Star Wars

mystery

I figured I’d continue on the Star Wars trend (ha, I almost wrote trek) from last week.

Most people over the age of 7 agree the Star Wars prequels (episodes 1-3) are not great. I suppose they have some redeemable qualities (if you look really hard) but I found most of the content to be either forgettable or unforgettably bad. Sorry, George. 

One of those memorably bad decisions has to do with the introduction of “midi-chlorians.” Apparently, they’re microscopic life forms that facilitate The Force, or something like that. Anyways, midi-chlorians brought The Force down quite a few notches on the coolness scale. 

But why are they so bad? Don’t we love getting a scientific explanation for things we don’t understand? Sometimes, yes. But not always. Here’s the big problem: they explain away the mystery.

Without mystery, creativity dies a slow, boring death.

More recently, Lucas announced his original plans for the later trilogy in the main storyline (ep7-9)

“[The next three Star Wars films] were going to get into a microbiotic world. But there’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force… If I’d held onto the company I could have done it, and then it would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did Phantom Menace and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told.”  

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a terrible idea to me, for the very same reason. It takes everything people love about Star Wars, throws it out the window and instead dives into a detailed explanation of how The Force works. It mercilessly slaughters the mystery.

Without mystery, creativity becomes quite dull. Rather than surprising and exciting, it morphs into a prison of predictable pattern. It ceases to be new and therefore ceases to be creative.

Magic tricks are fascinating, but once the trick is revealed, that sense of awe and wonder is lost—it becomes a rational, ordinary thing.

As a writing teacher often reminded the class: RUE, resist the urge to explain. A story is much more interesting when it unfolds slowly. Readers enjoy the excitement of each reveal that comes with a new plot point, rather than being given all the juicy secrets in chapter one.

There is something to be said about not knowing. True, not knowing can drive us crazy sometimes. In our information overloaded world, we want to know everything. But there are times when knowing can be even worse than not knowing. How many times have you discovered something you were curious about only to look back and realize you would have been better off remaining in the dark?

Take the TV series, Lost, for example. When the writers tried to explain all that weird stuff happening on the island (smoke monsters and polar bears anyone?) during the last season, and especially the last episode, it felt like they were taking all the magic they had created and dumping it down the toilet.

Sure, it’s good to be well-informed and prepared rather than confused and befuddled, but there are times when a state of confusion can lead to greater innovations. Confusion forces you to question what you know, to look for a solution that isn’t obvious.

So, I say, don’t be afraid of the mysterious and strange, they might open a new window and allow a light of inspiration to shine on that creative mind of yours—one which is completely (and blessedly) devoid of midi-chlorians.

the planets

If you’ve listened to Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, The Planets, you probably thought the same thing I did: it sounds a lot like Star Wars. And I mean a whole lot. The similarities are especially noticeable in the first movement, Mars, which is very similar to The Imperial March.

They’re so similar, in fact, at times it sounds like one was ripped straight from the other. Since The Planets came first (1916), does that make the original Star Wars composer, John Williams, a big copy cat?

In Holst’s work, each movement of the suite is based on the astrological nature of a planet in our Solar System. You might say it’s a fairly high-concept album. In more modern times, musical artists like Ryan O'Neal and Sufjan Stevens have done similar projects with planet-based songs. I expect during the time, Holst’s theme was quite unique.

Inspiration is a strange thing. Legally, there are rules concerning how similar one's work is allowed to be to another without it being considered stealing. I remember someone telling me about 10% is allowable. Even then, it gets muddy. I’m thinking Under Pressure vs. Ice, Ice Baby sorts of things. And I hope we can all agree that Vanilla Ice ain’t got nothin’ on David Bowie.

Beyond the a question of what is legal, I wonder what is right? I don’t think Williams denies  the influence The Planets had on his score for Star Wars, but does that still make it ok? That’s a tough one. 

The soundtrack for Star Wars is an excellent piece of work on its own (in my opinion), and it’s impossible to say what shape it would have taken without Holst’s influence. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when massive success and recognition comes from adopting portions of another person’s work into your own, a certain amount of credit (and even financial compensation) is due to the originator. 

A worker is worthy of their wages—that’s no less true when it’s a creative work.

It’s hard to draw a line, but I think every artist deserves to receive recognition and value when their own work leads to the advancement of another’s.

Apparently, there was also a lawsuit based on Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator, which duplicated some aspects of The Planets. So Williams wasn’t the only one influenced. And so it goes with great works of art—other people notice and they can’t help but want to do something similar. That’s not a bad thing.

I often think about this when I see people on YouTube getting paid to play someone else’s game. I’m not against it, and have even enjoyed watching a few playthroughs myself, but I also wonder whether or not it benefits the game company. People might not buy a game they can watch someone play, but then again the game is getting free publicity.

When it comes to inspired work, one important question to ask is who has the most to gain and who has the most to lose?

Where do you think the line should be drawn between inspiration and stealing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.