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The Greatest Star Wars Movie?

Kevin Drum argues that it’s Return Of The Jedi:

[R]esolving an epic tale satisfyingly is pretty hard too, and on an absolute scale I still think Jedi is underrated. And now that my throat clearing is out of the way, let’s dive right in and address the elephant in the film: Ewoks. You hate them. I hate them. Everyone hates them. But don’t let that blind you. The truth is that there’s less of them than you think. There are, basically, two extended Ewok sequences. The first, when the Ewoks capture Luke and Han, is inexcusable. I won’t even try. But it’s only ten minutes of a two-hour movie. The second sequence is the battle for the shield generator station, and in that one the Ewoks really don’t matter. It’s a set-piece fight, and the Ewoks are just the extras — small, furry extras, but still extras. Ignore them. If someone recut the film to excise most of the first, infuriating Ewok sequence, I honestly think a lot of people would see the rest of it in a whole different light.

So the Ewoks aren’t enough to ruin the film. But what makes it great? For starters, there’s the start. The introductory sequence where Darth Vader pays a visit to the new Death Star is riveting, and its closing line — “The emperor is not as forgiving as I am” — pitch-perfect and perfectly delivered by James Earl Jones — is one of the best of the entire trilogy. What a way to pull you in!

(…)

The arc of the story is completely engaging too. There’s the Luke story, the Han/Leia story, and, of course, the Darth Vader story. There are a hundred ways any of these could have been fucked up (cf. the entire prequel trilogy), but they weren’t. Take the treetop scene between Luke, Leia, and Han. This had to happen. We all knew it was going to happen. Any false notes would have wrecked it, but there weren’t any false notes. Mark Hamill, granted, is not filmdom’s finest actor, but even so the whole sequence plays out fluidly and convincingly. When Luke tells Leia she’s his sister, what should she say? The answer is: “I know. Somehow I’ve always known.” And that’s exactly right. Once she’s said it, you know it’s the only thing she could have said.

And then, finally, there’s the finale. For all its Saturday matinee melodrama — and this is, after all, Star Wars’ heritage — the confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the emperor in the emperor’s throne room is, by a mile, the best extended sequence in any of the movies. The dialog is terrific, the pacing is near-perfect, the visuals are spectacular, and the final metamorphosis of both Luke and Vader — which, again, is really hard to pull off credibly and could have been fucked up in a hundred different ways — was instead pulled off flawlessly. And then, in a mirror image of the movie’s start — a terrific short opening scene followed by a longer introductory sequence — the long final sequence in the throne room is capped off by a shorter final scene on the hangar deck between Luke and Vader. This was a genuinely poignant scene. Even the music was perfect.

Drum does make a persuasive case for his position I must say. The final scene in the Emperor’s Death Star II Throne Room is perhaps the best scene in all six Star Wars  movies, only the Luke-Vader confrontation on Cloud City even comes close in my opinion. In that one scene you have all the themes of the original three movies — and to some extent the Prequels although that doesn’t really count since the Prequels were made after ROTJ — coming together at once. The battle between dark and light, the father-son conflict between Vader and Luke, and the question of whether there was still in any good left in the person once known as Anakin Skywalker. The moment when Vader, moved by his son’s punishment by the Emperor and pleas for help, is a fantastic moment of redemption made all the more effective by the fact that Vader doesn’t speak a word during that entire part of the scene, at least not in the original version of ROTJ. And Drum is correct about the extended sequence on Tatooine that results in Han Solo’s rescue, for which we can also thank George Lucas for giving us the most famous fictional slave girl costume ever.

That said, there are flaws in the movie. The Ewoks, of course, are annoying. Not as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks, but pretty darn close. The ease with which they were able to assist three people and two droids in overpowering an entire regiment of Imperial Stormtroops bordered on the implausible, and it made one wonder why the Empire didn’t simply wipe the furry little annoyances out before building THE MOST IMPORTANT SHIELD GENERATOR EVER. And Yoda’s sudden decision that Luke was in fact ready to be a Jedi Knight, after having said he wasn’t only a few months earlier, didn’t quite make sense. Drum argues that flaws like these don’t detract from the movie’s greatness and perhaps he’s right.

But what about the other candidates?

