Are you a Star Wars fan? Even if you’re not, you’ll enjoy this post on four things writers can learn from Star Wars.
In celebration of Star Wars Day, this May the Fourth, here are four tips for writers who have watched the Star Wars movies.
[Tip: It is important to remember that Star Wars is not classic science fiction, but is rather a space fantasy.]
4 Things Writers Can Learn From Star Wars
1. Use The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey or the monomyth is Joseph Campbell’s theory about heroic narrative. It comes from his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and was hugely influential to Gorge Lucas when he was in college.
This tool can be used to structure a work of fiction such that it conforms to the expectations people have for heroic myths.
This is why stories like Star Wars feel so classic. They are grounded in a style that has been with us since the Arthurian myths.
2. Use The Rule Of Two
The rule of two is a classic trick authors use to introduce characters to an audience that makes them easy to remember.
Star Wars creator, George Lucas seems to have picked it up from Kurasawa the famous Japanese director.
The theory is that if you have to introduce a bunch of characters it is better to do it in pairs. R2D2 and C3PO, and Han and Chewy are introduced in this way. Luke and Obi-Wan, and Vader and Tarkin form their own pairs.
This is a quick and effective way to make sure that the audience knows where characters stand and what to expect of them.
3. Be Realistic But Fantastic
Star Wars is a space opera and the issue with space is that almost nobody has any idea about what it is really like.
More often than not it is treated in a way that makes it off-putting to most people. For example, some space TV and movies are too intellectual and weird for a general audience. 2001: A Space Odyssey is boring and long and the plot goes nowhere. The only people who watch it now are film students as a traditional punishment in first year.
But, Star Wars is fun and has space ships that look like you could fix them with a wrench. It is the kind of world that looks fun to live in but also dangerous and wild.
Unlike, Star Trek nobody in Star Wars explains any technology because it is just part of the adventure. It is just as much a fantasy as the Space Wizards and their Laser Swords.
4. Create An Everyman Who Isn’t Like Every Other Man
Sure, Luke is a classic everyman. It is easy to see yourself in his position, and that is all that is required for the trope to work.
But, he’s not bland. He’s actually kind of crazy and reckless. He decides to go on a magic space quest to find a princess moments after seeing his Aunt and Uncle burnt to death. Then he proceeds to do the most careless things one after the other in a blatant disregard for logic.
It’s like watching a surrealist play if you think about the events of the movies too deeply. At every turn, Luke makes the obvious wrong choice and is usually rewarded for it. Often with a medal.
By contrast, a normal Everyman is someone like Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He’s just an ordinary man going about his ordinary life. That is to say a person that basically has no personality to speak of to whom the world happens.
Luke, by contrast, is always the catalyst of his own destiny at least up until Episode VIII.
Recommended For You: Writers Talk 3 | Star Wars
Star Wars Books
Even if you are not a screenwriter, there is a whole world of Star Wars books you could be writing for.
A Dark Time
Now this may surprise you. It even surprised the president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, who said: ‘Every one of these movies is a particularly hard nut to crack,’ said Kennedy. ‘There’s no source material. We don’t have comic books. We don’t have 800-page novels, we don’t have anything other than passionate storytellers who get together and talk about what the next iteration might be. We go through a really normal development process that everybody else does.’ ~Rolling Stone 2019
Well, I don’t think she and I could be friends after a statement like this.
To put it into perspective, when she took over from George Lucas, there were about 200 novels already published by Lucasfilm, as well as hundreds if not thousands of comics. It was basically all that kept Dark Horse publishers afloat in the 90s and 2000s.
And, well, Lucasfilm has published about 50 novels under Kennedy’s own watch. One assumes she’s the kind of boss who signs documents on the golf course.
Staggering incompetence aside, many of these books that don’t count were actually excellent. And, surprisingly most of the ones I really like were published after Kennedy took over.
Here are some I recommend, with writing tips from each book:
- Tarkin by James Luceno. Luceno has written several Star Wars books including the acclaimed (in certain circles) Darth Plagueis. Tarkin is a character study of the upbringing that led Tarkin to be the only man in the Star Wars universe besides the Emperor who could order Darth Vader to do anything and live to tell the tale. Writing Tip: A good writer can always make even the smallest detail of a story into its own novel. Luceno took a character that had five or six lines and made a 300-page character study. And, it was good. You should look at each of your characters as if they could have their own novel written about them.
- Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. This is a love story between a Jedi and a Sith. It is charming, funny, and sad. It really put to shame any love story we have seen on screen in the Star Wars universe that doesn’t involve Baby Yoda and his dad. Writing Tip: Opposites attract and it is always fascinating to read about or watch.
- Lost Stars by Claudia Gray. Lost Stars tells us the story of two imperial officers who are just trying to do their best to make the galaxy a better place and how they deal with the increasingly insane orders that are handed down to them as the Empire slowly slides into madness. It’s well-thought-out and has dozens of little expansions to the lore of the Original Trilogy that fans will appreciate. Writing Tip: Looking at the bad guys through their own eyes makes for fascinating reading. Nobody really ever thinks of themselves as the villain of their story. When you can make your reader care about the bad guy as much as the hero you will have become an exceptional writer.
- Thrawn by Timothy Zahn. Zahn brings back his most popular character from the old Star Wars books, Thrawn, into the new Disney Universe. I am glad to say that they are better than the original Thrawn books. Zahn has matured as a writer and his intellectual space action mystery series is better than ever. Thrawn feels more real and less two dimensional in this new series and we are treated to some wonderful interactions between the calm, art-loving admiral and a slew of famous characters. Writing Tip: Practice makes perfect. Every new Thrawn book is better than the last. You must grow as an author or you will not be able to keep your readers attention. Use every chance to improve your skills.
The Last Word On A New Hope
I love Star Wars. To me it is a comfortable refuge from the world.
As a writer, I appreciate that I can learn from its greatness and from the depths of it failings.
If you love Star Wars, or feel disappointed by it, or even just want to know more about your favourite characters, know that we are now being graced with some excellent, simple, and well-thought-out writing from the people who brought us The Mandalorian.
Must-read: What Writers Can Learn From The Mandalorian
Hopefully, Star Wars is on track again to bring joy and light to the old and young of us again like it did once upon a time in a galaxy far far away.
That is what this silly day is all about. It’s a ‘celebration’ of things we like and a begrudging acknowledgment of things that were not as well received.
There is still a little bit of light in it, yet.
You don’t let the past die, you don’t kill it, even if you think you have to. Star Wars is a precious miracle and a delightful disaster more often than not. Those of us that have watched The Star Wars Holiday Special know how bad it can get and yet we are still here.
Why? Well, because something taught us that no matter how dark the times no matter how toxic, conceited, and overwhelming the situation, we know even a farm boy, who likes his sister a bit too much, can topple the evil empire.
And, you know, it’s not such a silly day to some people, especially not to those who remember the epic lightsaber fights they had in the backyard with a couple of broken brooms.
Happy Star Wars Day!
Source for image: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, Script Slug
More Posts From Christopher:
- 5 Books I Think You Should Buy On World Book Day
- Writers Talk 8 | My Year Of Writing
- Writers Talk 7 | Dialogue
- Writers Talk 6 | Fantasy Sub-Genres
- 7 Scenes You Won’t Find In Good Fiction Writing