Daily Dojo

Rapping On Writing - Goals, Motivation & “Use The Force, Luke”

Mildred: What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddya got?

Okay, so the latest in my series on character and writing today is called GOALS, MOTIVATION & USE THE FORCE, LUKE!”


This is a follow-up to Rapping On Writing - Emotional Content, which was a massive post, it’s true, it was a monster, I’m almost ashamed I rambled on so long and I’m not up for repeating that many words today.

Wait a minute, fuck it. I’m not ashamed.

I’m a movie geek, this is what we do, we talk movies, right?

I even WROTE a movie about the movie business, so why should I be ashamed that I tend go on and on about famous characters and films and whatnot?

Hell, this is the biz I work in, I should be excited about it, right? I should have a jones for this subject, right?

So hell with it, I’m gonna make all the fuckin’ noise about this I wanna!

To quote Mystery Man on Film, “Heh-heh.”

Still, we’re not going to go on a too long rant today. Well, maybe. You never know.

I thought I’d share a bit of a conversation I had with my best buddy The Man Who Would Be King about STAR WARS, the original movie, and reasons why it is so much better than most of the other films that follow, except for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, most the others just suck, beginning with RETURN OF THE JEDI onward (yes, I include that one, YES, and yes, PHANTOM MENACE and ALL THE OTHERS BEHIND IT BLOW SERIOUS CHUNKS! Ahem. But I’ve digressed.)

It all hinges on LUKE.


Please remember, this is only my small opinion, I’m sharing my movie geek thoughts and nothing more, I ain’t pretending to be Yoda, for crying out loud, I’m just having a conversation here.

One thing that the writing books often share with you is to give your Protagonist (which is a fancy word for Hero, for you laymen out there) a goal, a clear goal physical to achieve.

For example, Clarice’s goal in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is very clear.

She has to save the Senator’s daughter from Buffalo Bill, who put her in a pit and plans to skin her (and yes, that spoils it, but if you haven’t seen the film yet, you never meant to see it and ain’t ever going to, so stop your whining) and the film basically ends when she accomplishes that goal.


I maintain that there is MORE to making a movie work than than your hero simply ACCOMPLISHING A GOAL.

Case in point.


Great film. No question about it.

What was Luke’s goal, what did he want in that picture?

Pretty simple. He wanted to save the Princess, right?

He saw the digital replay of Leia, asking for help, and wanted to rescue her.

That’s what got him off that planet (and conveniently, his “Aunt” and “Uncle” were murdered by the Empire, so he didn’t even have to argue with them about going) and signed up with Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, after all.

STAR WARS is often compared to the John Wayne film THE SEARCHERS, about a cowboy searching for a kidnapped girl.

And a large part of STAR WARS has that element, Luke and Ben go off to try and rescue her.

Even once they got on the DEATH STAR, Ben goes to disable the tractor beam (interesting that, so far in the future there are few if any tractors but there are tractor beams, heh-heh) and Luke finds out that the Princess is being held captive and impulsively leads Han and Chewie off to rescue her with a seriously flawed and cock-eyed rescue plan, which ends with them in the garbage hold.

Luke goes to great lengths to rescue her, they both swing daringly on a rope over a deep shaft (she gives him a quick, very non-sisterly kiss) and he accomplishes that. Even shoots down a few Tie fighters on the way out (Great, kid. Don’t get cocky!)

And is the movie over when he rescues her?
Luke and Leia


The Death Star has tracked them to the Rebel Base, that’s why they got away so easy, and once The Death Star gets clear of the planet blocking them, they plan to blow that Rebel Base and everyone on it to little bitty space particles.

So what does Luke do?

He gets into an X-wing fighter, along with a bunch of other guys, and flies off to attack that big old mean Death Star, attack it even though they have only a fraction of a chance to defeat it, they have to hit this vent just two meters wide, with a missile, it seems impossible. But Luke’s up for the job.

And where is the Princess while he’s doing this?


Luke LEFT her there. He doesn’t say, “Yo, Princess, make like a sheep and get the flock out of here, scramsky! This place is liable to blow!”

Really, if Luke’s prime goal throughout the movie was to rescue the Princess, don’t you think he’d get her ass off the Rebel Base before the Death Star blows it to hell?

Wouldn’t you insist?


I know he’s going off to fight The Death Star, but everyone knows it’s a long shot (and let’s face it, Luke is a second away from being too late as it is, that big gun was charging and about to fire when Luke dropped it) and it’s more likely everyone, including Leia, is gonna be *killed!

Now he does save the day, and one can argue that his goal was really to defeat the empire, but when he started on this caper, was that really in the forefront of his mind?

What triggered Luke to do what he does?

What’s his motivation?

