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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Prophesies Suck, Legacies Rock

At last! The final Star Wars post…
It’s the word I hate the most in all of fiction: prophesy. Prophesies are the laziest form of lazy writing: foreshadowing without any shadows. There’s nothing worse then the horrible sinking feeling I got at the end of the fifth Harry Potter book when the prophecy was revealed. I at least had some vague hopes that it was a fake out, but alas it wasn’t.

Even when the ultimate point is that prophesies are a bad idea, as in the Star Wars prequels, they’re still coldly alienating to an audience: That usually just means that it comes true in an ironic way, which still implies a predestined universe, which is something that audiences hate. We want our heroes to have free agency, to choose to be great, and earn their place in our hearts, without a prophesy telling us (or them) how special they are.

But as James Kennedy pointed out in the letter that started these posts:
  • Aunt Beru says, “Luke's not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him” and Uncle Owen responds, “That's what I’m afraid of”, now we’re truly intrigued by Luke – there’s more to Luke than even Luke knows, and they key to it all is his father! So we’re subtly prepped for when Ben Kenobi starts talking about Luke’s father: whatever Ben says about Luke’s father (great star pilot, Jedi knight, cunning warrior) is something that is potentially true about Luke. Aunt Beru has promised it in this scene! She’s planted the seed here!
All the way from “Oedipus” to Guardians of the Galaxy, the secret of the hidden birth has been a beloved third-quarter twist. Of course, the even bigger reveal in The Empire Strikes Back will up the stakes for Luke, but even this first movie has a smaller version of the revelation: Luke finds out that his dad was a great Jedi.

A belatedly-revealed legacy is the smart version of a prophesy. On the one hand, if you believe in nature over nurture, then you’ll feel that you can inherit the qualities and/or abilities of your dad, even if you’ve never met him…but even if you believe strictly in nurture, a secret-dad reveal can still have a powerful psychological effect on a person, because we all have limiters in our head saying “a person like me can’t aim that high.” Finding out about great accomplishments in your family lets you know, “hey, why shouldn’t I be able to do the same thing?”

Luke just chortled when Threepio called him “Sir Luke”, but once he finds out more about his father from Obi Wan, he begins to change his way of thinking: Hey maybe a guy like me can be a knight…

2 comments:

Michael Hoskin said...

Guardians seemed very uninterested in the business of Star-Lord's father. It's there, but as a character he's more strongly defined by his relationship to his mother (a definite rarity in genre pictures).

On the other hand, if you want to talk prophecies check out J.J. Abrams' James T. Kirk, who is destined for greatness because his father briefly commanded a starship in his dying moments. Although Kirk doesn't finish his training like the other Starfleet officers and demonstrates no particular special skills, he does have...

He...

...He's the film's hero, I guess, so it works out in the end. It pays to be Born Special!

j.s. said...

In two words you can see what's so great about the James Cameron TERMINATOR films and what's so awful about all of other attempted sequels, reboots and remakes (no doubt including the forthcoming one): "No Fate."