A Writer’s Take on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So I’m going to talk about Star Wars now.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been pretty much talked to death already. Of course it has! It’s the biggest deal of a movie that’s come out since… well, since the last Star Wars, probably. And unlike the last Star Wars, this one is really, really good. It’s only natural that everyone has said everything there is to say about it already.

But despite it all, when I decided that I was going to start blogging more regularly, one of the first things I decided I had stuff to say about is the new Star Wars. Specifically, the writing in the new Star Wars.

KYLO REN

I’m not sure audience reactions to Kylo Ren is what Disney hoped or expected. Famously, they’ve got tons of merch for him that they can’t move while, in turn, the demand for Rey merchandise far outpaces available supply. No one wants Kylo Ren action figures. Why would they?

Disney seems surprised. But I don’t think anyone who actually worked in a creative capacity on the movie is, and that’s because Kylo Ren is as far from cool or admirable as possible, and also… kind of perfect.

I’ve talked here about my approach to creating characters. In short, what’s most important to me is that a character is real and who is interesting. Likabilty comes a distant third. My priority is that my characters feel like cohesive people, with tons of little pieces that all fit together to make a believable whole. And by that standard, Kylo Ren is the best character Star Wars has ever had.

It makes me a little sad that his face is plastered all over the internet from the Emo Kylo Ren twitter to thousands of memes on tumblr, because possibly the best moment in the movie is when we see that face for the first time. After all the build up, the reveal that he is… a completely normal, relatively handsome young man is absolutely brilliant and underscores what makes him the best cinematic villain in recent history: his banality. He’s not a mastermind with plots within plots, cool and enigmatic and stone-faced. He’s a confused, frustrated young man, desperately trying to live up to a legacy he doesn’t even understand. He’s petulant, petty, temperamental, and lost. It’s absolutely brilliant.

I’ve seen criticism of the character based around the fact that he is a retread of problems with the prequel movies. Anakin Skywalker is a brat and widely agreed to be a failure of a character. Kylo Ren is a brat, too, so doesn’t that make him a failure? But this is a misunderstanding of the entire concept of framing. Anakin was framed as a great hero tragically lost to the dark side, a handsome and charming young man respected by the morally upstanding Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and admired by the intelligent and competent politician Padme Amidala. His characterization as a sullen punk undermines what the audience is supposed to see when they look at him. But Kylo Ren is exactly what he’s made to be. His cranky, unhinged petulance actually contributes to his standing as a villain. Driven by such petty desires, the audience really does feel like the character will do anything to achieve his goals without thinking it fully through. This makes him frightening… and a little bit pitiable. We think Kylo Ren can be saved, just maybe. But do we want him to be?

DIVERSITY COMES TO STAR WARS

My best friend in middle school showed me the movies when we were twelve years old and I was smitten from moment one. I loved the world, the characters, the romance. I loved blasters and Jedi and the Millennium Falcon and lightsabers and Chewbacca’s voice.

And I loved Leia Organa.

Is there any young girl who didn’t? Leia is a dream. A beautiful, smart, kickass, tough princess with gorgeous but practical hair and costumes that run the gamut from gowns to fatigues, who gets a young Harrison Ford eating out of her hand and saves the galaxy. She’s femme enough for girly girls, tough enough for tomboys, independent enough for the most pragmatic of us and syrupy enough for the most romantic. Leia is a damn near perfect female character, despite some infamous missteps.

But she’s also the only female character. And despite her efforts to try, no one character can be everything to everyone.

The prequels were even worse. Still just the one female character, but this time, she’s little more than a love interest!

Then comes The Force Awakens. It knows that it needs to do better, and it does. The protagonist is Rey, the tough, scrappy, strong-willed scavenger girl with the power of a strong potential Jedi. And seeing her in the cockpit of this movie, owning most of the major scenes, would have been enough to thrill me down to my toes on her own. But Rey is just one character, and the movie doesn’t stop there! It gives us the hardass Captain Phasma, the eccentric Maz, and, of course, an older and world-weary Leia Organa herself to stand around and beside Rey. I’ve always stressed that the key to strong female characters is varied female characters, and The Force Awakens delivers that. Amazingly, out of those four major female characters, only one is young and conventionally attractive. Maz is an alien, Leia is in her fifties or sixties, and you never even see Phasma out of her armour!

Are we done yet? God, no! Because here comes a charming black man as Rey’s costar, the lovable, high-energy stormtrooper Finn. The trilogy’s central trio is rounded out by Poe Dameron, played by a South American actor and possessed of an ambiguous sexuality that has fans all guessing. Everywhere you look, there are more and more diverse characters.

