more about how the Jedi’s powers were out of balance. In truth, it’s never explained, and therefore maybe not even needed. It’s a great hook and conflict that sort of dribbles through the movies and never gets to shine.

Anakin: The Chosen one

I’ve always thought that Anakin was just a little too young in this movie. What is he supposed to be, like eight? Ten? He’s a dumb kid that supposedly has great powers. Problem is, they never show us the powers. He’s supposed to be the only human who can pod race, but they tell us that. We don’t see it. He has a high concentration of the force inside of him—go-go-Lucasisms—but again, we don’t see that. We have no idea what he’s capable of, and if this is the first Star Wars movie you’re watching, you really don’t know what the force is or why it’s out of balance. (Is it out of balance? Again, we’re only told that. Maybe the Jedi are full of it.)

I think it would have been better if Anakin had been in his early teens. Make him closer to Padme in age, making the romance in episode 2 less awkward. Also, show us this great and mysterious power that he has inside of him. Impress me. Show me his anger. Not a child’s tantrum. Scare me.

The Sith:

Bad guys. They do bad things in bad ways. I do like that they’re shown manipulating things from behind the scenes, but that’s all we know. Darth Sidious is really in charge of all of the idiots. Got it.

In truth, this aspect of the movie is pretty spot on.

Senator Palpatine:

Spoiler Alert, Palaptine is important. Episode one hints that there’s more to him than meets the eye, which is very true. This was one of the  things I did like about this movie. He seems so…nice. Which is a lie.

Things I liked:

I kind of liked the big party at the end, because it’s nostalgic to the end of episode 4

Duel of the Fates, and the music in general

The cracks in the republic’s foundation start here, and the way it crumbles is brilliant.

Things in this movie that are unnecessary:

(and when I say unnecessary I mean they could have either been seriously downsized or totally cut)

The Gungans

Padme running from one side of the galaxy to the other and back

Podracing

Most of the dialogue needs to be re-filmed. It’s a directing problem. ‘Nuf said.

***

The first twenty minutes of this movie is awful. Much worse than I remember. So many of the characters, and even species, are painfully  cliché. And of course, JarJar makes most fans want to weep and die. Or wish he would have been eaten by the sea monsters. Or blown up by droids.

In general I think about ¾ of this movie could have been left on the cutting room floor.

The bones were okay, but terribly fleshed out. As I said, show us the big, scary, cool things. Don’t just tell us about it. It’s hard to care without seeing and feeling more.


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To Trope or Not To Trope

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I’m at the end of writing the third book in my New Sight trilogy, which gives me the opportunity to look toward my next series. It will by YA Space Opera, and I’m super excited about it!

In an attempt to see what readers want, I pulled up the worst YA tropes ever. I read through a few lists and agreed with most of them. Then I pulled up the best YA tropes ever. I read through a few lists and…well…just read on.

YA Tropes We Love

  • The Chosen One – Only this character can save the world!
  • Love Triangles – Because ever girl secretly wishes she had two hot guys after her..
  • Surprise, you have superpowers! – How else are they supposed to save the world?
  • The world is so broken – Hello Dystopian society. Why fight bad guys when you can fight an entire bad system of government?
  • The “Strong” female character – Because girls kick butt!
  • The Super Evil Bad Guy – Because…evil
  • The dysfunctional family – Don’t we all love to watch someone else’s train wreck?
  • The tall, dark, handsome love interest – who also has a tragic past!

YA Tropes We Hate

  • The plain and super boring main character – who is destined to save the world
  • Love Triangles – They’re both so wonderful, however can I choose?
  • Your super plain protagonist has super secret super powers – this sounds familiar
  • The Coming of Age story – Because some people hate adventure? So they set their story in a dystopian world and all is well.
  • #StrongFemaleCharacter – A dude in a girl’s body
  • Evil Villains – who are evil just because it’s hip
  • Parents who are actually children in big bodies
  • The tall, dark, handsome love interest – who is a jerk

Do you see what happened there? Apparently readers hate the same things they love. I can’t tell you how confusing that is.

Needless to say, this little exercise didn’t really help me much. Thanks a lot, internet.

 


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Some People Change and Some People Don’t

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As a writer I often wonder why people like certain stories. What is it that draws readers to stay up until 2am to finish a book, or watchers to binge on Netflix for eight hours at a time? The reason is different for everyone, but by and large, most people love the characters in a story. They care about what happens to the characters, and that is why they keep reading or watching.

I’m 100% in this camp. Even an epic action scene or a perfectly timed comedy falls flat for me if I don’t care about the characters.

I’ve been focusing on characters in my own writing, and I’ve come to realize that I love two types of characters:

The first are those that make a change for the better.

The second are those that stick to their guns (ideals) no matter what.

I’m going to use Avatar: The Last Airbender for two wonderful examples.

First, Zuko: exiled prince of the fire nation tasked with the impossible quest of finding the Avatar and bringing him back to the Fire Lord (Zuko’s psychotic father). When we start Zuko has one goal: Get his honor back so his father will accept him. Zuko is young and headstrong and steps on a lot of toes during his journey. He throws literal fire-bending tantrums, and hates everyone and everything. The only person that sticks by him is his uncle, who is a saint.

As the story progresses, we see Zuko’s tragic background. As he is exposed to more of the real world, he begins to change. He starts to care about people besides himself. He starts to wonder if this hundred year long war, which is family has started and sustained, is really the best thing.

Just as he begins to turn onto a better path, he gets the chance to restore his honor…and he takes it. Injuring the Avatar and tossing his uncle away as a traitor.

I really wanted to slap him.

Zuko then gets what he wants. His father welcomes him home. His honor is restored. He is once again the prince of the fire nation. He walks the halls of the palace like a boss.

But it doesn’t last. He knows something is wrong. Or missing. Or both. As the third season goes on, you start to believe in Zuko again. And, in the end, he forsakes his father and joins team Avatar.

His journey alone is reason enough to watch the three seasons of this “kids” show.

Now to Aang. Aang is the Avatar. He’s twelve years old, the last airbender, fun-loving and ran away when he found out he was the Avatar because he didn’t want to be different. He just wanted to be a kid.

Aang knows he has to stop the war—it’s his duty as the Avatar—but he’s an air-bender monk, and doesn’t even eat meat. How can he kill the king of the fire nation? He spends the entire series preparing to meet the Fire Lord in battle, but he also spends the entire series  trying to figure out how to stop the war without killing anyone else.

This ideal is tested again and again. He hurts his friend with his first attempt at fire bending and refuses to learn it until Zuko comes to team Avatar. He always finds some way besides killing to fix the situations he finds himself in.

Aang is both very kind and very powerful. He sticks with his no-killing policy until the bitter end, even though it seems that he might fail as the Avatar. The world tries to sway him, but he refuses to budge. And in the end, he finds another way to defeat the fire lord.

This is two simple examples of basic character arcs that work. They get you to care about the character and then take you along for the ride of their stories.

Anyone have a favorite character in Avatar?


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