If I Had Bought Star Wars…

Unless you’ve been hiding out in the desert canyons of Tatooine, you’ve heard the news that Disney bought out Lucasfilm for $4 billion and change. In addition to running Vader all over Disneyworld, they’re promising a new Star Wars film (Episode VII) in 2015. Every fanboy in the world is taking his turn as backseat driver, and I’m no exception. So, grant me a few moments to be R2 and tell Luke what I would do if I had bought Star Wars.

The very first thing I would do is to rerelease the original trilogy on Blu-Ray in its completely unaltered form. I would take the best scan of the films (probably already existing at 4K as source material for the special editions), make sure they were clean, and put them out on Blu-Ray. No special edition. No Greedo shooting first. No Hayden Christensen on Endor.

Every fanboy of my generation has been lusting for precisely this since before Blu-Ray even existed, and is ready to shell out hard cash for this. Doing this simple act would generate $2-$3 billion right off the bat. My math? 50 million fan boys (world-wide) at $50 for the trilogy comes out to $2.5 billion. Play around with the pricing, add more fan boys, start talking net instead of retail… the numbers move around. But clearly, this one simple act that Lucas has blocked for years would repay a decent chunk of the purchase price.

I would follow that up with a Blu-Ray release that was a mix of original and special edition. This would be for the true aficionados, who insist that Han shot first but liked some of the cleaner special effects that came with the special editions and might like some of the deleted scenes as in-line bonus material. Fine-tuning this would be a fan-by-fan project, but the options available on modern Blu-Rays should allow viewers to pick and choose. This would sell far fewer copies, but you could easily charge more. It won’t finish paying off the Lucasfilm mortgage, but it will shave off a few more points.

Mind you, this is money George could have had himself but chose to thwart the fans. I don’t expect Disney will leave that money on the table.

Then we have to start talking about the other movies. I can see the commercial logic of Disney wanting to start afresh with the later chapters, but if I were running the show, I would start with the prequels. Yes, they’ve already been done, but they were done wrong. I don’t expect much disagreement on that.

I don’t fault the general arc of the story. Specifically, I’m fine with finding Anakin as a kid (though I’d start him post-puberty), seeing him grow to be an undisciplined Jedi, and all the while seeing Palpatine manipulate events to build his power. That stuff is okay. Where it failed was in other areas:

  • It was meant for kids, not the adults who had grown up on Star Wars.
  • Anakins’ motivations were lame, both surrounding his mother and Padme.
  • Anakin was too much of a whiner, hardly the precursor for Darth Vader in the original trilogy.

How would I have fixed all that? There are the obvious choices of removing Jar-Jar entirely and making Anakin older when we first meet him, but beyond that, I would make Anakin’s character much deeper and thoughtful. Instead of him becoming a victim of his own emotional immaturity, he would make rational choices based on enlightened self-interest. He would act for himself, for the Jedi, and ultimately for the good of the galaxy.

And that is the biggest disappointment I had with the prequels and how I would have done them differently. I want to see Anakin make a rational choice to turn to the dark side. I want to see him split from the rest of the Jedi over a matter where it was possible to take two sides. I want to see him take Palpatine’s side on this issue because he believes in it. And finally, I want to see him take up the dark side because he needs its power to carry out his vision for the galaxy. He might still be Palpatine’s chess piece, but he would be elevated from pawn to knight.

That is the kind of back story that lets Vader be the man he was in the original trilogy: dedicated, ruthless, and willing to turn on his master when the time came.

And then I would turn to the follow-up movies, and just like my reboot of the prequels, I would make these for adults, not for the kids. It doesn’t have to be rated R, but it needs a serious, adult theme. And for that, I would choose the deliberate genocide of the Jedi and Sith.

What? That’s right. The Jedi and Sith must be exterminated.

At least, that will be the position of the newly restored Republic. It was their faith in the Jedi that allowed their downfall. It was the rise of powerful Sith lords that crushed them. Without them, the Republic would have continued. Its politics might have been corrupt, but at least they had a political voice rather than the force choke of Palpatine and Vader. Wouldn’t they be better off with these mutants out of the picture?

But doesn’t that make our heroes from the original trilogy (especially Luke and Leia) the bad guys? No, in a search for scapegoats and revenge, the Republic has become insane and evil. The Republic is now the enemy, casting out or heroes and hunting them down along with their children. Even if we throw midichlorians out the window, it is well known from the first films that the Force runs strong in Luke’s family. Throw in the children, siblings, and cousins of the old Jedi order, and you have a genetic pool of would-be Force-users who will be on the run.

Thus, our heroes are thrown back into the role of the underdog. They are stripped of many of their allies. They have to survive, form their own resistance for mutual support, and train a new generation of Jedi in secret. Then, by the time the third film comes along, a new danger will threaten the Republic, and these Jedi, old and new, will have to step up and become the guardians of the Republic once again.

