Rewriting Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Okay, so, it’s been a whole day and now I need to cave in to my writer’s nature and offer how I would have written Episode VII, which no one asked for and no one wants to see. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens, then you might want to skip this because it contains vague spoilers for the movie.

  1. Rey is a gas miner on Bespin, using her latent Force powers to find the best gas and survive in her crappy/cool ship, the Rustbucket. One day, her instincts lead her to find the Skywalker lightsaber (right where it was lost!). Needing money, she puts up a bulletin that the saber is for sale (eBespin? BespinList?).
  2. General Leia sees the bulletin and sends Poe Dameron to get the saber. General Hux sees the bulletin and sends Captain Phasma’s strike force to get it. And psycho loner Kylo Ren sees it and comes too, in his badass ship Vivisector with his evil droid sidekick, DV8. They all converge on Cloud City (Lando cameo!), where Phasma captures Poe, and Finn helps him to escape (same as the film). Kylo confronts Rey in a creepy way, but Finn and Poe help her escape. Poe convinces Finn and Rey to help him find Luke for Leia, so they use Rey’s Force visions to guide them to the New Jedi temple!
  3. Our heroes fly the Rustbucket to the New Jedi temple and learn that this is where Luke’s students were all killed by Kylo Ren. They see a strangely devastated temple, and learn a few details from elderly Maz Kanata, who saw Luke himself leaving the planet on a Mandalorian pirate ship. Rey has more visions, including the scene of Kylo betraying Luke. Kylo Ren lurks in the shadows, following them. When Phasma tries to interrupt them, Kylo sends her running. Villain fight!
  4. Our heroes fly the Rustbucket to the derelict Devastator, an old Star Destroyer that is the home base for the Mandalorian pirates. They sneak on board and BB-8 plugs into the mainframe to see if there’s any information about Luke, and BB discovers the long-lost R2D2! Our heroes rescue R2 from the pirates, but before they can escape, the pirates destroy the Rustbucket . Finn and Poe face off against Phasma and the pirates, while Rey uses her growing powers to fend off Kylo. R2 sends a distress signal, and Han and Chewie show up in the Millennium Falcon (because it’s more reasonable for a specific person to show up if you call them on purpose!). They all hop on the Falcon for a thrilling space battle with Phasma, Kylo, and the Mandalorians (including Boba Fett’s ship! Is Fett on board? Who knows?!). Lots of pirates die, Han blows up Fett’s ship, Phasma is sent hurling off into space, and only Kylo manages to follow the Falcon into hyperspace, as R2D2 guides them to Luke’s retreat.
  5. Our heroes arrive at Luke’s World, where Han confronts Kylo, and is mortally wounded. Sensing his friend’s pain, Luke emerges from hiding, his Force powers wildly out of control. Whole forests are torn up, mountains split open, and the sea boils up into the sky. Kylo panics and flees, Luke collapses by his friend, and Han dies in Luke’s arms. The forests, mountains, and seas all fall back down as Luke grieves, and Rey hands him his lightsaber, saying “It’s time to come home” and he says, “I know.”

Boom. That’s it. No Starkiller Base, no Leader Snoke, minimal Leia and C3PO, less Han, more Poe, a little Lando, a Boba Fett nod, and no leaps in logic. A simple linear story focused on Rey that reveals more about why Luke went away so we care more about bringing him back, that also builds up Phasma more as a villain for Finn in parallel to Kylo as a villain for Rey.

How about you? How would you do Episode 7 differently?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens reactions (Spoilers!)

So I went out to see Star Wars on opening day, because STAR WARS, and I laughed (literally) and I cried (literally) and generally loved it (mostly), and here are my spoiler-laced thoughts. Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned… Spoilers!

