Sprunk-Schmidt Original Trilogy Rewatch: Empire Strikes Back

A couple weeks back my buddy and fellow author Jon Sprunk and I decided the time had come to revisit our childhoods and rewatch the original Star Wars movies that changed our lives. Knowing other fans might enjoy sharing the experience and learning how it’s influenced our writing, etc., we decided to discuss it on our blogs. You can find previous posts here, followed by the latest–a discussion of “The Empire Strikes Back.

Intro & Invitation: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/11/11/announcing-the-sprunk-schmidt-star-wars-original-trilogy-rewatch-youre-invited/

A New Hope: http://jonsprunk.blogspot.com/2012/11/hello-friends-today-i-have-special-treat.html

Bryan Thomas Schmidt: So Jon, you said watching Empire you found it to be better than you remembered. Give us some thoughts on that, please.

Jon Sprunk: Well, Empire is my favorite movie of the trilogy, and watching it again after a few years just reinforced that opinion. For one, most movie sequels are disappointing, but in Empire Lucas and Kershner flip the script on us. The imperials, via Vader, are the driving force in most of the scenes. For a kid (and an adult) who idolized Vader, that is a powerful device. I really loved the Dagobah scenes. Luke’s training is handled so deftly in scenes that are varied and well-timed that it feels like he’s actually learning something rather than an 80’s-style “training” montage to crappy music. We get more information about the Force, versed in eastern philosophical tennants, which just rings true. In fact, the entire concept of the Force always struck me as elegant–simple enough for a child to grasp, yet full of deeper meanings and symbolism. Also, watching Empire on DVD on a good television reminded how well these movies hold up, visually. Bespin city is just gorgeous.

BTS: And here’s where we diverge. I have waivered back and forth over the years about whether Empire or A New Hope was my favorite. This viewing leaves me feeling that A New Hope is a better film. For one, it’s far more imminently quotable. It’s also more hopeful and encouraging. I found Empire staler on this rewatch, maybe because I’ve rewatched it so often. I have never been a Yoda fan. Whereas you enjoy the training scenes, I found them the most frustrating part of the film. For me, the heart of Empire is the Leia-Han story and the furtherance of Vader’s journey. Luke’s takes second fiddle and is far less interesting. I found Yoda barely more tolerable than Jar Jar. Although, to be fair, in films where Yoda has appeared after this one, I found him easier to stomach. The visuals do hold up impressively. The battle scenes, etc. are amazing. The scenes with the ice monster and tauntauns a bit less so, given what technology since Jurassic Park can do but still, they pulled off amazing stuff considering when they were made. Favorite moments?

JS: The Battle of Hoth is one of my favorite battle scenes of all time. The Falcon’s plunge into the asteroid field–pure gold. I’m so glad they were able to make the ship more agile and evasive, because watching it fly through the asteroids is poetry in motion. I still wonder, though, why Leia couldn’t have been on one of the laser cannons, firing back at the TIE fighters. The scene where Luke enters the evil cave on Dagobah is haunting (and a good foreshadowing of his later duel with Vader). And, of course, the Luke-Vader duel. I still remember seeing it in the theater for the first time and freaking out when Vader reveals he is Luke’s father.

BTS: I love the battle of Hoth. I enjoy the chase scenes through the asteroid. The Bespin escape is a lot of fun as is the freezing Han scene. I also love the Vader scenes with his men, who are so ever expendable. And I too like that Vader-Luke duel in the cave and later the Vader reveal. There are some really great scenes. But I definitely enjoy the action scenes more than the drill training Yoda sequence generally. I also enjoyed the reveal of the Emperor this time around. Did anything disappoint or turn out different than you’d remembered it?

JS: Not too much. Yoda’s animations looked low-tech, of course, but that’s because I’m jaded with the current CGI capabilities. I found the Han-Leia “angry romance” angle a little juvenile in the beginning, but they got to where they needed to be at the end.

