Critical choice and character agency

Venusian Broon

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At the same time, the only thing keeping him a moisture farmer was Uncle Owen. All his friends joined the imperial academy to become a pilot, which is what he wanted. He could have easily decided that was the path to take, but his choice fell to the greater good to become something more. Feels like a vital choice to me. One putting him on the side of the empire, the other a rebel.
I'm (definitely) not a Starwars fanboi, but I believe Biggs, one of his friends, went to the academy...and turned up with the rebels as a pilot, so I'm not sure it was such a black and white choice as you've presented. Plus Luke states explicitly that he 'hates the Empire' so I'm not sure this academy was really part of the Imperial Navy/Army system.

However I still disagree, the choice was made for him by the plot. He did hum and haw before much had really happened. First he agreed to stay for another year when everything was very ordinary and humdrum, then he got all these new shenanigans confusing the issue. So what did he decide...

...well, he fudged it a teeny bit at first, but offering some lukewarm help for Ben Kenobi in offering to take him to Anchorhead, but then I doubt he would have, over the smouldering bodies of his aunt and uncle decided, 'you know what, I'll still enrol in the academy as I originally wanted to' or 'those condensers on the South ridge ain't going to look after themselves'. So in my mind, with respect to the plot given to us, he only had one path forward and no choice.
 

Phyrebrat

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True, that's what we say, but there's such a preponderance of topics or discussion on 'How to do X' in Chrons that are invariably answered/distilled to often-dogmatic practice.

@Venusian Broon poor Luke! And then 40-odd years later he's
run away to an island where he doesn't have to make any decisions since his final one ;)

pH
 

tinkerdan

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It's interesting that when I read this--and added it to previous discussions in the thread::
That's the point of tools - you use the right one(s) for the right job(s). But to make that choice requires understanding those tools
:: I realized that there is a necessity to understand or comprehend where the author makes a critical choice in the plot, and that perhaps a story works better when the author is able to hide that plot device by allowing the character to make the critical choice.

I hesitated to add this because the Star Wars side thread here seems about to derail things.
However:
For me the Star Wars inciting incident for the whole story is the stealing of the plans. None of the story could have happened without that.
Luke's character and his arc are like a story within the story. And I would agree with anyone who felt that the death of his aunt and uncle was a plot device--however it is not really a choice he wasn't allowed to make, rather it was the inciting incident for him.

Sure his choices were stifled by his aunt and uncle because his character demanded that he respect them so his choice was on hold. As long as that relationship was intact he would be stuck in the ordinary.

When they die this is what moves him from the ordinary life--all barriers are removed and he can now make a choice. He could chose to stay there and continue to do nothing, he could join the academy, he could go on an adventure with Obi Wan. Yes the fact that the robots arrived on his doorstep is extremely convenient to the story--what happens after makes sense within the story while it frees Luke to make his decision and actually offers another choice beyond what he had in the past. However, this is not a critical choice for his character and he has that to make later--however in some way it might be a critical choice to the story because chances are that only Luke could destroy the Death Star. For the character of Luke it was only the inciting incident that brought him into the whole story.
 
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Venusian Broon

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He could chose to stay there and continue to do nothing, he could join the academy...
If it was reality he could. Actually I think it would make more sense to lie low and really grieve, if we were going on what a real person would do. He has lost the only family he's ever known in a horrific attack. Yet, he shows much more emotion for losing Ben later in the film...someone he's only known for hours.

But of course if he chose any of these above options, the film would end right there. So he couldn't do any of them. ;)

You say 'frees him to make the decision', I see 'being completely railroaded into a specific decision'.

However, let me be clear, it's not bad at all per se. I watch Star Wars for 'Space Adventure' and can quite happily allow it many latitudes of freedoms and be pulled along completely by the plot. It's not kitchen sink drama or soap opera. If I wanted that I'd watch Mos Eisley Eastenders etc... :)
 

Bagpuss

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Isn't a choice taken when he says he wants to learn to use the Force and become a Jedi like his father before him?
Arguably yes, but I think that that choice has a different nature to it than the choice he makes in the trench.

When we meet Luke at the start of the film he's very eager to go off and join "the Academy" - whatever that is. Uncle Owen then says that he can't, because he's needed on the farm. When Luke meets Ben and Ben suggests that Luke should come to Alderaan with him, Luke says that he can't because he has to go home and Alderaan is a long way away. When his uncle and aunt die, the character that stopped Luke leaving is removed from the story. Luke then basically makes the "there's nothing left for me here, I want to go with you" speech to Ben that you've already referenced.

In the trench, it's a different situation. Luke has Ben in one ear telling him to "use the Force" and he has a Rebel command station in the other ear telling him to "use the computer" At that point Luke has a choice, he can trust the Force or he can trust the targeting computer.

The difference between the two choices, for me, is that in the first instance Uncle Owen is dead. Had Uncle Owen been alive, then Luke would have had to defy him, abandon his family and go with Ben. If that had happened, then it would have been a genuine choice for Luke. But the position in the movie is that Luke leaving has no actual consequences for his family. They're already dead. In the trench, making the wrong choice has a consequence - missing the vent means the Death Star would destroy the planet. But Luke leaving Tatooine has no dramatic repercussions.

So, I'm not sure it's the decision that's important as it is what stakes are attached to the decision. Luke leaves Tatooine and nothing happens (dramatically uninteresting). Luke misses the vent and a planet goes boom (dramatically interesting). Choices would, therefore, seem to be more about the stakes attached to them than the choice itself.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I always have plans for my characters—they do not always follow them. And when they don't, what they do instead is always a surprise.

And the more books I wrote, the more I found that I was sticking to my original plans less and less closely.
 

tinkerdan

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I find this to happen more often than not when I go into a scene with a notion that --this has to happen and this is what my character does...
I always have plans for my characters—they do not always follow them. And when they don't, what they do instead is always a surprise.

And the more books I wrote, the more I found that I was sticking to my original plans less and less closely.
...then right in the middle of things my character says 'No, no, let me show you what I'd really do.'

Sometimes it seems a bit contrary to spend all the time developing a character and then failing to keep that in mind as we make their choices. Thankfully we've usually made them willful enough to object before the damage is done.
 

Grace_E

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Well the nice thing is that, no matter what, your character is going to have to make a choice. Now whether it's strikingly obvious... as you mentioned with Frodo, he got away with choosing the most obvious path. However obvious it was to the reader, the fact was that we knew if he didn't take that path to Mordor, there would be a slow, regretful trek back to Hobbiton and then, eventually down the road, destruction of everything. Sometimes, I think, there is a choice in not having any choice at all–it's merely whether a character acts on that or not.

This probably answers your question of whether character agency depends on choice. I would suggest that choice depends on the character agency, perhaps as much as the other way around. It was Frodo's agency that made him make that "spur-of-the-moment" decision. It was his agency that made him choose to leave Sam and the others behind to finish the journey to Mordor. Returning to character choice, I would suggest this is why we as readers, aren't always bothered by the obviousness of a choice. We are so invested in that character's agency, that we're willing to put on our helmets and brave the worst with them, even when we know the ending is probably going to make it throw the book across the room, because we always hope things will get better, no matter how terrifying the choice might be.
 

Dragonlady

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Interestingly I think there is a class of book, including one I've just read and many detective novels, where there is an ongoing decision about whether the hero should pursue their exciting but risky course of action or give up. We know the friends calling on the hero to stop have a good point but want the hero to continue so it's predictable but exciting. Some of these heroes agonise, some just put their fingers in their ears and get on with the job
 
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