“Use the Force, Luke.”It’s one of the most iconic phrases in the history of film – and if you haven’t heard it before, you must have been living on a backwater desert planet for the last forty years.
It also contains a valuable lesson for writers. In our latest Writing Insights article, Edward Smith takes a look at how these four words unlock the secrets of the character arc.
And a quick warning if you’ve been living on that desert planet… This article contains spoilers for the original Star Wars trilogy.
We all want to write memorable characters with plenty of depth, and any writer who knows their craft knows that the key to this is the character arc: a process of change and growth that a character undergoes in the course of the story. A character who changes pops off the page and the screen because they are reacting to the world they inhabit, as real people do, whereas a static character is forever nothing more than a two-dimensional collection of traits.
Yet change just for the sake of change is not enough. The very best character arcs do something more: they equip the hero with the qualities they need to emerge victorious. If your thoughts just went to every training montage you’ve ever seen, you’re on the right lines, but to maximize this concept it needs to be taken further. Skills and knowledge are one thing, but gaining the wisdom to make use of what they know – that is what makes a character’s journey truly satisfying.
And this is where we come to our key phrase. “Use the Force, Luke.”
In the original Star Wars trilogy, the character arc is applied brilliantly – and differently – in each of the three films. Luke Skywalker undergoes three arcs, each one concluding in a different fashion, showing us how invaluable it is to fully understand this concept.
Luke starts out as a mere farmboy who could never triumph against the might of the Empire. In the course of his adventures, however, he grows into a hero who is entrusted, in the film’s climax, with the task of destroying the Death Star. Yet even then, even with all he has learned, he comes dangerously close to failure, and it takes a reminder from Obi-Wan Kenobi to make sure he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of those who came before him. “Use the Force, Luke.” Luke now has the wisdom to listen – and is rewarded with victory.
Here we find the character arc used to different effect – in fact, in entirely the opposite manner. After going to train with Jedi Master Yoda, Luke leaves before he is ready despite the warnings of his teacher – and, erm… It doesn’t end well for him. At all. This is fundamentally the tragic form, in which the hero fails to learn what they need to succeed – although unlike most tragic heroes, Luke is lucky enough to escape with his life.
Luke actually has little physical impact on the film’s conclusion. While the Rebellion faces off against the Empire (albeit aided by teddy-bears), Luke is locked in a personal battle with Darth Vader and the Emperor, emerging with a moral victory by having the wisdom to know when to stay his hand. While it doesn’t directly affect what happens elsewhere, his arc is nonetheless satisfying because it has a karmic effect; his moral victory is rewarded within the story by simultaneous success for his friends in the Rebellion.
So what can we learn from this? The original Star Wars trilogy demonstrates how a character arc is not merely about growth, but growth with purpose, giving a character not merely the skills they need but also the wisdom to use them. It also shows how an arc can be used in different ways: to give your protagonist success, disaster, or a moral victory.
So whichever kind of character arc you opt for in your script, you now have all the information you need – just make sure you have the wisdom to use it…
Ian Kennedy and John Sullivan both give their opinions on the latest installments of Disney’s STAR WARS film in this THE LAST JEDI review… SPOILER WARNING – there are some mild spoilers for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI ahead.
I really enjoyed this one, and as a writer and analyst there was plenty to make me smile about it. Like THE FORCE AWAKENS it shows the right amount of respect and reverence to the original series and characters while pushing the familiar premise and themes firmly into a new generation and new world. At times during the battles, key characters and their craft got an easy ride – often for long unexplained periods while it was clear that they ought to be taking a lot of fire (like the others around them). Other than that, a few gimmicky jokes (“I’ll hold”) and the ultimately pointless time at a casino – which wasn’t other-worldly enough for a STAR WARS movie, and unnecessary anyway – this one worked for me.
