Lyrical Misfires

“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”
—Inigo Montoya, in The Princess Bride (1987), screenplay by Willam Goldman

 

What the Lyrics Say

When we listen to popular music, we may not bother paying attention to the lyrics at all.  If we’re mainly focused on cool guitar leads or Beach Boys “wall of sound” harmony, we may not care.  But human beings are rational animals, and we can’t escape the words forever.  Eventually, we’re going to wonder what the singer is talking about.  And when that time comes, it’s a good idea if the lyricist has put something into them that satisfies us.

Of course, making out the words in the first place isn’t a trivial task.  There are songs I’ve puzzled over for years, and others where it only dawned on me decades later what the singer was saying.  “Louie Louie” (1955) is famous for its unintelligible lyrics, to such an extent that according to Wikipedia, the FBI conducted an investigation on the assumption the words were obscene.  Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs includes an anecdote in which Barry asked the singer in his band about the words to a song they were playing, and the vocalist admitted he had no idea; he was simply mouthing nonsense syllables to match what he heard on the record.

Olive the Other Reindeer, TV posterSince sung words can be hard to make out, there are whole books’ worth of “mondegreens”—misheard lyrics.  For example, when “Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” says “All of the other reindeer . . .”, one could easily hear the line as “Olive, the other reindeer.”  That mishearing actually spawned a 1997 children’s book by that title, which later generated an animated special:  mondegreens running wild.  But that’s really another topic.

Suppose we can make out what the singer is saying.  The real lyrics can still go wrong, in sense rather than in sound.  And sometimes we only notice the errant meaning once we’ve heard the song umpteen times:  the umpteenth-plus-one repetition makes us wonder about it.  The lyricist needs to make sure that even on repeated rehearing, the words say what they’re supposed to say, and not something else—or the result may be unintentional comedy.

Unintended Consequences

If the songwriter isn’t careful, the words may come out to mean exactly the opposite of what the writer wanted.  A famous example also cited in Barry’s book is the Rod Stewart song “Tonight’s the Night” (1976) (lyrics / lyric video).  Stewart tells the girl he’s seducing, “Just let your inhibitions run wild.”  He wants to minimize her inhibitions, not give them wider scope—but the contrary connotations of “run wild” have apparently confused him.

General Waverly and company, White Christmas, opening sceneRemember the song in the movie White Christmas (1954) where the soldiers are professing their loyalty to their general?  “The Old Man” (lyrics / video) occurs first on a battlefield.

We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go,
Long as he wants to go opposite to the foe.
We’ll stay with the old man wherever he wants to stay,
Long as he stays away from the battle’s fray.

Because we love him, we love him,
Especially when he keeps us on the ball,
And we’ll tell the kiddies we answered duty’s call
With the grandest son of a soldier of them all.

I’ve always been baffled as to whether “opposite to the foe” means they want to follow him into battle, which would fit the mood of the song (“we answered duty’s call”) or whether it means they want to join him in running away from the enemy (“away from the battle’s fray”).  For all I know, Irving Berlin intended both meanings – comedy and sentiment at one time.

There’s a more recent (2008) patriotic song from Rodney Atkins, “It’s America” (lyrics / music video), in which Atkins describes stopping at some children’s lemonade stand.  He says, “They were the cutest kids I’d ever seen in this front yard.”  What he meant to say, surely, is that the kids in this front yard were the cutest kids he’d ever seen.  But the literal meaning of the sentence could just as well be that these were only the cutest kids in this particular front yard.  How many kids has he actually seen in this yard, for purposes of comparison?

Belinda Carlisle, sheet music coverI like the Belinda Carlisle song “Leave A Light On” (1989) (lyrics / lyric video / songwriter’s explanation), but one line makes the song seem faintly silly.  Carlisle tells her lover how much she will miss him, but asks him to leave the porch light on because she’s coming back.  Her urgency to return is such that she says, “I’ll be there before you close the door, to give you all the love that you need.”  Now, she’s just told him “I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” but apparently her absence is going to be pretty brief:  he won’t even have the chance to let the door close before she pops back in.  The pain of parting isn’t exactly going to be extended.  I remarked to my kids years ago that apparently she wasn’t going any further away than to take out the trash; and this became the “taking-out-the-trash song” ever after.