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Luke has a number of goals throughout the film (find the droids, save the Princess, blow up The Death Star, to name a few) but it’s not the goals that define him, but his overall motivation.

What is Luke’s MOTIVATION?

This is really where it gets primal, and why this film (and the next one) work so well, and far better than the other STAR WARS film . . .

Luke, in a sense, wants to be a hero.

It’s not that different from the rest of us. Luke wants to be unique. Luke wants to matter.

We all wish to be known or famous or respected, we all look for that in our lives. We look for ways to set ourselves apart from others through deeds of excellence.

Luke, as a callow young man, is very much like any kid on the farm who dreams of going to far off places and accomplishing great things.

His motivation is to MAKE SOMETHING OF HIMSELF.

Don’t underestimate it, that’s a powerful motivator.

We seek to be GREAT by doing GREAT THINGS.

That’s why we write, why we act, why we try out for American Idol.

So people will recognize us and therefore give our existence meaning through that recognition.

We all want to matter, in some form.

And Luke’s case is even more unique, in that he didn’t have a father and knew little about who he’s come from, so Luke’s quest is linked to identity . . . Luke seeks to find out who he is, and what he can be.

Ben gives a clue to Luke early on, when he says he knew Luke’s father.

Ben even gives Luke his father’s light-saber.
Ben & Luke

And it’s also when Ben first explains the use of the FORCE** and it’s impact on all our lives. An invisible power for good used by JEDI KNIGHTS!

Think about that. Luke’s father was a JEDI KNIGHT, a warrior for good (wink-wink). That’s a powerful discovery for a young man, you find out that your father, whom you’ve never met (wink-wink) was a famous JEDI KNIGHT?

Do you understand the motivating factors behind this young man now? He wants to rescue the Princess, sure, but it aint’ about that, it’s about THE FORCE, about being a JEDI KNIGHT and battling Darth and the Dark Side.

It’s about your life mattering in some way.

All the goals, all the steps, all the things he chooses to do is in service to that quest. “Use the Force, Luke” even prompts him to switch off his computer targeting program. Even though if he misses, that’s Leia’s ass right there, she’s gone.

He ain’t even thinking about her. She’s just a some step on his journey to wherever he’s going.

Luke’s on a quest to find out WHO HE WAS AND WHO HE CAN BE.

That’s motivation.

It’s like THE FORCE, it’s that internal thing that moves you through all your other shit.

Let’s say you have a dream. It could be anything. You want to be a football player, and famous drummer, a dancer, a porn star, anything. A surgeon. An FBI agent.

What drives you? Some of these things are hard, they have many obstacles, especially surgery. All those small goals which lead up to a larger one, right?

But the power behind it, the becoming, that’s the important one, one you yourself may not even be aware of. Like Clarice and her screaming lambs, you just know this is what you HAVE TO DO.

It’s similar to what I wrote before, connecting a characters emotions to their actions.

Each choice, even decision, must be emotionally connected.

But we’re now speaking of a longer view of the character. Their driving emotional motivation. We all have it.

When Luke is chasing droids, he’s not thinking about the Princess. He doesn’t even get truly, truly motivated until he gets his father’s saber and hears about The Force. Even when he’s on the Falcon and practicing with a light-saber, he’s not thinking about her at all. He’s listening to Ben about The Force and about his OWN POTENTIAL AS A BEING.

His journey is to find out who he was and who he can be, which means facing some badass man working for the Empire, specifically one Vader, Darth, big guy, wears black and breathes funny.

At its core, this drive to discover one’s identity and potential is a primal urge we all share, and tapping into that is what made this movie work so well (and would work equally well 22 years later for a fellow named Neo, who found himself on a similar quest, just not in the stars but within his own mind).

Heavy, heavy stuff, dudes.

So goals are important, but only if they’re connected emotionally to the overall quest your hero happens to be on. It can be large and very personal (like Luke’s quest for identity and value in his life) or a quest can be small and silly (HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE - it’s funny. Seriously, the shit works), as long as the overall motivation of the characters is in keeping with the “Force” of their driving psyche’.

Now the books and gurus will tell you, you should have an inner goal and an outer goal . . . In other words, let’s say your particular hero has father issues (hates him) but he has to rescue his father, who’s been kidnapped by terrorists. And he doesn’t want to save him, but his father is a nuclear engineer and may be forced into building a weapon of mass destruction.

So your Hero has an outer goal (save dear old scabby Dad) and an inner conflict (but I hate the scabby fucker) and during the accomplishment of his outer goal (Hero saves scabby Dad) he resolves his inner conflict (they each come to a new understanding with each other and Hero not only doesn’t hate Pop, he views him with a new respect) - even better, you’ll score more points from the Pro Readers if you can resolve both at the same time.