BTS: I actually enjoy their banter. It provided some of the best lines and the right amount of tension breaking/escalating humor for me. I really enjoyed the whole ice planet angle, much as I did with the BSG Ice Planet episodes in 1979, some of my favorites. The ice speeders, the Imperial Walkers, the melting in Leia’s chambers, lots of cool new stuff. Also a fun cameo from Cliff Clavin actor John Ratzenberger as the chief Rebel officer during the part where Han discovers Luke is missing.

JS: “Then I’ll see you in Hell!” Aye, I agree. Hoth was a wonderful start to the movie in many aspects. Kershner managed to squeeze in a budding love affair, Luke’s growing powers and new training goal (Dagobah), an escalation of the war (Imperial Walkers ftw!), brought back Obi-Wan for some sage advice… And I think Bespin was a good ending point for the middle film.

BTS: That’s a good point, actually.  Middle film. One thing Empire does very well structurally which very definitely influenced me is be a middle chapter. At the end of A New Hope, it feels like closure. Despite the fact Darth Vader spins off into space alive, the Death Star is destroyed, the Rebels have won, our heroes are rewarded. Sure, there are enough seeds and loose ends for us to believe that there’s more we can look forward to, but also it’s enough of an ending that if the film had not been as successful, it could have stood alone fairly well. I really modeled my Davi Rhii series structurally after that. The first book, The Worker Prince, stands alone, despite having villains still alive and loose ends. But the second chapters tend to be harder. With a second movie, you expect more. You expect it to top the first in many ways–emotional arcs, character development, intensity, stakes, etc. But you also expect it to set up future possibilities, most of the time. Like any trilogy, it becomes a challenge then to make such a film and have it truly feel like it has an ending. Empire has all of these aspects–character development in spades, intensity in its darker feel, stakes as Vader goes unchained off to hunt like a madman with no Tarkin to reign him in, etc. But it ends on a cliffhanger and yet feels complete. Because by the end of the journey, it’s almost like so much has happened that we need to come up for air. OMG, Vader is Luke’s father? OMG, Han is frozen in carbonite? OMG, Leia and Han? What about Leia and Luke? etc. Despite the fact we are dying to know what happens next, we feel a sense of the chapter ending and a natural conclusion, even though the story very much goes on. Storytellers can learn a great deal from that.

JS: I couldn’t agree more. Empire is everything I hope my second books could be, take the best parts of the first chapter and build on them in a meaningful way, increasing the stakes while making us care more. And Walkers. And the Super Imperial Star Destroyer. One thing I noticed was that everything was a little bit slicker in the second movie. The sets were more polished, and even the actors were better groomed.

BTS: It’s true. Everyone was more comfortable and prepared. The first movie was a fly by the seat of your paints independent movie with low expectations, the second movie was the sequel to one of the greatest hits in box office history with the highest expectations and the pressure to go with it, so they were extra prepared and also benefitted from everything done and learned for the first film, just as I hope each subsequent book shows author growth learned from prior books.

I also think that from storytelling craft there was growth. They had a lot of back history worked out but Lucas brought on too top notch writers in Leigh Brackett, already a scifi and screenwriting legend at that point, and Lawrence Kasdan, a very smart up and comer. They surely demanded he figure things out that he’d winged before as did the director and the actors. Having read the behind the scenes making of paperback, I know some things were worked out on set as actors like Harrison Ford forced clarifications and changes. Other things had to be worked out with a third movie in mind, since Lucas now knew there’d be one coming. So he was able to complicate and add depth and complications to backstory and character arcs he didn’t bother with or need for A New Hope but which laid ground work and took the characters in directions to allow for a much stronger follow up.

JS: Yes, there is definitely much less making stuff up on the fly in the second and third movies. It’s interesting because I understand the need to throw everything into a first movie (book) because you never know if there’s actually going to be a second or third. But then there is, and you have to figure out some things that you winged or left mysterious in the first installment.