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the new face of star wars is a little more colourful

Some would say this isn’t important, but I know they’re wrong. Because I was a little girl who looked at Leia and saw the only real role model in cinematic genre flicks available to me. I’m so excited to see a new generation of young girls have their own Leia. I want black boys and queer children to see themselves in Finn and, hopefully, in Poe. And hell, just for myself, as a woman over 30 and officially “old” by Hollywood standards – I’m glad that Leia Organa and the amazing Carrie Fisher who brings her to life are still allowed to show their faces on the big screen. It’s been forty years since Leia blasted her way into the garbage chute, and Leia is back. She’s still wielding a blaster, saving the galaxy, and showing all the girls who grew up admiring her that we don’t belong on a shelf just because everything isn’t as tight as it used to be.

UNPREDICTABLE CHARACTER ARCS

A lot of the few criticisms I’ve seen about The Force Awakens seems to focus on the idea that it’s glorified fanfiction that gives the viewer that they want to see instead of what would make a good movie. Putting aside a whole interesting discussion about fanfiction culture and whether or not wish fulfillment is inherently bad, I actually just… disagree.

Most assuredly, The Force Awakens walks a thin line between homage and reboot, with the major beats from A New Hope being retread consistently, but the thing I admired the most about the new film and the stage it set is that it didn’t give me what I wanted. At all.

Before I knew what an OTP was, Han Solo and Princess Leia were my OTP. I cared so much about those two. I read every single book in the Expanded Universe, just hoping for little insights into their life after Return of the Jedi. The only thing that I wanted going into The Force Awakens was to see them happy together.

Without getting too heavily into spoilers, not only did the film not give me that, it gave me pretty much the opposite of that. Tragedy poisoned the heart of their marriage and their relationship. Leia retreated into her work, trying to make the world a better place to compensate for her own loss. Han regressed to a worse but easier version of himself where he didn’t have to think about his grief. They drifted apart and eventually separated. Their reunion isn’t passionate or joyful. It’s quiet and weary and bittersweet, their relationship still scarred by all the lost things that silently stood between them.

Before I’d seen the movie, I’d have sworn this would have ruined it for me, but it didn’t. And that’s because good, interesting writing is more valuable to me than even my first OTP. Seeing Han and Leia so heartsick was hard and it certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it was narratively satisfying. It showed me something I wouldn’t have thought I wanted and invested me in that. And that’s good writing.

There was a time where I’ve had given anything to know that Luke, Leia, and Han all had a happy ending together after the Ewok party at the end of Return of the Jedi. And The Force Awakens didn’t give me even a breath of that. The trio had been torn apart and had each turned to broken versions of themselves. And against all odds – I liked it. It gave me something I didn’t know that I wanted. What else can I ask for?

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Sorting the Faraday Files – Hogwarts

If there’s one thing I know that I’m decent about for blogging purposes, it’s maintaining a series of posts. I did pretty good with my Getting Out of the Labrynth series and my Backstage Character Pass series, not to mention the April Blogging Challenge. I’ve thought about what to do for a new series, and I’ve come up with an idea that’s as silly as it is captivating: a series focusing on what is commonly referred to as “sorting.”

Would Harry Potter have been the success it was without how it provided those four intriguing character archetypes? Something about it captured our imaginations. The idea that everyone can be sent to one house or the other. Which house would I end up in? What about you? And what about Sherlock Holmes, Anne of Green Gables, or Holden Caufield?

There’s a certain appeal in this sort of thing that’s impossible to deny. Sliding characters into archetypes and seeing how they fit has become sort of a universal pasttime. And there are tons of different ways you can sort them!

So here’s my incredibly self indulgent new blog series: sorting my characters. And to start out, let’s go with where the term sorting came from. Where do Faraday Files characters sort into the Houses of Hogwarts?

The Sorting
I don’t think much of my target audience needs an explanation of what the Hogwarts Houses represent! But here’s a quick fly by.

When the young witches and wizards are brought to Hogwarts Academy, a talking hat is placed on their heads. The hat searches their character and decides which House they’ll represent while they study at the school. The four Houses are the brave and forthright Gryffindors, the ambitious and cunning Slytherins, the wise and savvy Ravenclaws, and the honest and determined Hufflepuffs. They’re represented, respectively, by a lion, a snake, an eagle, and a badger.

