Star Wars Takeaways: Worldbuilding with Consistency

Pixabay

I’m the type of guy who gets into world building more than almost anything else, and if I’m going to be thrust into a new environment, I like to know the ins and outs of it. Unfortunately, many authors and filmmakers have a habit of losing consistency when writing sequels, and if there’s one thing we know we can learn from Disney’s Star Wars it’s that a lack of consistency creates huge problems.

All stories have inconsistencies to them, first and foremost. The difference between when a reader or viewer can overlook those inconsistencies and when they can’t comes into play whenever those inconsistencies drastically change the way an event should have played out and also when they blur character personalities and motivations. In other words, Disney’s trilogy has these problems in spades, and where most people will notice right away is in the world itself, specifically in how it treats the Force.

The Force

Here’s what we’ve seen about the Force in previous films, including some extended material:

The Force heightens one’s intuition, and usually this is how it manifests in Force-sensitives before they start learning how to interact with the Force in a formal environment.
The Force can enhance your abilities, such as giving us the famous Force Jump.

The Force can be used to manipulate stationary objects in a telekinetic way. You can also use it to raise people off the ground.
The Force can be used to push people or objects.
The Force can have an effect on the minds of people who lack strong willpower.
Force-sensitives can sometimes sense the presence of other Force-sensitives, occasionally being able to pinpoint a specific individual’s presence.
Force-sensitives can sometimes sense another person’s mood or emotional state.
The Force sometimes grants premonitions, but these can be unreliable.
The Force can be used aggressively to choke someone.
The Force can be harnessed to produce a lightning-like effect, but is considered to be an unnatural ability.
A select few Sith have conducted experiments on the Force regarding sustaining life itself, though the results are spotty.
Most Force abilities take concentration and the quieting of the mind to perform as opposed to being emotion-driven magic.

This gives us a good view of how the Force works and where its limitations lie. Limitations are important because they both make the world more believable and also keep our heroes and villains from becoming too overpowered. If you’re going to do something big with a power given to your characters, there should be an explanation as to why it’s possible for this character or in this situation while also acknowledging that this isn’t something normal. The weaker your explanation, the harder it’s going to be for your audience to buy into it.

Here’s what we’ve seen the Force do in the Disney trilogy in addition to many of the things stated above:

Stop a blaster bolt in midair and hold it there for an indefinite amount of time while the person who stopped it continues to converse with other characters.
Access a person’s mind completely, allowing one to read their thoughts, feelings, and memories with extreme precision.
Hold back a ship that is in motion and leaving the atmosphere.
Responds to a person’s emotional state as opposed to mental discipline.
Doesn’t require training in mental discipline or concentration and can be downloaded from a person’s mind.
Can bring two people together across vast distances, allowing them to see and speak with the other person.
Can teleport objects.
Heals wounds large and small.
Literally resurrects the dead.

Why this is a Problem

Very seldom has there been such a gross change in the fundamentals of how a world works in most stories. This creates huge problems when viewing characters and events from previous stories in a series retroactively. Why would Darth Vader not have used the Force to just get inside Leia’s head? He could have discovered his relationship to her as well as the location of the Rebel base, how strong they are, how many planets are unofficially allied with them, and probably much more.

If two people who aren’t so seeped into the dark side that they’re conducting unholy experiments that can resurrect the dead and heal fatal wounds, then why did Anakin’s mother have to die? Anakin is a character who was conceived through the Force and is the most powerful character in the story, yet he falls to the dark side because he cannot save his loved ones and feels that Chancellor Palpatine can help him save his wife when he starts getting premonitions about her death. Ben and Rey make this power something natural and relatively easy to master, not something unnatural and elusive that requires experimentation and the twisting of the natural cycle.

The only time we see something even close to this type of ability being used is in Revenge of the Sith as Padme dies and Anakin is reborn as Darth Vader. Anakin is burned and dying after his fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi, the only course available to save him being to get him inside a life support system. As Anakin struggles to survive the process, Padme goes into labor. The medical droid tells Obi-Wan that she’s dying, but he can’t explain why. The droid assumes that she’s just lost the will to live, much like doctors said about patients in the past who seemed to be dying with no real explanation that they could think of (see Elizabeth Sewall Alcott).