BTS: Exactly. Let’s talk about characters a bit. Empire introduced some important and less so new characters, whom we will see again. Admiral Piett, Boba Fett, Yoda, and Lando Calrissian, most significantly.  I personally favor Lando and Boba Fett amongst these, because although he’s a small character, Boba Fett is one of those unpredictable menacing, mysterious badass characters that just keeps you guessing, and Lando fills in backstory for Han in many ways and also, it’s about time they had a major black character. Shouldn’t have taken this long. I love the way Han and Lando are parallel scoundrels yet, whereas Han is all rough edges and seat of the pants, Lando is smooth and refined. Who’s your favorite of these and why?

JS: I wish I liked Yoda more, but I’m not a big fan of puppets in live-action movies (nor most CGI ones, either. Gollum being the notable exception). I guess I’d say Boba Feet for the same reason, even though he goes out like a punk in Return. Lando is a good character, but I think he’d make a better spinoff hero on his own. I never really bought into him becoming a beacon of the Alliance. I think he would have been better served in his own element, fighting the good fight among the scum and villainy of the galaxy’s underworld. Piett… meh. Give me Grand Admiral Thrawn any day.

BTS: LOL Well, if Thrawn had faced off Vader that would have been REALLY interesting. I’d like to see that cage match. Yeah, most of the Imperial officers don’t show any backbone in dealing with Vader after the few Council members with Tarkin in A New Hope, Vader just runs rampant. But then, given his power and influence and ability to choke people, and, well, “the Emperor is not as forgiving as I am,” I’d say life expectancy put a damper on bravery and confidence. Favorite new set pieces/vehicles? The Imperial Walkers are pretty damn cool, although I like the mini-walkers in Return better, myself. I also like the Bespin fighters and the Hoth snow speeders. But my favorite new set pieces are probably Bespin and the Hoth base.

JS: Well, the Millennium Falcon isn’t a new set piece, but it acts differently in this movie. I already mentioned how it’s lightyears more maneuverable, but also it has a stronger subplot arc of its own (the malfunctioning hyperdrive). After that, I liked Bespin (Cloud City) a lot, especially the contrasts between the gorgeous white-and-silver upper city and the dark/gloomy undercity where Luke fights Vader (a second Cave!).

BTS: Yes and the Falcon is always one of my favorites and the one Star Wars toy I never had and still lust after a bit. Sigh. I could make it manuever… heh… From a storytelling perspective, another thing that’s interesting is the way Lucas has woven the subplots and majors together. At the beginning, Vader is hunting the Rebels for Luke. That’s the overarching storyline. Vader is hunting Luke throughout. Then they set up Han-Leia sexual tension that wasn’t as direct in A New Hope but was hinted at by the Falcon cockpit scene where Luke gets jealous when Han asks “Do you think a guy like me and…” That storyline begins with Han daring her to admit her feelings and her denial but then they are thrust together twice, first by fear for Luke out in the cold and then when Han takes her aboard the Falcon to flee. Now they have to deal with each other and their storyline is embossed with a chase through asteroids by the Empire, and then the Bespin visit. The third major plotline is Luke’s quest to be a Jedi and get training from Obiwan’s Jedi trainer, Yoda, which leads him to flee to Dagobah instead of rendezvous with the fleet. With the exception of Luke’s training, all three plots are intertwined throughout, but even at training, there is a sense of inevitability that Luke must face Vader, as evidenced in the cave scene and later when he goes to rescue his friends, bringing them all together again, in a sense. It’s very smart writing and crafting. They manage to pull it off while keeping up an intense pace, not easy to do.

JS: Quite right. And Empire is the first time we see the Emperor (well, a holo-image of him). This sets up the third movie, of course, and gives us a deeper insight into the machinations of the empire. It’s important to know that the Emperor places such high stock on a single person (Luke), and firmly entrenches the idea that the battle between the Light and Dark sides of the Force is just as important, if not more so, than the war between the Alliance and Empire. Then there is Yoda’s line when Luke leaves Dagobah. Obi-Wan says there goes our last hope, and Yoda replies, “No, there is another.” That one line haunted me until the third movie came out, a powerful bit of foreshadowing.