From an analyst’s point of view, here are some of the things that were great. Somehow, ALL of the characters we care about – and there are a LOT of them now – get the right amount of screen time and strong character arcs that complement the main story. (R2-D2 only really gets one moment, but c’mon, BB8 is better anyway; the ever-annoying C3PO gets interrupted every time, and even Yoda gets another chance to mentor Luke.) We see Luke Skywalker complete his character arc from farmboy to transcendent Obi-Wan Kenobi. The lightsaber fights and the new uses of the Force are fresh and eyecatching, as are some of the uses of other tropes we’ve seen before (lightspeed, for example). There are plenty of new quirky aliens and droid moments – I liked the nuns at the Jedi temple, for example. Just as the plot and premise of THE FORCE AWAKENS mirrored the original STAR WARS (EPISODE IV), this one mirrors THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in that it’s a long dark night of the soul for the Resistance, who are down to almost nothing by the end. This film finds new shades of grey to enrich its binary central conflict (the Resistance vs the Dark Side) – with new kinds of dilemma and battle for the hearts of the central characters, and reference to the arms dealer selling to both sides, for example. There are new kinds of heroism, self-sacrifice and resistance – contrasting the strategic rivalry between the wasteful hotshot methods of Poe, and the more subtle and clever methods employed by his superiors. All of this explores the series’ themes and conflicts further and better than before.
All in all, the movie ticks all the right boxes. Sure, not an Oscar-winner, but a great blockbuster sci-fi action adventure and a strong STAR WARS movie. And let’s be honest, those are more fun than most Oscar-winners.
Meanwhile, John says…
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away there used to be amazement and anticipation surrounding STAR WARS. But after watching THE LAST JEDI I’m only left with a remarkable feeling of being underwhelmed.
It’s hard to put into words how disappointed I am with THE LAST JEDI, but I’ll do it anyway. THE FORCE AWAKENS, while not magnificently original, felt like a STAR WARS film. The plot followed the same pattern as both A NEW HOPE and THE PHANTOM MENACE, stakes were high, the new characters were well-introduced and we spent a good amount of time with one character we loved.
THE LAST JEDI was just… a whole lotta nothing. For a 2-and-a-half-hour flick, there’s a lot going on, but nothing ever really happens. The film never really expands on what it’s logline is. The last of the Resistance forces try to escape the clutches of the First Order, while Kylo Ren and Rey come into conflict with themselves and each other. You’d imagine that’s a good set-up for a STAR WARS film, right? Wrong.
There is no expansion on the story, or the characters. Whole subplots, that are made out to be vitally important and integral to the storyline are made redundant with certain character and writing decisions. Characters that were made out to be hugely important were shoved aside meaninglessly. This film just did not have an end goal in sight. There were no major consequences in the film, or rather, none that were logically formed from the plot or character decisions. We are more or less in the same spot that we were in at the start of the film thematically and in terms of the greater story – nothing of any substance happened… at all.
THE LAST JEDI was just so… sigh… What was it Yoda used to say? “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Well, there was no trying with this film’s plot.
Who do you agree with? What did you think of THE LAST JEDI? Let us know on our Twitter and Facebook pages!
The eye of the storm: in the second of our series of VFX interviews, VFX expert Habib Zargarpour reveals how his teams achieved such awesome effects in A PERFECT STORM, TWISTER, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, STAR WARS EPISODE I (THE PHANTOM MENACE) and many other films.
In the second of our series of VFX interviews, Habib tells our Ian Kennedy how to achieve natural disasters and why yogurt holds the key to VFX. His credits include two STAR TREK movies, STAR WARS EPISODE 1 (THE PHANTOM MENACE), THE BOURNE IDENTITY, JUMANJI, THE MASK, SPAWN and lots more so he must be onto something!
HABIB: I’ve had the chance to work on a lot of disaster films, especially natural disasters. For those we would work with storyboards but also with tons of real-world reference, which was difficult. People have seen on TV what tornados look like, stormy seas look like, how water looks, what fire looks like, things that we had very difficult but precise things to match to. There were other projects where we had much more creative freedom in the effect, for example on Star Trek, there would be maybe one concept art of the energy ribbon nexus effect in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, then we would come up with what that would look like in 3 dimensions, how that would move, and what the colours would be, so that there’s a nice range there. Other times we would take, let’s say the tornado effect in Twister, turn it upside down, turn it around and that would be the rocket flow, you know? I equate it to making yogurt – you always need a little bit of [older] yogurt that helps to get the new one going, it saves you a bit of time, you know? And so for example, for A PERFECT STORM we had to do sprays and splashes of water, but we already had a particle system from TWISTER and we were able to do different things with it. How to we take things that are meant to simulate a dust storm and something that looks dusty and thick, and make it look like water vapor, make it look like a splash. There’s the physics of how all that moves, but when it comes to the look of it, there’s actually a lot of similarities between dust in the air and spray and water mist in the air, you study the difference. We added in light penetrating deeper which was able to scatter more, and that gives you the water splash. We had real water splashes to match to on set, and references of stormy seas – that kind of stuff’s really tough.
