To be a good writer of character – prose, stage & screen, poetry – or dramatist of any sort, one must be willing to put one’s characters through hell. Their reactions to this will define them, by which you will know what sort of character they are – actions speak louder than words. One must be willing to put them through torture in order that they can eventually triumph and become stronger characters – how graphic you want to get about this may define you in terms of what sort of writer you are. One must even be willing to commit murder. What gives greater meaning to life, after all, than the fact that it ends?
It’s disheartening, then, to see the kind of Disney writing that has taken root in our mainstream media today. The publishing industry is massively gatekept and reliant on a small and dwindling number of approved “names” to provide direction. Movie and TV writing has still never really recovered from the Hollywood strike of 2008 and now there is talk of writers going on strike again (writers? On strike? How would you tell the difference??).
When the Mouse Corporation itself came to produce new Star Wars, they apparently hired a great big team of writers. These people were then promptly shut in a room to brainstorm about “diversity” and then never seen again. Then they allowed the directors to write the movies themselves, started shooting them without even an outline or a second draft (something previously almost unheard of in Hollywood), and then, it appears, inserted token characters to increase “wokeness” quota and send the message that the Disney corporation totally owns the moral high ground in the current decade – and is 100% NOT the evil empire. No matter what you may have heard.
But did Rey go through any kind of transformative experience via the woes she faced while falling in love with a mass-murderer, being trained by Luke Skywalker (who she ended up lecturing to instead) and saving the galaxy…? Apparently, no. She was always stunning and perfect from the beginning of the very first moment she appeared on screen. She didn’t even lose a hand along the way.
You have to kill your darlings – but, maybe not, it seems. Maybe not even maim them a little bit. And yet it’s no coincidence that the original Star Wars films went through numerous re-writes and oversight, by people who probably had wildly differing life experiences and political views: Leigh Bracket. Gary Kurtz. George Lucas’ first wife Marcia, who did the edit for IV and won an oscar for it. For just three examples. Now compare that to the prequels, on which George Lucas had dictatorial control… there’s great ideas there, but overall… no comparison. Working by committee may not always be a great idea, but getting a second opinion never hurts.
Did you ever wonder why Keri Russell, a beautiful woman, was never allowed to remove her helmet during the course of the final, franchise-ending Disney entry in the series, The Fall of Skywalker? It’s because Keri Russell is a beautiful woman. Kathleen Kennedy, the Lucasfilm producer who has taken over the direction of the series since George sold it to Disney, didn’t want anyone to upstage the Amazing Wonder Rey. And so Keri spent the film looking like an extra in a Daft Punk video.
Another example of the keys to a beloved franchise being handed over to the Forces of Feminism is the Doctor Who reboot by Chris “Don’t Call Me Chinballs” Chibnall with Jodie Whittaker as the titular “Doctor” in the show, which has almost sixty years of history behind it. Viewing figures have been down, but gender swapping the main character was Definitely Not A Gimmick and Definitely Not Because We Ran Out Of Ideas For The Show.
At the end of the most recent season there was a perfect opportunity for The First Female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker to sacrifice herself and thus perhaps redeem herself to the show’s fandom (I suppose they’re a toxic fandom now if they don’t like her??), who have stopped watching in numbers, by making way for someone who actually has some charisma to save this show from oblivion, but showrunner Chibs and The First F.D. played by J.W. are apparently yoked to the same contract at this point and wanted to do another season, so T.F.F.D.P.B.J.W. pussied out and let some anonymous redshirt character kill themselves instead, only for the whole sacrifice thing to apparently prove to have been ineffectual anyway. Stunning arc there, Chibs, it was just so subtle I almost ENTIRELY missed it. Good thing that Who “isn’t a democracy” (copyright Chinballs 2020), good thing we have people like you to sit around for thirteen seasons since this thing first got rebooted sponging up the BBC licence fee.
None of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic universe can die, and if they do they can be brought back again because “science fiction” or parallel universes or (if all else fails) magic. If the actor dies or #metoos themselves, why then we’ll just replace them or CGI their face in. No wonder I keep hearing the phrase “no one’s ever really gone” in reference to this. This is what Martin Scorsese means when he moans that this kind of capeshit is “not cinema”. In order for a drama, like gambling, to have any real meaning, there have to be stakes here.
Isn’t it time that we should raise them again?
Game of Thrones knew this, in its first few seasons, before it ceased to follow the books and abandoned things like character motivation, logic, or the sense that its creators gave a flying f***. Benioff and Weiss were smart to keep the show grounded in character’s personal struggles rather than the epic fantasy world around them for the first part of its run before the whole story became to unwieldy to follow. Even the books original creator George R. Martin is apparently having problems with it, as the next title in the line has already taken ten years to appear and still doesn’t have a release date at time of writing.
Is it impossible to produce good drama in the current political climate, in which people seem to be so divided, and not alienate people? If you believe that all stories are political, half your audience is going to hate you whatever you do. I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. I’m not an academic. I haven’t done any real research. If you consciously tried to make your stories pure escapism and not say anything about the world at all, I know some people will get bored of them quickly. And yet it’s not wrong to want stories to be about escapism – particularly if you happen to be operating in the realm of fantasy (which, by the way, doesn’t have it’s own section in our local bookshop any more – it’s all thrown in together with sci-fi. Which, if that doesn’t tell you something about our current culture, I don’t know what does).
All I know for certain is that this seems to be a phase we’re going through, and that – like all things – this, too, must pass.