The Reason Why The Same Stories Get Repackaged And Why Its Hard To Have Good Stories
If It Sold The First Time, Sell It To Them Again
Ages ago, back when VHS roamed the Earth, I was stricken with Chicken Pox and unable to go to school. I was laid up on the couch and my old man had the day off from work. He took pity on the pockmarked midget taking up his usual couch space and pulled out a library of John Wayne movies to watch. I don’t know why but to this day whenever I’m absolutely wrecked, and my immune system goes on strike, watching a good Western makes things a bit more bearable. So we were going through the classics: The Searchers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, and of course, Big Jake. Purely by accident we watched El Dorado and Rio Bravo back-to-back.
Those of you not familiar with either movie should sit down and watch them if you ever have the time. They have the same story, same characters, and same director. The story involves a lawman turned drunk helped by his old good-with-a-gun friend and a dangerous enough kid out on his first adventure. So in Rio Bravo, the good guys win. The evil rancher out to screw everyone over, played by Ed Asner, gets what is coming to him. In theaters, the film was successful, and while some critics didn’t like it, the paying public did.
People talk about story tellers and directors having “the formula” for making commercial smash hits. Howard Hawks, director of Rio Bravo, took this hint and made it the formula for his next movie, El Dorado. Same story, same John Wayne, now with James Caan spouting off Edgar Allen Poe and Robert Mitchum (the fat in shape guy who will clean up your town). It was a huge commercial success; Howard Hawks had done it again.
So that’s how movies like Rio Lobo get made. It was a remake of the remake, missing some critical aspect of spirit that made the first two movies appeal to audiences. It bombed, and it was the last movie Howard Hawks would be allowed to direct. When any story is successful, it’s going to get rehashed over and over till it stops being successful. That applies to everything: books, cars, movies, games and amusement park rides. The pattern of a “safe bet” emerges.
The Safe Bet
The safe bet, in terms of movie making and books, means going with what is known to perform well with audiences. That makes rehashing previous successes appealing to anyone who has to watch the bottom line. Remember how the original three Star Wars movies were popular? (By the way, the only good one is Empire.) Now, think about the newest ones to come out. Yes, even suffer the memory the of CGI racist caricature that was Jar-Jar, and how much they parallel the first three movies. No one wants to take chances if the face of a safe bet.
Why were the oldest three good and the follow-ups crap? The first three were absolute risks. FOX thought they would bomb so badly it told George Lucas he could have the merchandising rights to the movie. Turns out they were wrong. The story was something no one had seen before, and it would captivate generations because of its originality. The other three are all but universally reviled because the people who came to like Star Wars were now being treated to a story they already heard before.
While making safe bets on what will do well commercially make sense in the short term, that kind of thinking makes it almost impossible for fresh stories to see the light of day. After all, Star Wars almost didn’t make it to the screen; it had been rejected several times even after being secured in a deal to make another movie: American Graffiti. The process getting the movie made was so grueling that Lucas almost walked away from the project despite its commercial success.
Safe bets are an illusion and are never a guarantee for commercial success; let us have a moment of silence for Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull for proving that point. Many Bothan film critics died watching that film, gouging their eyes out in a futile attempt to stop the pain.
Why The Fountain War Is A Story I Haven’t Heard Before
Remember that aside where I claimed The Empire Strikes Back is the only truly good Star Wars film? Well it’s the only sci-fi movie I can recall that defied the traditional chosen one/one lone hero story line. Luke, for the most part, is either hanging upside down or getting his hand cut off. The story is really about all the people involved in the rebellion. The big set piece battle showing you all the front line soldiers, commanders, and pilots are the real story. You watch field commanders deploy their men into the field. Front line soldiers give you a great view of what a desperate firefight looks like, heroic pilots make last ditch efforts and, hell, even the comms weenies coordinating everything looked damn good. By the time Luke shows up again, it’s time for him to be a cautionary tale about skipping out on your training. But it was okay, because by that time you had watched the Rebels make a clever tactical withdrawal, what a mop up operation looks like, and the political intrigue that caught up neutral entities like Billy Dee Williams (Jedi Master of all those awesome Colt 45 beer commercials, only he had the gravitas to tell you that Colt 45 doesn’t promise to get you laid, but “it can’t hurt.”)
