Now here's something that grabbed me despite myself: George Lucas's original Star Wars treatment is to be adapted into a comic by Dark Horse.
Fans may well remember how the original treatments, written in longhand, went through multiple revisions. Each succeeding one switched, shuffled, and re-organized elements from earlier versions, from other parts of Lucas's private mythology for Star Wars, and from other parts of his spheres of influences — a little Kurosawa here, a little Buck Rogers there. They make for fascinating reading, if only as a reminder of a time when the Star Wars mythos as we know it, now so much a part of the cultural air we breathe, was nothing more than a disjointed collection of ideas.
The treatment excerpted in the above article makes one wince for two reasons. One, it's the primordial version of another, far more fleshed-out story we now know; it's a little like reading a "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up" essay from a second-grader. Two, it's pretty shaky as a story — a cement-mixer full of pulp SF action clichés.
But here's the thing: every story, when reduced to a bare outline or a beat sheet, has the potential to come off as complete crap.
That's because outlines are, by and large, not written for other people. They're written for the writer himself, as a way to remind him where he's going and (roughly) how to get there. The exact details, the turns of phrase that only he can draft and the little complications of motive and insight that only he will know where to place, are not going to show up there.
I learned this myself when I put together my outline for my Epic Space Opera™Flight of the Vajra, which was originally for nothing more than my own internal tracking of the project. Showing the outline to other people to give them the flavor of the project was useless; it was all shorthand, even when it didn't seem like it. I had to rewrite it as a nearly 8,000-word document before other people could read it (in preparation for reading what was to be a 350,0000-word work), and put back all of the stuff I'd glossed over because I knew how it would play out.
So to my surprise, the more I thought about this Star Wars project, the more I liked it, if only because it has the potential to play as a fantastic creative exercise. The outline could work as a seedbed for any number of interpretations of the material. The "training the Wookiees to be fighter pilots" sequence, for instance — from the outside, that sounds like the dumbest thing since the last time the Rolling Stones refused to stop touring, but notice that there are no real constraints in the outline on how they go about doing this. There are any number of ways to approach such a thing, and a few of them might even turn out to be brilliant (e.g., have that provide us with a sidelong wink at how a certain Chewbacca got his job).
I know I have run into variants of this myself, where I looked at what the bare outlines for a given thing in a story was and realized it wasn't the idea by itself that was inherently bad, but the implementation of the idea. Sometimes it requires a totally new mind to come in and see a better way to make it happen — and the more you see others do the same things, the more you can apply their brands of lateral thinking to your own work.
Like Lucas's collaborators and creative partners for the original trilogy, the comic-makers have a chance to make what they're given into something quite special. It's a way for a current generation of creators to riff on one of the things that might well have inspired them to be where they are now in the first place.
And if it sucks — well, we're used to that with Star Wars now, aren't we?
Other Lives Of The Mind