Monday, January 13, 2020

It's All About Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing. It's an important part of telling a story well. If it's well done, you don't necessarily even notice it until the second read/watch, but it makes the story cohesive, and makes the plot twists, well, make sense.

I love it when I get surprised with a plot twist, but only if it actually makes sense. If a plot twist happens and I'm all, "Oh wow, I didn't see that coming, but now, looking back, I see how that works, how this was pointing to that, etc." then foreshadowing was well done, and served its purpose. Even if it could have gone a completely different direction—in fact, for certain kinds of books/movies, I think you should write it so that the story could go multiple directions—there has to be foreshadowing that makes sense. Because if a plot twist happens and there's no foreshadowing, or foreshadowing for something mutually exclusive, I go, "Huh? That doesn't make any sense. It just contradicts this and this and this." And that's not something you want readers/viewers to do.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and having lengthy discussions on the subject with my sisters, because of Star Wars. I loved The Force Awakens, left The Last Jedi disappointed though it's grown on me a bit since then, and I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker and think I like it best of the sequels. (I have to keep the Disney Star Wars separate from George Lucas's Star Wars for the most part in my mind—except The Mandalorian—because it's just not the same and I can't figure out where to put the sequels in my ranking of the other six.) But even though I really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker and there were absolutely things about it that I liked better than The Force Awakens, there's something about the sequel trilogy as a whole that doesn't quite sit right with me, and never will. And it has to do with foreshadowing, and consequently, lack of continuity. (Note: I'm aware that Disney's treatment of Star Wars is super controversial, and people are going to disagree with my assessment. I don't want to devolve into arguing about this. This post is about storytelling and my perception of the strengths and flaws of the sequels from a writer's perspective, with a focus on use of foreshadowing.)

But before we jump into Star Wars, I want to take a quick look at Mockingjay.

MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS


When I first read Mockingjay, Katniss shooting Coin seemed to come out of the blue. It didn't bug me then, because killing Coin made sense. 13 wasn't really any better than the Capitol. It was a different kind of tyranny, but it was still tyranny. And in essence, Coin really isn't that much different from Snow. And then you look at the movie, where the foreshadowing—particularly in the scene with the vote for the symbolic Hunger Games—is so blatant, my dad called the assassination in the movie theater. It wasn't until my fourth official read of the book last month (I've spot read the book much more than that), as I watched the movies while sick, that I put two and two together about the foreshadowing. It actually is in the book, it's just a little more subtle.

It really starts, simply, with the militaristic/fascist control of the population of 13. Coin as an antagonist becomes extremely clear in Boggs's conversation with Katniss after Peeta's arrival in the Capitol.

"Sometime in the near future, this war will be resolved. A new leader will be chosen....you'll throw support to someone. Would it be President Coin? Or someone else?....If your immediate answer isn't Coin, then you're a threat."

And then as Katniss mulls over the double-exploding bombs and Snow's assessment of Coin, she's realizing even more how Coin has played them all, how Coin is just out to get power. And during the vote for the symbolic Hunger Games, it's painfully clear that under Coin, nothing has changed. "Nothing will ever change now. I weigh my options carefully, think everything through." And after she votes, she can feel Haymitch watching her, just as he did in the movie.

It could have gone two ways. Snow has been the villain from the start. Coin has been slowly but surely set up as a villain throughout Mockingjay. And so it's shocking when Katniss chooses instead to shoot Coin, but if you really think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense.

END MOCKINGJAY SPOILERS
And honestly, whatever you think of Suzanne Collins's writing style and use of fragments, or the denouement of Mockingjay, which I absolutely agree feels rushed, she absolutely has a handle on foreshadowing and using every element, every character, every arc of a story to make a cohesive whole that thoroughly explores her theme.

MAJOR STAR WARS SEQUEL TRILOGY SPOILERS

Say what you will about the bad acting, awkward dialogue, and plot holes of the first six Star Wars movies, but there are two things George Lucas is good at: worldbuilding and story. The worldbuilding is honestly Tolkien-level, but we're here to talk about foreshadowing.

Each of the original six Star Wars movies has its own plot, but it's part of a whole. That whole is the story of the rise and fall of Darth Vader. George Lucas has said that the whole saga is about Anakin. And it is. It's the story of how he turned to the dark side and how his son brought him back to the light. The sequel trilogy is about... Well, I'm not sure just what the sequel trilogy boils down to, because each movie is so different from the last. They aren't super cohesive. And that really messes up the foreshadowing.


Rey's parentage is the big one. I'm not going to get into all the different theories...in a way I actually think it's very interesting for her to be a Palpatine. Lots of interesting psychology there, with great potential for themes of how it doesn't matter where you come from, it's the choices you make that count. But the problem is that until Rey's use of Force lightning to bring down the ship in ROS, there was no foreshadowing. The only other thing I can think of is the "you went straight to the dark" thing in TLJ, but I feel like I'm really grasping at straws there.

