Where’s the Editor?
The other day my fellow teacher Gabe and I got into a conversation about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We both really enjoyed it and, with no one else around, we began discussing it in detail. Despite our enjoyment, we also found story flaws and explored them at length.
That night he posted a link to a Huffington Post piece about 40 story flaws in the film. After thanking him, it sparked a brief debate. Now, I don’t agree with every nitpicked here but they do identify more than a few serious errors that should have been caught.
Ray Senior commented, “Why is it everyone’s got to pick apart a movie that comes out just enjoy it and that’s it I guess the term and use it like assholes everyone’s got one.”
“My 15 year old Star Wars obsessed son just saw Star Wars in a movie theater for the first time in his life and he LOVED it. He couldn’t stop smiling for two days. This is a movie for a new generation and, according to the new generation, it’s awesome.”
Now, I don’t think critics bashed the film, instead focusing more on the joy it was to watch and being respectful with whatever deficits they saw. Gabe and I certainly loved the film for a movie-going experience and while we acknowledged the flaws, didn’t let it spoil the night.
This circles back to something I have always wondered about regarding film and television writing. When investing millions of dollars on a single television episode or hundreds of millions on a blockbuster, why does no one hire an actual, honest-to-goodness story editor?
As many recall, I have been loud in my distaste for Star Trek Into Darkness, largely for the vast number of plot holes evident in this weakly conceived remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The recent round of mea culpas from the folk at Bad Robot confirms why a strong editorial hand was required.
Writers watch as producers, directors, and stars have the stories revised for whatever practical or ego-driven reason that comes along. But between the final draft and the first day of production, there really needs to be someone fresh to come in and spot the logic or storytelling errors.
Sure, parts are rewritten to accommodate changes in casting or sudden alterations in weather or location but the fundamentals still need to be solid and they are not. One example from the film in question, which is not in any way a spoiler. If Rylo Ken is this well-trained dark one, a veteran with a lightsaber, how can both Rey and Finn do as well against him as they do? Or, exactly what is the government in charge of the galaxy at the time of the story? It’s vague with the Republic and a group still known as the Resistance.
All too often watching flawed stories pulls you out of the experience. You gripe about a total lack of logic or story point that just makes no sense whatsoever.
Now, Marvel tried to nip that particular issue in the bud with the Creative Committee, dating all the way back to 2008’s Iron Man. Not only did they make positive suggestions that allowed the film series to respect the source material but initially made proposals that strengthened the films. Apparently, their power and influence had grown to a point where it began to actually stifle the creativity of the director, one reason why Edgar Wright left his long-gestating Ant-Man project. Over the summer we saws Kevin Feige wrest total creative control from the committee in a well-covered power struggle. So there is something to be said about the balance between a creative vision and absolute adherence to the editor’s ideas.
I’ve never seen directors or producers or writer/directors discuss this matter at length. In comics, there has been for years a back and forth about whether or not the writer/editor was a good idea although the lack of same these days seems to have settled the debate. In self-publishing, many produce works without a strong editorial hand and often it shows in the finished product. Editors exist at the mainstream publishers for a reason.
I can’t tell you how many times my novelist friends groan when tackling a novelization and the script is riddled with flaws forcing them to provide patches. Certainly, Alan Dean Foster apparently gets credit for such spackling in his novelization of The Force Awakens.
I do not understand why this vital role is absent from filmed entertainment especially considering the order of magnitude of dollars at stake. What do you think?