What I liked:

  • Rey, Finn, and Poe were outstanding. They were real and funny and they were so excited to be doing whatever they were doing. I want to spend all of my time with them! Poe’s opening scenes were funny and badass, Finn brought fantastic energy and a sort of everyman perspective, and Rey was just… amazing. Her range was amazing, her intensity was amazing. It was her movie.
  • The general story set-up was great, the idea that the Force and the Jedi and all of the old heroes were nothing more than modern myths to the next generation felt real and natural. They didn’t loom over the story/universe as powerful icons.
  • I liked the notion that Han and Leia had a son, and Luke failed him as a teacher, and that’s why everyone is upset and no longer hanging out together. That too felt real and natural.
  • I liked that Kylo Ren was a villain wrestling with his better nature. It’s an interesting twist on the “hero wrestling with his darker nature”, although not all of those scenes played as well as they might have.
  • Rey with the lightsaber! This is where I literally started crying, and I have no idea why. Apparently I just really needed to see her rise up and be totally badass and wonderful, and she was. In fact, every minute she wasn’t on the screen, I found myself wondering when she would be back.
  • Really, just the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes were the best parts of the movie for me, when it was all focused on Rey (and Finn and Poe, to a lesser degree).

What I didn’t like:

Ugh… sorry, I’m going to sound like a nit-picky complainer here, but bear with me.

  • The coincidences! So. Many. Coincidences. The Millennium Falcon just happens to be parked behind Rey’s flea market. Han and Chewie just happen to be near Jakku when Rey flies off in the Falcon. Maz Kanata just happens to have Luke’s lightsaber. Poe magically rescues himself and shows up to save Finn and Han. R2D2 just happens to have the other 92% of the map to Luke’s location. Grrr. (Yes, R2 is probably the one who took Luke there, but still!)
  • The politics didn’t make sense. So the Republic is back (yay?), but the military force fighting the bad guys is some sort of separate “Resistance”? Why aren’t they just the Republic Army at this point? Do they really still need to look and sound like the underdogs?
  • Starkiller Base makes the Death Star seem like completely solid science fiction. Converting an entire planet into a weapon? Why not! Can it even move? Who cares! And it blows up five planets at a time instead of one, while also destroying the local star? So not overkill! At least Han was able to make fun of it appropriately.
  • The First Order blows up five core planets of the Republic in one shot (we’ll ignore the fact that these explosions were all conveniently visible in the sky where our heroes were hanging out), but everyone just sort of grimaces and says, “All the more reason to stop the bad guys!” I mean, didn’t the First Order just win? Wasn’t that the equivalent of nuking the Republic’s leadership, military, and economy right there?
  • Grand Leader Giant Gollum Snoak. Why is he CGI? Why isn’t he just a guy in makeup? Also, why is his title (and name) so stupid? The Emperor was just “The Emperor” and that was plenty clear and scary, he didn’t even need a name. Very underwhelming villain.
  • Captain Phasma is supposed to be Finn’s personal boogy-woman, but she’s only shown to be a no-nonsense officer, not a monster. I wish we had seen a few more minutes of her slaughtering villagers and brutalizing stormtroopers so we could hate and fear her more. Seems like it would have been easy to add 15 more seconds of her shouting, shooting, and punching things.

What I wish they had done:

And here’s the obligatory armchair quarterbacking.

  • I wish there had been no Starkiller Base storyline at all. I would have loved to just see Rey, Finn, and Poe doing “The Search for Luke” by themselves in a race against the Empire on one side and the scary outside threat of Kylo Ren on the other (working all alone in his totally badass ship, perhaps with an evil sidekick droid).
  • I wish Han and Leia had been smaller roles, even cameos (though Han had a lot of good scenes). The new cast was more than capable of carrying the movie on their own.
  • I wish Kylo Ren had kept his helmet on until the end when he confronted Han Solo, so the reveal would be bigger.
  • I wish Kylo Ren wasn’t “apprenticed” to the Supreme Leader, and that he had no Knights (who we never really see anyway) and was just an angry, crazy loner.

What I hope to see in the sequels:

  • More Rey, Finn, and Poe!
  • Absolutely no explanation of Rey’s family or background! Because I want her to remain a totally normal orphan who rises to greatness on her own. (Please don’t be Luke’s daughter! Or Obi-wan’s granddaughter! Please!)
  • Less “epic-ness” and more personal drama. We’re all set for “Crazy Uncle Luke” and “Sad-Mad Leia” versus “Emo Vader Junior”, and I see no reason to mention the Order, the Resistance, the Republic, the Grand Leader, or anything else that is capitalized.
  • The return of Captain Phasma with a revenge fetish for Finn, making her into his own personal Boba Fett.

That’s almost a thousand words, so I’m done. What did you think of Episode 7?

