Okay, not to flog a dead topic, but as SO many other reviewers have noted, while Rise of Skywalker does some things well, it turns out to be an unsatisfying end to the trilogy and 9 movie arc because it shows that there was no consistent plan. As the story goes, after J.J. Abrams finished Force Awakens, he had “loose” notes on the way the story should go that the next director, in this case Rian Johnson could use or not use as he saw fit.
Mistake! This why I’m always “banging” on about about the need/importance of outlines and trying to minimize “discovery” writing (for myself) as much as possible.
Why Outlines are Important!
I feel outlines are critical because stories (either fictional or ones that we hear about/tell others about in real life) are not just events. You’re not just relying a set of events that happened to you or someone else–although that’s part of it. You’re relating a series of events in order to 1) make a point about something or 2) reveal something (usually something you discovered as a result of those related events). Each case, while different, gets at the heart of storytelling and narrative.
Yet, if you’re just throwing random events together, or even if you are trying to following a logical progression of events, the one element you’re missing is the element of planning. What events are you going to foreground because they’re necessary to understanding the point of the story or what was learned/gained from the story? These are all questions that an outline helps to answer.
Let’s take Rey’s parents as an example as this was a particularly contentious “bone” that both Rian Johnson and Star Wars fans hotly debated. Let’s, for the sake of argument, pretend that The Last Jedi contained the “outline” that is supposed to have existed after Force Awakens. Had Johnson followed the idea, we could have been given the information about Rey’s parents (spoiler so I won’t reveal it here) in the 2nd movie (last act), and then she would have had to wrestle with it at the end of the 2nd movie, during the intervening time between movies (for characters) and then all through the 3rd movie. I mean, since we’re paying “homage” to Lucas anyway with the set-ups for these movies as they are very similar to the original trilogy, then this is what happens in Empire. Luke learns his parentage at the end of that movie, simmers over it during the intervening time, and then confronts Ben Kenobi’s Force ghost about it in Return of the Jedi. The revelation meant something, his conflict (inner turmoil) meant something, and him confronting Vader meant something (because Vader, at that point, wasn’t a nameless, faceless enemy, but his own father). A point was made and delivered. Not so with the Disney trilogy. As the reveal of Rey’s parentage comes in the 3rd act (or late 2nd act) Rise, there’s next to no impact on Rey outside of “shock value.” There was no emotional investment of the information.
Essentially, the storyteller focused on the “wrong” thing–shock value in learning Rey’s parents/heritage over emotional investment in seeing Rey struggle with the knowledge of who she was and is and a choice that she has to make as to whether to be defined by her heritage or break free from it. There could have been a powerful (American) introspection of are you bound by your circumstances or can you rise above them. However, with no outline, this is NOT in the story and helps to create the audience dissatisfaction that we see reflected in the 52% Rotten Tomatoes score.
In Defense of Outlines (and Drafts)
In closing, outlines help to provide a coherent framework to a story and keep it from meandering. It also helps the writer see (and focus) on the details that will most strongly make his/her points. Lastly, it allows the storyteller to see what the ultimate point or goal of his/her story is and make more effective choices on how to get there.
If you’re a “discovery” writer, should you drop that and start using outlines? No! That’s not what I’m advocating. I’m of the opinion that whatever works for you is something that you should do more of it. I might suggest however, that once you’ve finished the discovery draft, to go back and rewrite it (heresy, I know) because you now know you’re point and what events in the story have led you to the point and you may be able to get there more effectively with another draft or two, but if it’s working, I say keep doing it. As always, however, if it isn’t working, then you might give outlining a try.
Here’s an example of several writers who would like to “fix” Star Wars and the story outlines provided. They are all really interesting and, even though there are elements that I don’t agree with or would do differently, if I could “fix” Star Wars, they still illustrate how a cohesive (and competent, maybe even compelling) story can be told through outlining. (There are some spoilers for the movies, so be warned if you’ve not yet seen them all.)
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