Tag Archives: Fantasy

Re-writing Rogue One’s most irksome scene

I want to talk about Rogue One – and my problem with the final cut.

I preface this by admitting the film was a commercial success, grossing more than $1bn globally – success that was reflected in the audience meta-reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, securing 85% fresh from critics and an 87% audience score. That’s decent numbers.

Nevertheless, personally, the film left me feeling hollow, and it took a second viewing two years later to really grasp why. Specifically, it took one scene to pinpoint my frustration with the film.

Aside: I’m aware the internet is awash with feverish fans pissing and moaning about their beloved franchise being supposedly ruined by all manner of nefarious forces, from SJW writers to diversity-crazed executives – absurd criticisms that say a lot more about the critic than the creatives.

This is not one of those blogs.

I want to talk about the writing – the agency, character development and dialogue. That’s what this blog has always been about, after all.

The scene I want to examine comes smack-bang in the middle, following the X-Wing bombing run on the Imperial research facility on Eadu.

This scene forms the crux of the story – it’s supposed to be the point at which Jyn shifts from passivity to action. Indeed, in the scene after this she has transformed into a spokesperson for freedom, encouraging lifelong rebels to fight against the Empire. Meanwhile, for Cassian, this scene reveals his remorse, and prepares the groundwork for his subsequent redemption. It’s a low ebb in a film devoted to low ebbs.

So, in its entirety:

JYN: You lied to me.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock.

JYN: You went up there to kill my father.

CASSIAN: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

JYN: Deny it.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock, and looking for someplace to put it. I’ve seen it before.

JYN: I bet you have. They know! You lied about why we came here and you lied about why you went up alone.

CASSIAN: [sighs] I had every chance to pull the trigger. But did I? [looks to Bodhi] Did I?

JYN: You might as well have. My father was living proof and you put him at risk. Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.

CASSIAN: I had orders! Orders that I disobeyed. But you wouldn’t understand that.

JYN: Orders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a stormtrooper.

CASSIAN: What do you know? We don’t all have the luxury of deciding when and where we wanna care about something. Suddenly the rebellion is real for you. Some of us live it. I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old. You’re not the only one who lost everything. Some of us just decided to do something about it.

JYN: You can’t talk your way around this.

CASSIAN: I don’t have to.

The biggest problem with this scene stems from Cassian’s actions on the ridge. Remember, Cassian is the first character we’ve seen to so perfectly personify “rebel scum”; he is a murdering thug, who kills in cold blood, abandons his allies and stoops to anything to further the Rebel cause.

So Cassian is sent to Eadu to assassinate Jyn’s father, Galen, but at the last disobeys his orders. However, it is never clear why. Perhaps he believes what Jyn has told him, that Galen can prove to the Rebel Alliance that there is a way to destroy the Death Star. But if he believed her, why continue with the mission, why take the pilot up to the ridge as his spotter if he doesn’t have every intention of carrying out the order. No, it looks more like a crisis of conscience.

But this in itself is vexxing – we witnessed Cassian’s ruthlessness in his first scene. Remember when he was getting info from an informant, and they are discovered by two Stormtroopers? He shoots the guards, thereby alerting the rest of the Imperial forces to their presence. His injured comrade begins to panic, worried he won’t be able to escape with a lame arm. Cassian – for no discernible reason – takes it upon himself to calm the informant with soothing words before shooting him in the back. Cassian apparently has no conscience – he believes implicitly in the cause, will do anything for it, kill anyone for it.

So which is it that draws his finger off the trigger? If it is reason, he should have disobeyed sooner, and enacted a plan that might save Galen. If it is compassion, well, here’s that scene again:

Cassian’s character arc is all about remorse – we learn he has been fighting the Empire since he was six years old, and has done terrible things for the sake of the rebellion. But we are led to believe he suddenly has a change of heart when aiming down the scope of a sniper rifle at the man who designed the most heinous weapon in the galaxy. He’ll sidle up close to an ally to shoot them at point-blank range, but he hesitates when his target is a mile away and for all intents and purposes a far more dangerous enemy?