 

Vixen is the superhero show you need to watch

So you really loved the DC animated superhero shows like Young Justice and you’re hungry for more? Then I have some good news. VIXEN is here!

The CW is launching a new animated mini-series in the same TV universe as their popular live-action series Arrow and Flash featuring the heroine Vixen. And who is she? Vixen is a supermodel by day and crimefighter by night who uses a magic necklace to harness the powers of wild animals, like the strength of an elephant or the speed of a cheetah.

You can watch the first 5-minute episode of Vixen online: Watch it now!

 

 

Can men write good women characters?

This is a stupid question. Can men write good women characters? Obviously, the answer is no. Men are idiots. Wait. No, I meant to say the other thing. Yes, (some) men can write (fairly) good women characters (sometimes). No, the real question is this: why can’t all men write good women characters all the time?

Here’s the thing. I’m a man (you’ll just have to take my word on that). And I wrote Elf Saga: Doomsday, which has a primary cast of five women, and is written from the first-person perspectives of those women. Now, the vast majority of the reviews of Elf Saga are fantastic 4- and 5-star ratings, so clearly some humans think it’s a good book. But who are my fans and who are my critics? Men or women?

(And before we go any further, yes, I know that this post looks like I’m tooting my own horn, but just wait until the end, please, because I am trying to make a very serious point. Thanks!)

Now, let’s look at the numbers.

Currently, there are 47 reviews of Elf Saga on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 (thank you for that!). So let’s check out what the people are saying about the characters in Elf Saga, broken down by gender:

Gender Unknown

(aka “People who use weird screen names on Amazon”)

  • 3 stars: “I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other”
  • 4 stars: “the cast of lead characters are a well-written group of female protagonists, something I haven’t encountered too often in works of fantasy”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were great”
  • 5 stars: ” I love the idea of a band of adventurers that are mostly women instead of the standard fare of women being support only”
  • 5 stars: “I always love a good story with smart strong women kicking butts all the way”
  • 5 stars: “The characters are great”

Assessment: People of unknown gender seem to be consistently positive about the women characters in Elf Saga.

Men

(aka “Bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling”)

  • 3 stars: “for a group of supposedly seasoned warriors they seemed entirely too silly. The lead characters, who are all female, don’t really act like women. They act like what a man thinks women act like”
  • 4 stars: “very competent female heroes”
  • 5 stars: “each of our protagonists have their own particular quirks and personality traits. These ‘traits’ bloom and expand as the story proceeds”
  • 5 stars: “Lewis has awesome characters with personalities that remind me of guys I served with in the Navy”

Assessment: Aha! Here we go! So, a couple guys like the women characters, but the one 3-star-man thinks the writer-man (me) failed to create decent women characters, because the characters “act like what a man thinks women act like”, which apparently is wrong, because… real women act in ways that men don’t think women do? Maybe? At any rate, it’s clear that this reviewer-man feels he knows how all women act (because women all act the same way, obviously) better than the writer-man knows how all women act. So there!

Women

(aka “Actual real live women”)

  • 1 star: “The characters are good and it’s quite funny in parts”
  • 4 stars: “I approached this book with a bit of trepidation after seeing that a male author was writing a story with an almost entire female cast. I was pleasantly surprised at the nice job he did with those characters. He did a great job of meshing the characters with all their bantering and bickering, and ultimately with their trust in and loyalty to each other.”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the very strong female characters”
  • 4 stars: “The characters are each unique and have distinct personalities that I would enjoy watching grow”
  • 4 stars: “I liked the feminine point of view”
  • 5 stars: “The characters were each fully fleshed with their own distinct backgrounds and I would love to read a book about each of them in turn if given the chance. I have never really read many books with a feminine point of view but I must admit I did truly enjoy this”
  • 5 stars: “the person who complained about the women being too masculine must remember that all warriors are pretty much the same. I applaud the writer on his ability to keep my interest in this book”
  • 5 stars: “The group of elf girls are hilarious”
  • 5 stars: “I was pleasantly surprised as I finished up the last paged. The characters had such varied personalities”
  • 5 stars: “As the story goes on you get to know the characters and cheer for them or agree with their choices”

Assessment: Real actual women think that the women characters in Elf Saga are good (hilarious! strong! unique!).