I don’t mean any of the prequels, of course. They are either utterly unwatchable (Phantom Menace), boring (Attack of the Clones), or not nearly as good as they good have been thanks to bad acting and bad writing (Revenge Of The Sith). The original Star Wars movie, though, still holds up after all this time. In fact, I’d argue that you could watch just that movie, and nothing else, and still find yourself watching a darn good story. The same thing goes for Empire Strikes Back. Remember, Lucas was setting out to make high quality cinema here — none of these movies would be anywhere on my list of the 10 greatest movies I’ve ever seen, for example — he was trying to entertain people. His inspiration, or at least so he was telling people in the 70s and 80s, were the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. Somewhere along the way, though, Star Wars started to be viewed as something far more serious than it either was, or was ever intended to be. Even people like the late Joseph Campbell were writing things trying to place Lucas’s movies in the same category as the great myth-stories of human history. That was pretty silly. They were supposed to be two hours of fun, and that’s what they turned out to be. Judged from that perspective, I would submit that either of the other two movies in the original trilogy would qualify for the “greatest” title just as much as Drum contends Jedi does.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    When Luke tells Leia she’s his sister, what should she say? The answer is: “I know. Somehow I’ve always known.” And that’s exactly right. Once she’s said it, you know it’s the only thing she could have said.

    If I’d written something that pitiful I’d quit. Of course it’s the only thing she could say because Lucas can’t write dialog and he got tangled up in his own plot.

    And no: I won’t just get past the Ewoks. I won’t ever get past the Ewoks. They should be hunted down to make fur hats.

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  2. Robert in SF says:

    I read the RSS feed, and come directly here for the comments.
    I suggest you edit this as soon as practical, before someone here makes a federal case out of it. If you think the Democratic Party vs the Republic Party has some partisan sniping…they got nothing on Star Trek vs Star Wars! :)

    Drum does make a persuasive case for his position I must say. The final scene in the Emperor’s Death Star II Throne Room is perhaps the best scene in all six Star Trek movies, …

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  3. @Robert in SF:

    Ugh. Fixing….

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  4. Robert in SF says:

    Wow that was fast! You not only read the comment but were able to respond in that short amount of time! What program does this site use for that kind of real time monitoring?

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  5. Timing is everything. Also wanted to fix it before I got the fan boys mad :)

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  6. Kylopod says:

    When I was a kid, there was never any doubt in my mind that Empire was the best, and my favorite, of the Star Wars movies. (I was a grownup by the time the prequels came out.) But my opinion of the relative merits of the other two changed drastically. I thought ROTJ was superior to ANH. It seemed funnier, there was more chemistry between the characters, and none of the long, slow beginning to the first film. Also, the first film had an amateur quality that the others, with their much bigger budgets, lacked. The ewoks never bothered me one bit; in fact, I admired the way Lucas made each of the ewoks seem distinctive and individual, unlike typical sci-fi creatures who look interchangeable.

    As I got older, I began to notice more of the flaws in ROTJ, particularly in the pacing. There isn’t much of a strong narrative arc to the film; it’s basically concerned with finishing up leftover plot lines from the earlier films, and it’s handled somewhat clumsily, particularly the matter about Luke and Leia being siblings. To fill up time, Lucas essentially steals the plot of the first movie (the Death Star), and then lays it on the back of one of his least interesting characters, Lando. Furthermore, the battle scenes at the end are ungainly and go on too long. And yes, you can poke plenty of holes in the plot, though that type of thing doesn’t bother me as much as it does for other people.

    Nevertheless, the section in Jabba’s palace is strong, as is the final confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the emperor. The scene where Vader turns against the emperor and sends him down the shaft sends shivers down my spine to this day; it’s an astonishingly well-made climactic scene, and an iconic moment in the movies.

    I still will not back away from my belief that Empire is the best film in the series. That’s utterly obvious to me, and I could spend pages explaining why.

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  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Remember, Lucas was… trying to entertain people.

    The same thing could be said of Spielberg and the Indiana Jones series. Which for my money was a much better rock-em sock-em roller coaster of a ride.

    Mind you, I still liked the Star Wars trilogy. (am I the only person in the world who could not care one way or the other about the Ewoks? Not like there aren’t plenty of other highly improbable things in the series)

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  8. The moment when Vader, moved by his son’s punishment by the Emperor and pleas for help, is a fantastic moment of redemption made all the more effective by the fact that Vader doesn’t speak a word during that entire part of the scene, at least not in the original version of ROTJ.

