I saw The Force Awakens again yesterday. And I loved it with every fiber of my being.
I am the person and writer I am in no small part due to Star Wars. I know I’m not alone in this. I’m not claiming to be singularly influenced in a deeper way than anyone else, yadda yadda. But here this is my story. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen Star Wars. Its structure and tone has left an indelible mark on me.
Spoilers may follow.
Because of Star Wars, I found Joseph Campbell. Because of Campbell, I changed courses from an East Asian Studies degree and a projected future working on/in anime/manga or teaching in Japan to the Individualized Major Program and my B.A. in Creative Mythology. And in the course of pursuing that degree, I got serious about writing.
Watching The Force Awakens wasn’t the unexpected conversion experience that I had watching Mad Max: Fury Road. But what TFA did, as John Green says in this video, is prove that the myth of Star Wars could be effectively expanded, carried forward and broadened, updated and extended. It drank deeply from the well of resonance, both Star Wars resonance and the same resonance that Star Wars tapped into – namely the Monomyth structure. Seeing Abrams, Kasdan, and Arndt go back to the Hero With a Thousand Faces playbook (effectively, not clumsily) and put a woman in the central role, with two men of color to round out the new generations Hero Trinity, is a big deal for SF storytelling and film in general. Star Wars has been a big deal since its release, and this film is the biggest part of the new canon so far.
The film is certainly not perfect – there’s a lot that’s left for the audience to figure out themselves that could have easily and quickly been established in the text of the film, and I think Starkiller Base’s attacks needed much clearer and sharper emotional impact for the cast.
But it got so much right that the quibbles didn’t even come close to knocking me off of cloud nine, even in the second viewing. One of the biggest things that TFA got right and made it feel like Star Wars for me was putting relationships and emotion front-and-center. The friendships between Finn and Poe and Finn and Rey, the yearning for Luke, and the family relationships of the Organa-Solo clan, are what drive the story. The lightsaber duels at the end hinged on and emerged from relationships and emotion.
As someone who frequently draws upon stories that have come before, remixing popular culture, The Force Awakens is a big deal for me. Every generation creates its own versions of the stories that have come before, and this is Star Wars for the next generation – with greater diversity in gender and race representation from top-to-bottom, and hints toward at least one LGBTQ lead.
During the second half of the duel in the finale, I was teary with joy. In that moment, I thought that I wanted nothing more as an artist than to write works that make people feel as much joy and hope as I felt in that moment. Watching the movie scooped out fear and doubt and worry and left me full of joy. TFA helped re-affirm my belief in the power and personal and social utility of that kind of story – where action-adventure and character relationships, done right, can inspire great joy and hope. And that’s more than enough.
It’s something I struggle with, feeling like I should focus on drama, on Serious And Important Social Issues Like a Good Science Fiction Writer, rather than ‘wasting’ my time on ‘shallow’ Action/Adventure stories and comedy. And I don’t think it’s a dichotomy, not really. Look at Steven Universe (Consent, Responsibility, Friendship), Mad Max: Fury Road (Anti-Patriarchy, Anti-Toxic Masculinity),Pacific Rim (interdependence, teamwork), and so on.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep engaging with cultural and narrative inheritances. I’m going to wear my influences on my sleeve and tell stories with the intent to inspire joy and hope, and do my best to give them depth and resonance to go with the excitement and the spectacle.
And fortunately, I already have a Space Opera WIP to channel this excitement into. 🙂
My latest book is The Shootout Solution: Genrenauts Episode 1 – about a group of inter-dimensional story doctors that travel to worlds based on narrative genres to fix broken stories.
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