BTS:  Yes, and they paid it off nicely which we’ll discuss in Return. I think overall, if I had to sum up Empire, it’s a maturer Star Wars chapter in many ways than either of the others. In Return, Lucas used Ewoks to return to a level of childlikeness that many fans dislike but also that took bite out of the darker aspects, but we don’t see that here. Here the dark overhanging the entire story is a constant. Jeopardy is the watch word throughout: from the jeapordy of the Rebels as the Empire finds them again, to Han and Leia fleeing Vader, to the dark inevitability of Luke’s face off with Vader, and then, “I am your father” with Luke escaping, sans hand, but Han off with Boba Fett. Never in the entire film are we not on the edge of our seats wondering how one or more of our heroes will survive. That lends to pacing and tension but also to a less hopeful spirit than the first film in many ways. And speaking of, “I am your father,” we haven’t talked about big reveals yet. What were your big “Wow” moments?

JS: When Luke lost his hand to Vader, that was a pretty big surprise back when I saw the movie the first time because I had grown accustomed to the idea that the heroes would emerge unscathed from their adventures, and that moment introduced a hint of true mortality which had previously been reserved for nameless stormtroopers and rebel soldiers. Seeing the Emperor for the first time was also big. I still get chills when Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp. That is why you fail, indeed. Then the entire sequence from when Luke lands in Bespin, shoots at Fett, and then fights Vader is spectacular.

BTS: I agree about the hand and the significance of it, but the symbolism of his replacement hand looking like Vader’s after the “father” revelation also was shocking. If you’d harbored doubts before, then that moment, you just knew it had to be true.  I think the mortality of Han was brought into question as well. And we were left hanging. I think the mortality of Han was brought into question as well. And we were left hanging. The X-Wing thing was huge. I also think the revelation of Darth as being humbled by anyone was big. It humanized him as well as reminding us that maybe he wasn’t the darkest evil possible because the Emperor was worse or might be. Also, that Ben could still appear and was still alive in another realm was a really important revelation which became far more important in the next film and prequel trilogy. So that was a big moment. I also think the Han-Leia thing was a bit startling at the time because we were kinda rooting for Luke to get the girl in A New Hope and now he had other goals and needs. But it sure made it easier to transition to the revelations of the next film.

Well, it’s almost time for the third film. I actually tracked down copies of the theatrical releases on DVD and am going to rewatch those for the first time in decades. That’ll be interesting. Meanwhile, any final thoughts  on Empire?

JS: My final thought is that I loved it. Empire is possibly my favorite movie of all time. Part of that is surely nostalgia, but part is also due to its importance in the trilogy– the farmboy enters a larger world and faces his enemy on near-equal footing, the scoundrel and the princess find strength in each other, and Vader comes to the forefront as the primary antagonist.

BTS: I still can’t get over the part where you said Vader was your hero growing up, but perhaps if you cry at the end of the next film we can unpack that. Okay, all, we’ll be back next week to discuss Return Of The Jedi. Our first discussions can be found here: 

Intro & Invitation: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/11/11/announcing-the-sprunk-schmidt-star-wars-original-trilogy-rewatch-youre-invited/

A New Hope: http://jonsprunk.blogspot.com/2012/11/hello-friends-today-i-have-special-treat.html

About Us:

Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of ElvesDreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website athttp://jonsprunk.com/.

 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Announcing the Sprunk-Schmidt Star Wars Original Trilogy Rewatch: You’re Invited

The Project: Star Wars Original Trilogy Rewatch

The Hosts: Jon Sprunk & Bryan Thomas Schmidt

The Invitation To You: Rewatch the original trilogy in order, one a week, and join the conversation.

