Friday, August 29, 2014

The Third Star Wars Trilogy

fan concept poster


George Lucas had grand plans when he set out to make Star Wars. He omitted the episode number on the first film, probably because no one could have predicted its success. But in the original plan, there were 3 trilogies and 3 other films to expand on it (1, 5, and 12). The first film would have been Episode VI. In the scaled back plan from when Empire was in production and Lucas had hopes of making all of them, he settled on the familiar 9 (3 trilogies) and labeled Empire Episode V and relabeled Star Wars as A New Hope Episode IV. (Much of this comes from the following link)

What is clear from the information that has been made available, through interviews with Lucas and those he has shared some of these things with, is that the basic story of the Prequels was set pretty early, most probably during the production of Empire and more during the production of Jedi. But it is also obvious that Lucas was always mindful of the immediate story he was telling over the overall story of the saga. Errors have crept in that it are hard to account for. Still, it is an amazing work.

Now we have Disney in possession of the property (a scary thought to some) and they have greenlit Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. And not for some nebulous future, Episode VII is in production now and scheduled for release in December 2015. We know who is back (the main principle cast, composer, and screenwriter) from Episode VI and who some of the new people are. But we have no clue as to the story.

When the prequel trilogy was announced, we knew a lot about who would be in it (characterwise). We knew it would be the story of Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker and include the Clone Wars, but the specifics were always hazy. I have always suspected that much of the bad feeling toward the Prequel Trilogy has been because it failed to tell the story many were expecting. I appreciate them myself, probably because I can see what he did in writing, casting, and directing, that make the films very stylized to tell the story of a different age.

But what of the Sequel Trilogy? What is the story. Much of the post Jedi story has been explored by writers in the novels of the Expanded Universe. How that fits with the ideas that Lucas penned many years ago has always been uncertain. And it might remain uncertain depending on how the next film does. Depending on the story, it could rewrite all that. I think Lucas gave the writers enough information so that they were at least close to what he had in mind for Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, but he hadn't penned the story. Lawrence Kasdan is penning the story, hopefully from Lucas's notes. Who knows what we will get.

But what can we expect? The Prequels have set a high bar for some aspects. Jedi combat reached a high level and fans will expect to see that same level, perhaps with new moves to add excitement. We will be getting to see old familiar faces and ships. Whether they play a cameo role or a more serious role remains to be seen. But we will have Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, and the Millenium Falcon. If things proceed (and there are hints it has) as the books did, will we find that Han and Leia are married and have had children, who are now old enough to take the lead roles. But the story itself is a mystery.

Kevin Smith visited the set, giving us a clue as to part of the production. They nailed the Millenium Falcon set. Smith said that and the other sets felt like Star Wars (I believe he meant the Original Trilogy specifically). While the sets really have no relation to the story, it does show that they are putting a lot of effort into it. And the pen rests with the man who penned the screenplay for Empire and Jedi. The director, J.J. Abrams, is an avowed Star Wars fan. Still, the question of the story remains unanswered. To meet the bar set by the previous 6 movies, it will have to have space battles, strong character arcs, shootouts, danger, excitement, and lightsaber duels with a 3 movies story arc to bind them together.

A lot rests on new hands with this one. It is reassuring to know that legions of fans have devoured the Expanded Universe novels with their many story arcs. If the new production team have come up with (or been given by Lucas through his notes) an equally good story, we are in for an amazing movie in 15 months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Behind The Scenes

As happens from time to time, I have been interviewed by a blogger. You can find the full thing over at Author's Interviews. It is fun answering questions. No two have been quite the same.

If you care to root around in past posts, I have linked to some previous interviews.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Deep Breath

Peter Capaldi's first episode, Deep Breath, is a many layered story. The underlying story, clockwork robots from SS Marie Antoinette trapped on earth for an unknown length of time, really takes a back seat to the post regeneration events. It's not the first time that has been done.

Even the title has many layers to it. The obvious is that to fool the clockwork robots, they need to take a deep breath and hold it. But Clara is obviously troubled by the regeneration and needs to take a deep breath and realign herself. And from the description of the series it sounds like Steven Moffat is advising us to take a deep breath because this season is going to move fast.

This episode went by fast. I never wanted to look away. It was filled with good solid story telling. It really centered around Clara coming to terms with how the regeneration turned out. But that would be a boring story by itself. So on top of that they face some nasty robots. the greatest part is that at one point the Doctor correctly identifies when the ship is from, even finds the name, but never associates it with the events in Girl in the Fireplace. A nice hint that at over 2000 years old, he doesn't remember everything. Well, he did just regenerate.