It doesn’t sit right.

So, not a great foundation for a pivotal scene. Let’s break it down, line by line…

JYN: You lied to me.

Jyn is referring to when she realised Cassian had left the ship with his weapon in “sniper configuration”. Fair enough – though he didn’t pull the trigger. So, while she may think he went up to shoot Galen, he didn’t, and therein lies a mystery…

CASSIAN: You’re in shock.

Remember, Cassian does not yet know why Jyn is accusing him of lying. Perhaps this is his guilt replying, but one might argue he’d just act incredulous. He has nothing to gain from admitting his order, and it would be much more in character if he continued to lie. Either way, his complete inaction during the Eadu scene has apparently made him the aggressor.

JYN: You went up there to kill my father.

Again, Jyn had good reason to believe Cassian was there to assassinate Galen; and yet, he clearly did not carry out the order. The question I would be asking is, “Why didn’t you shoot?”

CASSIAN: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Cassian is being dismissive and patronising, and it’s his only line in this scene that makes any sense.

JYN: Deny it.

So I guess Jyn is challenging Cassian to keep lying – but he has been lying constantly and without contrition since the beginning, so it’s hardly the most likely way to win this argument, or indeed draw out a confession.

CASSIAN: You’re in shock, and looking for someplace to put it. I’ve seen it before.

This line is just semantically wrong. She may be in shock – and saying so is a good way to undermine her accusations – but you can’t put shock anywhere. What does that even mean? Looking for someplace to put your shock?

JYN: I bet you have. – They know! You lied about why we came here and you lied about why you went up alone.

The “I’ve seen it before” –> “I bet you have” remark & response appear to be there only to make the dialogue switch from one to the other. Cassian doesn’t need to say “I’ve seen it before” – it adds no weight to his point. Jyn’s response is basically meaningless – sarcastically implying he’s seen lots of people in shock? Well, yeah, he’s a soldier. What’s your point? And then she instantly changes tact with “They know!”

Note also she says Cassian lied about why he “went up alone”. But he didn’t go up alone, did he? He went up with the pilot, so that Bodhi could identify Galen. (I’m amazed his commanding officer couldn’t rustle up a photo of Galen before sending Cassian out to kill someone he wouldn’t recognise, but that is by the bye.)

CASSIAN: [sighs] I had every chance to pull the trigger. But did I? [looks to Bodhi] Did I?

Cassian lets the cat out of the bag by admitting he was aiming at her father. Fine – people make mistakes. (Bear in mind she had no proof, and further denial would have cost him nothing, ah well.) But then he looks to the pilot for affirmation, reminding the audience that he didn’t in fact go up to the ridge alone after all.

Yes, once Bodhi identified Galen, he sent the pilot away. But that begs the quetion, why ask for his alibi, when Bodhi might easily reply that Cassian sent him away?

Everything in this scene is warped.

JYN: You might as well have. My father was living proof and you put him at risk. Those were Alliance bombs that killed him.

This is where the scene loses it completely. Cassian had no sway over the orders of the Rebel fleet. He refrained from sending the signal in hyperspace because they were deep in Imperial territory (let’s give a pass to the fact he was able to take a call from the Rebels). Then they crash, damaging their comms systems. It is this loss of contact that leads to the X-Wing squadron being launched.

So when Cassian refrained from pulling the trigger, did that put Galen in more or less danger? I mean it’s just ridiculous at this point, isn’t it?

CASSIAN: I had orders! Orders that I disobeyed. But you wouldn’t understand that.

OK, so he’s categorically no longer denying it. He had orders, which he disobeyed. Why would Jyn – a woman who hasn’t followed orders since her father told her to hide in a hole – not understand about disobeying orders?

Perhaps he’s belittling her for not being in a position to have any orders – for abandoning the rebellion? Either way, his point is completely muddled by the fact he loves orders, despite disobeying them. (But she wouldn’t understand that – and neither do we)

JYN: Orders? When you know they’re wrong? You might as well be a stormtrooper.