Jon and I are of an age where the release of the original Star Wars: A New Hope to theatres in 1977 remains a seminal moment. Bef0re that, while stories were fascinating, the possibilities had limits. Star Wars: A New Hope changed all that. It opened up possibilities for our imaginations that went beyond anything we’d seen before. From its state of the art special effects to its return to a classic storytelling style, Star Wars captured the public and never let go, launching a franchise, a legend, and an empire.

For me, Bryan, Star Wars infused my sense of what I wanted stories to be and the kind of stories I strive to tell, from witty banter to lots of action and large scale, my own Saga of Davi Rhii has been said to capture “the Star Wars feel,” and my forthcoming epic fantasies surely show that influence as well. I still enjoy a good space opera book, Star Wars tie-ins included. And I still like hopeful stories of good v. evil and the possibility of real heroes one can look up to and admire. One of my all time favorite sequences is still the opening battle of A New Hope, and I also still love the escape from the Death Star and the Battle of Yavin tons. There was something about the coming of age, innocent Luke that still attracts me, and I’ve used similar elements in both my Davi Rhii and Dawning Age novel series as well as some short stories.

Jon says: “I was seven years old when A New Hope arrived in theaters. I saw it seventeen times that summer. Never before had a movie—or any story—affected me so profoundly. The original Star Wars films were basic enough that a child could understand them, with their larger-than-life battles between the Empire and the Rebellion. Yet they were also dynamic enough to enthrall an entire generation of wannabe X-Wing pilots, smuggers, Jedi, and Sith Lords. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to appreciate these films for their technical aspects, especially A New Hope, which I consider one of the most structurally-perfect movies ever made. There is no doubt that a little bit of Star Wars infuses my writing, no matter the subject or genre.”

So, starting this week, Jon and I will watch Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and dialogue about it. That post will go up on his blog. We’ll talk about things we like and don’t like and why, how we react to them now as opposed to when we first encountered them as children, influences on our writing, genre, and so much more. You’re invited to join us in comments. We think it’ll be a lot of fun.

So let’s take a trip back to a galaxy far, far away together. We look forward to engaging with you.

Our conversation begins on A New Hope here: http://jonsprunk.blogspot.com/2012/11/hello-friends-today-i-have-special-treat.html

About Us:

Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of ElvesDreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website athttp://jonsprunk.com/.

 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 8 Key Elements For Capturing The Star Wars Feel In Your Story

One of the highest compliments I’ve gotten on my debut novel, The Worker Prince, and I’ve heard it over and over, is that it “feels like reading Star Wars: A New Hope.” This was very deliberate on my part, and I referred a lot in writing it to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy and Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy books.  It’s a challenge to capture the feel without going too far into imitation. And while watching the films repeatedly and reading tie-in books is definitely essential, I also think there are other factors which must be present to lend the right aura. Here are the 8 I’ve identified:

1) Your story must have an epic scope. Both Star Wars and The Worker Prince are stories about a quest of good vs. evil, to win justice over evil and save the universe, or at least their part of it. This is epic and requires bigness: big baddees, big ships, big planets and world, big stakes, big heroes, etc. You can’t really do it well staying inside an Enterprise or just on a single planet. There has to be a larger picture and bigger feel to capture it. Despite the different key focus of each movie or book, all encompass this epic scope of good vs. evil.