This is a good approach, I’ll be the first to admit (and if the above sounds familiar, it’s because it’s in many, many movies, including INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE) and not at all a bad way to chart your screenplay. The books work for what the books do.

My only thing is, I don’t think characters, all characters, necessarily have that inner conflict . . . They have an inner motivation, but Indiana Jones didn’t have this conflict with his father in the first two films, and it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of those, especially the first.

Indiana has a thing for preserving the past. That’s his motivation, that’s the Force driving him, and it never gets resolved.

Because that’s how we are. We never stop driving our own self-machines.***

Clarice never stops hearing the lambs scream, even after she pulls that girl out of the pit.

Luke never stops searching for who he is and his own potential, in fact, it takes him to a much darker, more interesting place in the next film.

We all have a Force behind us, whether it’s as small as only wanting to toke up and score with that girl downstairs, or to find out who my father was and who I can be.

We’re all driven by something, usually unresolved, and you need to tap that emotional well to make it work, whether it’s screaming lambs in the case of Clarice, or Luke finding out who he is, and what it is that drives them has to be something they CANNOT ignore and MUST DO. Luke can’t stay on Tatoonie, if he doesn’t get off this year, then he’ll get off the next, but there’s no doubt he’s not gonna be a farmer.

Okay, so I’m done ranting. Whew. It’s late at night and I’m just gone goofy with fatigue, so fight amongst yourselves for awhile.

To sum up.

It’s not about the goals, the goals are just steps that takes a character where he most needs to go or be . . . the motivation is the fuel that drives your hero, and all motivation is self-started, in a sense.

It that makes sense for ya, cool!

If not, we’ll try again next week with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

See you then!

*First footnote. I noticed in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, while the fort on HOTH was being overrun, Han Solo had no problem grabbing Leia and dragging her off the rebel base, hollering at her the entire time. Leia obviously holds a higher place of priorities for Han than he’d care to admit, even at this early stage. Luke’s attitude is very Buddhist, while Han is “ARe you crazy? Get out of here!”

**Second footnote. I agree with Ato that the most grevious, terrible sin Lucas has done happened in THE PHANTOM MENACE, and no I’m not referring to JarJar Binks. It’s when he gives an EXPLANATION FOR THE FORCE, that it’s all these little things in young Anakin’s blood which makes the FORCE strong in him.

Bull-fucking-hockey. Destroyed the entire mythology in a nano-second. In the first three films (which happen LATER) the Force is presented as something available to us all, a presence in the universe anyone can have access to and be influenced by . . . a form of god or religion, so to speak.

And now we find out it’s simply minnows in the bloodstream and that it’s only by birthright can one be a Jedi? And Obi-Wan lied the first time he told us about it? Thousands of working class folks devastated. George sold us out.

I hated that. Defined the Force as flawed blood. Crap.

***I’m not saying movies where characters who resolve their inner conflicts DON’T WORK, so don’t get the wrong idea. I’m simply pointing out that these great movies discussed above leave that unresolved, and it actually is part of what makes them work . . . Resolving inner conflicts can be great cinema (GOOD WILL HUNTING is all about that) and truly fun, but the point to this is that most people are driven and never resolve that drive (Ari from ENTOURAGE is never gonna stop going for the top) and we love them for that, primarily.

5 Responses to “ Rapping On Writing - Goals, Motivation & “Use The Force, Luke””

  1. Andrew Bellware Says:

    “Midichlorians” feh! Sounds like a genetic synthesizer.

  2. Christina Says:

    Off topic, but J., seriously - have you heard of a new film called Foot Fist Way? I just watched the trailer and thought of you.


    Let me know what you think! (I’ll come back and actually read your post after a bit…)

  3. Joshua James Says:

    I don’t know that film, I’ll check it out . . . let me know what you think of the post when you can . . .

    Have you heard of the Mamet film RED BELT, about Juijistu?

  4. Joshua James Says:

    Sweet Jesus, I am so pissed off that someone else made FOOT FIST WAY and I didn’t!

    Damn it, that’s what I get, damn it!

    Looks hilarious.

  5. Ato Says:

    “We all want to matter.” Well said Father of Kai. I’ll take you one further… We all MUST matter. It’s in our DNA. It supercedes our need for food, water and shelter. It permeates everything we do. It goes beyond mere existence. We simply MUST matter. It’s so pervasive that it bleeds into everything we do. Yes, it’s why we act, and write, and sing, and dance- but it’s also why we marry, build monuments, give awards, throw birthday parties, bury our dead etc. Life is a constant struggle to matter. This is human. This is our STORY. The Story. The only story we have EVER told.

    So to Josh’s point: Be it Star Wars, Citizen Kane or Dude Where’s my Car (heh) the great movies are simply the ones effectively channel Our Story.

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