A song called “Everytime You Go Away” (1980) by Hall & Oates, also recorded by Paul Young (lyrics / music video) isn’t a great favorite of mine, but it did stimulate what TV Tropes calls “Fridge Logic”—the afterthoughts that occur to you after you’ve finished watching a show, when you go to the fridge for a beer.  The chorus repeats endlessly that “Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you.”  I began to think that if she takes a piece of him with her every time she goes away, she’ll eventually be able to reassemble him in toto at the other end, once she’s brought over all the pieces.  And what then?  Perhaps she then transfers him back, piecemeal, to where he started from.  It begins to seem more like a perpetual cycle than a loss.

Conflicting Imagery

Sometimes the anomaly isn’t so much a confusion of meaning, as a confusion of imagery.  Metaphors, like Rod Stewart’s inhibitions, can run wild and get into trouble.

Waiting For a Star To Fall, scene from music video

“Waiting For a Star To Fall”

Mixing the literal with the figurative is one way to confuse the listener.  There’s a bouncy pop song from 1988 called Waiting for a Star to Fall by Boy Meets Girl (lyrics / music video).  The chorus opens:  “Waiting for a star to fall / and carry your heart into my arms / that’s where you belong / in my arms, baby, yeah.”  The conceit that a falling star carries her heart, sure, that’s cute.  What throws me off is the conjunction of your heart (metaphorically) and my arms (literally).  The star could carry her into his arms; it could carry her heart in some sense into, say, his heart; but carrying her heart into his arms actually begins to sound rather gruesome, if you look at it the right way.  (Or the wrong way.)

Another heart goes astray in Lauren Alaina’s 2015 empowerment anthem “Road Less Traveled” (lyrics / audio / music video)  The refrain breaks out with:  “If you trust your rebel heart, ride it into battle . . .”  It’s a nice thought:  trust your independence, fight for what you believe.  But the idea of riding your own heart into battle seems, if not physically impossible, at least rather peculiar.  I can’t help but picture Alaina mounted atop a larger-than-life version of one of those diagrams you see in cardiologists’ offices, the four-lobed red organ with the truncated blood vessels leading out of it.  That deprives the fierce encouragement of some of its force . . .

We can lay the physical image to rest in Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” (1986) (lyrics / audio), but that doesn’t get us out of the woods yet.  The object of Madonna’s desire is not responding as she wishes; the song is a plea for him to open his heart.  But what she tells him is, “Open your heart to me, baby, I hold the lock and you hold the key.”  What’s she doing holding the metaphorical lock that closes his heart?  It would seem to make more sense for him to be the lock and her the key.  But I suspect Madonna just couldn’t resist the phallic imagery of turning it the other way around.

There’s a lot of unlocking to be done in love songs.  Richard Marx pleads with his beloved not to let fear keep her loveless in 1991’s “Take This Heart” (lyrics / music video). In the bridge, he tells her, “Don’t keep the dream in you locked outside your door.”  That’s an effective image; in fact, it’s two effective images.  She could be keeping her dream locked away inside herself and not following it; or she could be barricaded against the dream that’s trying to come in to reach her.  But he can’t have it both ways.

Steppin’ Out,” from Joe Jackson in 1982 (lyrics / music video), evokes the glamor of night life in New York City.  The singer persuades his girl to go out on the town with him.  “You . . . in a yellow taxi turn to me and smile / We’ll be there in just a while / If you follow me.”  But if they’re together in a taxi, there’s hardly much question as to whether she’ll follow him, right?

Have A Nice Day album cover imageOne of my favorite rousing tunes is Bon Jovi’s ”Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” from 2005 (lyrics / music video).  The lyrics are cheerfully all over the place; the song succeeds on its energy and its defiantly sentimental ‘attitude’ (an attitude that’s neatly captured in the simple graphic on the album cover, shown here).  The singer(s), who have traveled all over the world, declare that they can still come back to the place where “they call me one of their own.”  I still think that Jon Bon Jovi and his co-writer Richie Sambora got it backwards when they tell us, “You take the home from the boy, but not the boy from his home.”  Seems to me you take the boy from his home when he travels the world, while something of his home remains inside him (you can’t “take the home from the boy”).  But the song is such fun that one can hardly quibble about the details.