2) Larger than life characters. You need characters we can relate to, yes. Who can’t relate to the young farm boy with big dreams of a more exciting life somewhere else? Both Luke Skywalker and Davi Rhii (protagonist of The Worker Prince) share that trait. And thus, the first segments of both trilogies are coming of age tales about their quest to become men and men with a purpose. Han Solo and Leia are larger than life. Leia may be a petite figure but her attitude far outsizes her physical body. Han Solo is edgy. He comes off as dangerous and unpredictable, but, as we get to know him, he has a morality not so different from our other heroes, and, above all, he wants good to win. Chewbacca  is another obvious example, as is Darth Vader. Both are feared on sight for similar and different reasons. And both are formidable foes. One possesses a kind, giving heart. The other is selfish and cruel. But neither does it half way. Vader takes his cruelty to the extreme just as Chewbacca takes his kindness to extremes with his loyalty and dedication to his friends. I gave Davi Rhii some companions who have trait like this. None of them is a copy or exactly identical to any Star Wars character. I was careful about this. Davi’s love interest, Tela, is a pilot, a slave, but she has Leia’s sass, values and strength of will. His companions Yao, a tall alien, and Farien, a shorter, bulker, edgier human, compete and banter with Davi throughout their adventures much like Luke, Han and Leia do. And the bad guy, Xalivar, is definitely a dark lord, even though he and Vader approach it very differently. The anti-heroes are not dominant in these worlds. Luke is pretty clear cut in his goodness as is Leia. Han teeters on the edge but he comes out good overall in the end. The same is true of characters in my saga. There are very clear cut bad and good characters, not a lot left up to reader interpretation.

3) Adrenaline filled, relentless action. High stakes require a sense of fast pace and constant jeopardy for your characters. They can never be totally at ease or seem to get ahead without something new and dangerous knocking them off course. The action scenes are intense, with real danger, and the character’s witty banter adds to both the urgency and tension while also infusing much needed humor at times. Zahn and Anderson’s action scenes were particular important to me in writing the many action sequences of The Worker Prince, because I wanted to capture this style. I also had to make sure the action only lets up for short periods. The story always had to keep its sense that the heroes’ lives were on the line.

4) An overarching ideology with which characters must wrestle and which they must interpret in living according to their own understandings. In Star Wars, this is called “The Force.” In The Worker Prince, I used a conflict of religions. Not only do all characters good and evil wrestle with what these belief systems mean for them and how to interpret them in their lives (in both stories), but so do the two major opposing forces: The Empire and The Rebels in Star Wars, The Borali Alliance and the Vertullians in The Worker Prince. Some characters, like Han and Farien, are indifferent and don’t really hold much credence to the ideologies. They live by their own code of morality, even if they share some of the larger ideology’s values. Other characters honor the ideology for living good lives, serving others, like Luke, the Jedi, Leia, Davi Rhii. Vader, Xalivar and the baddies, however, turn that ideology into a force for evil. Vader playing with the dark side, and Xalivar persecuting anyone who doesn’t share the traditional birthright and ideology of his Boralian people.

5) Rapport/banter. I already mentioned how much this adds to action scenes but it adds to character in general. Good guys banter. It’s part of their rapport. And good guys banter with bad guys as well. Much of this occurs with humor. Humor humanizes the characters, lessens the tension at the right moments, and endears the characters to the audience. It’s fun, too. Banter is difficult to write without dipping into silliness. Star Wars has certainly been accused of it, at times. And I’d imagine The Worker Prince will get a few criticisms, too. But audiences love it. C-3PO and R2D2 aren’t popular for their looks. It’s their heart and personality, so often expressed through banter, which won audiences over. There’s a reason action movies are known for quotable lines. They may be silly but they sure are memorable. The key is to find proper balance and not take it too far one way or the other.

6) Cool gadgets and vehicles. Lightsabers, blasters, landspeeders, X-Wings, Tie Fighters, The Millennium Falcon–these are characters as much as the people in Star Wars. In The Worker Prince, we have blasters, datapads, Skitters, Floaters, air taxis, VS28 fighters and more. All these ships become huge parts of the world and how it operates. And they play essential roles in the characters’ abilities to survive and triumph over adversity. Can you imagine the stories without these things?

