We’re one day away from the opening of the new Star Wars movie and you know, I have to say, this Star Wars press junket is the best junket for any movie I can remember. A big reason for that is Mark Hamill. The guy’s so darned earnest. He’ll answer any question and he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself. You have to remember that Mark Hamill ran from this part for a long time. He wanted nothing to do with Luke Skywalker because he wanted a career as an actor and Luke was typecasting him. To see him embracing the character again is awesome.
Gwendolyn Christie is hilarious. John Boyega looks like he enjoys doing junkets more than shooting movies. Watching Laura Dern react to anything is as fun as watching kittens play. Kelly-Marie Tran still can’t believe she’s in a Star Wars movie. Even Rian Johnson, who looks a bit shy and reserved, is surprisingly forthright with information. JJ has a lot of charisma but he didn’t give you jack squat during the Force Awakens tour. If you ask Rian Johnson about Porgs, he’ll straight up tell you some of his cast hates them. Ask him about his new trilogy – something you’d think would be completely off limits – and he’ll tell you everything he’s got so far.
All of this has me rooting for the film, even though I’m tempering my expectations as much as possible. I honestly don’t think Johnson’s a good writer, guys. And these rumors about the over-the-top humor and some prequel-like moments has me worried. But hey, a man can only worry so much. It’s a new Star Wars film, baby. There’s reason to celebrate.
Which brings me to today’s topic. How can YOU write the next Star Wars? That zeitgeist-altering journey to another time and place that’s so magical and so affects its audiences, it becomes a part of their very being? It becomes an inspiration that affects their lives moving forward? Sound impossible? Eh, it’s not easy. But it can be done. And I’m here to tell you how to do it. Here are ten tips that will help you write the next Star Wars (or Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings)…
1) DON’T WRITE THE NEXT STAR WARS – The trick to writing the next Star Wars is to not write the next Star Wars. Or Harry Potter. Or The Matrix. You see, one of the reasons Star Wars became Star Wars was because there was nothing else like it. The fact that it stood out so much from all the other offerings was a big reason for why it became so popular. In other words, don’t write a science fiction space-opera. Star Wars has that market cornered. Don’t write about kid magicians. That market’s been cornered. If your idea doesn’t surprise people, you haven’t written the next Star Wars.
2) COMBINE TWO THINGS THAT HAVEN’T BEEN COMBINED BEFORE – One of the tricks to creating something original is to take what we know and combine it with something we don’t expect. Star Wars took the world of science-fiction and said, “What if we combined this with the world of Westerns?” Harry Potter took magicians, who had been doing generic magic things for 300 years, and said, “What if we combined that with going to school?” It sounds easy but it’s true. And it’s fun. Just start plugging things together you don’t think go together and see if you come up with something cool. I’ll get you started. The story of King Arthur. What can you combine that with that we haven’t seen before? Give us your take in the Comments Section.
3) BUILD AN EXTENSIVE MYTHOLOGY – If there’s one commonality between Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, it’s how elaborate and deep the mythology is. And that doesn’t come by accident. You have to do tons of backstory research into how this world came about, who’s involved, how it operates, the lineage of the characters, the lineage of the factions (Jedi, Elves, etc.) the lineage of the political climate. You often have to go back tens, even hundreds of years, to figure out how your world came together. Half-baked mythology leads to half-baked movies. So do your homework. Maybe don’t spend a year inventing a language like Tolkien did. But do your homework.
4) FOCUS ON THE STORY – Here’s where so many writers trying to write the next Star Wars screw it up. They create this mythology that’s so huge and so extensive and took so much time to come up with, that they want to show it off! So their movie becomes one big promotion for all the research they did. That’s not the point of creating a mythology. The point of creating a mythology is so you have the freedom to write a cool story within that universe. The mythology should exist in the background, only occasionally making its way into the story (“I fought with your father in the Clone Wars.”). This is one of the primary differences between Star Wars and The Phantom Menace. Star Wars was a relentless race to save the galaxy. The Phantom Menace was a show-off reel for all the political mythology Lucas constructed for the prequels.
5) AN UNDERDOG HERO WE CAN RELATE TO – When you write a protagonist into any script, but especially these types of scripts, you need to ask, “Is he relatable?” If you’re going to capture the imaginations of hundreds of millions of people, your main character has to be living a life that the vast majority of people feel like they’re living as well. To achieve this, anchor your story with an ordinary guy/gal. And to manipulate the audience into a little more sympathy, make that guy/gal an underdog. This is the formula for Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo, and Neo.
6) DRAW ON ARCHETYPES, THEN DESTROY THEM LIKE THE REBEL SCUM THEY ARE – Archetypes (the Hero, the Jester, the Sage, the Rebel) are your best friends when creating something for the masses. These are the types of characters audiences understand best. But remember, you’re not adapting The Hero’s Journey. You’re trying to create something fresh and different. That means for every archetype you embrace, you should destroy one. Luke is as archetypal as a hero can get. He’s a straight up everyday guy. Princess Leia, however, is nothing like the princesses we’ve come to know. She’s a get-your-hands-dirty fast-talking princess with an attitude. It’s how you play with archetypes that really sets your screenplay apart.
7) IT’S GOTTA BE PG OR PG-13 – If you want the most people possible falling in love with your story, you need the story to be accessible to children. Yes, you can write 50 Shades of Gray or Terminator. But something doesn’t truly tap into the zeitgeist unless you’re playing to the Age 5-25 demographic. This is your most impressionable audience. This is the audience who will most fervently champion your material. This doesn’t mean your writing shouldn’t have edge. Quite the contrary. It’s the “edge” that sets your material apart and makes that younger audience feel like they’re getting away with something. But if your material would clearly be rated R, it’s not the next Star Wars.
8) CHANGE WITH THE TIMES – If Lucas were writing Star Wars today, I’m pretty sure he’d be using the internet and social media in some for to do so. He would write an online graphic novel. Self-publish a novel. Drum up a kickstarter to shoot the trash compactor scene as proof-of-concept. We live in a different world than 1977 so the same rules don’t apply. A big part of Star Wars’s success was being on the cutting edge of so many ideas, taking chances in areas no one had taken chances in before. You must bring that same spirit to your own Star Wars. The rules are changing daily. Be creative and think outside the box to get your idea out there.
9) TAKE RISKS – If you want to create something as great as Star Wars, you have to be willing to take massive risks. The reason something takes over the zeitgeist is because it’s unlike anything that’s come before it. It’s new. Fresh. Different. Remember, before Star Wars premiered, Lucas’s friends were making fun of “the Force.” They thought it was weird and hokey. But that chance ended up paying off. The trick to taking chances is to ground those chances in your mythology. The Force was an integral part of Lucas’s world-building. It wasn’t like George said, “I have to take risks!” so he came up with something called the “KABLOWIE!” where every time Luke yells “Kablowie” everyone around him freezes. That’s not taking a risk. That’s stupid. The Force was existent in every corner of Lucas’s story, so when Obi-Wan or Luke used it, it made sense. But yeah, you have to take the kind of risks that are either going to result in Yoda or Jar-Jar. And the scary thing is, you won’t know until people see it. Gosh I love writing.
10) MAKE IT FUN! – I know this advice sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how few writers follow it. They want to write something that’s “Important” and shows what a “serious writer” they are. And look, I’m not not saying you can’t do that. But if you’re trying to write the next Star Wars or Harry Potter, the overall feeling of your story needs to be optimistic and fun. Not Blade Runner 2149.6.