“Only one? Really?”
When I first started writing this post I had a few points about structure as well, but the more I tried to express these points, the more I realised they applied to the original trilogy as a whole. So yes, there’s only one lesson here, but more will be coming in a future post.
1. Use dialogue to avoid info dumps
If you’re not familiar with info dumps, it’s when a writer provides background information that stops the action of the scene, e.g. page 2 of A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin:
Will shared his unease. It had been four years on the Wall. The first time he had been sent beyond, all the old stories had come rushing back, and his bowels had turned to water. He had laughed about it afterward. He was a veteran of a hundred rangings by now, and the endless dark wilderness that the southron called the haunted forest had no more terrors for him.
This isn’t a good technique for providing information because, since it stalls the action, it’s boring. It is possible to communicate important information to readers without boring them to tears, and watching movies is a great way to learn how.
In the very first scene of Return of the Jedi, we see that the Empire are building a new Death Star, since that worked out so well last time. Since it actually didn’t work out so well last time, good storytelling demands that we be told why this won’t be the exact same plot as A New Hope, but with Luke doing cool flips and shit. Since a movie can’t do this with exposition, we get this dialogue instead:
“Command station, this is ST-321 code clearance blue. We’re starting our approach. Deactivate the security shield.”
Now I’m not saying that this security initiative makes any sense whatsoever in the story world, but this line of dialogue would work the same in a novel. The speech says it all and is present; you wouldn’t need to stop the story to explain to your reader that there’s a security shield.
There’s another example in the next scene. Since the movie can’t explain to us that Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca went to see Jabba the Hutt and never came back, C-3PO laments to R2-D2 about it:
“Of Course I’m worried. Lando Calrissian and poor Chewbacca never returned from this awful place […] If I told you half the things I’ve heard about this Jabba the Hutt, you’d probably short circuit.”
The context of the opening scenes of the movie is established through dialogue, rather than exposition, so the audience stays engaged in the scene. This works just as well in text as it does in movies.
Who said watching movies is a waste of time for writers?