Tag Archives: Star Wars

Good Brother, Bad Brother Stories

A few years ago I watched the anime Trigun, a story that centers around a man named Vash and his twin brother Knives. Unsurprisingly, one of the brothers was evil. I’ll leave you to guess which one…

I was laughing about this less-than-obvious name choice with a friend, when it occurred to me that the dearly departed TV show Lost involves a similar interpretation of brothers. One baby, Jacob, is born and wrapped in a nice white blanket. Then Jacob’s brother is born and wrapped in a foreshadowing black cloth. White-blanket baby becomes the illustrious protector of the island and black-blanket baby gets shafted with the role of Nemesis. Poor evil baby doesn’t even get a name.

Why do so many stories out there have a plot involving a good brother and an evil brother? Often these brothers are twins, but not always. In the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, good little Ender becomes the Battle School hero and saves the world, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, his older brother Peter’s hobbies include torturing animals and Ender.

I haven’t conducted a thorough survey here by any means, but by just recalling my own media consumption experiences it seems like the good brother/evil brother trope is quite common. Other examples include The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks (good twin/evil twin), the Bible (Cain/Abel and Jacob/Esau), The Man in the Iron Mask (good twin/evil twin), The Dragonlance series (good twin/evil twin), and The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (good brother/bad brother, although there’s a cool twist to that). Oh, and let’s not forget Dexter (Season 1 SPOILER), where, um, I suppose both brothers are serial killers but Dexter is most certainly the good serial killer. I’m sure there are plenty of others out there that I’m forgetting.

So, again, what’s the deal with all these good/evil brother pairings? I’m wondering why I can’t think of any good sister/evil sister stories, twins or otherwise. Can you think of any? Luke and Leia in Star Wars are boy/girl twins, and both good, so maybe girls just cancel out the evilness of boys? Seriously though, the good brother/evil brother tale seems entrenched in our storytelling, ancient as the Bible.

I wonder if it’s a vestige of the pre-feminist revolution days when mostly everything was by men and about men. But that explanation seems too shallow, too easy. We’ve had decent stories in recent memories with strong female protagonists, and some in the past too, so why not a slew of good sister/bad sister stories to keep pace with the boys? Or even more boy/girl twin stories?

Perhaps our modern brother stories are echoes of legend, of an archetype. But still, why are brothers handy personifications of good and evil and not sisters? I understand why women in legend are often earth goddess mother types. I get why ancient cultures were kind of freaked out by twins in general. Is the brother cliche a result of men’s higher rates of murder in society? Is it because men are typically more physical than women, and physicality equals violence equals death equals evil?

From the stories I’ve named, the brother trope seems to appear more frequently in speculative fiction than in the literary variety. Of course, I enjoy reading/watching speculative type things and have probably read more of such stories as a result, so my experience is biased.

I’m curious if anyone else has thoughts on this. Why are we drawn to brothers, and not sisters, who personify good and evil?

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Star Wars and Over Budget Science Fiction Writing

I read an interesting i09 article recently that compared the critical failure of the new Star Wars prequels to the pitfalls of writing science fiction/fantasy. Essentially, the writer argued that the original Star Wars movies were better because of the budget restrictions and technological constraints of the time period. Back in the day, director George Lucas was forced to work with limited money and technology, which meant dressing real humans in fur-suits and hoping that no one could see strings floating around the toy ships. But, the article argues, those limitations actually led to better overall choices and a tight, amazing story that still resonates in pop culture today.

The new Star Wars prequels, on the other hand, well…. they had Jar Jar Binks. They were basically a CGI orgy. Lucas went wild with the special effects, forgetting the story, the writing, and the fact that some things are just over-the-top in a bad way. With CGI and today’s level of technology, Lucas’ imagination had no limits. If he could dream it up, it could happen. Sounds good, but can turn out bad. (Remember Jar Jar!)

So, do speculative fiction writers fall prey to the same scenario? A writer has no budget, no technology restrictions.  A writer could pen a scene where winged elephants fly through the red dot on Jupiter, and bam, it’s a part of the story and on the page, even if it’s a terrible idea. And George Lucas could film it, if he so desired.

But there was a time when a filmmaker just couldn’t put that elephant on the screen. Some things were basically un-filmmable. And some of those un-filmmable things were un-filmmable because they were terrible.

The whole thing reminds me of that old adage: “Be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it.”

I think it’s an interesting way to look at writing/filmmaking, but not entirely true. Yes, restrictions can foster better writing. Ever try to write a flash fiction piece that comes in at under 500 words? Suddenly every word is valuable, and it’s easier to ruthlessly cut fluff. Choices become more important, because they’re necessary.

Still, not all special-effects laden films and imaginative fantasies are laughable failures.  Lord of the Rings offers a great counterexample on both points.  The story has giant eagles, elves, hobbits, volcanoes of doom, and Gollum.  Pretty wild and imaginative.  And the films rendered everything marvelously.  The CGI was there, but so was the writing, the acting, and the story.

I also think of a children’s book by Road Dahl, called Charlie the Great Glass Elevator (sequel to the famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  That book was never filmed, at least to my knowledge, and it had a scene with these crazy squidlike creatures in outerspace going after the magical glass elevator that was also in outerspace.  Wild, but it worked.

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