Of endings and arcs …

As an author, what makes a good, indifferent, or terrible story is always a subject of interest to me. It’s something I’ve been pondering having watched the – possibly – final Star Wars movie of the first nine… Rise of Skywalker.

I think one of the main failures for me, story-wise, is that the last three films (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker) feel as if they are not particularly linked as an integrated trilogy. The Force Awakens is just a better SFX’d re-make of A New Hope, with a weird contextless reset of everything we were left with from Return of the Jedi, right back to factory settings.

The Last Jedi then just meanders about without much story arc from the first film, and without feeding towards the last movie, and finally, The Rise of Skywalker almost reinvents everything again with its resurrection of you-know-who as the big bad.

Too many cooks in the kitchen, heapings of direction by committee, and everything all too important money-wise to trust to a single main competent story-teller, I suspect. At least with George Lucas as the boss, it was one person’s vision and the buck always stopped with G.L. – and it was his money to urinate up against the wall if he so wanted. That leaves one-off movies like Rogue One as the standard-bearer for half-decent films in the universe.

Picard episode one has a strong opening, story-wise, and The Mandalorian was certainly watchable – if only to spot all the Spaghetti Westerns it was riffing on, along with a healthy dose of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga, and the Western-flavoured sci-fi novels of the now sadly departed author Mike Resnick (Santiago etc).

It all feels a bit artificial when compared to something truly original and strange such as Jo-Jo Rabbit – my last date night movie: stunning photography and an original script not based on a comic-book or part twenty-eight of any franchise (well, it was based loosely on Christine Leunens’s novel Caging Skies … which just goes to show you).

I have spoken.

Of endings and arcs ...
Of endings and arcs …


I am an author of various fantasy, science fiction, crime and other genre books from Gollancz, Hachette and HarperCollins. Some day I hope to grow up and be an astronaut. Exploring Mars would be nice.

One thought on “Of endings and arcs …

  • January 31, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    Sorry for the long, rambling comment, but I, too have been thinking a lot about Star Wars and story endings after watching the most recent film. I can see the analogues between the 1977 film and The Force Awakens, but I don’t agree that it was a cookie-cutter rehash. In Abram’s film, there was no bolshy and bossy princess to rescue, the story isn’t really told from two lowly character’s points of view, and although there are definitely some superficial similarities that may have been deliberate, the two films, taken separately, _feel_ completely different. Actually, a beat-for-beat remake with some of the characters swapped around (Han/Luke for Obi Wan, Poe & Finn for Han & Chewie, etc.) might actually have been an interesting way to do that, but I digress. The greatest saving grace of The Force Awakens was that it wasn’t as abysmal as the prequel trilogy.

    I think your explanation for why many people didn’t like the newest trilogy as a whole, is pretty succinct. Maybe some day they’ll figure out how to have one person in charge of vision and direction, but yet one who can still collaborates creatively and can pivot when better ideas come along during the process… I think Stanley Kubrick perhaps was good at this. And I think the latter was the main problem, starting round about the development of Reveng of the Jedi. G.L. was simply surrounded by too many yes-men and admirers.

    I’m fascinated that so many of my friends and others seem to rate Rogue One. On the whole, I thought it was pretty disappointing. It definitely had more potential than it had any right to have, but whether it was the “design by committee” factor you mentioned, it seemed to come out as a completely mangled mess. There weren’t any characters that I cared about, or story beats that were interesting, or consequences that were well-earned, etc. We didn’t even get to know what made any of the characters tick, at least not enough for them to have anything approaching an arc. Jyn had some intriguing compositions in her backstory, but it was handled in a kack-handed fashion, we didn’t *see* anything that made us understand her at all. At least we could empathise with Rey at the beginning of The Force Awakens, or with Ehrenreich’s Han… they were small people who wished for a better life. I like Felicity Jones, but I didn’t believe any of her “struggle” and wasn’t even clear to me what it was or what it should be, at least emotionally. There were too many villains, which make the newer, more interesting ones like Krennic seem impotent, and we didn’t learn anything new about the ‘verse or anything really to make it worthwhile. It’s definitely not an instant classic. I can’t help comparing it to Solo, which wasn’t a perfect film by any stretch, but it definitely shares some of the same “heart” of the original trilogy. Rogue One seems a bit soulless to me, as does much of the recent trilogy, now that it’s finished.

    I think one of the main problems that everyone making Star Wars stuff is they don’t really know what makes something “Star Wars”. I’m sure there’s a story bible at Lucasfilm/Disney that’s about a metre thick, but judging from the prequels, even G.L. has no idea what makes a thing “Star Wars”. So what is “Star Wars”, then? What makes something Star Wars? Is it lighstabers, Jedi and the Force? The Millennium Falcon? A space Western with a “cantina scene”? Not really. I think creators of all kinds get frustrated when trying to work in this space, as they don’t really know how the magic happened in the first place. It’s like they just keep trying to mix in some of the same elements, hoping for a similar result. Every once in a while, they hit on something that approaches the same sort of feeling and start to recapture that magic and wonder… The Mandalorian has moments like this, as does Jedi: Fallen Order. At lesat they tried to do their own thing as much as they were allowed. I firmly believe that a lot of creativity can come from having constraints, more than being left too open.

    But I agree, I think there’s definitely merit to moving on from Star Wars (at least for a little while), and trying to create things that are more like original songs than just playing the same music over and over in different keys or simply re-arranged.

    Star Wars itself was riffing on all sorts of inspiration, and they all blended together to create something perhaps worthy of being called “new”, and at least resonated with enough people to have had a lasting impact.

    It’s a shame that G.L. didn’t do much more beyond Indy. I wonder how different things might be if he left others to take over Star Wars earlier, and moved on towards fresh projects. As it stands I only know if his collaboration with Spielberg and then, much later, Red Tails. Everything else he’s been involved with, apart from running a studio and ILM, is Star Wars.

    But I take your point. 42 years from now, we probably won’t have to talk about a Jo-Jo Rabbit IX, however good “the franchise” is. I hope we can all agree, that’s a good thing.

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