Conflicting Emotions

Some songs can’t seem to make up their minds whether they’re a ‘love is wonderful’ song or a ‘please come back to me’ song.  Going all the way back to 1971, the beautiful Jackson 5 number “Maybe Tomorrow” (lyrics / video) has that problem.  In the first verse and the refrain, she is looking into his eyes, she is the four seasons of his life, and so forth.  But in the second verse and elsewhere in the refrain, she’s left him (“Maybe tomorrow / you’ll come back to my arms, girl”).  Maybe she did mean that much to him and now she’s gone; but that isn’t what the words say.

On the other hand, sometimes the “wait, what was that?” double-take is intentional.  The Turtles, a popular 1960s group, were known for a subversive tongue-in-cheek style.  In “You Don’t Have to Walk In the Rain” (1969) (lyrics / video), round about the second verse, we get the line, “I looked at your face / I love you anyway.”  Anyway?  That doesn’t sound like a compliment . . .  I suspect the Turtles were just putting one over on us there.

Incoherence

Sometimes it isn’t so much that the lyrics don’t go together, but that they don’t go anywhere at all.

Backstreet Boys, I Want It That Way, scene from music videoThe famously obscure Backstreet Boys earworm “I Want It That Way” (1999) (lyrics / music video) falls into this category.  It’s pretty, and one gets the impression that two devoted lovers are having problems, but what exactly is the desire to which the singers object so strenuously?  According to this 2018 summary, and this 2011 article, apparently the mystery has something to do with the fact that the songwriter’s English wasn’t too strong at the time.  But the most entertaining fact is that the group tried coming up with a version that did make sense—and everyone liked the nonsensical original better.  Sometimes one’s ear and one’s brain just go off in different directions.

We get a different kind of coherence problem in which I like to call “general aspirational” songs, where the lyricist is trying to encourage or uplift without getting too specific about the moral or spiritual basis for the uplift—the content.  We had a whole lot of these back in the 1960s.  A more recent example is “Under One Sky” (2015) (lyrics / lyric video) by a group called The Tenors.  It’s a nice song, and I like to listen to it.  But I cannot make out what it’s talking about, and promising lines keep falling flat.  For example:  “It takes a city of dreamers”—okay, that sounds interesting, what is it that uniting a city of dreamers can do?—“to help you get this far.”  Well, that finishing clause doesn’t say anything.  How far is that?  In what direction?  Why does it take all these dreamers to help with whatever it is he’s doing?  But the lyricist is already off to something else, and we never find out.  I do like an overall sense of hopefulness or encouragement—but it helps if there’s at least a little content or substance to it.

Practical Conflicts

Train, Marry Me, music video, collage of imagesOther songs makes sense syntactically, but not as a practical matter.  In Train’s lovely “Marry Me” (2010) (lyrics / music), everything says the couple has a long history of deep intimacy.  Until we get to the line, “If I ever get the nerve to say “Hello” in this café.”  He’s never even spoken to her?  That longing-from-a-distance can also be a touching story—but not the same touching story.  At best, we have a really extreme case of love at first sight, as the video seems to suggest.

But these pragmatic plausibility issues really take us off in another direction, and I’ve already rambled on long enough here.

Conclusion

We don’t want to take our parsing of song lyrics too seriously—especially when it comes to an overliteral reading.  What these silly examples show us is partly that there can be unintentional humor lurking in all kinds of places; and partly that if a songwriter wants to produce a vivid impression on the hearer, it’s necessary to pay close attention to all the angles.  It takes some precision to put an effective musical story together, from the exact meaning of words to the interplay of image and metaphor.  Just as when we’re choosing names for a baby, we have to think about all the ramifications of our choices, even the silliest ones.

 

Temporary Death

Back from the Dead

Bringing back the dead is a tricky business, story-wise.  For a major character to die adds gravitas.  It gains our sympathy; it makes us take the story more seriously.

But in adventure stories, characters who die have a pretty good chance of turning up again later.  This has become such a convention that we are often adjured not to assume someone’s dead unless you actually see the body.

There’s a strong temptation for a writer to save a beloved (and sometimes lucrative) character; yet the return undermines the impact of the death.  Are there ways to manage that dilemma?

The White Rider

Gandalf faces Balrog with sword and staffThe theme of one who was dead who turns up alive has a very long history—as we may note particularly in this Easter season.  For the literary trope, however, I think of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings as the the ur-example.  Gandalf’s loss is appalling for the reader, and his reappearance is a classic example of the sudden turn beyond hope that Tolkien called “eucatastrophe.”

