Hi! I’m Darek Kowal, creator of the comedy/horror web series ANYTOWN, USA! My show tells the story of an every-day, All-American, modern family … of cannibals, living in suburbia and dealing with rude neighbors the best way they can … by eating them. Our first 10 episode season is available at our Official Site and Episodes 1 &2 are streaming on Amazon Prime!
Last night, I took the plunge and saw the movie everyone else had been waiting to see … Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Full Disclosure: I’m not a huge Star Was fan. The Original Trilogy is fun, the prequels are a mess, and The Force Awakens was … fine? Entertaining but derivative? Neither a love nor a hate, but more of a … yeah, I get it.
What brought me to see The Last Jedi was my hope that an interesting writer/director like Rian Johnson could move the new trilogy away from the original, and forge new ground in the franchise. Also, a writer/director myself, I’m always interested in seeing what choices other filmmakers make and what we can learn about out craft from them.
But here’s the problem, The Last Jedi doesn’t make ANY choices.
This is a movie completely devoid of consequences.
It does not need to exist. It is a one hundred fifty minute stall.
Not a single character changes, the story has zero impact on the overall franchise and, in the future, this chapter can be completely skipped over without missing a beat.
Now, how does this happen and how can it be avoided? The answer to the how can be as simple as, ‘Disney doesn’t care’. They are a money printing factory and this movie was a smash hit before Johnson wrote “FADE IN:” on page one. They have no desire to rock the boat and Johnson may have simply been using this film to audition for other jobs, specifically his own already announced trilogy.
But how can writers who don’t have the brand recognition of Star Wars and actually need to tell coherent, engaging stories with characters that have arcs avoid making something that is not just bad, but forgettable?
The answer is: Theme.
What are you trying to say with this story? How do your characters represent that? Where are they at the beginning of their journey and how do they grow by the end?
I’ve probably mentioned this in every article but, theme is the end all by all of story telling. You as a creator have to have a stance. You have to have an opinion. If you want your story to be remembered, then you have to have something to say! Otherwise, even if you get a chuckle here and there, the audience won’t remember what stye just saw and won’t be coming back for more. I saw The Last Jedi last night, and I’m already struggling to remember what happened because none of it was working in unity. There was no theme, hence there was nothing to keep the plot and subplots together.
Next, focus on one character.
Especially when you’re just starting out, don’t overcrowd your narrative. I honestly couldn’t tell you who the main character is in The Last Jedi. Daisy Ridley’s Rey becomes completely lost in the third act melee and, at one point, I forgot Adam Driver was even in the movie. Decide who your main character is and why they are the person audiences need to be following. What is it about their perspective that tells this story? What experience do they have that audiences need to see? What growth do they exhibit that will compel your audience to say ‘What happens next?!’.
Finally, take chances and follow through with them!
HEAVY SPOILERS NERDS!!! The supposed main conflict of The Last Jedi is, will either Rey or Kylo Ren turn to the dark or light side of the force? In a surprising moment, Kylo Ren actually kills his mentor, Snoke, and the moment arrives where he and Rey have to choose their paths.
This was the key moment of the film, a chance to set the franchise in a new direction. We were going to have a good/evil team up that would alter everything we knew about Star Wars! …
And then we didn’t. Both Rey and Kylo Ren stay on their designated sides. Nothing changes! There are no consequences! Rian Johnson took half a risk then immediately negated it.
So, what do we learn? Half measures don’t work! Take risk! Don’t be afraid to experiment and step into uncharted territory.You only get one chance to tell a story, so make sure you’re telling it the right way. Don’t be afraid to really go for it and leave everything out there on the table … er, keyboard.
Ultimately, The Last Jedi was a wasted opportunity and not worth your time and money unless you’re the most dedicated fan. But, sometimes we can learn more from bad movies than good ones. In that regard, there is a lot we can learn from The Last Jedi about how NOT to tell a story.
What did you think?