Return Of The Jedi has Luke only briefly involved in the larger war. Really, if you think about it, had he just left the planet instead of going with Vader, everything still would have happened without him. The Empire would have lost and all those private contractors hired to do the HVAC and plumbing on the Death Star would have died in a war they probably couldn’t have given two shits about. If you re-watch it this weekend, try and catch yourself rolling your eyes when the scene changes from Admiral Akbar having to direct his logistics and primary targets on the bridge of his command ship in a pitched space battle to Luke having his emo moment with the Emperor.
In a sea of stories revolving around chosen ones, Jedi heroes and Keanu Reeves playing Keanu Reeves saving the world, the story of the Fountain War is different. It’s a story of everyone involved. The Fountain War is too big to focus on one or two people; it’s something that involved a shitload of line members, fleet commanders, super pilots, diplomats, logistical and strategic planners. There are few stories in Science Fiction that dare to go this route. It’s outside the realms of a safe bet, it’s a lot of work to pull off and it requires a lot of originality.
Considering the war was something that came out of the efforts of so many players and not one nerd sitting behind a writing desk, I think we have originality covered. What we don’t have covered is everyone’s story or enough of the historical record yet. Case in point is Jeff Edwards second excerpt.
The Second Excerpt Demonstrates Feasibility Of A Good Story At A Bare Bones Level
Based off just a single battle report, Jeff was able to put together a colorful account of a CSAA about to explode with a Titan inside. I know because I was actually running a fleet of Baltecs to reinforce the defending fleet that got trashed (spoiler alert: we didn’t make it in time.) But I also know he didn’t have every account of the battle. I had not sent anything into him regarding it, and the suspicious absence of anything else taking place during that battle indicates no one else turned over anything to help flesh the story out.
What I liked about the excerpt is how he dealt with how pilots would interface with their ships and communicate. Instead of referring to local or Teamspeak, he has artfully made it a process carried out by neural implants. I liked this touch because of having sat in a command channel and having a shitload of voices screaming in your head. It matches the dystopian feel of EVE. Sure, being able to communicate on a near telepathic level is great, but do you really want someone’s voice invading your thoughts? At the same time as you are managing your offensive and defensive systems? It would explain why in the lore Capsuleers are frequently pictured as getting hammered in various bars.
I also liked it because it caught a rough time during the war. Being in the skirmish commander channel, we were getting plucked up to go lead fleets far away from the front to deal, largely unsuccessfully, with the incursions into our home space. It was an accurate reflection of what a losing battle looks like when multiple fronts start opening up. How that got solved remains a mystery to me in terms of the actual details, but that was above my pay grade and outside my area of responsibility.
I can’t wait to see the war from the eyes of others, from different space occupations and allegiances. But that is something largely up to you, are you going to send in the stories to make that happen?
The Road Ahead
I definitely think Jeff has his work cut out for him. There are a lot of accounts, after action reports, chat logs, and battle reports to go over. But that’s what it takes to tell a good story. In non-fiction other works have taken the ambitious approach of looking at an event in time from multiple points of view. The best example of this is Stephen Ambrose’s books, D-Day and Citizen Soldiers. They were ambitious in scope, technical, and time consuming in research and writing. In bringing the Fountain War to a larger audience, I have no doubt Jeff will face a similarly difficult task in making the world of EVE accessible to everyone, but it can be done.
Because I believe it can be done based on what I saw on the second excerpt, I put my money where my mouth is. If Jeff can work with a battle report and turn it into a story I’m in, and this is coming from someone who spent 6 years surviving off Texas Hold’em. I know when and where to put my money for a payout. In this case it’s going to be the final product of The Fountain War and the collection of Jeff Edward’s writing.
So now I will have something to read, and something I want to read because it’s our story.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Scooter_McCabe.