Friday, September 11, 2020

Green Phoenix - Building Better Backstories V

So this editorial was always going to be a real pain in my ass. For one, it seems to have become culturally "cool" to rip into the Star Wars sequel trilogy and mock it relentlessly without taking into account any of the positive traits that the series does possess. And there are a few truly positive elements of the sequel trilogy that I think need to be given their due credit, especially if we are going to try and improve upon the franchise. The trilogy has some truly inspired cinematic and narrative moments that, if properly explored, would've been absolutely inspired.

That being said, I would be lying if I didn't understand and at the very least agree that the Star Wars sequel trilogy overall wasn't a steaming hot mess almost from the word go. Which is a damn shame because the acquisition by Disney had all the hallmarks of being a momentous achievement and a chance to restart the series from all of the enormous weight of the Legends canon; that is the Star Wars material released independent of the Lucas-era films up until the Disney acquisition.

I've known ever since the release of The Rise of Skywalker that some kind of Building Better Backstories was going to be necessary for the sequel trilogy, but I also struggled to figure out how best to fix the franchise.

It will be difficult, but I think I have a solution. It may not contain many specific narrative elements, but we will take a look at what went wrong, what they could've used, and how that might have worked for a better trilogy overall.

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A Lack of Vision

Say what want about the Original and Prequel trilogies (and many have without remorse), but it cannot be denied that they had a very clear trajectory and vision for their creation. This is because they were all the brainchild of a single creative mind, George Lucas. Lucas had his fingers in nearly every narrative and directorial decision throughout the first six films of the franchise, perhaps to much in terms of the prequels. But because of this, those movies have a clear aim and goals in mind and actually does achieve those narrative story beats quite well.
 
The prequel trilogy needed to show us the rise of Darth Vader, the Emperor and Empire's ascension to prominence, and the destruction of the Jedi and they fulfilled that quite admirably. Admittedly there are several non-narrative elements or presentation moments which are a bit rough in Episode 1 and 2, but on the whole, Lucas' vision was clear to be seen from the very beginning. Anyone watching Episode 1 can begin to make clear observations about where the rest of the trilogy will go.
 
Now let us compare that to the sequel trilogy.

The trilogy was originally led by J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens with the story assistance of Laurence Kasdan, the co-writer for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and the overall direction and narrative elements of the series, while not spectacular were pretty well established. Had Abrams been allowed to continue leading the series with The Last Jedi, I think that perhaps the sequel trilogy's reputation would've gone down as a passable followup to the original trilogy, not amazing, but passable.

But then, Disney decided to allow Rian Johnson to helm The Last Jedi. This was not in and of itself a bad thing, as Johnson is an incredible director with a fantastic artistic vision and the actual movie does do several narrative surprises that I think were exceptionally well done. But it also wrapped up many of the narrative plot points that Abrams had built up in The Force Awakens and did so in a way that felt rushed or unsatisfied to many moviegoers. This coupled with a few narrative stumbles and strange choices, left The Last Jedi a very negatively received film.

Which forced Disney to do a massive heel face turn and bring creative control of the franchise back to Abrams for The Rise of Skywalker, now with many of the story beats that he had built up in The Force Awakens completely derailed by Johnson's The Last Jedi. I think almost everyone who looked at the sequel trilogy as a whole knew that The Rise of Skywalker was going to be a clusterfuck, simply because it had nothing from the previous films building up to it. It felt far more like a sudden course correction rather than the triumphant end of a franchise or saga.

Abrams felt the need to "correct" the actions of his predecessor, due to the negative reception of The Last Jedi, and in so doing, removed many of the few good elements of that movie, leaving us with a film that felt like it had far too much to do with its limited running time and tried to be two films in one. Which created a film that felt both rushed and incomplete, allowing an already rocky trilogy to stumble to its finish line.

And this all stemmed from a single issue. A lack of unified vision. In a recent interview, Daisy Ridley, who played the main character of Rey, revealed that many of the story elements, including her characters parentage, were a fluid decision by the director and producers throughout production. It is clear to me that the Sequel trilogy was intended to be designed to be successful without having a single unifying narrative objective at its heart. The original trilogy wanted to show the rise of Luke Skywalker as a Jedi and the redemption of Darth Vader, the prequels focused on the fall of the Republic and the rise of Darth Vader. But the sequel trilogy doesn't have a specific underlying goal for its characters other than defeat the New Order.

If we are going to fix the sequel trilogy, then to me the first change is clear. We must develop a single objective for the trilogy that remains a constant throughout.

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Learning from Legends

Our next objective should be to utilize that wellspring of perpetual ideas that is the Star Wars Legends canon. This is collective name for all released Star Wars media that does not include the movies up until Disney's acquisition of the property. And it has been Disney's policy to draw from Legends on occasion in order to build their new canon into a more cohesive story. The survival of Palpatine from The Rise of Skywalker is actually a story beat developed from Legends canon, just done much better in its original form.

But I think there is one element of the canon that, if utilized, might have actually been a better reveal than the survival of Palpatine for this sequel trilogy. And that is utilization of Vitiate, the Eternal Emperor. The character of Vitiate is one that was one of the last elements to be placed into Legends canon before the Disney acquisition and represents a truly fascinating concept for a villain. Vitiate is essentially a Sith Lord that achieved immortality by passing his soul from one individual onto another, with the goal of creating an Eternal Empire under his leadership.
 
I feel like the existence of some grand chessmaster orchestrating the chaos of the Star Wars franchise through Palpatine and Snoke is much more epic than secret clones and it is this idea that will form the heart of this new sequel trilogies story. I think that we should learn from Legends and use the good ideas with magnificent amounts of gusto, especially for hardcore fans who will appreciate the effort put in.