So there we have it. In addition to giving me an excuse to post all about my own positive reviews, this little exercise has shown that a man is capable of writing a popular, engaging story about a diverse cast of women who appeal to both men and women readers.

And this brings us to the real question, the real point, the very serious issue that I mentioned at the beginning of this ridiculous post:

If I, a man who admittedly has no idea what he is doing, can write good women characters, why the hell are so many other men failing to do the same?

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part Four

Read Part Three

When I create a fictional place that is meant to resemble a real place, I try to get the details right. The food, the clothes, the wildlife, the music, the architecture. But the more important issues are how the society functions, what it values, what it rejects, etc. These notions should inform how the society works and how the characters think and act. These are issues that I worry about.

And they are also issues that I tend to dodge. I admit that.

Elf Saga is a character-driven, fast-paced adventure. It’s all about the characters and their banter and shooting magic missiles at dragons. And yes, as individuals, my characters are partly informed by the cultures that they come from. But Elf Saga is not really about politics. My heroines spend most of their time in the wilderness fighting monsters, not in cities engaging in complex discourse on serious topics. Someone smarter than me should write those stories. I do these other stories.

With Elf Saga, I just want to entertain you guys. I do tackle real issues in other series (probably not very well), but Elf Saga is just supposed to be fun. And it’s supposed to be fun for everyone. I want all of my readers to feel like they have a seat at the Hero Table.

And logically, if you have an African Elf Princess, then you need an African Elf Country for her, etc. So I built a world, and while it may not be the most complete or believable world you’ve ever visited, I sincerely hope it’s one you enjoy visiting, where you feel welcome and visible and appreciated. Because you should be. And in my world, you are.

Holy crab, I’m getting sappy and sentimental, so that’s all for now.

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part Three

Read Part Two

To offer readers a different sort of fantasy book, Elf Saga features elven heroines from countries that resemble France, Nigeria, India, Japan, and the Aztec Empire. Sometimes I used historical names like “Amina” and “Lozen” because I thought it wouldn’t hurt to nudge people into learning about the real queen Amina and the real warrior Lozen, but sometimes I just made up names like Jenavelle, because I’m super creative like that.

(The only caveat to names is that when I did make up a name, I would Google it to make sure I had not accidentally invented the name “Adolf Hitler” in another culture. Because that would be a major oopsy-daisy situation.)

Some Elf Saga characters are straight, some are gay, one is asexual. There is drinking and swearing. Some are big and muscular, and some are short and curvy. Some have chronic illnesses. Some have extensive facial scarring, and some have golden unicorn tattoos. Different strokes, folks.

But the story is never about “what” they are. That’s all just what they bring to the table. The story is always about who they are and what they do. No one cares if someone is gay. But they do care if they have to give up a life of sword-swinging dragon-murder to become a faerie priestess!

Continued in Part Four…

Culture, Media, and Elf Saga: Part Two

Read Part One

I did a lot of being-alive in the 1990s when there were a ton of popular shows featuring all-black casts, from A Different World to Fresh Prince to Moesha to Family Matters to Girlfriends. Black superhero Static Shock had his own animated TV series. Back then, it was easy (for me at least) to feel like it was totally normal to see lots of complex characters (and families and communities) with not-white faces in the media.

But not so much today, which is dumb because the US is about 35% not-white and the planet is about 80% not-white. (Also, Idris Elba is awesome. Have you seen Luthor?) The fantasy genre especially tends to be be fairly pale and male, even today. I don’t see a ton of evolution in diversity between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, or the upcoming Shannara series on MTV.

And this hurts our society. We all need heroes and role models, both explicitly and subconsciously, to help us grow up and become awesome people. (This has been proven by science, by the way, on everything from gender to race to mental health to body image issues.) Nichelle Nichols’s performance on Star Trek inspired a young Whoopi Goldberg to become an actress, whose performance on Direct from Broadway in turn inspired Shonda Rhimes to become a TV writer. See? It matters! It works!

So here’s me, doing the other thing. Why? Because I have two daughters, and I want them to grow up in the best world possible. I may not be able to change network television, or Hollywood, or the video game industry, but I evidently have the time and temperament to sit around writing Elf Saga books, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Continued in Part Three…