LotR comes early enough in the history of modern high fantasy that it may have been unexpected, at that time, for a character to really die and then come back.  Merely apparent death is much more common—even in LotR.  An article I read once observed how frequently someone is thought to be dead in the course of the story.  For example, Aragorn thinks Frodo has been killed by an orc-spear in the Mines of Moria (Book II, Ch. 5).  Sam assumes Shelob has killed Frodo, when in fact the spider has merely put him into a coma (Book IV, Ch. 10).  Éomer believes Éowyn is dead, but when she’s borne back to the city she is found to be alive (Book V, Ch. 6).  Et cetera.

Gandalf the WhiteGandalf, on the other hand, really does die at the end of his extensive combat with the Balrog.  But this isn’t as fatal as it seems.  Gandalf is a semi-divine spirit, one of the Maiar, and his mission in Middle-Earth is not yet complete.  He says:  “Naked I was sent back—for a brief time, until my task is done” (Book III, ch. 5).  The “naked” is not simply a bodily description.  In passing “through fire and deep water,” he has given up his old self, Gandalf the Grey, and become an elevated version, Gandalf 2.0, the White Rider.

This is perhaps one clue as to what makes a return from death succeed, in a narrative sense.  It isn’t easy, and it isn’t trivial.  Gandalf’s being “sent back” is extraordinary, and it changes him in deep ways.  To my mind, this death-and-reversal add to the depth and power of the story.

The Descent into Routine

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  If the return is taken for granted, then we aren’t moved or edified by the dying.  We don’t believe it in the first place.  In fact, reading or watching a death we know is reversible tends to make us cynical.  The writers are playing on our emotions, and we feel manipulated rather than moved.

Batman and Wonder Woman mourn SupermanIn the 2016 movie Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice, Superman dies at the end.  Did anyone believe for a minute this death would last?  No one is going to kill off such an iconic character.  If nothing else (here’s the cynical part), the future income stream from Superman stories is an irresistible lure.  Just as with the comic-book “Death of Superman” sequence from which the idea was taken, I suspect my reaction was shared by many:  here’s a cheap trick to get our attention.

To be sure, there are some affecting moments in the transition from BvS to Justice League (2017), in which Superman is revived—partly because reviving him is arduous and difficult, as further discussed below.  But those moments are not easily attained.  The artifice is too transparent.

Westley recovers from death with Inigo and FezzikI have somewhat the same reaction, for a different reason, to The Princess Bride—one of the flaws in that admirable tale.  Goldman’s narrator makes a great deal out of telling his son (in the movie, grandson) that Westley dies (ch. 6).  Really.  He’s not faking.  And naturally, the boy is outraged.  The hero isn’t supposed to die!  Yet he did.  —But no, the author has tricked us.  Westley isn’t really dead.  Miracle Max tells us, “there’s different kinds of dead:  there’s sort of dead, mostly dead, and all dead.  This fella here, he’s only sort of dead . . .” (ch. 7).

That’s cheating.  We may be willing to accept the trick in The Princess Bride because it’s already such a roaring stream of clichés, so enthusiastically devised and appreciated that we never do take the story quite seriously.  But we aren’t really moved.  Our appreciation is of a different order:  we’re laughing fondly at the author’s willingness to indulge with such unreserved gusto in the most absurd fairy-tale stereotypes and gimmicks.

If we’re commenting on Batman v. Superman, we really ought to say something about Avengers:  Infinity War/Endgame.  But it’s too soon—too many spoilers.  Maybe another time.

Variations

Incidentally, the routine return can apply to villains as well as heroes.  A hero’s recurring nemesis may also be an iconic character, and the fact that the nemesis keeps coming back is a convention we rather enjoy.  TV Tropes refers to it as “Joker Immunity.”  Superman’s Lex Luthor, Spider-Man’s Green Goblin, the Fantastic Four’s Doctor Doom:  if any of them appear to be dead in the comic books, we can be pretty sure they’ll be back.  On the other hand, movie series don’t run on forever in the same way that comics series do.  The screen adapters of Spider-Man can thus afford to “expend” the Goblin, or Dr. Octopus, because they’re only going to make three or four films in a given series.  There isn’t time for repeated recurrences of an arch-enemy.

Doctor Doom is rescued by the Ovoids

On the other hand, it’s notorious that we hear Emperor Palpatine’s sinister laughter at the end of the most recent Star Wars IX trailer (4/12/2019). immediately following Luke’s voiceover line, “No one’s ever really gone.”  Some movie series do go on that long . . .