    Am I the only one bothered by the idea that a man directly responsible for literally millions of deaths can be redeemed because they once saved the life of an immediate family member?

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  9. @michael reynolds:

    Not to mention that the “I’ve always known” thing makes the fact they romantically kiss in the first movie EVEN CREEPIER.

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  10. @Stormy Dragon:

    That scene is the best evidence that Lucas had no idea that he was going to make Leia Organa Luke’s sister when he started this project.

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  11. @Stormy Dragon:

    Well if the Prequels taught us anything, it was that the Jedi were kind of odd to begin with.

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  12. The final scene in the Emperor’s Death Star II Throne Room is perhaps the best scene in all six Star Wars movies

    Actually, one thing I’d note is that all of the best scenes in the movies are the one where there’s no Lucas written dialog. Vader’s conversion, the final scene at the Empire when Vader unexpectantly doesn’t strangle his subordinate after the Falcon escapes from Bespin, the shot of Luke staring of at the moons of Tatooine outside a burning farmhouse are all silent. The “I love you” “I know” scene from Empire (which is the scene I think was the best in the six movies) was the result of an adlib…

    Kinda tells you everything you need to know about Lucas’s writing ability.

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    My wife and I have always taken the unusual approach of admitting when we screwed something up in a book series. Lucas can’t admit he had no clue. If he did he couldn’t position himself as some guru.

    A little inside secret: no one plans all the way through a book series, a TV series or a movie series. Can’t be done. Isn’t done. Which means mistakes get made. There are always conflicts and inconsistencies and simple lapses of memory. The hardcore fans try to rationalize it and often spend substantial portions of their lives trying to make sense of something the author simply screwed up.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    ROTJ also had the three simultaneous plot threads coming to climax at exactly the same time: the battle for the shield generator on Endor, the battle with the Death Star, and the showdown with the Emperor. Keeping the tension high on all those was really good editing.

    Still, Empire remains my favorite. It’s the AT-ATs.

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  15. Bleev K says:

    Ralph McQuarrie died today…

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  16. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Lucas is s’posed to have been inspired by the 1930′s and 40′s “serial” starring Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon. I had the joy of actually watching those weekly in the ealy ’50s, before anyone in my neighborhood or extended family had TV. Moms would round up a carload of little boys and ferry us to the Clover Theater in Montgomery Alabama for a Saturday orgy of cowboy movies (always 2 of them), cartoons and — my favorite — Flash Gordon.
    I will assure you, children, that Darth Vader is a pale shadow compared to Ming the Merciless.
    And slave girls? You haven’t seen slave girls until you see them for the first time from the balcony, using the eyes of an eight year old suburban kid from the heart of Dixie.

    Cokes were a nickle and popcorn was a dime.

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  17. Kylopod says:

    A little inside secret: no one plans all the way through a book series, a TV series or a movie series.

    That’s all well and good. The problem with Lucas is that he’s harnessed himself to the myth that he had the entire series planned out before the first movie was released in 1977. My impression is that this isn’t even partially true. In 1977, he had only the vaguest sense that “Star Wars” was part of a larger story arc at all. (Contrary to popular belief, calling the movie “Episode IV” and giving it the subtitle “A New Hope” were later additions. I have a DVD that includes the original crawl without the episode number or subtitle. On the commentary, Lucas claims it was only studio interference that kept him from sticking those on during its initial release. Uh, huh.) So it’s not just a matter of his failing to admit to small inconsistencies here and there; he doesn’t want to do anything to undermine his claim that he had it all planned out from the start. He has only rarely admitted to elements of the story where he was clearly winging it–as in changing Uncle Owen’s back story. (When he did ROTJ, he decided Owen was Obi-Wan’s brother; by the prequels, he’d made him Anakin’s half-brother–which I admit better explains why Luke would call him Uncle. But it wasn’t his original plan.)

    By contrast, I’ve gotten the sense that J.K. Rowling really did have most of the Harry Potter series planned from the start, because the later revelations fit together with the earlier stuff like a jigsaw puzzle. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plot holes here and there, but it does give an idea what a well-planned series looks like.

