Ever since that first viewing, I’ve been fascinated with Star Wars: glowing light-sabers, thundering star ships, and brilliant dialogue (cough, cough). As a wee youngster, I even checked out a fancy book about the making of Star Wars. Besides the curious technique for making the light-saber, what stuck with my ten-year-old brain was the fact that it took Mr. George Lucas at least four official drafts to get things “just right.”
Young Ben (Hewett): At least four drafts? George Lucas must not be a very good writer!
Old Ben (Hewett): Err… I just started draft seven of my book.
Young Ben (Hewett): YOU must not be a very good writer. . .
Fortunately, I’m realizing that most first drafts stink and that good writers are lucky for a second draft that doesn’t equally stink. And Uncle George didn’t do it all himself. A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there were editors and beta readers. They helped him get from a lame, clunky script to one that broke box-office records. (Even after extensive script revisions, Harrison Ford still crossed out many of Han Solo’s lines in his script and scribbled in better ones.) Lesson for aspiring writers: an outside perspective is essential to producing fiction.
In celebration of The Force Awakens, due out December 18th 2015, I imagined what an early beta reader might have said about the first or second draft of Star Wars. Don’t be fooled. These problems are [mostly] mine; I’m just pawning them off on George for fun.
Letter to George Lucas, circa 1973.
Finally read your script. Unfortunately, I’ll never get that time back.
In short, your ending fell flat and your characters have no soul. I’ve made some comments on the larger issues, but be sure to get a second opinion, because I was pretty numb by the time I reached the end.
RAISE THE STAKES
I didn’t buy that final assault. You had Luke fly in there, single-handedly shoot down a bunch of TIE fighters, and detonate the core. Is this Boxcar Children? You called it a Death Star so make it look hard. (Incidentally, what is a TIE fighter? Bow-TIEs? Windsors? Doesn’t sound very intimidating.)
People need to fail. A second run down that laser trench is a must! Have the actors hold their breath, sweat, and curse. There ought to be swarms of lasers and exploding starships. Forget the effects budget for a minute, because that’s what today’s audiences want. Make them think that Luke is going down in flames.
AMP UP YOUR VILLIAN
The dude in the black suit and the James Earl Jones voice is cool, but he ought to be practically on top of the audience, breathing heavily and saying creepy things like “The force is strong with this one.” He should also be dealing out death left and right. Can you make him choke some people? For extra points, make him Luke’s actual father. Homicidal father, reckless son. Good drama.
TWO WORDS: CHARACTER GROWTH
Make the finale both universally and personally significant. Luke’s been a whiny farm kid most of this movie script. To have him blowing up the evil empire by virtue of his well-honed pilot skills is a missed opportunity. Stop talking about this mysterious force and show it. Maybe that old guy you unceremoniously killed in the second act can speak to him from beyond the grave. “Use the Force, Luke,” or something like that. Listening to advice from the “afterlife” shows either personal growth or an unhealthy fixation on death. Both are interesting.
Also, Han shouldn’t fly off at the last minute to pay his debt. He’s a scoundrel, true, but he’s also a business man, and that Death Star crowd is bad for smuggling. His own character arc will be more interesting if his self-interest is in conflict with his hidden need for friendship. Have him put that awesome-fast ship right out there on the poker table and risk it all.
NOT EVERYBODY CAN WALK AWAY.
Don’t cheapen the victory by saving every wingman. Somebody has to die. Why not Biggs, the childhood friend? (His death would have more impact if we see him more than once in the script.)
“TIE” IT ALL TOGETHER (Ha!)
Make every moment play into the final scene. If Jawas die and generals get force-choked, then we can see a little better why dethroning Darth Breather is so important.
George, I know I’m riding you hard here, but face it: It doesn’t take a genius to write a B-grade science fiction flick. Somebody might fund this, but not me. Do yourself a favor and write another draft. Or seven. This finale could hit like a heavyweight boxer, but you’ve got to have likeable characters and a plausible plot to make emotional impact. All the special effects in the world won’t give it soul if you mess that up.
Enough from me. This is good (fake) advice for anyone trying to finish their first novel. Or a long-awaited movie sequel. 🙂