Monday, June 23, 2008

GALAXY QUEST - Hero's Journey/Character Arc

Okay, I've made an executive decision and decided to place our discussion under a different post. In getting us started, I've created a lengthy lesson -- too much, at least, to be placed in the comment section. This is probably how I'll do it all the time. So, expect an introductory article on the assigned movie, then a second article to discuss on. If our discussion sparks sub-lessons, such as plot skeleton or archtypes, I'll post another article to discuss those things. Each article will be labeled under their movie title and lesson discussion, so readers can easily go to either the movie of their choice or the lesson they'd like to learn.

Clear as Beryllium mud?

Hey, just remember: NEVER GIVE, NEVER SURRENDER!

Here we go…

Trixie has taken your tickets and you are all settled in to watch
Galaxy Quest! (Refer to my last comment on previous article.)

The movie opens with an episode of the original show, Galaxy Quest, starring Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen.) This is our prologue. We need this to understand that GQ is an old television show (note the mullet on our hero) so that when we start the story, we see how they've aged (note Tommy, the nine-year-old pilot of the ship who shaves now!) and have become cynical. One wonders why they're all still together when they're so unhappy. Could it be they yearn again for a captain to tell them what to do? Hmm.

The story actually begins in Jason's ordinary world, a GQ convention ala Star Trek. The actors are complaining about Jason not being there on time because he's booked another gig without them. This sets him up as one who isn't a team player. He wants all the glory for himself.

Remember this, it's important as we look at the Character Arc, or his inner journey.

I'm going to list what we came up with as a group. Jill, Diane, Danica, Bonnie, Darcie, and I discussed the following at length. As I retyped it in, I refined it some more, so if you were there on Saturday, please read on. I invite comments on any part of this, or list your own if you don't agree. I'm hoping this works well as a discussion board. Please remember when you comment for the FIRST time, to click the box that will send you email updates of the comments. This shows up after you've done your word verification and pressed the "Publish Your Comment" button. This is not Feedblitz! That will only send you the original posts.

In our discussion, we took the Hero's Journey (HJ) and the Character Arc (CA) and put them side by side. This is what we came up with:

HJ - ORDINARY WORLD: Galaxy Quest convention.
CA - LIMITED AWARENESS: Aliens visit Jason at convention table but he thinks they're fans in costume.

HJ - CALL TO ADVENTURE: Aliens visit Jason at home.
CA - INCREASED AWARENESS: Jason thinks he understands what they want, but has it wrong.

HJ - REFUSAL OF THE CALL: He doesn't really refuse, but, thinking these are just over-the-top fans, he "blows up the bad guy" and rushes off to his next gig.
CA - RELUCTANCE TO CHANGE: He still shows himself as self-centered
NOTE - It could be argued that his refusal actually happened when he first met them at the convention and blew them off. In his book, Myth and the Movies, Voytilla states that the stages are simply guidelines. Each step can shift somewhat, or be non-existent.

HJ - MEETING THE MENTOR: Mathezar, the good head alien, becomes his tour guide in this strange new world.
CA - OVERCOMING RELUCTANCE: Jason runs back to his fellow actors. This suggests that he's starting his journey of becoming a team player.

HJ - CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: Jason understands now that the evil alien, Sarris, is real, and so is the danger
CA - COMMITTING TO CHANGE: Knows he must help, and convinces the crew to join him, thus admitting that he can't do this by himself.

HJ - TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES: He and his crew must learn how to work the ship that was based on the television show. There are clear allies (The Thermians, or the squid people as our group called them,) and clear enemies, (Sarris and his evil hoard.)
CA - EXPERIMENTING WITH FIRST CHANGE: Takes over the ship as the commander, resuming the role he played on television. He has his team in place, each one unique in their gifts. He needs them to run the ship.

HJ - APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE: Jason prepares his crew for battle.
CA - PREPARING FOR BIG CHANGE: Jason is becoming his character, a captain with a crew. This is a precursor to how he will relate to them later on.

HJ - THE ORDEAL: The planet where they search for Beryllium spheres. This is where they meet physical adversity for the first time.
CA - ATTEMPTING THE BIG CHANGE: Jason must trust his crew to get him out alive.

HJ - REWARD: Sarris is defeated
CA - CONSEQUENCES (IMPROVEMENTS & SETBACKS): Jason earns respect of his crew members.

HJ - ROAD BACK: They bring the ship home!
CA - REDEDICATION TO CHANGE: Humble now, knowing he's part of the team, Jason goes a step further and enlists the teens help to bring them home safely.

HJ - RESURRECTION: Sarris is alive! Jason must battle him one last time.
CA - FINAL ATTEMPT AT BIG CHANGE: Jason sacrifices himself for the sake of his crew (and the audience who thinks it's all part of the show) and puts himself in harms way for his team.

HJ - RETURN WITH ELIXIR: Jason has survived the "special world." He's back at the convention where it all started. The "ordinary world," oblivious, is safe once again.
CA - MASTERY OF THE PROBLEM: Knowing he couldn't have done it alone, Jason includes the GQ crew in celebration rather than taking all the bows himself.

EPILOGUE: New episodes of Galaxy Quest with a new, and much improved crew!

We also found it interesting that as an ensemble piece, all of the crew had their own Character Arcs.