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  18. sam says:

    I don’t mean any of the prequels, of course. They are either utterly unwatchable (Phantom Menace)

    True that’s a pretty crappy movie. But, still, I was struck by the young boy’s innocence in view of what he would eventually become. As to the overall story arc, Lucas said someplace that the real origin of the films is Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. That’s an interesting film, with two bumpkins playing a central role. In fact, all the action takes place in front of those two. Lucas said that the whole Star Wars series should be understood as being seen through the “eyes” of R2D2 and C3PIO, as they are the only characters who appear in all six of the episodes (and would appear in three as yet?? unmade episodes).

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  19. @sam:

    Yea I’ve heard that too, and there is a certain sense to it given the fact that the droids are the only characters that appears in all 6 movies. It’s also interesting that in ROTS it was 3PO’s memory that was wiped, but not R2′s.

    As for TPM. Yea, I remember watching that movie the first time and seeing the little kid and thinking about how this was Darth Vader. It was an odd feeling. But, as Michael Reynolds noted above, Lucas is so bad at writing dialogue that some of the truly interesting character development that could have come from that never took place.

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  20. G.A. says:
  21. One of my grips about ROTJ is that it share a major plot point with the ep IV (i.e., destroying a Death Star). At the time my thought was: you only give us three movies and two of them substantially duplicate one another?

    (And the notion of a harrowing flight inside an object to blow it up to save the day shows up in TPM as well–so it is a plot point in 3 of 6 films).

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  22. Along the same lines: the end of ROTJ and TPM are similar also insofar as we have primitives fighting the final battle against imperials (or pre-imperials, as the case may be) forces.

    Seriously: recycling plot points in that few stories isn’t exactly all that impressive.

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  23. Empire is the best film (and the fact that someone else wrote it is telling).

    Star Wars itself is a classic unto itself, however, and Lucas deserves substantial credit for that.

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  24. @Steven L. Taylor:

    And thus you debunk the myth of George Lucas the visionary genius. Of course, that myth was shattered in 1978

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  25. G.A. says:

    .

    I had the joy of actually watching those weekly in the early ’50s, before anyone in my neighborhood or extended family had TV

    watching Flash Gorden Space Soldiers on NetFlix right now..

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Kylopod:

    Rowling claims to have planned it all out, but I’d say the odds of that are about 5%. We wrote a 63 book series that all seemed to fit together and believe me it wasn’t planned. And my current series also seem to fit together and ditto.

    But of course Ms. Rowling’s editors would have wanted reassurance. They always do. So I’m sure she told them everything was planned out. I take the opposite tack: I like to frighten my editors, so I claim complete cluelessness. Much more fun that way.

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  27. sam says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I like to frighten my editors, so I claim complete cluelessness. Much more fun that way.

    Reminds me of the story of when Faulkner was working on the script for The Big Sleep, and he came to the part of the book where the chauffeur Owen Taylor gets fished out of the ocean. Who bumped him off and why? You can’t tell from the book. He called up Chandler and asked and Chandler told him he didn’t have a clue, either.

    I’ve toyed with starting an Owen Taylor Society, dedicated to exposing plot fvck-ups wherever they are found….

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  28. Tillman says:

    The best review I’ve seen of the prequel trilogy is Plinkett’s videos, though they go on for a long time (TPM’s review is an hour long) and feature macabre Internet humor.

    Ewoks, though…I can’t form coherent thoughts about Ewoks.

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  29. Jenos Idanian says:

    @michael reynolds: A little inside secret: no one plans all the way through a book series, a TV series or a movie series. Can’t be done. Isn’t done. Which means mistakes get made.

    A couple of likely exceptions spring to mind: David Eddings’ fantasy series, and Babylon 5. From what I’ve heard, they were all planned well in advance, in great detail. Babylon 5 even had contingencies worked in for unexpected cast changes — such as switching the “sleeper” role from one character to another after the first actress left after the first season.

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  30. Jenos Idanian says:

    A writer I follow recently showed his 9-year-old daughter the complete series, and asked her which was her favorite. She said “Jedi,” because it was the only one where “Leia kicked ass.” And the girl — who is proving to be remarkably perceptive and insightful — is dead right.

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  31. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    No.