I had very little to complain about. I thought it was fantastic and well written. A superb first outing. But, not everything was perfect. I thought the T-rex was too large - unbelievably so - and I really missed getting to see the scene where the Doctor picks his wardrobe. Other than those very minor points, it was fabulous.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Star Wars Episode VII Fears

It is hard not to be excited about the news of a new Star Wars movie. Yet I find that my excitement is tempered by two factors.

It is absolutely fabulous that Lawrence Kasdan is back as screenwriter and that so many of the original cast are back. John Williams ensures musical continuity. And Kathleen Kennedy has been the producer of some fantastic movies. Yet Star Wars is now owned by Disney and J.J. Abrams is directing and George Lucas is not involved. Those all pull down my excitement.

Yet, if the truth be told, George Lucas did a fantastic job, but fans have increasingly been critical of his choices since the Ewoks. The best movie was Empire with story by Lucas, but screenplay by Kasdan, and Irvin Kershner directing. Reputedly they are going from story notes Lucas made. Abrams has done a smashing job directing, he just has a horrible track record of writing stories.

Which brings us to Disney. A lot of people think that Star Wars will automatically be less because it is now owned by Disney. But is that a valid fear? When you look at Lucas's storytelling and Disney's storytelling, there are some striking similarities. Lucas followed a pattern for how he ended each movie in each trilogy. Over the six movie saga he has quite a few upbeat endings. He even managed to hit the up note in Revenge of the Sith by showing Luke and Leia placed with their foster families. Disney's been accused of much the same thing, yet they have their fair share of dark stories. Bambi isn't always known for its cuteness because the death of Bambi's mother really hit a lot of people hard and they remember. Disney's villains are very much like Vader and Palpatine. Their answer to Star Wars - The Black Hole - was a dark movie. They have a habit of having characters who are orphans, or suffered some tragedy. And the fairy tales that most of their animated films are based on have similar archetypes to what Campbell described that Lucas used so successfully. So is Star Wars now being in then hands of Disney something to be feared? Well, when it comes to the movie, probably not.

So is their really anything to be apprehensive about? I'd have to answer yes to that one. The prequels didn't turn out so well and the fear is that these might be even worse. And the 6 extant movies make a nice arc. What will happen when there are 9?

As much as I want to see more Star Wars, I want them to do it right and we won't know that until Episode VII is released and we hear from the fans what they think. This fan is likely to enjoy it, but it is by no means certain. I boycotted Star Trek Into Darkness because of choices Abrams made in writing and casting the film. So I will wait and see. I intend to give it a chance, but I can't shake the fears, however much I try to explain them away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Changing Face of Han Solo

I would be lying if I didn't admit that Star Wars was a pivotal event in my life. I've been a science fiction addict every since. Key to that was Han Solo. I think as a kid I wanted to be Han Solo with a lightsaber - the perfect mix of Han and Luke. As time has marched on, I've felt more drawn to Han himself, though I'm not nearly so jaded.

But who is this smuggler? Many years ago I got my hands on copies of all of George Lucas's drafts of Star Wars and saw the genius of the complex story he first put down. As a film it would have been an unshootable mess, but it would have made a good book. It seems that someone had a similar idea and has turned it into a comic book. I picked up a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But in those pages is not the familiar dashing rogue played by Harrison Ford, but an alien and very much a side character. But this is where he began. He evolved through the different drafts to arrive at the character we see in the first film.

It was a long time from seven to ten before the second film came out. Still, the movies were not the only source for a kid those days to find Star Wars. I had some of the Marvel comics and I ate up the three Han Solo books by Brian Daley. Here was the Han Solo that has lived in my head. Very much still that rogue you can so clearly see in the original cut of the movie (where Han shoots before Greedo has a chance to).

Han Solo is not a good guy. He is a flawed man. He is not the hero of the tale, Luke Skywalker is. But Han has a good heart and gets pulled in by the Rebellion. In those days between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back that is who Han was. There was the movie, the novelization of the movie, the comic book adaption, the three Han Solo novels, and Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Aside from that was the Kenner action figures and how we took those characters and carried on the story. Much like role playing games.

Then came Empire. A new film with more Han Solo. We get some of his past and Han has gotten a little nicer. Then in the end he is frozen in carbonite. His fate waited for three years. Then he was back in Return of the Jedi and became a general and got the girl.

After that Star Wars kind of fell off my radar for a while. I found Star Trek and became a hardcore trekkie. But I couldn't stay away. West End had created a role playing game and I had friends who wanted to play.

We of course respected the rules and didn't use the characters from the movies, but I had a smuggler character with a YT-1300 freighter and a Wookie co-pilot. I kind of treated it like Han Solo, but more of the image of him I had in my head.