7) A Sense Of Wonder And Discovery. It’s no accident that Star Wars: A New Hope is a coming of age tale. It’s about Luke’s self-discovery and we discover it along with him: his world, his abilities, his future, etc. Davi Rhii takes a similar journey in The Worker Prince. Both approach the world, as young people often do, with wonder and curiosity that’s contageous. And they also share a drive to discover how to make the world better and how to be better men. The second stories, Empire Strikes Back and The Returning, change focus a bit. In Empire, it’s more of Han and Leia’s story. Their relationship, their beliefs, are central in focus as they are chased around the galaxy by the Empire and threatened time and again, fighting side by side for their lives. Luke’s still present and discovering who he is, but his journey is a bit more thoughtful this time around and less adrenaline packed at times. In The Returning, Davi, Yao and Farien find their lives on the line from very early on until the very end. They are involved in most of the book’s huge action scenes and there’s almost one per chapter, some many pages long. Davi is being chased by those who want to kill him, and, at the same time, he and his friends are chasing answers to who’s killing Vertullians and who’s threatening the peace. At the same time, Davi is discovering how to be a good mate to Tela and he and Tela are both rediscovering relationships with their long lost fathers. Aron’s new role on the Council as the first Vertullian to serve in leadership brings many challenges of discovery, and so does Miri’s adjustment from royalty to civilian life. In Return Of The Jedi, Luke’s quest comes center stage again as he tries to discover the truth about Vader’s claim to be his father and what that means. He also struggles to confront Vader and the Empire and end the chase once and for all. Leia and Han’s relationship continues to develop and the Rebels continue fighting the Empire, but the focus is still different from Empire. I am still writing The Exodus, my third book, so I’m not sure how it all will wind up, but this story has chase elements and also people stepping up, like Luke, for final confrontations, including Davi and Xalivar, Davi and Bordox, and Tarkanius taking charge in his leadership role.  Throughout, the discoveries impact the characters with a profound sense of change and continued wonder at the bigness of their worlds.

8 ) Emphasis on Character and plot, not science. Both Star Wars and The Worker Prince are space opera and space fantasy. They have elements of science, but the science is not hard science and often wouldn’t hold up to scientific law. In both cases, there are some elements of true science, perhaps, but mostly the tales are driven by the characters and the plot, not the science. The characters and their journeys are the heart and what draws us in and makes us care; what entertains us and captures us. There’s never a sense of some infodump teaching science nor is there a sense of it teaching philosophy or religion. The ideologies are present as part of the world, but they are not for our indoctrination but for our understanding of what drives the characters and frames their understandings of the world.

For me, these 8 elements are at the core of why stories like Star Wars have the feel they do. Reading The Worker Prince, even if you notice the feel, they’re still very different. I do pay tribute to the former’s influence, of course, but the story is original and stands on its own. And I think anyone trying to capture a similar feel would do well to keep these elements in mind. Yes, they can be traced back to old fashioned pulp stories, in many cases.  What do you think? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

AISFP 136 – Bryan Thomas Schmidt

September 10, 2011 By Shaun Farrell

This episode is brought to you by MAYAN DECEMBER, the exciting new science fiction novel from Brenda Cooper.

Dr. Alic Cameron is a famous scientist devoted to studying ancient Mayan culture. In December 2012 she finds herself on the Yucatan Peninsula with her daughter, Nixie, fellow scholars, end of the world crazies, and even the President of the United States. It all sounds wonderful until Nixie disappears into the past. Featuring a handsome dreadlocked time-traveler, an ancient shamam, a high ranking Mayan couple, a computer nerd, and an eleven year old child, Alice must traverse the past in a search for the meaning of life and a way to save two worlds.
You can follow Brenda on Twitter, and please tell her Adventures in Scifi Publishing sent you!

http://aisfp.media.farpointmedia.net//aisfp/AISFP_136_092011.mp3

Show Notes:
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author of THE WORKER PRINCE and creator of the Twitter #SFFWRTCHT weekly interview series, which has featured an impressive list of guests, joins us to discuss religion in science fiction, working with a new publisher, writing good characters, his love of Star Wars, starting books off with an emotional punch, and much more. Read the untwittered transcripts at Grasping for the Wind. Once THE WORKER PRINCE is available for order, which should be any day now, we’ll post it here.