    And only a ninny of a writer would try to plan that deep into a series. It’s the kind of claim that impresses amateurs, but a pro would point out the foolishness of doing so. Characters change over time. You see things a year in you couldn’t possibly see at the start. The world itself offers you opportunities you’d be foolish to pass up in order to adhere to some rigid plan. Double all of that if you’re talking TV, because then you’re dealing with actors and Nielsen numbers, changes in episode orders etc…

    Planning fiction is over-rated. It’s not engineering, it’s art. Now, some notion of the overall story arc? Sure. Detailed blow-by-blow? Nah.

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  32. Anonne says:

    I agree that the idea of Leia Organa being his sister is an afterthought, because he jacked it up a little more by killing Padme Amidala after childbirth, instead of letting her live long enough to raise Leia a little bit, as per the scene in ROTJ when Luke asks about their real mother. Beautiful, but sad.

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  33. @michael reynolds:

    I believe in Rolling’s case because there’s are places in the early books where the big deliberately draws attention to what seem to details that seem irrelevant to the plot of the book, but when end up becoming important in later parts of the story.

    The Babylon 5 series is the same way, which is why I also believe Stracinski’s similar claims.

    It’s kind of like the opposite of Chekov’s Gun.

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  34. Kylopod says:

    @michael reynolds: Sorry. Call me a sucker, but I’ve only rarely seen or read series that seem as well-planned as Harry Potter. There’s usually something that gives it away.

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  35. Kylopod says:

    >Lucas said someplace that the real origin of the films is Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

    I’ve seen the film, and I believe him. The first “Star Wars” even alludes to it (the imperial officer whom Vader starts to strangle is about to say “the rebel’s hidden fortress” just before his air gets cut off), and it’s got some characters who will remind a lot of people of the droids and Princess Leia–if, that is, you can imagine a scene in which the “droids” look leeringly at the sleeping princess and begin to approach her before being threatened back by a prostitute who’d been traveling with them….

    Despite the similarities, and despite its comedic elements, “Hidden Fortress” is a more dark and adult film than anything Lucas could ever make. It’s a good movie and I recommend it, but it really has a completely different feel than Star Wars. It’s like Lucas picked out a few of its elements and threw them in a blender along with Westerns, fairy tales, and Nazis. I have read, though, that early versions of Lucas’s script were a lot more like “Hidden Fortress” than the final product. He even considered casting Toshiro Mifune (the star of “Hidden Fortress”) as Obi-Wan.

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  36. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve written 150 books, all in various series. I’m writing four book series simultaneously right now with four books due out in 2012, with two of those series involved in movie deals. I rarely make an appeal to authority, but when it comes to fiction in serialized form, I really do know more than just about anyone.

    What looks like intricate planning is good writing, and a clever subconscious. It is not a detailed schematic. You plant a seed, you rediscover it later, and that process makes it seem as if you’ve planned it all out. It’s a bit like watching a magic act, your eye is being directed to the things that did play out, but also away from the seeds that went nowhere.

    I actually don’t think Rowling is a great plotter. I think she’s a great world-builder and creates lasting characters. But frankly the whole horcrux thing reeks to me of backing and filling.

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  37. Neil Hudelson says:

    My favorite plot/character screw-up. In Frankenstein, Victor has a brother who is mentioned, and partially developed, for the first 3rd of the book. With no explanation he is never mentioned again through the rest.

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  38. @Neil Hudelson:

    Victor’s brother reappeared many decades later as Chuck Cunningham, only to have the same thing happen to him all over again.

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  39. Joel says:

    @michael reynolds: What about Tolkien? He had been working on the earlier history of Arda/Middle-earth for years before he started Lord of the Rings.

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  40. Joel says:

    But then on the other hand, LotR wasn’t planned when he wrote The Hobbit – the ring was just a useful magic trinket at first.

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  41. Rob in CT says:

    Tolkein re-worked his Middle-Earth stories over and over and over and over, sometimes making big changes (there is a series of books on “the making of Middle Earth” that show the evolution of the story, via Tolkein’s notes). He knew the general outline of The Lord of the Rings early on, but not the details. Those he filled in over the course of decades. He messed around with the appedices for a while after that. He was still working on things when he died (hence “The Book of Unfinished Tales”).

