How I’d Ruin It: Star Wars

I may have missed the moment where this article would live up to its title, because the state of Star Wars radically changed just a couple months ago. Still, despite the radical changes The Last Jedi made to the core of what Star Wars is and can be, there are still some aspects of the story that I know I’d chafe under as a writer. The fact that many diehard fans disliked The Last Jedi because of its radical changes only makes me feel more justified in claiming I’d ruin Star Wars pretty good. They thought The Last Jedi was heretical? Wait til they get a load of me.

Star Wars both lives by and suffers from what I call a the Rowling World-building Conundrum: namely, it sports a super detailed setting that’s incredibly interesting and appealing, but is also deeply flawed and limited by the simplistic nature of the story it was made to tell. The galaxy far, far away is filled with all sorts of weird aliens, robots, planets, and futuristic technology, all of which were crafted with so much personality built into them that you can get a sense of their history just by looking at them. Every background extra and piece of set dressing is practically dripping with story potential, and part of the reason Star Wars has held onto imaginations as long as it has is because it makes you want to hear those stories.

At the same time, though, actually exploring this setting beyond the Good Rebels vs. Evil Empire conflict at the heart of the films tends to be disastrous, as the main story of Star Wars crumbles once it’s held to the lightest scrutiny. Perhaps the most glaring example are the droids. Have you ever thought about the fact that all the droids in Star Wars, including and especially series mascots C-3PO and R2-D2, are literally slaves? They’re sapient beings. They think, feel, have their own desires and motivations, fears and prejudices, and basically everything that makes a person a person. But they’re slaves. Luke Skywalker’s uncle literally buys them, and throughout the whole series they’re treated as property. C-3PO is routinely forced into dangerous situations he’s terrified to take part in, and everyone’s basically cool with it because, y’know, he’s a slave. Luke’s fine with that. Han’s fine with that. Leia’s fine with that. The Good Rebels are A-OK with slavery, so long as those slaves are robots. Hell, if we take the prequels into account, being a robot might not even be necessary – the Jedi seem pretty chill about humans being slaves in The Phantom Menace, only really caring about liberating a slave when said slave has supernatural powers. That’s, uh, pretty fucked up there.

We don’t think about this stuff when we watch Star Wars because Star Wars is generally far too simplistic and focused to let us. C-3PO gets bought at a slave auction and we don’t bat an eye because the movie quickly moves to the Empire doing cartoonishly evil things or Luke watching a double sunset. Star Wars wasn’t meant to be complex or to make you think, it was meant to show you a really weird world full of aliens, monsters, robots, and lasers, and then have a simplistic battle between cartoonish good and cartoonish evil take place on that set. The setting and characters of Star Wars are fleshed out enough to be interesting, but the plot must always, always, ALWAYS be simple, because if it makes you think, everything crumbles.

(There are tons of other aspects we could look at to show how Star Wars crumbles when made complex – like the way Stormtroopers are treated as universally disposable despite it being established that many were brainwashed from childhood, or how non-humans rarely have positions of power in either the Rebellion or the Empire, or the myriad ways Jedi training is disturbing in the prequels, but let’s keep this article a bit focused.)

Playing into the need for a simplistic Good vs. Evil conflict in Star Wars is the series’ most iconic bit of world-building: the Force. The Force is at the heart of nearly every Star Wars film so far, and even the one film that doesn’t focus on the conflict between its Light and Dark sides, Rogue One, still features it prominently as a quasi-religious entity that inspires the heroes to victory. The Force not only plays up the Good vs. Evil conflict inherent to Star Wars, but is also connected to lightsabers, jedi knights, and evil sith lords, the most popular elements of the Star Wars world. When people do Star Wars mashups, it’s almost always “imagine character from X as either a Jedi or a Sith.” It’s almost unthinkable to have a Star Wars story where the Force isn’t played up in some way, where Jedi and Sith aren’t important, where no one wields a lightsaber even once.