Christopher Buckley – Hufflepuff

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adorable Chris Hufflepuff by MTWX

There aren’t a lot of Hufflepuff protagonists out there! There’s a tendancy to think of Hufflepuffs as just “the boring house,” because unlike most Houses, they’re defined by legitimately trying, all the time, to be the best possible person rather than by innate traits. But there’s more to Hufflepuffs than just being long-suffering, determined, and hard-working. They’re also stubborn and passive aggressive. I think Hufflepuffs make more valuable protagonists than they’re given credit for! Readers are pretty divided on whether or not they like Chris, but they universally admit that he’s unique.

Olivia Faraday – Gryffindor
My agent and her significant other couldn’t decide if Olivia was a Gryffindor or a Slytherin, and I broke this tie for them. But it’s close! The sorting hat would have a tough time with her. Despite Olivia’s sneaky tactics and resourceful mind, I can’t help but think that her core is all about how little she cares about consequences or rules, how she’ll charge into anything without a second look back, and how she can lose her temper without warning or apparent reason. And that’s all Gryffindor!

Rosemary Buckley – Slytherin
Like Olivia, this one is a close tie between the snake and the lion. But if I had to pick one word to describe Rosie, it would be “ambition.” Her father really imprinted on her how important she would be, and part of the reason why Chris has such a hard time keeping her leashed is because she has it in her head that she can change the world. Nothing can hold her back from that destiny.

Maris Dawson – Gryffindor
Maris’s second choice for a house would be Hufflepuff, but the lion has it. Maris is the big tough bruiser-type who’ll break the rules and your head to protect people who need it. Nothing could stop her from leaping into danger if it was needed!

Rachel Albany – Ravenclaw
Rachel’s role as Rosemary’s tutor has already resulted in Rosemary having a more well rounded education than most girls her age. Rachel values knowledge and learning above all else and considers it important to have a well developed view of a situation before making a decision about it. She rejects “common knowledge” and tries to learn the truth of a matter beneath it. She also loves to read, something I haven’t really gotten into yet!

William Cartwright – Slytherin
Self-absorbed, confident, and achievement-oriented, Will is the quintessential Slytherin. He values the rules greatly, but not when he doesn’t feel they apply to him, and he hates following anyone else’s direction.

Fernand Spencer – Ravenclaw
Fernand is far and away the smartest person Chris knows. He’s a mathematical genius, avid reader, and amateur philosopher. In addition to just being book smart as hell, Fernand is full of real life wisdom and emotional intelligence. He and Rachel connected instantly in large part because they’re the only two people in the core cast smarter than they are stupid!

Renewing my Blogging Vows

I’ve heard it said that by blogging, you can learn a lot about yourself. I’ve definitely found that’s true throughout my year of experience running this blog and being an Author Person. I’ve learned that I naturally take an impersonal tone when I write in this format and struggle to come off as human. I’ve learned that I’m perfectionist about what kind of content is on my blog. I’ve learned that I really like writing posts where I can order things into lists.

Biggest lesson? God, I hate blogging.

Twitter? Twitter is easy, I’ll post whatever off the cup observations I have. Facebook? I can posts pictures of my cats like a champion! Email? I love responding to my fans!

Blogging? Yeaaah. Different story altogether.

A lot of it is the aforementioned perfectionism. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about anything. I have tons to say about everything. But I always get caught up in my own anxieties about the content on my site. I don’t know, guys. Are my opinions on Star Wars and the perfect Starbucks drink really blog-worthy? Does anyone really want to know about the cute things my cats do? How does a list of best video game husbands contribute to my “brand?”

So I get caught up with two sentences of a blog post about my upcoming wedding and then delete them. And then, unable to come up with anything more compelling to that, I don’t make a post at all. Even now, writing this blog about my difficulties writing blogs, I’m facing those same anxieties. Nobody wants to hear about this, Kate! Your readers want to know how the next book is coming, not that you sweat over dumb posts like this one! I just caught myself with the whole thing highlighted and my finger hovering over the delete key! Oi.

Blogging is important, and I know it is. It’s a way that I can reach out to you, my readers, and help you get to know what kind of person I am outside of the writing in my books. It’s a way that I can check in with all of you. It’s a face I can show the people who are just coming to this site because they heard about my book.

When I started this blog, the first thing I wrote about was my difficulty in blogging and how I’d tried twenty times to make a good “first post.” Nothing has really changed in the year since then, except now I have a lot more people watching.

So here’s my goal: at least six posts a month every month until The Timeseer’s Gambit hits shelves on August 4th. That’s not so bad. I mean, I’m still sweating at the thought of it, but it’s not so bad. The thing is, I want to get better. I want to show you guys all the little things about my life. I want my fans to have a place where they can come to see me talk about things. Important things and silly things, relevant things and random things. I want to see if I can get over this hump in my head.

And if I can’t…

Well, there’s always twitter. And the bitter sting of defeat!