    I happened to read the foreward to my copy of LotR just the other day. In it, Tolkein talks about writing it and how “by [insert year] I had arrived at Balin’s Tomb in Moria” and how he was then stumped for some time. Then he plodded on to Lothlorien. He’s actually a perfect example of a writer who was just winging it.

    Empire > A New Hope > Jedi >>>>> Phantom Menance and the other joke movies in which Lucas proved he’s got no idea how to write dialogue.

    I remember laughing my way through Revenge of the Sith. It was so bad at times it was funny.

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  42. Jenos Idanian says:

    @michael reynolds: I have no problem recognizing you as an authority in how you do things. But both Eddings in his fantasy series (Belgariad/Mallorean, Elenium/Tamuli) and J. M. Straczynski in Babylon 5 declared that they did precisely what you claim is impossible — that they planned out their multi-part series stories in great detail from the outset, and carried out their plans with minimal changes from the initial plan.

    Other authors cheerfully talk about how their stories and characters run away from them, go completely off the tracks on their own, and I believe them, too. But I’ve seen nothing that challenges what Eddings and JMS have said happened in their cases.

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  43. Rob in CT says:

    I do recall Eddings saying something to that effect. I don’t recall how precise his pre-planning was… but given the rather formulaic and repetitive nature of the plot in Belgariad/Mallorean, I believe he had it planned. [This is not me ripping on those books - I own them and still like them, flaws and all].

    There can’t be one and only one way to do fiction.

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  44. Joel says:

    @Rob in CT:
    It’s really a combination of both careful planning and winging it with Tolkien. LotR evolved differently than he expected, but at the same time most of the earlier history that forms The Silmarillion and that is often referenced in LotR had already been established for some time. He would continue rewriting those pre-third-age stories up until he died, but the while the details changed the basic substance of them was already in place when started LotR – in fact, he originally wanted LotR and The Silmarillion published as one book!

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  45. @Jenos Idanian:

    Well, there were two big changes that got forced onto Babylon 5. One is that the series was planned for five seasons, but then got cut down to four (causing a bunch of stuff to be moved from the last season into the fourth in order to tie things up) and then expanded to five again at the last minute (leaving him without enough plot for the last season and having to come up with some things at the last momment). The second is that two actress left the show part way through (Andrea Thompson and Claudia Christian) resulting in their arcs gets unceremoniously migrated to another character (part of the reason the last season is so confusing is that Patricia Tallman, playing the only remaining female telepath in the series, got stuck juggling the plots that were supposed to be spread among three different characters at that point).

    But neither of those represent a lack of planning on J. M. Straczynski’s part, rather than external circumstances forcing him to go off the plan.

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  46. @Stormy Dragon: Not to mention the decision to replace Sinclair with Sheridan and the required reworking of that story line.

    It seems pretty clear to that the events in “Babylon Squared” and “War Without End” were originally part of the end of the story. Which, on the one hand shows JMS’ planning, but on the other shows the adaptation to unplanned events.

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  47. Jenos Idanian says:

    Agreed, gentlemen, but the point I was trying to make was that JMS insists that he planned for each of those contingencies, and others, in his grand outline. He says he had “escape hatches” for each of his characters that would allow his grand plot to unfold as he intended it, and not even actors departing (and taking their characters with them) would derail him.

    On the other hand, JMS has shown his utter unprofessionalism in his comic book work, simply dropping stories and series when he grew bored with them and leaving his readers and publishers stranded, but he had at least one very good story in him, and he told it, more or less, the way he intended to from the outset. And his story hangs together — unlike Lucas, who has blazed new ground in the field of finding new ways to say “…um… er… I meant to do that all the time.”

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  48. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Dude, believe what you want to believe. But writers talk as much self-serving rot as any other profession.

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  49. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Rob in CT: I do recall Eddings saying something to that effect. I don’t recall how precise his pre-planning was… but given the rather formulaic and repetitive nature of the plot in Belgariad/Mallorean, I believe he had it planned. [This is not me ripping on those books - I own them and still like them, flaws and all].

    I don’t have any problem with your comment, and I don’t think Eddings would have, either, for the following reasons:

    1) The books were formulaic and repetitive.
    2) The books were formulaic and repetitive by design.
    3) Eddings pretty much defined that “formula” for modern fantasy.
    4) They are still very entertaining reads.