Once revival has become routine, it’s a noteworthy exception when an author is willing to let a main character go permanently (Killed Off For Real; see a list of film examples, and also the trope Deader Than Dead).  J.K. Rowling, for example, killed off Albus Dumbledore for good, well before the end of the Harry Potter saga.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent series allows the heroine herself to die at the end, though this seems to have been omitted from the corresponding movie.

In Star Wars, the regular appearance of “Force ghosts” provides a sort of compromise.  The fallen heroes don’t come back to life, but they do hang around to provide advice, commentary, and snarky explanations.

The Search for Spock

Let’s return to an instance where a temporary death does work to see if we can determine what makes that possible.

Spock's death in Star Trek 2Along with LotR, my other go-to example is Star Trek II:  The Wrath of KhanWrath is generally considered to be among the best of the Trek movies (for example, here, here, and here), and a sizable part of its draw is the death of the beloved Spock.  Like Gandalf, Spock perishes heroically, subjecting himself to a fatal overdose of radiation to make a crucial repair that saves everyone else on the Enterprise.  And his loss is fully realized by his long-time friends, along with the new characters we’ve just gotten to know.  Maybe I’m sentimental, but Kirk’s eulogy at Spock’s funeral has always struck me as a genuinely moving moment.

At the same time, there was no doubt in my mind when I first saw the film that Spock would be back.  The whole atmosphere of the final scenes in Wrath—hopefulness so intense you can almost taste it—lent itself to anticipating eucatastrophe rather than a final end.  The shiny “casket,” nestled in the burgeoning growth of the Genesis planet, seemed to promise some kind of resurrection.  What made us feel Spock’s death so effectively, even though we were morally certain we’d see him again?

Part of it is that these characters had had such a long history together.  We’d seen their relationship grow over three TV seasons, and we’d been recently reminded of that history in the first Star Trek movie, flop though it was.  To the numerous loyal Trek fans, at least, these were truly iconic characters, and we were emotionally invested in them.  The history had built up a kind of emotional potential that the death sequence could draw upon.

Spock's funeralEven more important, the other characters were visibly affected.  They didn’t know Spock would be back.  We grieved for Spock through his friends.  The screenwriter and director wisely gave us enough time, in the final sequences, to absorb and appreciate that grief with the other characters.  I suspect this, more than anything, is what makes a provisional death effective:  a powerful portrayal of other people’s response to the loss.

Finally, the heroism of Spock’s final acts, and the overwhelming sense of something wonderful that’s been achieved on the Genesis planet at the end, lend depth and further feeling to the event.  We respect his sacrifice, and it means something.  The hope for new life doesn’t necessarily erode the gravity of the death.

Moreover, the sequels navigated the difficulty pretty well.  Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock did unavoidably undercut the resolution of Wrath a bit.  The Genesis planet is unstable; it isn’t quite as wonderful as we thought.  The adversaries in Search are much more mundane than Khan (who had his own history with the Enterprise crew).  And the death isn’t permanent.

Yet the complex, gradual, effortful reconstitution of Spock manages to become something wonderful in itself, rather than just a reversal of the loss.  The notion that Spock’s katra or spirit survives adds an element of the mystical or sublime to the science-fiction texture of the series.  The notion that it survived in McCoy’s head gave the situation humor and irony.  The unconventional expedients the Enterprise crew must use to get McCoy back to Genesis provide both adventure and a maverick sense of, well, enterprise.  Meanwhile, the scenes of Spock’s body re-growing from childhood to adulthood as accelerated by the Genesis effect have their own sense of wonder.

Spock is rebornWhen the Vulcan ceremony of reintegration rejoins Spock’s spirit with his body, the impact of the result is heightened by the fact that Spock is clearly changed by his passage through death.  (The final film of the trilogy, Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home, continues this theme by showing Spock visibly struggling to get used to life again.)  The return, which takes two whole movies to complete—a quest in itself—is far more than a handwave.  It’s an achievement.

Conclusions

From these examples I think we can pick out some factors that help a story to make good use of a temporary death, as opposed to a routine we-know-they’ll-be-back.

  • The death is heroic; it means something.
  • We care about the lost person—and so do the other people in the story.
  • The other characters experience the death fully, even if the reader or viewer knows that it won’t be permanent.
  • The deceased character is absent long enough to let the loss sink in.
  • The deceased character earns the return. It doesn’t come easy.
  • The returned character is transformed in some way by the experience.

