John C. Wright is an award-winning author of science-fiction novels and short stories whose work has appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and anthologies. He is also a practicing Catholic who has written about the intersections of faith and science fiction. He is also a former lawyer, newspaperman, and newspaper editor. Mr. Wright was a Nebula Award finalist for his fantasy novel Orphans of Chaos. Publishers Weekly once dubbed him “this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent” when reviewing his debut novel, The Golden Age. Mr. Wright knows a thing or two about science fiction and the culture.
He’s written well over 30 books and numerous short stories, and nearly all of them are science fiction based. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that Mr. Wright was once an avid fan and critic fan of the Star Wars universe. Now, in his latest non-fiction offering, he illuminates the myriad of problems with not only the sequel trilogy itself, but specifically The Last Jedi. I chatted with him earlier this week about his book “The Last Straw: A Critical Autopsy of a Galaxy Far, Far Away.”
Chris: Hello again, Mr. Wright! It’s been a while since we chatted, and I just learned about your latest book I wanted to share with our readers. Unlike your dozens of other novels, this one is non-fiction, but aimed at a science fiction loving audience. What can you tell us about “The Last Straw”?
Mr. Wright: My latest novel ‘THE LAST STRAW’ is an analysis, criticism, and screed against the second film in the Disney Star Wars trilogy, THE LAST JEDI, uttered with all the disappointed outrage of an offended fanboy, adorned by the wickedly poisoned pen of an editorial opinion-writer, but composed with the cold, critical eye of a professional storyteller.
If you left the theater feeling disappointed, and perhaps even betrayed, by this flaming dumpster-fire of a film but cannot say exactly why, this book breaks down exactly how and where everything went wrong, and, more to the point, why. This originally was meant to be simply a humor column written for my circle of friends, but the tale grew in the telling. So much was wrong, and so badly wrong, in THE LAST JEDI, that the column grew into a series, and the movie criticism turned into a treatise on art, life, and the human condition.
It is said that there is no bottom floor to Hell. Whenever a tormented soul hits what he thinks is the burning final floor, the floorstones collapse underfoot, and he is plunged ever further down and down into even hotter fires amid even louder screams. And it never ends. Writing this book was like that. Each time I thought I had discovered everything wrong with this film, something even stupider, even more malign, even more awkward, ugly and inartistic would break the floor beneath my feet, and fling my opinion down lower.
Chris: What would you say were the biggest issues you had with The Last Jedi?
Mr. Wright: The biggest issue I have with LAST JEDI is not that this was not, technically speaking, a proper Star Wars film, not a proper space opera film of the genre, not a proper adventure film. My biggest issue was that this was not, technically speaking, a film at all.
To be sure, it looked like a film, but it was not a film. A film consists of protagonists pursuing a goal attempting to overcome obstacles. A protagonist is a pretend person who has a semblance of a personality, or, at least, a consistent quirk or defining trait. A goal is an event at which actions aim, it is not merely the random outcome and random behavior. The clash with obstacles produces a series of linked events called a plot. The way in which the plot unfolds and the characters act defines the theme or point.
In this book, I dissect in excruciating detail exactly why each character is not a character, why each plot point is not linked to any other, why no goals are aimed at and no obstacles are serious, and, most of all, why there is no theme nor point to the whole mess. There is, unfortunately, a current-headline political point about female empowerfulmentedness that I assume the film perpetrator was attempting to make, but, for whatever reason, the story does the exactly opposite of what one would do to make that point.
And the opening word crawl was bad. This film was a loss from the first frame.
I have not seen RISE OF SKYWALKER and, frankly, have no plans to see it. I explain my reason in the last chapter of this book, which is my prediction for the sequel. The reader might be curious to see how accurate my professional diagnosis of the decline and fall of the greatest movie franchise in history turned out to be. The third movie may indeed make a brave attempt to climb out of the pit the second movie dug for it, but I am confident that the pit is too deep. There is a certain logic to the art of story telling, and that logic in this case says that there is simply no more story to tell.
So, I do have a problem with RISE OF SKYWALKER, even sight unseen: the plot, whatever it is, will not grow naturally out of the plot to THE LAST JEDI.