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Star Wars: A New Franchise

Our new franchise will begin with The Force Awakens and will remain relatively unchanged from its original story. While I am not particularly crazy about the planet-sized Death Star 3.0, it works for reintroducing us to the universe of Star Wars as well as the new characters. I also think that the death of Han Solo is a great piece of drama that can be reworked really well into what I want for the remainder of the franchise.

What we will change is what the New Order is in terms of the movies. The movies portray the New Order as basically neo-Nazis and Neo-Confederates (in the American sense of the word) who long for the glory of the "Empire". This isn't a bad interpretation but it makes me wonder how they managed to survive or thrive at their current strength, and the current sequel trilogy's reliance on outside media to make sense of its cinematic story is a terrible strategy for filmmaking. You shouldn't have to read supplemental material to get the basics of your movie.
 
The origins of the New Order will be built around the weakness of the New Republic. The New Republic will essentially be the remnants of the Old Empire and the Rebel Alliance after a hard-fought peace and the death of the Emperor. This will be shown by having Imperial iconography and personnel making up the Resistance and the New Order, to blend the lines between the two sides. The New Order will essentially be New Republic soldiers and politicians who are upset with the overall weakness of the Republic and are manipulated by the ideals of Snoke, who is a political leader from the Old Empire, into forming their own resistance to the Republic.

This change of blurring the lines will play into the artificiality of the "Star Wars" that take place in the universe, since our villain is going to be revealed to be this grand chessmaster manipulating all the events of the entire Star Wars saga, the titular wars are in fact being propagated by the character of Snoke. But that won't begin until our new The Last Jedi.

The real changes will begin there. First, we will abandon the whole chase movie in favor of a treasure hunt. The first half of The Rise of Skywalker is essentially a Indiana Jones style adventure  movie where our heroes are trying to find the location of Palpatine's lair to stop him. In our new timeline, Kylo Ren and Snoke go on a personal quest to, as Snoke put it at the end of The Force Awakens, "complete his training". At the same time, our story can have the Resistance and New Order carve up the remnants of the New Republic following the destruction of Hosnia Prime in the sequel trilogy. Poe, Finn, and Leia's story can essentially be this preparation for all out war storyline that plays counter to Luke and Rey and Snoke and Kylo's story.

Luke and Rey's story will cover Luke's efforts to uncover the truth behind a party he believes is behind all of the conflict that has befallen the galaxy since the start of the Old Republic. His efforts to restart the Jedi Order were apparently manipulated into aiding that chaos, in fact Luke and Rey will learn that the entire Sith-Jedi conflict was precipitated by this Vitiate character, who will be revealed to be an immortal Force user who was beaten by a force user named Revan, who was both Jedi and Sith, who predates the division of the Force and has been attempting to rebuild his Eternal Empire. It will play into Luke's original arc from The Last Jedi of removing the Sith and Jedi as elements of the galaxy altogether, but in a more genuine and well-meaning way.

Snoke and Kylo's story will reveal that Snoke is the most recent host for Vitiate. Originally he had desired a host body in one Anakin Skywalker and so manipulated his tool, Palpatine, to unite the Galaxy as an Empire and take Anakin as an apprentice. When Anakin was heavily wounded after his battle with Obi-Wan, these plans were altered. The next choice for a host was Luke Skywalker, which explains Palpatine's interest in Luke in the original trilogy.

Once Snoke and Kylo and Luke and Rey's stories all meet up, likely at whatever massive battle between the New Order and Resistance that kickstarts this new Great War towards the end of The Last Jedi, it will be revealed that Kylo Ren and Rey are the next preferred hosts for Vitiate. The two will fight with Luke and Snoke perhaps fighting as well. Perhaps Luke pulls an Obi-Wan and is defeated, causing Rey to get a heroic badass moment and manages to disarm Kylo once more. When Snoke tries to convince Rey to kill Kylo, which would make her a proper vessel for Vitiate, she might have some form of hesitance or refusal, which will give Kylo the chance to kill Snoke off.

This will be all it takes for Vitiate to succeed in making Kylo his new host. Kylo assumes his position and leads to a massive victory for the New Order in the battle with the Resistance, though the leadership manages to escape with Rey, and perhaps either Finn or Poe's assistance.

Which will lead into the next movie. Which would have the Rey-Palpatine reveal, in a nice subversion of the Palpatine-Skywalker connection. It's also fitting if a pawn of Vitiate (Palpatine) was in fact the key to his undoing through an act outside of their control. It would have the death of Leia in some appropriate moment for Carrie Fisher. It would have the final defeat of the New Order and the death of Vitiate, perhaps by having Kylo Ren's spirit fight against him with the help of all the past characters (and Han). But the battle can cost Kylo's life and Rey can begin a new generation of Force users, not Jedi or Sith, just recognizing the living force.

And with the force that was pushing the galaxy to constant battle now gone, the age of endless Star Wars can appropriately end.

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Conclusion

This is definitely a rough idea of a story and is not meant to be what should've happened, but rather an example of what the story could've become. I would actually love to continue workshopping this idea, perhaps as a fanfiction video series or the like.

In truth, I've been sort of Star Wars'd out due to how the sequel trilogy was handled and if it weren't for the excellent work by Dave Filoni is all that is really keeping me invested in the franchise.

But I do think that there is hope for the franchise not in the future, but in its past. I am incredibly excited to see Star Wars explore its Old Republic setting in greater detail and I'm sure that it will be an utter blast. I'm also excited to see if we might get more Thrawn in the  upcoming Ahsoka Tano TV show. And of course there is the Obi-Wan movie and The Mandalorian TV show.

But I will talk about those more at another time. For now, I must wrap this all up. I hope to see you all next week when I take a look at my favorite book in the Eric Flint 1632 series.

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