Last year at Suvudu, I compared the ways storytellers can use point of view, contrasting the omniscient narrative of the Star Wars movies with the first-person point of view in The Hunger Games books. Suzanne Collins’ series is being transformed from novel into movies, with the second, Catching Fire, to be released November 22. Star Wars, on the other hand, originated in the movies and had numerous books follow in its wake. Two of the recent novels, Kenobi by John Jackson Miller and Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells, represent different ways the ramifications of cinematic events can be explored in prose.
With the journey of Katniss Everdeen relayed in the books solely through the eyes of its protagonist, much of her internal-monologue insights on Panem and its world-building would be lost to the film. Director Gary Ross chose to step outside Katniss’ head in the first film, opening with an interview with President Snow that sets the tone of oppression outside the Capitol. As the movies progress, Katniss’ journey parallels that of her fellow citizens of Panem, and greater opportunity exists to bring scale to her fight than was presented in the books. Other characters like Gale, Prim, and Haymitch will be allowed to flourish in the on-screen adaptation, raising the stakes and creating an epic story that can enhance Katniss’ heroism.
While the Hunger Games movies open up the world of Panem, novels like Kenobi tighten the scope of galaxy far far away, focusing on more local struggles. Miller used existing movie and Expanded Universe lore as his backdrop, painting a vivid picture of daily life on Tatooine. Moisture farmers and Tusken Raiders may not be challenged by galactic-level upheaval, but their struggles are portrayed as no less daunting. Taking place shortly after the events of Revenge of the Sith, the book only presents Obi-Wan Kenobi’s perspective in a small number of meditations interspersed throughout the story. The reader observes his transformation to “crazy old Ben Kenobi” through the eyes of ordinary men and women. This perspective also creates moments of dramatic irony, where the reader understands deeper implications that are unknown to the characters. These storytelling choices allow the reader to dive into the heads of several individuals. At the same time, moving from one individual to another creates an element of mystery that keeps the conclusion hidden until the story’s conclusion.
In Razor’s Edge, Wells uses an equally effective alternative approach with her point of view choices. Like Kenobi, the third person limited point of view form of narration relates the events, but she plants the reader firmly into the minds of the Leia, Luke, and Han during the time period between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Following the destruction of Alderaan, Leia has suffered enormous personal loss. While Kenobi reveals a mourning metamorphosis that cleaves its titular character from the galactic level conflict, Leia must deal with her loss while she continues the brave fight on behalf of the Rebellion. The outcome of that fight is a known quantity to the audience, so Wells creates stakes that are entirely personal. Leia is not the lone survivor of Alderaan, and as with many catastrophic events, not all the survivors have chosen to fight for the forces of good. The point of view choice gives the reader exceptional insight into the mind of a hero. Leia’s diplomatic skills shine; her ability to read a situation and people, then push the correct levers, is fleshed out. Unlike in Kenobi, which paints a picture of a small rural community, Razor’s Edge focuses tightly on the characters whom Leia personally deems relevant to her current situation. Not that the rest of the pirates or Rebels don’t matter to Leia, but she perceives characters like Captain Metara and the pirate Veist as integral to attaining her objectives, so that is who she focuses her attention on.
One of the great challenges in storytelling is choosing the most effective lens for the story’s objective. In this way, authors and movie directors and screenwriters face the same type of decision tree. For The Hunger Games, Ross respected the meta of the novel and avoided glorifying the death of the tributes by limiting what he showed in the arena. Instead he relayed the horror of the games in very personal moments from Katniss’ perspective, such as her makeshift funeral for Rue. Miller used the perspectives of the everyman on Tatooine to give the right emotional weight to Obi-Wan’s transition. On the other hand, Wells was writing a character who wasn’t going to experience a monumental shift in her life goals over the course of the book. She used that dynamic to peel back the layers to show what drove Leia to be a hero.
Before screenwriter Michael Arndt was tapped for Star Wars Episode VII, he worked on the Catching Fire script. In an Entertainment Weekly article about the movie earlier this year, producer Nina Jacobson and director Francis Lawrence talked about what Arndt brought to the second movie (description via The Hob):
“The first third of the book is a lot of zigzagging,” says Jacobson. “We go on tour, we’re at the Capitol, we’re back home, then Katniss spends a lot time in her head thinking.” Jacobson hired screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) to streamline the story and enliven its emotional core. “Michael turned in a first draft, and suddenly you could see it all,” says Lawrence.”
Once the movie is released, it will be interesting to see how Arndt focused his storytelling lens and what point of view he chose to use. His perspectives on storytelling and motivation are always insightful, and I hope to write more about that later this year.
Everyone has their own preferences about stories. The wonderful thing about Star Wars is that it includes so many opportunities to experience many different styles. This Saturday bookstores and libraries around the country will be hosting Star Wars Reads Day, where fans can explore the wide variety of books and comics available. For more information on a location near you, check out the event page at StarWars.com.
Tricia Barr writes about Star Wars and storytelling at her own site FANgirl and Star Wars Insider. She has put the finishing touches on her novel Wynde. You can follow her fangirl adventures on Twitter at @fangirlcantina or Facebook at Fangirl Zone.