Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Star Wars and George Lucas Taught Me About the Creative Industry

In honor of "May the Fourth"...

What Star Wars and George Lucas taught me about the creative industry...

Love him or hate him, George Lucas and his world of Star Wars has been a part of the popular culture around us for a long time.  And like many my age there's hardly a time I can remember in my life where Star Wars wasn't present at least some where.  I've had my love and hate for the series and experienced highs and lows in the fandom from fanfiction, to waiting in line for the re-releases at the theaters to the horror of the prequels and to the redemption of "The Force Awakens."  Through it all it occurred to me that looking at George Lucas' creative journey with Star Wars has actually taught me a lot (albeit indirectly) about my own creative writing journey and given me several lessons to take to heart and I thought I'd share those.

1. When you sell your characters, they are no longer yours. 

Right on the heels of everything, I'm jumping right in.  A good number of people remember the photo released right after George Lucas sold his characters to Disney of him standing with Mickey Mouse and cast with a decidedly sour face.  As soon as the deal was done, rumors surfaced that George Lucas wasn't happy with the deal and might have accepted it begrudgingly.  Whatever the truth in all of that, the reality of the situation goes much deeper.

When you send your creative works into the world, especially writing, it usually involves giving a portion of the control to someone else.  Be is a publisher, an agent, or even a website to print your works, you're handing your creation to someone else and that comes with potential risks and rewards.  More then anything else, it's scary, but it's near impossible to do it all by your lonesome (even self publishing involves trusting other people and entities).  That sour faced photo is a reminder that what seems like an awesome deal might turn out to be rotten at the core, or vice versa - it might be the most amazing thing ever.  It's all about perspective, being careful and still taking those risks. There's no way to avoid this that I've found, but I remember that photo every time I consider signing a contract, and make sure to give all such decisions extra thought to try and avoid potential disaster.

2. Fans will be fans

Looking at interviews with George Lucas about Star Wars it doesn't take long to locate quotes where he eludes to the fans not being happy, especially with what became of the infamous prequels, and how they're impossible to please.  At the time the prequels were released a good number of fans were incredibly hyped, but upon seeing the first of them fan views tanked and even die-hard fans admitted to being "Phantom Menaced" - where they convinced themselves the prequels were amazing just so they didn't have to admit the falling of their favorite fandom.

Again, regardless of your feelings about the prequel movies, it's worth noting that sending your own creations out in to the world is a scary prospect in itself.  No matter how popular your stuff is, you will generate fans and those fans have a tendency to claim ownership (at least in part) of the things they love.  Fandom as a whole is a scary concept and fills the nightmares of many creators, but it is a reality and not something to be afraid of.  In the end, fans are the lifeblood of this creation you've sent out there.  While the world you're creating is yours, upon publishing it you're sending it out into the world to be experienced.  Fans will be good, bad, amazed and indifferent and that's all part of the journey.  What's important to remember is this is your creation and you're handing it to people who will love it and hate it.  Enjoy your fans and give them something worth reading.  Delight in surprising them and scaring them and making their dreams come true.  Enjoy giving them new worlds and dreams to grasp on to and don't get caught up in what they think - even when you see that inevitable hated review.  In the end there will always be someone out there who loves and hates your work and there is nothing you can do to please everyone.  So don't try, just create and respect that creation and the fans are an added bonus to enjoy - but not someone you're required to preform for.

3. Creativity needs direction and limits

Star Wars is a amazingly diverse world with deep fantasy and lore.  That lore started with three movies and then expanded into countless TV shows, novels and even *shudder* a Christmas special. Each had it's assets and flaws. However, in reading the novels, and watching the prequels, it became very clear that there was a lack of control and oversight missing or forgotten.  Now, I'm not privy to what guidelines were given to authors who were allowed to write in the Expanded Universe, but there was evidence that certain characters' personalities varied wildly between stories (I'm looking at you Mara Jade and Kevin J Anderson).  Beyond that the prequels were made with almost no one seeming to reign in George's ideas and tell him that 'maybe he should reconsider' on some of the more outlandish things.

In the world of writing, this job is done by a good editor and beta reader, one who will read through your story and advise not only on the missed commas and misspellings but also on the plot-holes that might cover your prized possession.  The importance here is two fold.  A good editor who is willing to be honest and let you know what's missing is important and so is your ability to listen and consider their advice.  Yes, it is your creation, but sometimes creations are hard to understand and while writing is you putting it all to paper - readers still need to enjoy and understand what you're creating.  So make an effort to find these people who will be honest with you and make an effort to listen to them.  You don't have to obey them in the end, but at least consider that maybe, just maybe, there might be another way to do what you're intending. And who knows, many times listening to editors might even make your work better; after all that is their job.

4. Once it's out there, it's out there.

Remember how in number 2 I mentioned that fans take a bit of ownership of your work?  Well, that bears repeating.  This is especially important when considering the Special Editions of the original Star Wars movies and how George Lucas took the opportunity to pull the movies back and change things he felt needed to be changed.

This is a big no no - because it rarely comes out well.  While his intention may have come from a great creative place and it is his work to do with as he pleases, trying to change history is never a good thing.  And that's what the original Star Wars movies were - history.  Like the FX and storytelling or not, the story of Luke Skywalker is sewn into many people's childhoods and collective memories and to some it's almost as important as the Bible.  Basically in this case, keep in mind that yes it's your creation to do with as you wish, but you need to also respect those who have enjoyed your creation since it was released.  Trampling over characters they've identified with - even if you think you're improving them - will be met with resistance and you will have to deal with that fallout. Beyond that once you publish something it's out there and likely you can't pull it back and fix it.  So make sure what you're releasing is the best you and your team can make it. There's a good chance this book you're writing and world you're creating will become someone's life and you want that to be something they and you will love for the whole future to come.

5. Nobody is nobody. 

While the things above are general guidelines for how to approach creative writing and endeavors, this one is not a guideline, it's a fact.  If a farm-boy can pick up a sword and become a hero of the galaxy and a cute little droid can hold the key to the most sought after secret in the world - so to can a simple person in front of a computer share an idea far too big for themselves.  As a writer you are a creator and more then that - as a human you have a story to tell.  Be it on paper, tablet screen or podcast, inside of every single one of us is a story that is slowly trying to make its way out.  At the time of writing and putting together what was to become Star Wars, George Lucas had no idea it would become the huge thing that it is today.  He might had dreamt about it becoming big, but there's no way he had an idea of everything that was to come.  So too, the same applies to you and that little muse whispering in your ear.

You are not nobody.  You are a person and you are somebody and that little nugget of a story in your head deserves to be told in whatever incarnation you can.  So take a chance and do it, and maybe after a bit of hard work, you'll hold a galaxy of fantasies and dreams that the whole world can enjoy in your hands too.

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