Jyn accuses Cassian of disobeying orders, and then accuses him of following orders like a Stormtrooper. THIS MAKES NO SENSE.

CASSIAN: What do you know? We don’t all have the luxury of deciding when and where we wanna care about something. Suddenly the rebellion is real for you. Some of us live it. I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old. You’re not the only one who lost everything. Some of us just decided to do something about it.

Aside from the extremely staccato and choppy thoughts in this muddled block of dialogue, we’ve entered the realm of arguing for argument’s sake. He emotionally slaps her across the face by belittling her emotional response to watching her father die in her arms, and all because she nonsensically likens his disregard of orders with the actions of a mindless Stormtrooper.

But we get a glimpse of backstory, for the first time – and that’s welcome. Unfortunately, it comes so late in the film. Suddenly we’re asked to feel something for this character who hitherto seemed nothing more than a guide, or worse, a heel to the protagonist.

I’m not against rich, complicated characters, but this is the very first sign of complexity in a character who has already made his pivotal choice – to disobey his orders. For this switch to work, don’t we need to know earlier that he’s struggling with his remorse? All we have is that brief look of regret after he murders the informant in cold blood.

JYN: You can’t talk your way around this.

Talk his way around what? He has already admitted he was given orders to murder Galen. He has already made it clear he disobeyed those orders (though not why he did). What does he have to talk his way out of? Remaining her friend? He hasn’t shown any affection towards Jyn previously, and is certainly not attempting to salvage their relationship in anything else he’s said.

Everything in this scene is wrong, because it tries to take a load of scenes that contain no character development, or relationship development, and cram a shit-tonne in before they both have their pivotal redemption scenes. It’s a bandage, to cover the gaping wound in the story – that a sudden change in character will make no sense.

But who’s gonna write it, kid? You?

This is the part where you say, “OK then, you write the scene that fixes it, you sodding know-it-all!”

Fair enough. I’ll take a swing at it, but it’s difficult without being able to edit the rest of the film.

Still, I present to you my Eadu-escape confrontation scene.

J: You lied to me.

C: About what?

J: You came here, to murder my father.

C: [looks at the others, to get a sense of the room. A glance from Bodhi and he knows the game’s up] And? What of it? [he cannot face her] Your father was a traitor, and a danger to the rebellion.

J: Then why didn’t you kill him? [a tear rolls down her cheek, because she wants to grieve, but she needs to know]

C: It doesn’t matter why.

J: Tell me, damn you!

C: …

J: Tell me!

C: I wanted to! [he lurches towards her to whisper] I wanted to kill him… for everyone on Jedha. And it would have been righteous – Galen deserved to die.

J: You rebel scum…

C: Oh, there it is! You’ve been wanting to say it since you met me, haven’t you? Haven’t you! You look at me and all you see is a hollowed out soldier, who sold his soul for freedom. And maybe you’re right, but at least I fight for a cause. What do you fight for?

J: I fought for my father…

C: Sure, once we dragged you out from under the Empire’s boot and threw you into the fray.

J: You’re a monster.

C: D’yaahhh. [he walks away, making a show of examining some computer readout]

J: [pitying] You’ve nothing left, have you? Nothing but hate. You rebels are no better than the Empire.

C: [throws a helmet across the deck] You know nothing about me! I’ve given everything – EVERYTHING – to fight the Empire. I’ve known nothing else since I was a damn child! Since I was six years old! So you don’t get to lecture me, just because today the Empire finally took from you something you were unwilling to yield.

J: Oh, spare me the sanctimony! I know exactly the kind of man you are. You’re just another Saw Gerrera. A thug, a murderer. And precisely the reason I never wanted any part of this fight. But now I’ve no choice, have I? And since men like you have so spectacularly failed to save us from the Empire, it will take people like me – people like my father – who think before they fight, to clear up your mess.