It is a tale of revenge vs. redemption.

Anyway, that’s what I would have done if I had bought Star Wars. What would you have done?

Page 100

Sorry, no essay today, but I crossed through page 100 on my new draft.  I draft on 8.5×11″ pages — or rather, their electronic equivalent — so that’s about 56,000 words.  In a trade paperback, that would be closing in on page 200.

I’m more or less on track to finish up by the end of July.  I’m setting a pace for 90,000 words, though my drafts tend to come in closer to 80,000 with another 5-10K creeping in during the edit phase.  This is for two reasons: first, my drafts are often light on needed description, and second, my initial drafts sometimes include notes like “hey, this gun needs to show up back in act 1.”  So, while there is some tightening of the prose during the edits, I also add a fair amount, sometimes in snippets and sometimes entire scenes.

It’s also been interesting in that I’m writing a sequel to a book that won’t come out until this fall, and I still have time to go back and change things in that first book.  So, as I’m winding this one down and firming up the ideas for the next three (it’s a 5-book series… I think), I’m seeing a couple of items that I need to go back and drop into the first book.  Things that, y’know… might be IMPORTANT later.

So, back to the word mines.  I’ve got another six or seven pages before the next bad thing happens to our heroes.

Sequel Summary Syndrome

So I’m writing a sequel now. No, it’s not a sequel to Beneath the Sky. It’s the sequel to another book of mine that’s scampering along towards publication. Anyway, this has brought me face to page with one of the most annoying things about sequels. How do you remind old readers (and tell new readers) what happened in the previous book without boring them to tears?

We have all seen this done badly. We will get pages of exposition dumped between trivial dialog, or worse, masquerading as dialog. “Well, Bob, as you know, I recently went on a two-year expedition up the Nile with my partner James, who unbeknownst to me, was actually a secret agent working in the Queen’s private service, but we were both equally surprised when the villainous Dr. Cavendale made his appearance in chapter four, I mean, in Alexandria. I need not tell you what happened next, but it began with…”

When I see it done that badly, I just want to skip ahead to the third or fourth chapter. Sure, I might miss something important, but if so, surely it will be repeated at the start of the next book. If I ever live long enough to get through this one, that is.

There has to be a better way.

I confess that in a fit of disgust with one particular author, I thought that the best solution would be a simple prologue. No, not the kind of prologue that shows a shadowy figure clawing through the Cave of Obscuria in the Time Before Calendars. No, I mean one that simply says, “This is book three in the series. If you’re not going to read the others first or if you’ve merely forgotten what happened in them, well, here’s what happened. In book 1, Billy met a nanobot named Charlie…” Two or three pages of key plot points, and then you can dive right into the new story.

But when I shared this with other readers, no one really like it much. To tell you the truth, I have soured on it some myself. I’m pretty sure I would skip those prologues, and then I would get into chapter three and start wondering where the hell Midge the Motor-mixer came from, because she walked onto the page like she owned the place.

So what are writers supposed to do? Fortunately, I’ve seen it done better recently, and once again I’ll point to Jim Butcher, that dream-crushing bastard of good writing. (No, I’m not envious of his talent – why do you ask?) I never get that mind-numbing “as you recall” crap from him, especially not from Harry Dresden. In fact, he doesn’t seem to reference the past much at all.

Then how I know where Midge the Motor-mixing Magi came from?

The key seems to be to put off all that backstory information until you absolutely need it, and then give the least information possible. From my programming days, that was what we called demand-loading. Don’t load the code until you actually call it the first time.

The only problem with this solution is that… well, it’s HARD. You can’t have Midge barge dramatically into the room and then dump three pages of backstory on the reader. By the time we get to the end, we’ve forgotten what she’s doing right now, and given that she’s mixing up people’s motorheads, it’s kind of important. I suppose the coding equivalent of that would be to demand-load a 200MB subsystem just to display a dialog. By the time it comes up.

Here I have to say Mr. Butcher cheats a little, but it’s a cheat I wish more people used. In Harry’s first-person narrative, he drops it in as a friendly reminder to the reader who obviously remembers all the rest, right? Instead of three pages of backstory, it’s merely, “Midge the Maddening Motor-Mixing Mage barged through the door. Damn, but I hadn’t seen her since that little disagreement we had over farm equipment. Nebraska is still putting out that fire.” Boom, we know she’s an enemy, they already fought once, and there’s unfinished business, and oh yeah… farm equipment. That was in book 16, Hay Day. I remember now.

It’s harder in third person, where the narrative voice is a lot stiffer, but still, I get how it’s supposed to be done. That doesn’t mean I know how to actually do it. If that doesn’t make sense, watch me try to change the oil on my car sometime.  I mean, really, you just unscrew this little filter thing, right?

So, what was the worst sequel summary you ever saw?