So recently we got snowed in for a couple of days so I finally got to watch the first two seasons of My Hero Academia.
It’s a great, solid show. I expected to like it and it went PLUS ULTRA on my expectations. I’m not going to argue that it’s Shakespeare, but it’s a great example of solid, workhorse writing that aims to tell even a simple, silly story to the very best that it can be told. The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about it and if you think you’ll love or hate it based upon that title, you probably will.
Yet I couldn’t help but think of star wars while watching it. (Especially when Gran Traino – the mentor of the protagonist’s mentor appears and he’s a short old man who acts foolish to test his student and uses a very familiar looking walking stick of twisted wood.)
This? This should have been the Star Wars sequels.
Ok don’t look at me like that, I KNOW there was a Jedi Academy trilogy in the old book canon.
I’m not saying you need to adapt that.
Look, let’s pretend that we’re completely amoral business men. We are in charge of Disney and have just paid $4.05 BILLION for Star Wars. We want to earn that money back, and so much more!
Yet… what was really earned from the sequel trilogy?
Go to any thrift or toy shop and look for the racks of Star Wars toys. Look at the original trilogy and even the prequels. Say whatever you want to about George Lucas, but he knew how to create a world, story, and universe that could sell. Hate the Ewoks all you want but they still got 2 movies and a cartoon out of them. Go search through some of the toy databases at what has been released for the sequels. Does anybody really want a Rose Tico action figure? Or a General Hux one? How many figures are there for Snoke vs just the Emperor from RotJ? (Palpatine – 17 / Snoke – 6)
Now go into an appropriate store and look for how much My Hero Academia figures you can find. The show understands even on a mercenary level that if you want to sell merch, you need memorable, colorful figures.
The story also understands that legacy is not a handicap for a story, but an aid. In MHA, we know nothing about the background or world from the start – yet it works from the very start to build with the audience the understanding that the hero All-Might is an important, legendary figure. The story revolves around and builds upon his legacy and the world he is going to leave behind.
If anything, this works even better for Star Wars because you have an ACTUAL 30+ years of real world time with actual social-credit-legend behind these fictional characters. Yet here is a quote from JJ proving how wrong he was to write this movie: “It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over. Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’ “
This is what I want a lot of writers to realize: Almost everything will depend upon your protagonist’s perspective. If another character walking onto the scene overshadows your main character, then you need to work on your main some more. MHA demonstrates how this can be done by making the legend matter to the protagonist.
So just imagine for a moment, that The Force Awakens started out focusing on Rey, who is just a lonely scavenger on the planet of Jakku. (Backstory: Long ago the final battle between the Republic & Empire was fought above the planet. Decades later and they’re still cleaning up after it.) After a hard day of work, she retires to a lonely room where we come to find out that she is the galaxy’s biggest fan of Luke Skywalker. Every day, she isn’t just scavenging the ships for parts, but also recordings and records of the great battle itself, all in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Jedi in action. (Backstory: Once when she was scavenging with her mom, she found a recording of Luke boarding and commandeering the Star Destroyer. It’s what ignited her interest.) What little money she can spare, she spends on the equivalent of newspapers and holo-broadcasts of what’s going on in the galaxy if Luke is mentioned at all in any of them. In the evening, she swings her staff around making lightsaber noises with her mouth and imagines herself becoming a Jedi. After all, Luke was found on a remote desert planet – surely she could be a great hero just like him.
Then one day (that is, after the initial set up), Luke actually comes to Jakku! (Maybe he’s searching for R2-D2.) Rey, being his biggest fan ever, tags along. He initially is dismissive of the girl, but her kind heart and plucky determination ends up winning him over and he sees a spark within her and invites her to the Jedi Academy! It’s her greatest dream come true!
From there your movie follows with Rey encountering the world of her dreams – and learning it still has some harsh reality to it. Let’s make it even more interesting and have her not able to use the Force – like at all. You could have her contrast then with Kylo Ren – the son of Han & Leia – who is naturally strong and gifted in the Force and questions whether Rey has any right to be there. In act two we can have Luke assure her that she belongs in Jedi training because she understands the spirit and heart of what the Force is and what it means to be a Jedi, the powers part of it is the least important thing. Indeed since the powers part of the Force comes so easily to Kylo, we can watch as he is tempted to the Dark Side. (Plus you know his conflict with Rey on the school level will drive the shippers nuts.) You have Rey care about Luke AND have Luke care about Rey and you can make the story work without them overshadowing each other because the characters become entwined.
Fill out the cast with colorful, memorable alien classmates and not only do you have your first movie, you have the outline set for your next three. End the first film with Rey just barely able to move a piece of straw with the Force and you have a ready arc for her as she grows in knowledge, understanding and power in movies 2 and 3.
Even better, we’re a money-hungry corporation, remember? This set up gives us an easily repeatable formula to do movie trilogies in perpetuity. We just bring in a new class of students and have our previous class guest star or play the new legends. A really, truly diverse cast of strange aliens with their own particular Force talents would give us lots of toy and merch opportunities. Plus the concept of “Jedi School” is a juicy hook for kids to latch their imaginations onto. We could sell dress up costumes of our movie characters AND a “make your own” style uniform so the kiddos can pretend to be learning right alongside Rey and Kylo. (Lightsabers always sell and we just gave ourselves a license to make more lightsabers.) PLUS if we want to make an entire Star Wars themed park for Disney World – it builds itself: THE actual Jedi Academy. (Instead of whatever Galaxy’s Edge is supposed to be.) We’ll have so many kids and adults wanting to come and pretend to be in Jedi school that we’ll make enough money to be able to buy Mars and get started on Disney Planet…
But… they didn’t do any of that. That’s what is so baffling to me.
My Hero Academia demonstrates how to do a legacy story – a tale involving a legend. The original Star Wars once knew how to do this as well. When the first movie aired, nobody knew who Obi-Wan Kenobi was or cared about his history. Yet by the film’s end, he was a legend to all of us.
Luke Skywalker is a pop-culture legend. The sequels had a once-in-a-culture opportunity to bring reality and fiction together in a great meta-examination of what “legendary” means, and how you carry that legend on. Yet they didn’t. They just threw it all away.
9 thoughts on “My Jedi Academia”
Oh thank goodness I read the first line or so and was afraid I’d have to argue with you to try to explain why MHA is so fun and some of the various quirks. 😀
I think I was a whole two episodes in when I suddenly realized “Wait. This is a fix-it fic for X-Men, written by guys from Japan. And it’s good!“
I always knew I was going to like MHA, I just hadn’t been able to watch it yet.
I had no idea if I would or not, but it’s got so many different layers of stuff that even my high school English class squee-stuff gets triggered. 😀
Oh yes. I would quite recommend the series to many writers for study. Biggest thing is how embracing tropes and cliches can be used a strength for your story and not a hinderance.
But… they didn’t do any of that. That’s what is so baffling to me.
Over at CrossoverQueen’s blog I summed this up by suggesting it’s like they’d interviewed EVERYBODY INVOLVED IN MAKING THE FILMS and asked “so, ever seen like anything in this series and enjoyed it?” and if they said ‘yes,’ they didn’t hire ’em.
$4 billion. 30 years worth of product testing and customer feedback at their fingertips. The Star Wars sequels should be remembered for decades for the sheer hubris of it all.
See also, Star Trek *squandering* all that Star Wars style money they could be making in tech.