Then A.C. Crispin revisited Han's past. A new, longer trilogy (with a nice footnote about where the previous trilogy fell). It further expanded his background and other novels explored Han and the other characters post Jedi. Now, on the verge of a new film with Harrison Ford back in the iconic role, we get a chance to see just how close those writers came to how the role will appear in the film.

Through it all I think that the Han Solo in my head is the one from the original movie and the Brian Daley novels. He hasn't changed much over the years. He hangs over my own writing and I try to both be different and true to that image in my head at the same time. There are many other influences in my writing, but Han has been there since before I can remember putting pen to paper. He has been joined by many others; The Doctor, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Stringfellow Hawke, Picard, Riker, Worf, Sinclair, Garibaldi, Ivonova, Sinclair, Delenn, Janeway, Sisko, Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, and a pantheon of characters from written fiction.

So while Han Solo, the character has gone through many changes from inception to now (with more possibly on the way), my picture of him hasn't. I think that is because, like many good characters, he resonated with me stuck in the form he first appeared.

Monday, August 18, 2014

On The Twelfth

As the twelfth actor to hold the titular role of BBC's Doctor Who comes to our screens this Saturday, excitement fills the air. While certain things area already known, a great many remain a mystery. While each actor who has held the role (and a few others) have made it their own, the writers have kept the character much the same. Quite an accomplishment for 50 years.

We already know what Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor will wear, but the fun is in finding out how he pics it. That scene has been delightful for each Doctor who has done it.

And then there is how those who know the Doctor, such as Clara, react to the new face. And in his first outing he will encounter other friends.

But Capaldi's Doctor could be very interesting. Peter himself, is the first Doctor Who fan of long standing to become the Doctor. They often say the first Doctor you watch is your Doctor. If that is the case, William Hartnell is Capaldi's Doctor. Here is a person who may have seen the majority of the currently lost episodes. It will give him a sense of the history of the character that none of the other actors are likely to have had.

And besides the Doctor himself, Steven Moffat has repeatedly said that this will be a darker Doctor. That could mean a lot of things. The series has had many highs and lows through the years. The highest of highs has been during the first and fourth Doctor's. The stories of Tom Baker's second, third, and fourth seasons were so dark that they set the infamous Mary Whitehouse's sensibilities on edge. There were also the most watched seasons to date.

There is much to look forward to. Those who have seen the first episode already have given it a good report. If the rest of the season follows that lead, it should be a good one. The perfect sort of season to introduce a new actor to the role.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Origins of Ven Zaran

Every character comes from somewhere. There is some inspiration behind each one. Watching a documentary on James Bond a few days ago inspired me to write about where I found Ven Zaran.

To begin with, I didn't start with Ven himself. He first appeared in a story set much later, featuring his great-grandson, Mishka Zaran. He was history. In the first draft of Well of Dreams, that historical aspect hung on and I had to find him. By the end of the first draft he was mostly there.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that the smuggler archetype from Star Wars (Han Solo and Lando Calrissian) didn't play a part. But in equal part with the American trucker. Ven was born from that, but as the squeaky clean image a great-grandson might build. That wouldn't do so I deliberately mixed in a bit of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a genius, the best at what he does, but he had a drug problem. That is an aspect of the character that has often been glossed over. No glossing with Ven. His drug problem is pivotal to that first novel. But there was one last piece that Ven needed to meet his destiny.

These first six novels tell his story and prepare him for what comes next. In a way it is two trilogies, but not in the conventional way. The first three do form a story arc, but only one of there. Books 1, 3, and 4 delve into Ven as a person. Books 2, 4, and 6 (in the planning stages) lead up to the next three books. But I couldn't wait to write all six before truly knowing who Ven was. Still, the last piece didn't come until I was planning book 5. But considering how long I have enjoyed that series of movies that inspired me for book 5, I think that piece was there all along. James Bond had a part in his development. In fact most every fictional story I have enjoyed had contributed something to the character of Ven Zaran, but those pieces are the majority.

Ven has turned into a complex character with hidden origins. Well, the details are hidden, but the effects are obvious. He knew what he wanted from childhood and was determined to get it and didn't let anything get in his way. That drive had pitted him against many antagonists with more to come.

Some authors put themselves into their characters and I'm sure that is true with Ven, but he is quite different. He is much more a compilation of fictional characters.

Some who read this and who have read the stories might wonder why Malcolm Reynolds hasn't been mentioned. Well, Ven was born long before I ever saw Firefly. I missed the original run and didn't see it until it came out on DVD. By then I'd written the first two novels. I noted the similarities, but that only encouraged me to keep writing about him.

Ven Zaran, part Han Solo, part trucker, part Sherlock Holmes, part James Bond, and in the end wholly original.