So how am I going to ruin this? Well, I’m going to take a page out of someone else’s book. A couple someone elses, actually. I’m going to follow in the footsteps of Star Wars fanatics before me, with more than a little inspiration being drawn from the old Expanded Universe. I’m also going to look to the films of a director whose work inspired George Lucas when this all began: Akira Kurosawa.

I’m one of those assholes whose favorite characters are the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back. Yes, the ones who have about ten seconds of screen time together, and spend all of it just standing around taking orders. Yes, even the now infamous “he’s popular so he sucks” Boba Fett. If years of Cracked.com articles and, like, just being on the internet have taught me anything, liking the bounty hunters has become uncool by way of once being cool but then being overexposed. Especially Boba Fett. If the bounty hunters are your favorite characters, then you got shit taste or whatever. Especially Boba Fett.

Back when they were still cool, though, there was a whole book just about them: Tales of the Bounty Hunters, an anthology giving backstories for each of those weird looking thugs who tried to track down Han Solo. We learned how Zuckus, the cockroach looking dude, was philosophical and sympathetic despite his job, and was trying to teach morality to his bug-headed robot buddy 4-LOM. We learned how IG-88 was actually four identical murder robots masquerading as one, who used funds from bounty hunting to build a robot army and was planning to eventually lead a droid uprising that would wipe out all organic life. We learned that Bossk, the lizard guy, was a racist, and how Dengar, the toilet paper mummy man, was the Newman to Han Solo’s Jerry Seinfeld. We learned that Boba Fett was a pretty complicated dude who had reasons for being the badass he was, while at the same time keeping a great deal of his nature obscured to keep up the air of mystery. It was good shit if, y’know, you saw those characters in The Empire Strikes Back and thought, “Wow I wonder what that guy’s story is!”

And again, to me that’s the greatest strength of Star Wars. Star Wars makes you want to know the history of every background extra, because every background extra looks like they have a great story behind them. One of the reasons I like Boba Fett so much is that we get a lot of information about him from very few scenes – the original trilogy has some spotty dialogue, but it’s VERY good at showing instead of telling. I could go into a point by point analysis of Boba Fett’s scenes but I can feel you rolling your eyes every time I mention his name so I’ll move on instead.

As a kid, the bounty hunters fascinated me because they inhabited a much less predictable world than heroes like Luke and Leia, or Imperial baddies like Darth Vader and the Emperor. A rebels vs. Empire story basically always plays out the same: Empire does bad things, rebels come up with sneaky plan to stop them, dramatic blaster/spaceship battle, rebels pull off a successful ploy, Empire curses and plans next evil scheme, repeat. The bounty hunters were on the fringes of that conflict, operating on planets like Tatooine where neither the Empire nor the Rebellion had much of a foothold. People who were allies one day could be enemies the next, and there was a far greater range of conflicts. You had heists, interpersonal disputes, gang wars, all sorts of great stuff.

I mean, at play time I generally had the bounty hunters work on Boba Fett’s dewback ranch, where they routinely chased off the nefarious cattle rustler Jar Jar Binks, because I was a weird kid and thought it made sense for them to all retire to raise giant lizards – not for meat or anything, but just to have giant lizards – but still, when trying to get into normal Star Wars territory, the bounty hunter stories were way more intriguing. I feel that even more now that the prequels have thoroughly killed any interest I ever had in the Jedi or the Force in general, though The Last Jedi may eventually change that.

Now, the other side of this coin of ruination is Akira Kurosawa. A New Hope was partially based on his film The Hidden Fortress, particularly when it comes to the characters of Princess Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2, who have direct counterparts in Kurosawa’s film. Unlike Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress, and indeed all of Kurosawa’s work, is far more complicated when it comes to morality. Kurosawa’s protagonists are never purely good – some of them are heroic, yes, but they all have flaws and failings. His antagonists likewise tend not to be purely evil, though there are some exceptions.

