Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens taught us an important lesson. The power of story is within answering the question, “What happens next?”
For those of us who are ancient enough to have seen the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), we dreamed of new Star Wars movies for years. What happened after the Empire fell? Were there other Jedi? What happened with Han and Leia? We wanted to know one simple thing, “What happens next?”
A story that is a “page-turner,” a story that engages the reader or viewer, is a story that constantly has us desperate for “What happens next?” Even if the story comes to a conclusion, a satisfying one as it did in Return of the Jedi, we still want to know what happens next.
Because we love the characters and struggled with them.
For those of us who were hungry for more, we had to read Star Wars novels and comic books, some of them amazing. Some not so great.
When Lucas announced he was making more Star Wars movies, we cheered. When we heard he wanted to do the prequels, we went, “Well, okay. I mean, yay!” And the prequels never engaged us like the original trilogy. Why? We knew the end of the story. We knew, for the most part, what happened next. We knew Anakin would get together with Padme, turn to the dark side, and have twins. We knew Obi Wan and Yoda would survive. We knew Palpatine would become the Emperor.
Some bad writing and acting and overuse of special effects and visuals, and the sequels didn’t catch on with fans of the original trilogy. Some of the younger generation, some kids, whose first introduction were the prequels, they love them. But for those of us who cried on the way home from Empire Strikes Back, freaking out about what happened to Luke’s hand and Han Solo, we went, “Cool lightsaber battles, but otherwise, meh.”
The Force Awakens is what we wanted. I’ll be honest, without giving any spoilers, the movie isn’t perfect and could have been a little more creative, but the reason why people are so excited about this movie is that it continues in the spirit of the original trilogy and it makes us ask the question … what happens next? There are more unanswered questions at the end of the movie. And we’ll come back to get the answers to those questions.
As a writer, we should remember to set up a story so that the reader is desperate to know what happens next. The further we go in the story without creating that desperation, the more likely it is that they give up on the story. How do we do that? We do it with strong characters people can relate to, a goal we can understand and then epic struggles to get to that goal. Every story that sucks us in has those elements, from simple to complicated.
And I think I just learned … don’t do any prequels …