All writers and creative people in general have their models and influences. John Williams legendary score to Star Wars was obviously modeled on The Planets by Gustav Holst. On the subject of Star Wars, George Lucas has long stated that the story of Star Wars was modeled on Akira Kurosawa’s film, The Hidden Fortress. Stephen King said in his nonfiction summation of the horror genre, Dance Macabre, that he modeled the novel ‘Salem’s Lot on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
What’s that old saying? Oh yeah: “If you’re going to steal then steal from the best.”
Of course, I’m being tongue in cheek here. I’m not saying any of these gentlemen stole a thing. They didn’t. Every story told from the days of cavemen scratching pictures on walls to today’s eBooks, are just variations on universal themes. Star Wars when broken down to it’s basest elements isn’t The Hidden Fortress. It’s far older than Kurosawa’s flick. It’s the story of a brave hero rescuing a damsel in distress from a figure of evil. It’s every fairytale ever told. It’s the story of Rapunzel. Little Red Riding Hood. Heck, even Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was a variation on this theme.
Stephen King says that “It’s the story. Not he who tells it.” I couldn’t disagree more.
Every time a person tells a story it changes. How could it not? We’re all individuals. We all take different things away from each story. We all enjoy different things about the same stories. For example if we’re talking Star Wars I might say that I enjoy the fast action and glib wisecracks in the face of danger. The dumb heroism of the piece. You might like the heroic characters, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Or like just one character like the villainous Darth Vader. Others might enjoy the mythological underpinnings and epic scope. Still others might be blown away by the visuals, score and style of the whole piece. It doesn’t matter why you like something. Nobody is right. Nobody is wrong. It’s all subjective. And in the end, it should be enough that you like it.
That of course brings us to:
I have my influences as well.
I was born on July 9th 1975. I was just the right age to get bowled over by two massive sci-fi phenomena that were waging war over the pop cultural consciousness of the time. That’s right. I’m talking about:
and of course…
I was two years old when Star Wars came out. I was the same age when I started watching Star Trek on television. I think two years old is really a prime age. It’s when you first start to become really aware. Of yourself. Of the world around you. The things that you like. At two you don’t know a lot but I knew one thing!
I really like space heroes.
Captain Kirk. Luke Skywalker. Mr. Spock. Han Solo. The starship Enterprise. The Millenium Falcon. The Doomsday Machine. The Death Star.
It didn’t matter. It was all cool to me.
Of course I liked Trek and Wars for different reasons because they were very different productions.
Star Trek was produced in a time when visual effects couldn’t do even one millionth of the things a writer could conceive of. And man were they expensive and time consuming to produce back in those pre-CGI days. Largely the writers and producers of Star Trek had to make do with stock FX footage of the Enterprise flying through space and orbiting planets. On rare occasions they would trot out new footage when they needed to introduce a unique alien ship or stage a space battle that old battle footage wouldn’t work for. By and large it was the same stock shots week in and week out.
Not being able to rely on the visuals to tell a story the writers had to focus on story and characterization to sell Star Trek. So week in and week out we got to know the brave space hero, Captain James T. Kirk, as well as his BFFs Dr. Leonard McCoy and Mr. Spock. Each week those three would beam down to a strange new world and meet new life and new civilizations. They boldly went where no man had gone before…
And in doing so, showed us what they were made of.
What made the show work for me growing up and still works for me today are those three characters.
- Captain James T. Kirk: Dashing. Brave. A devil with the ladies. Tough but kind. A warrior but an explorer and diplomat as well. And he was constantly driven to learn. To better himself. Does anyone remember that wonderful episode, The Devil in the Dark? It was about a deep space mining colony whose miners were being attacked and killed by a “monster” dwelling in the mines. Captain Kirk and his men were sent to eliminate the threat. Kirk did everything he could to stop, to kill the beast. But in the end it turned out that the monster was in fact nothing of the sort. She was a mother whose babies were being killed by the miners activity in her caves. She was fighting to save her children. Kirk saved the alien mother and confronted the miners with their destructive actions and showed them who the real monsters were. He found a way for both sides to remain on the planet and coexist in peace. If Kirk were nothing but a one dimensional, two-fisted warrior he would have blown the creature away without a second thought. But he wasn’t a space thug. He was a hero and he always tried his best to leave every situation he entered into better than when he entered into it. He didn’t always succeed. But he always tried…
- Mr. Spock: Cool. Logical. Analytical. He was the brains of the trio. Every time we needed a scientific explanation or general exposition we went to Spock. He provided the alien face of the Enterprise crew while still being the most human of them all. He was the guy the nerds, the geeks, the intellectuals could relate to. The outcast, mocked for being different. There wasn’t a pimply faced, fourteen year old boy alive who couldn‘t relate to Mr. Spock. Most boys wanted to be Captain Kirk-I still do-but most of us were Mr. Spock.
- Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy: I love this guy. If Kirk was the nerve and Spock the brains of the trio, then Bones was the heart. Spock was the guy who always reminded Kirk to think. Bones was the guy who reminded Kirk to feel. To trust his instincts. What’s more he taught Spock to trust his heart. Of course Spock being a pure intellectual saw no use for heartfelt sentimentality, but nonetheless when interacting with Bones you could just tell that he felt it. Even if Spock couldn’t admit it himself.
I couldn’t wait to see these guys every week. I am by nature a loner. Though I have many friends I’m only close to a couple. When I grew up I had only one. Four if you count Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
Sure it was. But you know what? Kirk, Spock and McCoy were exciting friends to have. Whether facing Klingons in pitched battle, traveling back to the Great Depression to prevent Hitler from conquering the world, or saving a space station from thousands of hungry Tribbles threatening to eat them out of house and home , I was there. There was nothing those three couldn’t accomplish when they were together. Their bravery, loyalty and comradery continue to touch and inspire me to this day.
Then there’s Star Wars.
Though I was born in the 70s, I consider myself a child of the 80s. Nothing was bigger in the 70s and 80s than Star Wars.
What is it about Star Wars that makes it resonate with me so much to this day? I’m not sure.
I like the characters. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia are all awesome. But they aren’t all that deep. I certainly don’t love them on the same level that I love Kirk, Spock and MccCoy, though I do love them. They’re not even really characters. They’re archetypes. Familiar, recognizable types. The naive farm boy. The rogue warrior. The rebel princess. They’re a set of functions, held together by pure attitude. They look like complete characters but that’s because of the acting. All three actors were cast to the type and the performances mute the fact that when really examined the characters are paper thin.
Still I love the performances and the attitude of the characters so much I don’t even really think about how shallow they really are unless I’m forced to. Hell, I don’t even care because Star Wars as a whole package works.
It’s not just the characters but the story that’s archetypal. It’s a fairy tale. Knights rescuing the princess from a dragon or an evil wizard. The reason the story keeps getting reused is because it works.
Star Wars is fast paced summer fun. It’s light, breezy and exciting as hell. It’s white hats vs. black hats with the white hats winning.
Beyond that it’s a visual feast. Where Star Trek’s visual palette was miniscule, Star Wars’ was gargantuan. Everybody remembers that first shot of the Tantive IV crossing the screen. It was big and bold and amazing. But it was immediately dwarfed by that awe-inspiring shot of the Star Destroyer pursuing it. Star Wars is epic!
I think a combination of the attitude, visuals and fast pace is the reason why Star Wars stays with me to this day. It’s a familiar story, well told in an exciting and original voice by the excellent George Lucas.
This brings me back to Star Force and the idea of models and influences.
When I was a teenager I often pondered what would happen if the producers of the Star Trek movies would mainstream Trek more. Sure the one with the whales made a lot of cash but it was just chicken feed next to a Star Wars movie’s haul.
Why couldn’t they take the deeper characters of Star Trek and insert them into an epic, adventure on the scale of Star Wars?
What would we get?
Yeah, that movie was really good and really cool and uh, mission accomplished. But that movie came out in 2009. Where was it back in 1994?
I decided that if I wanted multidimensional space heroes in an epic, space opera setting I would have to create one of my own. So in late 1995 I wrote a treatment for what will one day be known as The Star Force Trilogy.
With Star Force I was able to do my own take on the themes and feel of Star Wars while creating characters of my own who are every bit as real and human as those you see when you open your own front door. Characters as familiar as the archetypes of Star Wars with the dimensionality of those from Star Trek. Like George Lucas I took a familiar story and then put my own spin on it. I brought my own influences. My own experiences. The type of characters I like to write.
I wrote the book I wanted to read.
I hope you all want to read it too.