Two of Kurosawa’s other films have been imitated/homaged/ripped off FAR more than The Hidden Fortress, and they also happen to be my two favorites of his: Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Seven Samurai tells the tale of a ragtag group of samurai who come together to defend a small town from a marauding horde of bandits. Yojimbo is similar, following a wandering samurai who finds a small town that is being torn apart by a turf war between two rival bandit gangs, and ends up playing both gangs against each other to save the villagers. If you haven’t seen either of these great films, stop reading my fanfic pitch and track them down, they’re literally masterpieces.

In fact, they’re so good that they’ve both been used as inspiration for countless other stories. The Magnificent Seven was based on Seven Samurai, and inspired numerous imitators as well as a parody, Three Amigos!, which in turn inspired imitators like A Bug’s Life and Galaxy Quest. Yojimbo has served as the basis for works as dark as A Fistful of Dollars and as light as that one episode of Pokemon where competing gyms tried to force Ash to work for them. These films are stock plot-lines at this point, and you can find dozens of examples of stories out there that have been built on Kurosawa’s framework. It should also be noted that both are incredibly complicated when it comes to their morality. The villagers in Seven Samurai are revealed to have killed and robbed a samurai who visited their village prior to the film during a particularly desperate time, for example, while the nameless protagonist of Yojimbo is a surly drunk who acts like a genuine scoundrel for most of the movie until a particularly desperate situation forces him to reveal his hidden virtuous side. You root for the heroes of these two stories, but Kurosawa didn’t want you to feel the conflict was as simple as “good samurai defend innocent people from evil bandits” – life is more complex than that.

So here’s my proposal: I would ruin Star Wars by making a bounty hunter-centric story that takes a great deal from Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, where the heroes are far from pure good, the bad guys aren’t wholly evil, and absolutely no one gives a shit about the Force. Oh, and not a single Jedi, Sith, or lightsaber appears. Not once.

Our protagonists are seven bounty hunters, most of which would fill the now-archetypal roles of the seven samurai. Those would be:

The Wise Mentor: The heart of Seven Samurai lies with an old samurai and his apprentice, the pair of which are the first to find out about the villagers’ plight and decide to put a group of samurai together to defend them. Taking a page out of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, our mentor would be Zuckus, the compassionate, philosophical cockroach who genuinely tries to do good as a lawman in the outer rim.

The Apprentice: The mentor has to have his young apprentice, and 4-LOM, Zuckuss’s partner and student in ethics and morality, fits the bill.

The Ace Swordsman: The samurai who is by far the most skilled at fighting. Obviously this is going to be Boba Fett, but we’re not going to leave it there. The Ace Swordsman tends to be defined on his skill alone, having few personality traits outside of just, like, being the best. So we’re going to throw in a bit of the nameless samurai from Yojimbo here too, portraying Boba Fett as a curt, surly, and decidedly cynical warrior who hides his virtue till the film’s third act.

The Boisterous Samurai: There’s one samurai who’s not necessarily the most skilled, but he’s good natured and just kind of fun to have around. I’m going to give that role to Bossk, because I don’t like how hateful he was in the Expanded Universe, and because having a freaky lizard man be the life of the party appeals to me.

Kikuchiyo: While the Mentor and the Apprentice get the bulk of the character development in Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo provides the biggest emotional gutpunch of the film. While included among the titular seven, Kikuchiyo is technically not a Samurai – he isn’t of noble birth, having been born a farmer, and all his skill in battle is self taught rather than a result of strict training. Kikuchiyo is played as comic relief when he’s first introduced, but he also provides the most gut wrenching moments in the story, as unlike the other samurai, he understands exactly what the villagers are suffering, and even calls out his brothers in arms for daring to judge the villagers for their past sins when rich warriors like them couldn’t possibly understand the desperation of poverty. I’m giving this role to the one bounty hunter in the original trilogy who didn’t make it to The Empire Strikes Back. That’s right – Greedo. Greedo is our Kikuchiyo.