C: I’d love to see you try.

J: You will.

This way, Jyn’s newfangled taste for rebellion is more believable, and her reasons for not joining the Alliance more understandable.

It doesn’t account for Cassian’s crisis of conscience, but I’m not sure that can be fixed from this scene alone. He needs another scene, in which he follows an order and weeps at the barbarity of his actions. That way the arc is complete: Status quo > Reflection > Change > Redemption.

I think with some jigging around, Rogue One could have been one of my favourites in the franchise. But I just didn’t care about the characters, and part of that was borne from confusion over who they were, what they wanted, and why they wanted to change.

What do you think? An improvement? Have I fixed anything, or made it worse? Let me know!

 

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A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin – [Book Review]

Before you start, I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I bought a copy of Game of Thrones because I’m a fan of the show and wanted to read the original work from which it sprang. I’d been told about its narrative structure, too, and wanted to see how it was handled, as multi-viewpoint third-person is how I’ve set my own work.

For those unaware, each chapter in Game of Thrones bears the name of the character it follows (which results in a contents page that looks like a goldfish trying to name all the protagonists).

The problem with coming back to evaluate a story having seen the TV series is, all the characters already have faces – Peter Dinklage will always be Tyrion in my head, Sean Bean will always play Eddard. There’s no imagination involved because those roles have already been filled by HBO.

Similarly, there are no surprises. The first series followed the first book down to the last scene. My friend tells me the show diverts from the books more in later seasons, and outright cuts many characters from the narrative, but this first book is practically the first season’s screenplay. Apart from, of course, this page of differences, which includes nerd-facts like:

  • In the book, Jaime pushes Bran from the window with his right hand. In the show he uses his left hand.

Right. I can’t believe the filmmakers took such liberties.

Continue reading A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin – [Book Review]

The final Act, and the temptation to flee

Writing is like a salsa; for as many steps forward you make, there are as many back, but every once in a while you get to do a spin or a flourish, and those stay with you. They’re the good bits.So it is with me; I bear good news, with bad news, but my catalogue of narrative pirouettes thankfully continues to grow.

The good news? I’ve reached the final act of my novel, Citadel. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, a lot of forward motion, but with almost as much backtracking. Aside from a manuscript of around 105,000 words, I have documents of cut scenes and entire plot lines that amount to 80,000 words. That is a staggering amount of editing. And it sounds like a colossal waste of time, right? Still: FINAL ACT people. That is good news.

The bad news is I’m finding it difficult to wrap it up. I’ve escalated the peril to such a degree, all seems lost, as it should by the end of Act 4. But closing it out and reaching a neat conclusion is proving a challenge.

Continue reading The final Act, and the temptation to flee

12 top tips for wannabe writers

People often approach me and say, “Hey, Tim, you’re a hugely successful though inexplicably unpublished author; have you got any tips for us lowly writers who’ve yet to achieve your level of uncompromising genius?”

It’s flattering, sure. But, genuinely, I empathise. It might sound self-deprecating, but even I was once a snivelling novice like you.

So, to that end, I’ve compiled some of my favourite writing tips, for those writers who spend most of their time reading writing tips other than actually writing. Learn them… and write your masterpiece!

Continue reading 12 top tips for wannabe writers

Dead ends – and how to rescue your characters from them

Sometimes, we writers can be a heinous bunch. We give birth to our characters, write life into them, give them hopes and dreams, and send them out into a world that we loveingly created just for them; only to dash their hopes, torment their dreams and torture them hideously until they are forced to change in order to cope.

The problem comes when we’re too mean to them. It’s not uncommon for a writer to lead their characters into a trap from which it appears impossible to escape. Then what?

Continue reading Dead ends – and how to rescue your characters from them

Dying for a Living – Kory M Shrum – [Book Review]

Zombies! 

They’re bloody everywhere aren’t they? Western media is awash with the shambling degenerates, mindlessly meandering through malls or ineffectively banging against baffling barriers of glass. Of all the stages of human life, only babies are more hopeless.