A still from one of Habib’s films, A PERFECT STORM.
Things have come a long way in 17 years since A PERFECT STORM. Software is able to simulate all the different components of water, it still takes a huge amount of time to run those things, but at least some of it’s more achievable all in one place, whereas back then we had to divide things up into elements separately so the machines could deal with it, and the artists, actually. We learned a lot from meteorologists and people who study oceans and storms, I don’t know whether they gained anything from us other than enjoying it visually. It’s amazing watching on TV these days, it’s a strange combination of things going on at the same time, like earthquakes and watching these hurricanes going on through all the time. At the time I was working on TWISTER I had trouble driving, because I would get distracted by cloud formations in the skies, sometimes I’d have to pull over and take pictures of it. That could be dangerous!
IAN: I bet! So – if all the directors and DPs and VFX people you’d worked with all separately asked you to work on their different projects at exactly the same time, who would you choose?
HABIB: Oh God! (laughs) That’s a really tough question. I think it’d be a tie between Denis [Villeneuve] and John Nelson. Denis is a really great visionary director, and I know whatever John Nelson does next is gonna be maybe perfect!
BLADE RUNNER 2049 Not running at full speed yet… maybe that’s not a bad thing though…
BLADE RUNNER 2049 may have had a slowish start to its Box-Office life, but that could work in its favor… sorta.
While the film may never be a blockbuster hit in the same vein as any Marvel film or STAR WARS, it could become a cult classic in its own right.
The original itself was never a big conventional Hollywood blockbuster either, so in that regard the sequel stays true to the original – which is great… for the fans. But it’s been such a long time since the fans and the theme of a film were prioritized over making some dough, and for that BLADE RUNNER 2049 has our backing (see Ian’s review as well for why).
The latest STAR WARS trailer for episode VIII, THE LAST JEDI, has just dropped and it is a master at disguising its true intentions – just like Palpatine…
While the trailer gives away a lot of action that will be happening – round 2 between Kylo and Rey, Luke training Rey – these situations were highly expected even before the trailer released. What the trailer did expertly was to not just hide plot details, but to dress them up as something else and misdirect the audience.
Here’s just a few examples
Both Luke and Snoke mention the massive, raw power of an individual. Luke says “I’ve seen this strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then… it does now.” Snoke says something very similar at the start of the trailer. The way the trailer sets these lines up makes the audience immediately think that Kylo Ren is the common factor here. However, this is just jumping to conclusions. They could both be referencing Luke himself – what the trailer does brilliantly is to make us think one way so that our expectations are subverted when we see the actual film.
There’s a little moment between Kylo and Leia in the trailer… only it doesn’t happen. There’s an intercutting of the shots to make it appear like a “shot-reverse shot” technique, giving the illusion the scene we see are connected. But, of course, they’re almost certainly not. Is it possible those scenes are connected? Possibly, but there’s ambiguity and a lack of certainty that we can’t be sure about. Just like…
Finding a Rey of hope…
A line uttered to what the trailer makes us believe to be Kylo. This is amplified by Kylo offering a hand to Rey – or so we think. Again, the trailer has been edited to make us believe that Rey is speaking to Kylo and that it Kylo is offering his hand to Rey. How sure are you of both of those things? Rey could be speaking to Luke, Leia, or even Snoke. The hand could be Luke’s or Kylo’s. That hand may have no relation there at all.
What this trailer has done is offer so much to audiences and nothing at the same time. Fans can now theorize on what will happen based on the trailer and based on its misdirects. There are so many doors Episode VIII could go down.
Both Mark Hamill and director Rian Johnson initially urged fans to stay away from promotional material for the film, assumedly because it would give too much away. But having watched the trailer it’s really given us the best of both worlds. It gives us a feeling of what we can expect, it hypes up certain interactions and duels while giving away very little.
Just remember, “This is not going to go the way you think.”
Whoever is doing my notes is doing a wonderful job. These are by far the best notes I've ever received. I can tell he or she has REALLY read my script. I like that every time a flaw is pointed out it comes with an explanation and a suggestion on how to fix it. Keep up the GREAT work!
Feedback from Ruben Bush III, our Winter 2016 Contest Grand Prize Winner - July 2017.
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