Links to things I mentioned in this interview:

http://www.jamierubin.net/ — SF writer Jamie Todd Rubin who blogs about Golden Age SF and more.

http://www.facebook.com/TimothyZahn?ref=ts — Timothy Zahn has yet to set up a website but he does have this Facebook page where he’s very active at communicating with fans

http://www.wordfire.com/ — Website of Author/Editor Kevin J. Anderson

www.bryanthomasschmidt.net/sffwrtcht — Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat which I host and which also has a Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sffwrtcht-Science-Fiction-and-Fantasy-Writers-Chat/144219588975058

www.majipoor.com — the closest Robert Silverberg comes to an official website.

http://sciencefictionfantasybooks.net/ — Moses Siregar III’s site. He’s cohost of the podcast and author of “Black God’s War” which I highly recommend.

http://www.brenda-cooper.com/ — Author of “Mayan December” who blurbed my novel and is mentioned also above as sponsor of this episode

http://www.diminishedmediagroup.com/Home_Page.html — my publisher’s page

From Jimmy Kimmel Live: The Harrison Ford Reunited With Chewbacca Sketch (video)

I just have to put this on here because it’s hilarious!  I’ve been laughing about it for 24 hours. Great to see Harrison Ford keeping his sense of humor. Horrible Chewie face on the costume but still well done.

Review: Star Wars-The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

For me, Star Wars books are often like comfort food — familiar, not overly surprising, but good, an enjoyable way to pass the time. So when I scheduled Paul Kemp for my interview chat, I was surprised to learn his Star Wars books didn’t include those familiar characters I’d grown to love–the characters who made me fall in love with science fiction, made me want to tell stories. But Paul Kemp wrote a Star Wars book (three now in fact), and we’re close in age, so I wanted to commiserate. He must have viewed the saga at the same age I did with similar awe. What was it like to now be a part of that universe as a storyteller? So I ordered up some reading copies and read.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself engaged, even captivated by the characters. Kemp’s ability to create immediate connections between characters and readers is admirable. He had me at “hello,” you might say. And like a stalker, he never let me go, but in a good way. Even the antagonist, Darth Malgus is someone you can’t help but feel sympathy for. He’s relatable. He may be evil and dark and hateful, but he’s human, just like the reader. And Kemp brings that out so well you almost root for him at times against the protagonists. That’s great writing.

Like most Star Wars tie-ins the prose is kept simple, a few challenging words here and there, but not many. After all, these books are intended to be accessible for fans of all ages. And that requires talent, too. When the competition are sometimes books with extra effort at complex prose, to have written a book written simply but well which engages adults as well as children is a real accomplishment. One to be proud of.

I can’t wait to chat with Paul and find out more about his writing journey, to soak up the lessons he has to teach us about writing, and to call him my friend. He tells me his assignment was to do a story with Darth Malgus, a character from the forthcoming online multi-player game “The Old Republic.” He wrote a Malgus story with spades.

The book revolves around three central characters, the dark Sith Malgus, a rogue Jedi Aryn, and a pilot Zeerid. Malgus wants to conquer the universe for the Sith and rid them forever of the Jedi menace. Aryn wants revenge for the death of her mentor/father-figure at Malgus’ hands. Zeerid, an old friend of Aryn’s, is just trying to pay off a debt and provide artificial legs for his young daughter. Each of them gets sucked in by circumstance to a web of deception–both internal and external to themselves–and struggles to accomplish their goal. All of them wind up taking paths far different than they’d imagined in doing so. And all of them learn lessons that forever change them in the process.

Filled with action and moving at a steady clip, “Deceived” even includes a cute astromech droid character, who may remind us of ancestors to come. It has romance, betrayal, political intrigue, and rivalry. It’s a well told tale that could be set in any universe but works exceedingly well in the confines of the familiar Star Wars one. Truly these are characters worth discovering and enjoying. I’d like to see more of each of them.

I can’t wait to read more from Kemp. Highly recommended.