The zombie theme has reached saturation point – nay! It reached saturation point over a decade ago when 28 Days Later tried to reanimate the rotting genre with super-fast zombies. Cillian Murphy tried to trick us, but we knew what they were. You can call it “the Rage” all you like – they’re still zombies.

So while The Walking Dead went back to basics to find human drama in a world of brain-chomping corpses, Kory M Shrum sought an entirely different form to explore life after death.

Continue reading Dying for a Living – Kory M Shrum – [Book Review]

The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell – [Book Review]

Don't interrupt me
In China, being rudely interrupted whilst reading Cloud Atlas

About four years ago, I picked up a copy of Cloud Atlas on a recommendation from my friend Ben. From the first few pages I was stunned. Here was a book of such quality, it made my own work read like the witless ramblings of an illiterate cretin. I loved it, and loathed it with self-deprecating awe.

I’ve heard some people were thrown by the first chapter’s somewhat verbose Victorian-style prose, but I found it captivating. The vocabulary was astonishing, the choice of words practically perfect.

I was also struck by the symmetrical structure of the book, which, when I realised I would be returning to the initial protagonist Adam Ewing, gave me all the more compulsion to read on and discover the resolution to his plight. Yet, I was enthralled by the next character I was presented with, and the next.

Each tale had its own unique tone, its own genre. And beneath it all there ran the theme of mankind’s predatory nature, persisting through the eras, adopting a different guise to confound us.

It’s a fabulous book and I recommend it whole-heartedly.

But it’s that, I’m afraid, that makes this review all the harder to write.
Continue reading The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell – [Book Review]

F*ck, Frack or Fiddlesticks? – What to do about swearing




Profanity – it’s the best. It can be funny, shocking, cruel, cathartic, revealing and frustrating all at the same time. Use it. Use it in your writing, in your emails; even at your mum.

This is not a blog about whether or not we should use profanity in fiction. The answer to that is: “Do what the voice demands.”

If your character is the kind of person who would swear in a given situation, by all means, let the filth spit from their lips.

Don’t worry about offending prudes. If you’re specifically writing for prudes, you’ll likely not have any characters that would swear anyway. After all, elves and fairies and kiddy-winks and magic stoats don’t swear, do they? No…

Continue reading F*ck, Frack or Fiddlesticks? – What to do about swearing

The march of progress – #writerslife

Swarana and I have been back in the UK for three months now and life still feels like its in transition. We were travelling around south-east Asia for the first six months of 2015, having a look around and eating all the foods, so getting back into office/school-life has been, shall we say, taxing.

Now that we’re back, we’re renting a small bedroom from a friend, sleeping on a mattress on the floor every night and using a pokey airing cupboard as our combined wardrobe.

Living in a little room to save cash
Pokey

It’s cheap, mind, which was integral to our returning to London; I had to provide for both of us until the school year started and Swarana could return to work.

But, thankfully, we’ll be moving back into our house by the end of next month, which is exciting. When we bought it last year, it was an ant-riddled shit hole that needed a huge amount of work. We worked on it solidly until Christmas Eve last year, when we finally had to leave it to the estate agents.

Continue reading The march of progress – #writerslife

Social media screamers & automated steamers

Oh ye gods! What has my Twitter feed become?! How have I created this monster? It dribbles vacant prattle down my screen like the spilled brains of a long-dead marketing executive. Vacuous screams that echo over and over…

BE INTERESTED IN ME;

BE INTERESTED IN ME;

BE INTERESTED IN ME…

Yes, it’s the Automated Twitter Author, saturating the internet with their soulless sales strategy.

Well, I’m not interested, frankly. You go ahead and try to accrue an audience with this zombie-marketing – but it’s not going to work, because you’re a dullard. You’re just a ticking automaton, one that I have the power to switch off and never be disturbed by again.

Here’s a round-up of why your social media presence is putting me off mankind.

Continue reading Social media screamers & automated steamers