As we watched TFA in preparation for ROS, I realized that Rey's parentage was a big deal for the fans because the movie made a big deal about who she was. She didn't care who they were, she just wanted them to come back. But Kylo throwing a tantrum when he found out about "the girl from Jakku," Han looking away from her looking like he was going to cry when she told him her name, her clear connection with Leia, the way Chewie resists Finn but is immediately okay with her, Maz Kanata's "who's the girl?", even in TLJ Luke's "why you?" when questioning why she was the one they sent after him...those things foreshadow that her identity matters, and not only does it matter to our main cast, they know who she is. Only...they don't. I still think TFA points to her being a Skywalker. Not only does the family have a reaction to her, you've also got her skills as a pilot and mechanic. (Plus the fact that this is the Skywalker saga, so you'd expect the protagonist to be a Skywalker. And anyone that thinks Broom Boy is essential to proving Jedi don't have to have special heritage and Rey Palpatine undermines that doesn't get Star Wars. I mean, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Mace Windu, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Adi Gallia, Ahsoka Tano, Yaddle, Luminara, Shaak Ti, Aayla Secura, Plo Koon, Kit Fisto...They ain't Skywalkers or Palpatines.)

And now...what do any of those things mean? Why did Han react to her name? Why did Kylo flip out when he heard that BB-8 was helped by a girl from Jakku? Why did they send Rey after Luke? Um...fan theories are all we've got.

Because in TLJ, Kylo clearly didn't know any more about Rey's parents than Rey did herself. He made her say what she thought and then expanded on it, tearing her down and telling her she only mattered to him as a means of manipulating her. (Sorry, Reylo fans, abusive relationships just aren't romantic.) So why did he react to the "girl from Jakku"? No idea. 

Rey being a Palpatine...like I said, I think it's an interesting twist. But it's really not foreshadowed. First off, Palpatine has never been depicted onscreen as having romantic relationships. Searching Wookieepedia, I've found some things in Legends that depict alleged children of Palpatine, but it's ambiguous as to whether they were actually his, and there is one called Triclops who was a result of Palpatine's biological experimentation. In canon, all we've got is exactly what was stated in ROS. He's always been all about power, so I really can only see him having offspring as a way to gain more power. And, well, it's hard to talk about something that doesn't exist. All I've got for Rey Palpatine foreshadowing is the Force lightning incident—though Palpatine was not the only Sith to use that power—and "you went straight to the dark" which could just as well be because of Vader or because of...everyone having the potential for dark and light? I mean, the Rey's a Palpatine theory was floating around, but so was the Reylo Rey travels back in time and gives birth to Anakin and now Kylo is his own great grandfather theory. So...

It's possible that Rey's Force abilities caused her parents to take her to Luke for training and when Palpatine discovered her, they took her to Jakku for her protection and that's why everyone reacts to her, but while they never said she didn't train with Luke as a small child, there's nothing that indicates she did. But with the way, excluding Luke's "why you?" TLJ dropped all reactions to Rey, I don't know what else they could have done.

Then there's Palpatine coming back. I actually really like that. I haven't read any books involving this storyline, but in Legends, Palpatine did create clones of himself and transfer his soul to them. So involving him feels very Expanded Universe, and I love that. (Yes, I'm one of those fans who's annoyed the EU has been relegated to Legends status. I still want to be Darra Thel-Tanis, and I'll never get over her death.) But...where was that foreshadowed? In an interview, J.J. Abrams mentioned that, when you look at all nine episodes, it would be stranger not to have Palpatine be a part of the sequel trilogy. I absolutely agree. Palpatine has been the one pulling the strings since before TPM. But...the first indication we got that he was a factor in the sequel trilogy was the Palpatine laugh in the trailer for ROS. I haven't come up with ideas on how they could have foreshadowed Palpatine's involvement, but it should have been. Because while I absolutely accept Palpatine being behind it all, the way it came out of the blue makes it feel like they just pulled out an old big bad now that Snoke has met a premature end. I have to say, though, I was and still am super excited about Palpatine being in ROS. And he's just as "strike me down" obsessed as ever. XD

Sure, George Lucas changed things partway through. Like how Leia remembers her mother who died in childbirth. And I've heard that Luke's twin was originally supposed to be someone other than Leia (which makes the kiss in ESB less creepy). But I've always taken "There's too much of his father in him." "That's what I'm afraid of." to reference Vader, "there is another" foreshadows Luke's twin, Leia, and you basically know where everything in the prequel trilogy is going, not just because we know the end of the story, but because it builds naturally towards that end...albeit with a heavy dose of cringeworthy dialogue. Anakin murdering the Tusken Raiders, including women and children? Makes it very believable that he would slaughter Jedi younglings. The first six are faaaaaar from perfect, and I'm not even a prequel hater, but they do a better job paying off foreshadowing than the sequels do.

And lest you think I'm hating on the sequels, I love Rey, Finn, and Poe (I'm a FinnRey shipper and I will go down with that ship), "Chewie, we're home," was the line I chose to quote when stepping into the Millennium Falcon for the first time, I played "Rey's Theme" in a piano recital a few years ago, and joining the Resistance on Batuu was one of the highlights of my last Disney vacation. But I'll be looking elsewhere for good examples of foreshadowing.

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