Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I KNEW IT!!

I wasn't even aware that this was widely enough believed to be a thing.

From CBR: Movie Legends Revealed | Was Vader Originally Not Luke’s Father in ‘Empire’?

I will never forget when I was a kid. I had not seen Empire Strikes Back yet, and a neighbor kid spoils the big plot twist for me. Darth Vader is Luke's father.

The immediate reaction of this nine year old kid was, "You're lying! That is so fucking stupid!"

Seriously WTF? Even as a child I recognized that when you throw out a plot twist from a left field far, far away, there needs to be SOME hint of it somewhere. Anywhere. The first Star Wars (which had not yet been renamed A New Hope) contained no such hints. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not even a subtle one.

I remember seeing it in the theater, waiting, hoping, praying that the asshole was just making it up to mess with me. Alas, it was true. That was my first glimpse into the tragic reality that George Lucas is a truly godawful writer.

As you learn from the CBR article, the original screenplay of Empire Strikes Back did not have this twist. It actually made sense. But George hated it and revised it.

Tyler, I am your... No wait
Years later, I would see great examples of how to properly handle these kinds of crazy plot twists that you don't see coming. Movies like The Sixth Sense and Fight Club -- whose brilliant and genuinely shocking twists make you look at the entire movie in a completely new light -- would illustrate just how inept Lucas truly was.

It's worth mentioning, for those who don't know me, that I love, nay worship Star Wars. I was a card carrying member of the Star Wars Fan Club through my early teens. I still have my ROTJ Luke Halloween costume that I had custom made for a party. I've seen the original trilogy a combined 8,391 times, and even watched the prequels two or three times each. I admire the vision of it. But I also acknowledge its many warts. And as this revelation further confirms, the franchise has endured thanks to the efforts of so many creative minds greater than Darth Lucas', often despite his best efforts to destroy it.

The holy trinity of the Star Wars EU: Timothy Zahn, James Luceno, Michael Stackpole

I've run into many who have argued this point with me. Of course Vader was always meant to be Luke's father, they would claim. There were tons of hints, they would rationalize. The exchange between Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen ("He has too much of his father in him" / "That's what I'm afraid of") or read too much into some throw-away line of Ben Kenobi's.

Uh, no. Those lines established that Luke had some kind of dark twist in his back story, but that's it. There is not one single vague hint of this relationship. The plot twist did not fit at all with the story as presented up to that point.

Even the hints dropped within the supposedly revised script. The flash of Luke's face in Vader's helmet on Dagobah. Talk about ham-fisted, not to mention contrived. It makes more sense if we just take the simple meaning, that Luke was in danger of going to the dark side. Duh.

But he doesn't stop there. Then there's the next bombshell dropped in Return of the Jedi! It's bad enough that Luke's parentage made zero sense, but now he's got a sister, too? How in the name of all that's holy, if the sibling relationship was planned from the beginning, could Lucas have greenlit the kiss scene from Empire -- or have written the kiss for luck before the Tarzan swing in the original -- or made Luke get jealous when Han hinted at putting the moves on her. That wasn't a hint of sibling protection. He was jealous!

Compounding the nonsensical plot twist with another one added nothing to the story except make it kinda creepy.

Now... It is well known that George kept the secret of the Vader plot twist tightly close to the vest during production. The script he gave the actors said "Obi-Wan is your father". It wasn't until he gave the real script to James Earl Jones that the truth was finally revealed. So I suppose it is possible that in George's head, and George's head alone, he did indeed plan both reveals all along. He just, for some unfathomably paranoid reason, did not tell Leigh Brackett when he hired her to write the screenplay. And so that was part of the impetus for his revisions.

If that is the case, then his sin is not throwing in the plot twist for no reason. It's being so ridiculously coy in his foreshadowing that nobody could possibly pick up on it. Yes, you want to keep your audience guessing. But any big reveal must gel with the story presented up to that point. When looking back in 20/20 hindsight, the audience has to see why and how it fits.

See, I'm not writing this just as a Star Wars rant (though I rarely pass up an opportunity to dump on Darth Lucas). Let this be an object lesson.

To be candid, as much as I love this franchise, I fully admit that it skated a lot on action and special effects. It would not be until Timothy Zahn that fans would see just how cool of a story is buried deep in this setting, that it's creator, ironically, barely explored. So in 1980, movie-going fans didn't even seem to blink at how bizarre the Vader-Luke connection was.

I did. And today's savvy sci-fi readers will not be as forgiving if you pull a stunt like this in your book.

If you have what sounds to you like a cool plot twist in mind for your story, make sure it fits. Make sure it adds to your story. Don't do it for shock value, or because you think you need to throw in more hooks. Think it through. You never know if you'll find yourself writing the prequel some day and you need to write yourself out of a corner.