I’ve touched on the subject of 2nd editions and how reviled George Lucas has become due to his revisions of Star Wars. However, I wanted to touch on another aspect of that topic.
When is it okay to change the direction of a series, and when is it not? This specific question came up a couple of weeks ago while chatting with Wayne from Show X about Star Wars.
In fact, Star Wars is a very good example to use in this case, because it has made changes in two ways. The first is what was mentioned in previous blogs, how he took the original trilogy and modified it, much to the anger and angst of many.
However, what about the prequel trilogy? There seems to be a sharp divide regarding whether or not the prequels are good or not, some stating that they are not part of the Star Wars saga at all, others who loved them. It seems that there are few who, like me, like some of the prequels and their elements, but certainly not all (Episode 2…)
What came as a great surprise to me lately is that many of those who hate the prequels often say, “Had Lucas kept to his original plan for the prequels, it might have actually been enjoyable.”
When reading and hearing this from others, somewhere in my head something clicked, and I do recall that the prequels didn’t seem to follow the original plan. Furthermore, some other things didn’t make sense, so I started reading up on the development and production of The Force Awakens.
Sure enough, my vague memories turned out to be right: Lucas had outwardly stated in the early ’80’s that he had planned out both the prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy. And based on the quotes, it was in no uncertain terms that he had these plotted out, and he even made statements about what those stories would be about.
And yet…later on, Lucas started stating that he never had any plans for a sequel trilogy, just a vague idea of ‘wouldn’t it be cool.’ These statements directly contradict his earlier statements.
This is just an example. There are other examples where Lucas had to give a back story during Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to production staff, and apparently he was very clear about the origins of Vader and the nature of the Force.
All of which was contradicted in the prequels. For instance, the much-reviled idea of midichlorians being what grants people the power of the Force. Or the fact that only some people can use the Force (Lucas was once quoted as saying anyone can use it, some are stronger than others, but it’s only the Jedi who train and dedicate to become powerful in it…a statement Lucas later denied ever saying.)
Where’s He Going With All Of This?
The thing is, Lucas said all of these things about the nature of the Force and Vader long before he ever created the prequels. The stories weren’t actually created yet, the movies weren’t even in development, and nothing was ‘official.’ Yet people held Lucas to these statements as if they were gospel. And have since crucified him, so to speak, for changing that direction.
Why? Why is what he did so bad? Is it because the prequels really were as bad as people claim, or is it because people wanted the story Lucas had mentioned in off-hand comments, and were disappointed for not getting that story?
As a writer, this is a very important question I’ve been asking myself lately. Because, let’s face it, I change the direction of my stories all the time. I come up with better ideas as I develop or write a novel or a series of novels.
In fact, from what I can tell with all story creators (whether novels or movies or plays or video games), this is very common. As long as you don’t contradict what was explicitly stated or made known as fact in a previous story, because continuity IS important.
So at what point does it become a sin to change the course of your story from what you originally planned? Other than breaking established continuity, anyway.
The answer became somewhat apparent in my discussion with Wayne: when you’ve promised your consumers one thing but then delivered something else entirely. ESPECIALLY when it is something that has entered the hearts and minds of millions and is so important to so many people.
This, of course, makes me reticent to ever post any plans or ideas for future Sword of Dragons stories. I don’t want people to expect me to take the series in one direction, only to find I actually take it in another. The progression of the series has already changed considerably from my original plans (I had intended for Cardin and Sira to have a child at one point, but I’ve completely scrapped that idea, for many, many reasons.)
It may be a little less important for a series that isn’t yet well-known like Sword of Dragons, but it still is a good idea to avoid spoilers and promises. At least, I think so.
The Mass Effect Sin
I won’t go into too many details here, because I don’t want to spoil the story of the Mass Effect trilogy for my fiancee, but there’s another example of when changing things is a sin. And that’s the original ending for Mass Effect 3.
Those who are curious can find and read copious articles of how hated the original ending was. There even was an attempted class-action law suit over it. Personally, I think this was taking it too far.
However, it does make one good point: stay true to your stories, to the spirit of your stories and its characters. Mass Effect 3’s original ending did not in any way take into account your choices throughout the entire trilogy. Considering this was one of the key mechanics of the trilogy, that every decision, even small ones, come to bear later on, sometimes in very unexpected ways, to not include that mechanic in the ending was kind of a slap in the face to fans.
Another, less recent example: Willow and it’s “sequel” novels. I’ve not personally read the novels yet, I didn’t know they existed until recently, but they were pretty well panned by readers, and one of the many complaints was that the character of Willow was nothing like the character from the movie.
What do you all think? Am I right on the ball or way off the mark with my assertions?
Thanks for reading!