Everyone Makes a Star Wars Post

So September contained no actual time: I was working on the first draft of Book 3, finishing edits for Book 2, going on blog tours for No Proper Lady, visiting a friend across the country, and…I don’t even remember what else. I might have robbed a bank; I might have met aliens; it’s all kind of blurry.

I’m back!

And a discussion over at Ana Mardoll’s blog has gotten me thinking about writing redeemable villains, which in turn leads to the old geek standby: Yet Another Reason the Star Wars Prequels Sucked. Which I have to write eventually, anyhow, lest armed thugs come and confiscate all of my multi-sided dice.

First of all, a caveat: I’m approaching this from an audience perspective. To date, I don’t think I’ve written any particularly redeemable villains. This is partly because I’m harsh and partly because it’s…really pretty tough, striking the balance between “bad enough to need redemption” and “good enough that redemption is a triumph rather than a cop-out”.

Vader establishes Point 1 pretty damn quick. We’re a quarter of the way through the movie when he blows up a planet of civilians–okay, Grand Moff does that, but Vader certainly isn’t protesting–thus skipping merrily across what TV Tropes calls the Moral Event Horizon. First objective: completed.

But then, somewhere along the line, the film became a trilogy and Lucas decided that Vader needed redemption, because he was Luke’s father, and while I don’t get the “sharing DNA with a good guy means you too must have the potential for good” trope, okay, whatever.

Except now we have a problem. Mr. Planet Exploder Force-Chokey Dude in Movie 1 shows up as a peaceful blue Force ghost in Movie 3, and somehow the audience has to be okay with this. This is not easy. Even the most universal-salvation-and-fuzziness religions in RL, one of which I nominally follow, don’t dwell too much on the fact that Ted Bundy *also* gets to chill out in the good afterlife, because…yeah, nobody really likes thinking about that. Vader has billions of dead people on his count, and somehow he redeems himself.

The thing is? The three main movies make this possible, or at least make it possible for me to fanwank a story where it makes sense: guy starts out serving the Empire for good reasons, watches it become more and more corrupt, makes larger and larger moral compromises for “the greater good”, and then finds he’s in a place where he can’t turn back and…what the fuck do you do then? You’re doomed anyhow, so you might as well go along…and then someone stubbornly insists that you’re not doomed, so you throw the Emperor down a convenient reactor shaft. Okay. I can deal with that. That’s a guy like Obi-Wan describes, who could have been amazing and awesome but got lost somewhere.

Except…the prequels don’t let me do that any more. The prequels establish that Anakin went from “basically faithful if slightly ragey Jedi” to child-excuse-me-“youngling”-killing-Sith-Lord over about two days, and that his thought process was something along the lines of “waaah the Jedi don’t listen to an apprentice barely old enough to shave and I’m worried about Padme’s Insanely Vague Vision and trying to prevent prophecies NEVER MAKES THEM COME TRUE OR ANYTHING fuck it I’m gonna hang out with a walking corpse called Darth Sideous and kill everyone”.

I don’t see the potential for extraordinary good in that guy. (Except in a fuzzy, nebulous, “we all have the potential for extraordinary good” way, and in that case, Luke’s decision to redeem him at the expense of his own life and possibly the war doesn’t make any damn sense.) I don’t see the potential for *anything* in that guy. I don’t really care if he gets redeemed or not.

I think there’s a lesson here.

That lesson may be “don’t be George Lucas”, although the guy does have several billion dollars, which I would imagine does a lot to salve any artistic pangs he suffers.

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About isabelcooper

I'm Izzy. I write stuff: mostly vaguely fantasy stuff, and most notably the following books: Hickey of the Beast, published March 2011 by Candlemark and Gleam No Proper Lady, published September 2011 by Sourcebooks Lessons After Dark, forthcoming in April 2012 from Sourcebooks I also like video games, ballroom dancing, and various geeky hobbies like LARPing. I have been known to voluntarily purchase and eat circus peanuts. Like, a whole bag at once.
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11 Responses to Everyone Makes a Star Wars Post

  1. Firedrake says:

    The corollary to your conclusion, I think, is that a sufficiently mass market really doesn’t care about character arcs as long as the right buttons are being pushed from moment to moment. (I’ve felt much the same way about the most recent series of Doctor Who – lots of individually pretty pictures, but the overall sense seems to be missing.)