Four the final two bounty hunters/samurai, I’m gonna go off of Kurosawa’s script and fully into the expanded Universe’s.

The Vengeful Thug: Dengar’s whole schtick in the old Tales of the Bounty Hunters canon centered on how he personally wanted to kill Han Solo. The crux of his story was that he was an otherwise decent guy whose quest for vengeance against one smuggler led him to do very wicked things, and that’s a good setup for character development. My idea for this story is that it’s about some morally-murky characters being pulled into doing something heroic despite their abundant non-heroic traits, and keeping Dengar’s old backstory works really well with that.

The Actually Evil One: IG-88 is a machine whose sole purpose is to destroy, and having one genuinely devious bastard on the team can make for some fun interactions and drama. IG-88 is the one bounty hunter who will begin and end as a completely amoral murderer in this story, and, knowing how this tends to go in fiction, will probably be the fan favorite.

Our story would begin with Zuckuss and 4-LOM being approached in a hive of scum and villainy (maybe the Cantina, maybe somewhere else) by a pair of poor farmers from an outer rim planet. Their homeworld is, well, I’m thinking something like Namek from Dragon Ball Z – peaceful, out of the way, rustic and naturalistic, and sporting one very rare resource that no one knew about until very recently. Two rival crime families have landed on the planet to try and get said resource, and are terrorizing the populace with their frequent fighting. The villagers want Zuckus and 4-LOM to stop the gangs, but it’s too big a job for just them. So Zuckuss and 4-LOM assemble a team, recruiting Bossk, Dengar, and IG-88. No one dares to approach Boba Fett, while the group pointedly refuses to recruit Greedo because of his reputation as one of the worst bounty hunters in the guild (but Greedo finds out and follows them anyway).

The Bounty Hunters split into teams to scout out the two gangs, and discover that Boba Fett is already working with one, which puts a significant monkey wrench into their plan. IG-88 ends up joining up with the gang Boba Fett hasn’t joined, because IG-88 is an asshole, and the remaining bounty hunters set up ambushes for some of the gangs’ henchmen. It goes very well, with Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Dengar, Bossk, and even Greedo all getting moments where they show off their personality and skills as mercenaries while taking down two vicious squads of intergalactic criminals.

However, while cleaning up the battle, the bounty hunters discover something in a ruined town on the planet: the corpse and half-disassembled spaceship of Boussh, a bounty hunter who has been missing for a while. Yeah motherfuckers, we’re going full Seven Samurai here, complete with Greedo chastising the others for not understanding how hard life can be for the little people on the outer rim.

The gangs launch a counterattack, and Boba Fett is ordered to take down the bounty hunters. Instead he turns on his squad as soon as the battle commences, joining forces with our heroes and turning the tide – only for IG-88 and a squad from the opposing gang to show up. Boba Fett and IG-88 have a pretty epic fight, and after disarming (literally) the assassin droid the “good” bounty hunters convince it to join up with them so it can get the bounty on all these criminals. Realizing that living and getting the slightly smaller payday is logical when the other choice is deactivation, IG-88 agrees, and a final attack is planned – this time with the help of the villagers, who the bounty hunters train to defend themselves.

An utterly vicious battle ensues, and our seven heroes barely scrape their way to victory. Unlike the source film, none of the seven die – they can’t, canon won’t let them do that yet – but we get some close calls. Their job done, they take in their morbid haul of several hundred dead criminals, and leave the planet to go on their wicked ways – some unrepentantly, and some with doubts.

The conflict? Violent. The heroes? Morally murky, and also only one of them has a human face, while the rest wear helmets, are expressionless robots, or have animal heads. The Force? Not involved in any way. It’s a story in the Star Wars world, but tonally and thematically it ain’t the kind of story Star Wars gives us. There’s no crap about family or good vs. evil or grand destinies, just a bunch of scoundrels killing a bunch of thugs for money. That’s how I’d ruin Star Wars.

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