The Editor Awakens

McQuarrie
Concept art for Star Wars, by Ralph McQuarrie

Admit it, Star Wars stinks. Sure, the original movie is a classic, and Empire Strikes Back is iconic. But Return of the Jedi hasn’t aged well. The prequel trilogy is a mess. And the sequel trilogy? Well, at least the prequels had a narrative arc. It was butchered, but it was there. The sequel trilogy doesn’t even have that (though it does look good).

George Lucas wasn’t looking to create a franchise that would span decades when he started writing the script that would be become Star Wars in the 1970s. He just wanted to make a fun space shoot-em-up. Then 1977 happened. Star Wars became an unhinged success. Of course, he would have been insane not to make a sequel. The only problem was, he didn’t have a story. Everything was hammered together as they went. Luke Skywalker was a grizzled war veteran in the early drafts of Star Wars. Early drafts of Empire didn’t even include the revelation (spoiler alert) that Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

This paste-and-glue approach wasn’t a huge problem at first, but every single movie has compounded the mistakes. Now we’ve got directors completely rethinking the story with every movie. Rey’s important. Rey’s not important. Snoke’s important. Snoke’s not important. There’s Luke lightsaber! What’s it doing in a bar? The narrative is a complete mess. Not a lick of it makes sense. What Star Wars as a franchise needed, and never got, was one solid write-through. A good edit.

So because nobody else seemed interested, I did it myself.

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I Know How to Write the Screenplay for ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’

Dear Hollywood producer, I know how to make Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into a film.

I first read the Robert Pirsig novel about a quarter century ago. Over the years, I’ve gone back to it again and again, re-reading it, then re-reading it again, every time drawing new insights from it. I’ve surely read the book more than a dozen times, I don’t know, I lost count; at one point, I was reading it once a year. I also read all, I think all or most of the books that Pirsig references in the book: Walden, Tao Te Ching, Plato’s Phaedro and The Meeting of East and West, a philosophy book by a little known Yale professor, FSC Northrop, that Pirsig mentions only once, but notes it was a critical book for the narrator. I found it by chance in a used-book store. Took me nine months to read it; it literally was the densest book I’d ever picked up. Very time-consuming, but valuable read. So you can see I’m serious.

I also spent a lot of time trying to write screenplays. For some odd reason, I thought this was a realistic career path for me. I probably wrote ten or so. Never sold any of them, didn’t try hard enough reckon, but I did learn at least how to write a screenplay.

All of this makes me the perfect person to tackle a Zen screenplay.

Now, Zen is one of those books that seem impossible to translate onto the screen. Indeed, any filmed version of this novel would fall short of the book itself, unless you wanted to make a 12-hour film with endless flashbacks and exposition. But I do think there’s a way to make a good, solid, even commercial film out of the book that would do justice to Pirsig’s story and philosophy (I know Pirsig himself isn’t interested).

I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the spare time to actually write this screenplay, so I might as well just flew out my general ideas here, for posterity’s sake.

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A Far, Far Better Resting Place for Jim Kirk

William Shatner made a surprise appearance on my show, The Markets Hub (wsj.com), last year. He was in the Wall Street Journal newsroom taping an interview for his new (at the time) book, and one of our producers thought it would be exciting to have him walk onto our show live.

You can watch the video here; Shatner comes on right at the 16:00 mark, and if I don’t seem all that surprised, trust me, it was just because I was keeping cool. Capt. James Kirk was a childhood hero, and to have the guy who played him come onto my set unannounced was an out-of-body experience.

Also, and much to his credit, he actually talked about the markets with us.

Anyhow, as you may imagine, I had Capt. Kirk on the brain a lot after that appearance. I started thinking Kirk deserved a better send-off than the one he got in Generations (as a truly deranged Trekkie, I will watch just about any Star Trek story if I come across it on TV, but Generations is pretty lame when you think about it). I started thinking if J.J. Abrams could screw with the Star Trek universe to launch his silly re-boot (see my take on that one here), then why couldn’t we redo Kirk’s finale tale? That’s when this Kirk story started forming in my mind.

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The Star Trek Reboot, Rebooted

I’ve watched the 2009 Star Trek reboot many times, too many times (It’s on TV every other week, seemingly). I’ve grown to both hate it and have an unhealthy fascination with it. It’s not a good movie. But you can see where it could have been a good movie, and that’s where the fascination lies.

The movie actually has a lot going for it. The special effects are superb without seeming cartoonish (like the Star Wars prequels or Avatar). The sets are well designed, the casting is good to even inspired, the movie’s fast-paced, doesn’t take itself too seriously, has fun with itself, and throws a ton of welcome homages and references to the original series.

It’s just the story that’s an absolute wreck.

Really, there’s so much going on in this movie, and it moves so fast, you don’t even really notice at first one key thing: the plot is absolutely incomprehensible. It literally makes no sense. Let’s review it, in detail.

Okay, look, I can’t do that here. It’s too convoluted and it’ll take too long (Red Letter Media does a very good job of breaking it down, anyway). Besides, I only want to bash the story as a setup for my alternate story. So I’ll assume you’re familiar with the plot. If you want to debate me on this its putridity, have at it.

Here’s just one example of a plot hole you could, well, pilot a starship through.

– We’re supposed to believe that the Romulans, who have mastered faster-than-light travel, who have mining ships that can wipe out half a dozen Federation starships at a clip (at least in this movie they do), can’t see a supernova coming in time to evacuate their home planet? Huh? What? Does that seem, you know, logical? The entire plot hinges on that point. If the Romulans evacuate, Nero’s family lives, no revenge story.

Just unbelievably lazy writing. Really, people should get arrested for taking that out in public.

I don’t have a problem with Abrams doing the whole shattered timeline thing so he can rewrite the history and characters the way he wants. I could even accept him destroying Vulcan and killing off Spock’s mother, if the story made sense. Any sense.

Now, here’s my alternate plot, which keeps to the idea of what Abrams was trying to accomplish, but in the service of a decent story that actually better illuminates the backstories of Kirk, Spock and the rest.

Ready? Here we go, Star Trek 2009, reboot take two. Action!

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