~ Alexander/Dr. Lazarus, whose catch phrase that he loathed -- "By Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged" -- becomes real and heartfelt when he loses the alien who looked up to him. Also, as Jason's main adversary, he comes to respect Jason.

~ Gwen/Tawny hates that the only reason she was on the show was as a sex symbol, even though she was vain about her appearance through most of the movie. By the end of the battle, her suit is unzipped and she doesn't care. Then, when she tumbles out of the ship at the convention, her hair is disheveled, and she makes no attempt to primp before her adoring fans.

~ Tommy/Laredo, gains new confidence in piloting the ship.

~ Fred/Chen, although seemingly in control, does break down when it's up to him to save Jason from the planet. When he accomplishes the task, albeit because of the girl alien gazing at him in pure faith, he gains new confidence in himself. And, I just thought of something. He always had food or was talking about food. After falling in love, I don't remember seeing him with food anymore. Hmm.

~ Guy/Crew Member #6. Gotta love him! He went from a sniveling coward who just wanted to be on the show, to a confident crew member, ready to do battle.

~ And finally, Mathesar. He felt he needed the Galaxy Quest crew because of his short-comings. But he had the makings of a commander inside, and embraced it when Jason "commissioned" him.

I found a link to the Galaxy Quest script, where I was able to read clearly the things I missed when I got lost in the movie. In the Bible, we pick out key verses of books and chapters. Here's an excerpt that foreshadows Jason's arc.

While signing his autograph at the first convention, Jason talks to some young fans:

JASON - Had I moved an inch to the left the beast would have killed me. On the other hand, my crew was in danger...
YOUNG BOY - How did you know what to do?
JASON - Come on! Without my crew, I'm not a Commander, huh.

And right there signals his Character Arc!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

GALAXY QUEST - and Welcome!


Never give up. Never surrender.


If you're a fiction writer eager to study the craft through movies, you're in the right place. This month, we will discuss the hero's journey and how it relates to his character arc.

Who are "we?" This blog is my brainchild, Kathy Kovach, the American Christian Fiction Writers Rocky Mountain Zone Director. When I approached the ACFW Colorado folks about sponsoring a movie day, they were enthusiastic. Two people volunteered their homes and we settled on dates. ACFW is a national organization dedicated to spreading the gospel through the art of fiction. If you aren't familiar with ACFW, please visit for info on this worthy organization.

I have had a love of movies ever since watching the late movie with my mom when growing up. My dad was a truck driver and on the road a lot. My sister was seven years older and had a life. That left Mom and me, and a large bowl of popcorn. Back in the sixties and early seventies, the late show was clean, popular in its classic style, and highly entertaining. We watched musicals, epics, name it. But the movies themselves weren't the only draw. Time alone with Mom. Getting to know her as a best friend. That's why my love of movies grew. It was a positive experience that I continue to share with my family.

And now, I want to share it with you, my writing family.

If you belong to ACFW Colorado, we have scheduled our Movie Madness days on the third Saturday of the month. Denver will host June 21 at the house of Jill Hups and Colorado Springs will host July 19 at the house of Kim Woodhouse. (All times and dates subject to change.) ACFW Colorado is looking at opening more charters, so stay tuned. If you'd like directions, watch for an announcement on the ACFW Rcky Mt Zone loop, or email me. (See my profile.)

The beauty of this blog is that if you can't make it to the movie showing, you can watch the movie at your leisure and come back to discuss it with us. I will announce the movies in advance so you can prepare to discuss on the fourth Monday of the month. If you miss a month, I hope you will scroll through the comments anyway. We will all learn from each other.

I hope you can join us at Jill's house on Saturday, June 21 at 4:00, but if not, please rent the movie and come back here. We will begin discussing the character arc of Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen's character) on Monday, June 23 and continue until the topic is exhausted.

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You may be familiar with the Hero's Journey which takes the character through a physical structure common to most stories that have been told throughout time. A good contemporary book that explains the mythical structure is The Writer's Journey - 2nd Edition by Christopher Vogler. A follow up to this book is Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla. Using this book, we will follow the chart he's included on page 7. If you don't have the book, you might want to buy it, but it's not necessary for our assignments.

While the Hero's Journey is the physical movement of the character throughout the story, the Character Arc is the inward journey, or the growth of the character. We will look at both.

Watch Galaxy Quest and follow Tim Allen's character, Jason Nesmith. Look for the following things in his Hero's Journey. Make a brief note of what happens to him in the movie during these pivotal points.

  • Ordinary world

  • Call to adventure

  • Refusal of the call

  • Meeting the mentor

  • Crossing the threshold

  • Tests, allies, and enemies

  • Approach the inmost cave

  • The ordeal

  • Reward

  • Road back

  • Resurrection

  • Return with elixir

At the same time, follow the Character Arc:

  • Limited awareness

  • Increased awareness

  • Reluctance to change

  • Overcoming reluctance

  • Committing to change

  • Experimenting with first change

  • Preparing for big change

  • Attempting big change

  • Consequences (improvements and setbacks)

  • Rededication to change

  • Final attempt at big change

  • Mastery of the problem

Note that the Character Arc is the inward journey, while the Hero's Journey is the physical. Voytilla teaches that both are synonimous and makes for a well-rounded character. This is what we want in our own writing.