Julie and Stephanie’s Writing Lessons Learned from Star Wars

Hi, Julie here! In anticipation of the opening of The Force Awakens, Stephanie Garber and I have teamed up to bring you a post on writing lessons we’ve learned from Star Wars! These are all taken from little-known, fun facts about the movies we found compiled in a great article called 37 Things You Might Not Know about Star Wars. From those 37 things, we’ve chosen seven we feel contain great lessons on the craft of writing.

Stephanie first! Here are four writing lessons she’s learned from Star Wars:

Lucas’s Initial Draft of The Script Was Too Long

This worked out for Lucas, who was able to trim his original script and use the excess for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but before this happened his screenplay was rejected by multiple studios. If Lucas hadn’t been an Academy Award nominee, who knows, Star Wars might have been rejected again by 20th Century Fox, and then the world would have never known the greatness that is Star Wars.

So, don’t let the world miss out on your literary masterpiece because it’s too long. When a manuscript is significantly longer than the standard word count for its category, it can betray an underlying problem with either the writing or the story. If your manuscript is only slightly longer than average, see where you can trim extraneous words and sentences. If it’s significantly longer than the norm, it might be a sign you have unnecessary scenes, or too much going on in your story.

Alec Guiness didn’t want to be in The Empire Strikes Back because it was “fairy-tale rubbish”

As a fantasy writer, I’ve felt people haven’t always taken me seriously purely based on my genre. What makes me even sadder, I’ve seen some of my creative writing students embarrassed to share their work because they don’t want their peers to judge them—I’ve witnessed this happen to students who write a variety of genres. I’ve also noticed that my students who feel embarrassed really hold back from taking their stories as far as they could go, out of fear that others will see how deeply they love what they are writing. As a result these stories are never as strong as they could be.

But the truth is, people want to read stories where the author doesn’t hold back. Love is infectious, so I suggest putting all your passion into your stories—don’t hold back out of fear that people will judge you. Because in all honestly, people may judge you and that is their mistake to make—like Sir Alec Guiness.

Han Solo’s Best Line was an Ad Lib

This continues to be my favorite fun fact from Star Wars. During The Empire Strikes Back, right before Han Solo is frozen in carbonite Leia tells him, “I love you.” Originally Han was supposed to respond with, “I love you too,” but instead, Harrison Ford changed the dialogue to, “I know.”

This line is not only highly entertaining, it helps to define Han Solo’s character. It can be easy to give characters lines that anyone can say, such as, “I love you too.” But if you go back through you manuscript and change those lines to things that only your character could say, you will not only have stronger characters, your book will be much more entertaining.

Vader’s Big Reveal in The Empire Strikes Back was Kept Secret From Nearly Everyone

I believe this was done to keep spoilers from leaking out. However, when I read this fun fact it inspired me to share something I enjoy doing as writer. I love keeping secrets from myself. For example, I might know that at some point my main character is going to be faced with the two things she wants most, but I try to never figure out which one she is going to choose, which not only makes it more fun for me to write—because I honestly don’t know what will happen—this also prevents me from falling into the trap of having my main character make plot based choices. Instead I get to dive into scenes with her and see what she does based on her ARC and current emotional state.

I love your four lessons, Stephanie! (I especially loved the one about Sir Alec Guiness!) Here are three writing lessons I’ve learned from Star Wars:

Lucas was Inspired by Akira Kurosawa For The Story’s POV

George Lucas has said that he was inspired by the POV used by Akira Kurosawa in his film The Hidden Fortress. Apparently, in that film, Kurosawa reveals the story through two of the lowest characters. Lucas applied this technique when he let Star Wars unfold through the perspective of the two droids.

The lesson I take from this is that Lucas studied the work of masters and applied what he learned. He saw a technique that worked and wondered what effect that technique would have on Star Wars. We can all do this. Maybe you’ve read a novel in verse and found it moving. Maybe a book written in present tense struck you with its immediacy. Don’t hesitate to try a range of writing techniques to see what works best for your story.

Theaters Didn’t Want to Show the Movie

When the original Star Wars movie was ready for distribution, fewer than forty theaters agreed to book it. A different film from 20th Century Fox, The Other Side of Midnight, (based on a bestselling book,) was in high demand instead. Consequently, the studio required theaters that showed Midnight to also show Star Wars.

Contrary to what the theater owners expected, Star Wars became the hit and The Other Side of Midnight was a big disappointment. But the theater owners wanted to go with the movie based on a bestseller because it was safe. Sometimes this happens in publishing too—sometimes books get buzz because they follow a trend or are similar to a hit book—but don’t let this influence your writing. Audiences and readers respond to stories, not trends. Write the best story you can write. Write a story you connect with, and others will connect with it, too.

Han Solo was Supposed to Die

When Han Solo is frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the filmmakers didn’t know if the character would live or die because Harrison Ford had only signed on for two movies. The lesson I find here is that you need to stay flexible with your story. Consider all options for your characters! Let your characters grow, and if they make choices that are more interesting than what was in your outline, follow their lead! Stay open to new developments on the page.

So those are seven writing lessons Stephanie Garber and I have learned from Star Wars. We’re sure there are many more! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments—on these lessons or any others!



5 Responses to Julie and Stephanie’s Writing Lessons Learned from Star Wars

  1. Amy S. Dec 16 2015 at 8:02 pm #

    I love these lessons from Star Wars! And I also always love hearing about great lines that are ad-libbed in films; Harrison Ford made the right call on that one!

    • Julie Dec 16 2015 at 9:29 pm #

      Hi Amy! Glad you liked the post. And yes–that ad-libbed line was the thing that started me and Stephanie talking about writing lessons from Star Wars! Thank you for commenting. 🙂

  2. Rowenna Dec 17 2015 at 11:48 am #

    Love the ad-lib line! (If I recall correctly, Ford also ad-libbed the famous scene in Raiders when he shoots the swordsman–the script had a full fight. Supposedly we have a bad case of diarrhea to thank for that improvisation…maybe there’s a lesson there on pragmatism occasionally being the mother of creativity!) I think there’s a lesson there not only for an eye to authenticity in revision, but also keeping in a little loose during the drafting creative process–maybe you outlined a certain way, but a character nudges you to go differently, or letting yourself banter a little bit to get to a better line of dialogue.

    • Julie Dec 17 2015 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Rowenna! I also thought of that other famous Harrison Ford ad-lib! And I agree with you about the lesson it teaches about staying open to the voice of your character. And I love the way you put it–“letting yourself banter a little bit.” Great advice! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Liberty Gilmore Jan 1 2016 at 5:04 am #

    Harrison Ford is the master of the ad-lib 😀 Another lesson we can learn from Star Wars is how you can take a much used story structure – in this case the Hero’s Journey – and turn it into something fresh and exciting.

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