  2. Asia Morela says:

    Your entry really cracked me up as usual! 😀
    I’ve really got to (re)watch the Star Wars movies… I think I’m only familiar with 1, 4 and 5. 5 being the first one I’ve watched and, I think (also from opinions I’ve gathered here and there), the best of them. Who said I didn’t care about reading/watching order in a series? 😛

    • isabelcooper says:

      Hee!

      And thank you.

      I liked 6, myself, but I think 4 and 5 are absolutely the best of the lot. For my money, you can skip 2 and 3: you save time, plus your ears won’t bleed at Lucas’s attempt to write “romantic dialogue.”

  3. Robert Mathiesen says:

    I never could *bear* to watch the three prequel movies again, not after the first time through. I’m not sure just why, but I have a very strong visceral aversion to them — to something other and more subtle than Jar-Jar, I mean, who is already pretty off-putting as failed comic relief.

    • Firedrake says:

      My reaction was that the prequels were made more mechanically – now we need an action scene to tie in to the video game, now we need an emotional scene, now we need a mystical scene, now we need some worldbuilding. The great virtue of Star Wars to my mind – and Empire, though it’s already going a bit wrong by Revenge – is that it’s made from the gut: plenty of things fall apart if you look at them too closely, but the story carries you along even if that means some individual scene needs to be less than utterly awesome.

    • isabelcooper says:

      Yeah, me either. (I haven’t seen Clones; I have no desire to see Clones.) For me, it’s the stuff I mentioned above and Firedrake mentioned below, plus Lucas’s goddamn insulting take on women*, plus the increasingly silly names, plus midichlorians…

      …actually, now that I’m talking about it, I don’t think there’s any shortage of reasons to avoid the things.

      *There are exactly two with screen time in the prequels: Doomed Mom. Doomed Wife, and Also Doomed Mom, Who Dies of a “Broken Heart”. What the hell?

  4. ~Sia McKye~ says:

    I don’t know. I think you tried to make your villain redeemable, or at least Simon wants to try. that counts. Not all villains can be redeemed. *shrugs* Most must face the consequences of their actions.

    BTW, I LOVED No Proper Lady. Great read. I had a blogger missing in action so one of the things I talk about for tomorrow, Friday the 14th is your book.

    Sia McKye’s Thoughts…OVER COFFEE

    • isabelcooper says:

      Aw, thank you! And thank you for letting me know–my last couple weeks have been made of chaos.

      Not all villains can be redeemed. *shrugs* Most must face the consequences of their actions.

      I agree with you on that one. And honestly, even redemption, for me, means you have to face the consequences: it’s why so many characters get redeemed only by dying heroically, because there’s no other way they can make up for what they did. (Arguably. I mean, I could’ve dealt with Vader trying to make the galaxy a better place while facing people who–rightfully–hated him for the whole blowing-up-entire-planets thing. But death works too.)

      Alex could theoretically have been redeemable, but it would have been hard. While he didn’t start out mua-ha-ha-evil, he pretty much sold out for very selfish and self-indulgent reasons, and that’s a lot harder to come back from. Though Simon still wanted to try, because Simon’s like that. 😉

      Now that I think about it, both of my published villains have had fairly bratty motivations: “I want X, and I don’t want to work for X, so…hi, Dark Power.” Wonder what that says about my worldview. 🙂

  5. Abby says:

    Agreed, as usual. Unfortunately the prequels manage to undermine a lot of things from the original three films that I think stood alone perfectly well before Lucas felt the need to go adding stuff.

    I could go into detail, but instead I’ll just allow IHarthDarth to illustrate your point and others:

    Good on the inside.
    Leia’s great memory.
    This one makes me especially sad. It’s hard to take the original scene as seriously any more.

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