Gerald Hanks Filmography

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Force Awakens vs. The Last Jedi: Do Characters Serve The Plot, or Vice Versa?

NOTE: This article will contains LOTS OF SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.

At the end of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finishes her quest to find Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and hand him his lightsaber. The music swells, and the audience awaits Luke's reaction to encountering his old weapon and, in many ways, his old life.

At the beginning of The Last Jedi, Luke takes the weapon from Rey, and casually tosses it over his shoulder like an old gum wrapper.

In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) worships Darth Vader, even crafting a masked helmet to resemble his idol

In The Last Jedi, Ren smashes the helmet and shows his true (scarred) face throughout the rest of the film.

In so many moments, The Last Jedi takes many of the premises built in The Force Awakens, as well as those from many of the previous Star Wars films, and tosses them away as casually as Luke tossed away his “laser sword”.

The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was the first director of a Star Wars film to also write the script since George Lucas did double duty with the “prequel” trilogy. Die-hard Star Wars fans panned the prequels, and have voiced their disapproval of The Last Jedi over The Force Awakens.

The crucial difference between Lucas' and Johnson's approaches stem from their approaches to plot vs. character. Lucas primarily used the characters as instruments for his plots, specifically his ideas on the “hero's journey” and conflicts between fathers and sons (or mentors and students). Johnson gives the characters more agency, making for a looser and less structured story.

While many fans may complain about the more chaotic nature of The Last Jedi over the films of the “classic” trilogy, writers should keep in mind that the ability to give characters agency and put them into conflict will be what drives your story.

At nearly every turn, Johnson gives both old and new characters power over their “destiny”, including the power to make some boneheaded mistakes.
  • The brave X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) believes that there is a plot against the remnants of the Resistance, so he organizes a mutiny. He fails to realize his mistake until General Leia Organa Solo (Carrie Fisher) forces her way onto the bridge and shoots him with a stun blaster.
  • The revered hero Finn (John Boyega) attempts to desert the Resistance, until he gets caught by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).
  • Even the legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker makes mistakes. He lets his bitterness over both his own failures as a teacher and those of the Jedi Order throughout history prevent him from teaching Rey how to use her new-found powers.

The Last Jedi had a lot of fan expectations to meet. Fans wanted to see their heroes victorious, the villains vanquished, and their hopes fulfilled. Instead, they got a film in which the characters were more developed than in previous films (despite so many interwoven storylines), but those characters did not meet the fans' expectations.

Writers should always find a way to give their characters more power over their stories. When the plot serves the characters, the story is always fuller, more exciting, and more relatable. When the characters serve the plot, the story is flatter and the characters are puppets. The audience watches the strings, rather than the story itself.

If you have ideas or concepts and want to learn more about how to turn those ideas into marketable scripts, Story Into Screenplay can help. We work with aspiring screenwriters and show them how to create strong characters, develop well-crafted stories, and deliver marketable scripts that will get you noticed.

If you already have a script, Story Into Screenplay also offers script reading and critique services. We can read your script and deliver a detailed coverage report that analyzes your script's characterization, action, dialogue, pacing, and other aspects.

For more information, sample reports, and a rate sheet of our services, please contact us at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.

Good luck, and May The Force Be With You!