Earlier in the film, we got a scene between Palpatine and Anakin in which the former tells the story of a Sith lord who was so knowledgeable about the Force that he could use the Force to keep people from dying. The way the scene with Padme and Anakin plays out evokes his story, with Padme drawing her last breath just as Darth Vader draws his first. Lucas later confirmed that this was Palpatine manipulating Padme’s life Force to keep Anakin alive during the operation.

Notice two things: 1.) Anakin isn’t healed, he’s just prevented from dying for a short time, and 2.) even an experienced Jedi like Obi-Wan appears confused about what’s actually happening to Padme, indicating that this has never been seen before.

Moreover, this is a power that Palpatine tells Anakin the Jedi would never search for. I’ve seen a few defenses of Rey’s and Ben’s use of the Force that revolve around the ancient Jedi texts, but given that the Jedi are absolutely opposed to using the Force specifically to interfere with nature, I doubt this power would be contained within any of their writings.

How I Think the Force was Setup by Lucas

I’m going to use The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (if you haven’t seen it, do it NOW) to explain why the Jedi would consider what Rey and Ben did to be a corruption of the Force, not anything the Jedi would endorse or teach.

The premises for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is that the world of Thra is powered by a crystal at its center. The Crystal of Truth presides over the natural laws of Thra, feeding it with life and taking back what has died. It also birthed Mother Augrah, a sort of goddess or avatar for Thra itself. She and the Crystal, for all intents and purposes, are one and the same.

Anyway, beings from another planet land on Thra. Augrah is taken by their stories of the worlds beyond hers and, in exchange for a kind of observatory, she entrusts the Crystal to the otherworldly beings. She seems to astral project into the cosmos in order to learn things that can be brought back to Thra, meanwhile the Skeksis (the aliens who arrived on Thra) rule over the inhabitants of Thra as immortal beings, almost gods. They divert energy from the Crystal to sustain their own lives unnaturally, which eventually throws the planet out of balance and causes a strange blight.

When the Crystal finally refuses to give, they begin using it to steal the life essence from the inhabitants of Thra to sustain their own lives and heal their bodies.

If we look at the Crystal as being similar to the Force in function, then it’s easy to see why the Jedi would never use it that way. Balance to the Force, as the Jedi understand it and as George Lucas presents, is not the Jedi and the Sith being equal in power. The Sith in our analogy are like the Skeksis, the very way that the manipulate the Force throwing it out of balance. The Jedi believe that one should be in harmony with the Force, the Sith only see what it can get them in terms of power.

Once you change the nature of underlying laws of your world to this extent and treated what was once considered forbidden and dark as helpful and a good use of the characters’ abilities, you’ve effectively, to put it in Myst terms, created a new world (Age, for you Myst fans) entirely.

I shouldn’t have to explain why this causes problems and why you should avoid it all cost in your writing.

Keeping Things Consistent

The second issue I’m going to address only partly has to do with world building and more with general writing consistency. That problem relies in dialog. I understand the desire to write better dialog than George Lucas, but there’s a style to original trilogy that makes them seem otherworldly and timeless. Namely, the dialog is largely non-colloquial, shying away from the contemporary lingo of the day. There’s a jarring inconsistency when the new characters sound like they stepped out of contemporary Earth and into a galaxy far away.

To use another analogy, it’s like watching a Disney film from the early to middle Renaissance and then skipping ahead to Tangled or Frozen. Aside from just a few phrases and characters (Robin Williams comes to mind), The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, etc all use largely non-colloquial speech. There’s no specific decade you can place them based on dialog alone, but by the time we get to movies like Hercules that’s all changed.

The difference between the shift in terms of Disney’s animated classics is that each new film is telling a different story. Star Wars is a single story told over multiple films, needing consistency. The takeaway is that when you’re writing a series, don’t change the style of writing or the way your characters are interacting. It creates a jarring effect on your readers.

Guy Andersin spends his time writing, learning languages playing video games, creating games for PC and iPhone, binge watching movies and TV shows, and camping.

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