Chris: I share many of your disappointments with THE LAST JEDI, but understanding Disney’s need to make this a profitable property and lucrative investment for them, how do you think they would you have handled it differently?
Mr. Wright: They should have made a plan or outline before filming the first of the trilogy defining the overarching plotlines linking all three. They should have hired a twelve-year-old child to confirm whether any proposed ideas to be put in the plot made sense or where merely stupid.
They should have shut up about their damnable politics, and not insulted and badmouthed their paying customers. Failing that, they should have hired an SF writer, preferable one who loves rather than hates and despises STAR WARS and everything for which it stands. Any SF writer would have been better than what they did do, which was to hire two directors with opposite ideas, neither of whom, for opposite reasons, had any respect for nor faith in the source material, nor any willingness to work together.
I am not saying they should have hired me. What about Timothy Zahn? What about Nick Cole? But hiring me would have been better than a sharp stick in the eye, because at least I know the minimum any pro writer knows.
Chris: The title says this is “A Critical Autopsy of a Galaxy Far, Far Away…”, do you really think the Star Wars universe and brand are dead? Could there be any hope at a renaissance of the property in the future by caretakers that actually care about canon, storytelling, and universal truths?
Mr. Wright: I think that Disney is in the same position as the HIGHLANDER films and television shows. If, like HIGHLANDER III THE APOLOGY, the franchise simply jettisons and denounces the trash done to our beloved favorite characters, if they repent in sackcloth and ashes, I am sure there are fans willing to be lured back into theater seats.
Not this trilogy, however. If Disney makes a Thrawn movie, or takes other material from the EU, and uses it respectfully, and stops trying to “kill the past” some fans will forgive. There is a new generation every decade or two, after all.
Chris: Let’s get back to your book. Until now, you’ve only done fiction, tell me about the feedback you’ve been getting from your readers for this non-fiction book. Any logical dissenters?
Mr. Wright: I posted a first draft of this book on my weblog for my beta readers to discussion. So far, I have had only one complaint, from someone who thought one of my jokes was tasteless. No one so far has found fault with my analysis.
Chris: You and I have had had some fun discussions about Robert E. Howard’s Conan in the past, but I am not sure Conan is going to scratch the itch many Star Wars fans who have been disappointed with Disney’s bastardizing of that universe. What are some stories, books, or movies that you might recommend for this alienated audience, including a few of your own works.
Mr. Wright: First let me recommend the Galaxy’s Edge series written by Jason Anspach collaborating with my friend Nick Cole. It read like a mil SF novel set in a universe parallel to Star Wars, with all the same flavor and feel, but not the same story.
Of my own work, I have chosen to spend the next few years of my life writing a series called STARQUEST, which is meant to be a space opera in the nostalgic and mythic pulp feel of STAR WARS, using many of the same elements, and showing the world how those elements could have been used to tell a top notch, first rate, professionally crafted and lovingly told tall tale of the far stars, and the heroes and heroines on whom the fate of the galaxy depends.
You see, I felt such sympathy for Mark Hamill. He is the Hollywood actor lucky enough and skilled enough to have portrayed Luke Skywalker. Luke is a hero more wholesome than James Bond, more optimistic than Captain Kirk, more heroic than Starbuck, and more famous, quite frankly, than any of them. To Mark Hamill fell the sad fate of being contractually and professionally obligated to cooperate in the piecemeal destruction and desecration of that great iconic character, and everything he stands for, and everything he inspires. Mark Hamill looked so sad in his eyes in every interview I glimpsed.
I vowed to do what I could to make it right. I also have always been told never to criticize someone for doing something badly if you yourself cannot do it well.
When STARQUEST is done, that series will be my final answer to how any sequels to Star Wars should have been done. The first volume of the proposed series, SPACE PIRATES OF ANDROMEDA is already on the editor’s desk, awaiting revision.
Chris: Congratulations and I wish you success with this current book as well as Space Pirates of Andromeda! Thanks again for your time, and your contributions to Bleeding Fool over the years, Mr. Wright. We look forward to your next dissertation.
Mr. Wright: Your words are kind. I am honored to have been asked.