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  50. Scott says:

    @Steven Taylor: If you followed B5 (the best blog at the time was “the Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5, still miraculously available at http://www.midwinter.com) as it was being developed, JMS had a running commentary on the plot. Yes, he had a complete story arc laid out but he had to improvise a lot. He felt trapped by the Sinclair character and had to write him out and bring in Sheridan.

    As for Star Wars, it is notable that the two best Star Wars movies (TESB and ROTJ) were NOT directed by Lucas. I think this shows how important a director is in editing plot, script, and film.

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  51. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, he had a complete story arc laid out but he had to improvise a lot. He felt trapped by the Sinclair character and had to write him out and bring in Sheridan.

    My point exactly. If you end up improvising a lot and altering major plotlines it’s kind of silly to pretend it was all part of some master plan. Writers are egomaniacs and say things to make themselves seem important or more often just babble nonsense in the middle of an exhausting book tour.

    This morning I had to get up at 5:00 to do radio. Then we had an earthquake. Then while I was driving my kids to school I get an overseas call and end up doing an interview on a sensitive subject on the world’s worst international phone line. I have no idea what the hell I said. I’m heading off on a five week book tour and I can tell you that halfway through that I’ll be confessing to the Lindburgh kidnapping and may well have joined a cult.

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  52. Rob in CT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Agreed, point by point.

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  53. @michael reynolds:

    My point exactly. If you end up improvising a lot and altering major plotlines it’s kind of silly to pretend it was all part of some master plan.

    Uh no, that’s not your point. Having a plan, and then having to change it in reaction to unexpected events is not the same as just making everything up on the fly, which you implied is the only way writers work. And don’t get me wrong, you seem to have mastered the art of improvising, which is a tricky skill to learn and you deserve recognition for having done so. But there are other ways of doing things and it’s just as important to recognize authors who have mastered other styles as well.

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  54. @Scott:

    As for Star Wars, it is notable that the two best Star Wars movies (TESB and ROTJ) were NOT directed by Lucas. I think this shows how important a director is in editing plot, script, and film.

    Some people think he wasn’t actually directing the first movie either, and that it was really his ex-wife who is responsible for it.

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  55. Jeremy says:

    Last week I went and saw the 3D rendition of The Phantom Menace in the theater with a friend. I didn’t really know what to expect: 3D is really overrated (especially in this instance), and I’m not a terrible fan of the prequels, but I still–amazingly–enjoyed it. It was two hours of just straight up, silly fun. Okay, it did have some boring parts (in fact, I would exchange the “boring” of AOTC for the “unwatchable” of TPM; quite frankly, I think the love scenes in Ep2 and Ep3 were atrocious) but every movie has those.

    It’s just fun set in a galaxy far, far away…and when you don’t come in looking for anything highbrow, that’s all you need. Surprised as I was, I enjoyed it.

    However…the 3D was totally unnecessary.

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  56. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Having a plan, and then having to change it in reaction to unexpected events is not the same as just making everything up on the fly, which you implied is the only way writers work.

    I think we’re talking past each other. So let me clear up where I think the disconnect is occurring.

    There are an infinite number of ways to skin the cat. I’m calling bullshit on the idea that B5 or Harry Potter were outlined in detail and that the outline held up. Lots of people create detailed outlines, but inevitably the outlines come apart.

    Now, from my point of view I consider that reality counters the claim to have gamed something all the way through. If you tell me you have a master plan that even accounted for cast changes except, oops, you shifted a major character into also-ran status and you shortened the series by a season I’m going to have a hard time buying your notion that you had it all worked out and stayed on plan.

    No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Same thing in a series. (I can’t speak to single title books or movies, I don’t do those.)

    So no, I’m not saying no one plans, even my wife plans. I’m saying that those plans are not what you end up seeing on the page. Claims to the contrary are exaggerations by writers looking to seem smarter than they are.

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  57. Anderson says:

    Those who (rightly) loathe the Ewoks may take malevolent satisfaction in the Endor Holocaust.

    … Bleev, I hadn’t seen that about Macquarrie. Thanks. It’s mad crazy to think how his visual ideas are immediately recognized around the world by hundreds of millions of people who will never know his name.

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  58. Anderson says:

    @Anderson: Shit, McQuarrie. Just wrote it correctly at my own blog 5 minutes ago. Way to perpetuate his memory, Anderson.

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