When an author can incorporate these elements, we the audience can extend our “willing suspension of disbelief” to sympathize with the rest of the cast in their loss, even when we are aware in propria persona that the beloved dead aren’t gone for good.

Star Wars VII: The Old and the New

By now it should be possible to discuss The Force Awakens without issuing a spoiler alert, since everyone in this galaxy has probably seen it.

 

I was tempted to use “Everything old is new again” for the way SW7 harks back to the original movie, but it turns out several commentators have already done that.  Then I thought using the phrase “Back to the Future” might express the sense of familiarity the new movie evokes for old-time fans—but it turns out a number of reviews have already done that too (for example, here, here, and here).  Somebody’s even done a Star Wars-Back to the Future mashup.

The great thing about the Internet is that it’s easy to find out what everyone else is saying.  The depressing thing about the Internet is that, when you set out to say something, someone else has probably said it already.

 

Is the familiarity of Episode VII’s tropes a strength or a weakness?  Is director J.J. Abrams just rehashing old material, or is he providing us with a charming return to our roots?

In this case, I think imitation is the sincerest form of homage.

The familiar moves came off well, by and large.  Heroes with downtrodden humble beginnings – that’s classic storytelling.  Desert planet—Actually, I could have done with a new setting.  But the landscape does express the aridity of Rey’s prior life, and it allows for some nice contrasts.  (“I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole galaxy.”)  And we aren’t there for very long, after all.

Invoking family dysfunctions and mysteries also harks back to the original trilogy, of course.  The angle that struck me particularly (since I’m old enough to appreciate it) is that “Rey Who?” sparks as feverish a storm of fan speculation as Darth Vader’s Empire Strikes Back bombshell.

It’s hard to remember now, when “I am your father” has become a ubiquitous meme, that at the end of ESB we didn’t really know whether Vader was telling the truth.  He probably was; it was too good a narrative twist to pass up.  But those us who were still attached to the image of Luke’s heroic dad spent three years trying out alternative scenarios.

Even more, we debated “There is another.”  We canvassed every conceivable answer to that mystery, and some that were inconceivable.  Same with Rey’s parentage:  I’ve already heard suggestions that are all across the map.

At least, on Disney’s more aggressive release schedule, we’ll only have a year and a half to run this issue into the ground, as opposed to three years back in the 1980s.  Which is a good thing:  by the time Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, we had overthought the matter so much that the actual revelations were almost anticlimactic.

(Of course, the real answer, obviously, is that Rey is Chewbacca’s daughter.  They hit it off so well, and he accompanies her to find Luke at the end.  This explains why Han, Chewie’s old friend, is so protective of her.  She doesn’t look like Chewie, you say?  We can just assume that Wookiees develop all that hair and the growly voice later, post-adolescence.)

By and large, I enjoyed the frequent callouts to Star Wars IV-VI.  The new movie combined the nostalgic recognition of familiar themes with the freshness of new characters and relationships.  Rey and Finn and Poe play off each other well, but not in the same way as Luke and Leia and Han.  Abrams has restarted the story without having to reboot.

 

On the other hand, there were a couple of repetitions that could be dispensed with.

The biggest (in every sense) is the Death Star.  Er, Starkiller Base.  The whole end sequence in SW7 was fun, to be sure.  But we’ve seen this scenario twice already in the original trilogy.  Three desperate attempts to blow up an Ultimate Weapon is enough.  Can we agree, no more Death Stars, no matter how big they are or what fancy names we give them?

We need something different for the third trilogy.  It’s not as if there aren’t other mythic motifs available.  I’ve always felt the third trilogy would work well as a Quest.  Let there be something Our Heroes need to find to set a New Republic or new Jedi Order on the right track.

With the classic quest theme in mind, the fact that Luke set out looking for “the first Jedi temple” is suggestive.  He’s not just on this island as a hideout; he seems to have been looking for something.  What might one be looking for in the Jedi temple that would make a good MacGuffin for Episodes VIII and IX?  The “Holocron,” a Jedi teaching device invented for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, might be a good candidate.  (In a year or so, we can look back and see how far off-track I was—which is the fun of making rash predictions.)

We can analyze all these questions to death while we’re waiting for Episode VIII to come out.  But if we’ve learned from the 1980s experience, we may prefer just to enjoy the anticipation.