"The Churn"Complications Ensue
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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Javi Grillo-Marxuach asserts in Forces of Geek that Star Wars: TLJ is neither good nor bad.

The Churn is the process where creators keep going back to the same well to make stories in the same vein. It starts coming out all mac and cheese.
There will always be another rogue Jedi who has been in hiding, another bounty hunter with strange powers that boggle those who rely on The Force, another brilliant officer of the Galactic Empire with a plan so dangerous (usually involving a heretofore unknown planet killing weapon hidden by Emperor Palpatine before his death) that it could mean the fate of the galaxy (in at least one occasion, it was a double of a brilliant officer who was propped up by other brilliant officers in order to use his PR value as a brilliant officer to revive the Galactic Empire).

Of course that's presumably what the mainstream audience wants. They're paying fifteen bucks to see a small bunch of plucky rebels duke it out with the forces of the Empire and the Dark Side; that's the goods they're buying. To make a different sort of movie would be a commercial and artistic risk.

What would a different sort of movie look like?

Spec Ops: The Line is a video game that keeps coming up among game devs. It is the seventh in a series of third-person shooter games in the Spec Ops franchise. However, the developers hired to design it decided to completely hijack the franchise. The game bitterly mocks shooters and their 30-something rough-tough badass white dude heroes. Somewhere along the line, you realize that you are not playing the hero, you are, in fact, the villain.

Any similarity to the US experience in Vietnam and other places Americans have gone to liberate people is, I assume, intentional.

What's interesting to me is that the devs hijacked the franchise. SO:TL does indeed have all the things you'd expect in a third-person military shooter. It just develops an unexpected theme.

What if the next creator called on to make a Star Wars movie decides to make their own movie in the Star Wars universe? In other words, treat Star Wars as a territory, not a template?

Well, they almost certainly get fired, unless they're a 500-pound gorilla in their own right -- e.g. James Cameron. But let's suppose they don't.

They could then make a fluffy Star Wars action comedy à la Guardians of the Galaxy. They could make a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon type action romance. They could make a tense Das Boot-style drama. They could make a Seven-type serial killer movie. They could make an Alien-style horror movie.

All of these probably have a bit of run and jump; things surely blow up. I don't think anyone wants to see the Star Wars universe version of On Golden Pond. Someone almost certainly has Force powers.

But instead of trying to remake Star Wars IV: A New Hope for the nth time, they're opting out of the Churn.

The King Arthur story lives on because people keep appropriating it for their own purposes. I once perpetrated a novel about the childhood of Morgan le Fay, the half-sister of King Arthur. (The Circle Cast, it's called, and it's been translated into German.) I wanted to tell the story of a really angry young woman coming of age and coming into her power. If I'd just tried to rewrite T. H. White's Once and Future King, there would have been no point.

Of course it is very unlikely that you, dear reader, have been asked to write the next Star Wars. But you may one day be faced with the Churn. I think a way out is to ask yourself if you can hijack the franchise. Can you tell a story you want to tell within the franchise? Or can you re-examine the franchise and find things in it that were there all along, underneath the franchise elements that everyone knows?

We are all writing in a culture, which means that everything we create involves some stealing. But make it your own — if necessary, without telling anyone.

Steal, but make it your own.


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