Star Wars Fan Awards Pro Tips: Advice for Producers from John Swartz

The co-producer for Solo: A Star Wars Story has a checklist for making sure your story stays on target.

As a co-producer on films like Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rogue One, and The Force Awakens, John Swartz is on the frontlines of modern day Star Wars filmmaking.

As a kid, Swartz fondly recalls repeatedly borrowing a VHS of Return of the Jedi from his local library, watching the film “ad nauseam.” That passion for storytelling carried over into adulthood. Swartz worked several jobs, including as the assistant to Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, before landing his current position, which sends him to far-flung shooting locations, and has resulted in cameo roles in the same saga he loved as a child. Look closely at the rebel sentry on Yavin in Rogue One, and you may just recognize the vice president and co-producer.

On the base level, Swartz’s job is to help make new Star Wars films. And that makes him the perfect person to provide the last pieces of advice for creative fans putting the finishing touches on their Star Wars Fan Awards entries.

With the deadline fast approaching, here are Swartz’s top 4 tips for making sure you’re on the right track:

 1. Get inspired.

It may seem obvious, but inspiration has to strike before you have a story to tell, whether it’s captured on film or in a single image. And yet, when we talk about inspiration it can quickly become a lofty, seemingly unattainable goal. “George Lucas was inspired by so many stories — ancient myths and legends, tales of samurai and gunslingers, war films, and car racing. He took all of these as inspiration and found a way to tell a completely new story in Star Wars,” Swartz says. Think about the kinds of stories and images that speak to you, and you’ll be on the right track to finding your own inspiration. “Think about the movies you love to see, the books you love to read — and then think about the qualities that make them so special to you. Take those qualities, and think about how they can live on in a new story, inside Star Wars, [and how they speak] to who you are and the kind of storyteller you want to be.”

2. Boil it down to some basic qualities.

Creativity isn’t as simple as following a recipe, but Swartz advocates for reducing what you hope to achieve to some basic pillars before you move forward. It’s what the pros do every day. “Inside Lucasfilm, we have regular discussions about what qualities make a Star Wars film, well, Star Wars,” Swartz says. “And we always come back around to the same descriptors.”

Star Wars stories are aspirational. “They make you want to be a part of the Star Wars galaxy, go on the adventure with the characters, visit the places that they visit. Be a Jedi, a smuggler, or a pilot,” Swartz says.

They’re high adventure, but they always have a dash of mythic tradition. “No matter how much fun you’re having, there is a deeper level to the story that looks at who we are, the connection between all of us, and our greater place in the universe.”

And if he had only one word to describe a Star Wars story, it would channel Princess Leia Organa herself. “Star Wars stories are hopeful,” Swartz says. “No matter how bad it gets for our characters, there is always some small spark of hope they are able to foster and grow — and doing so prove that the galaxy can be a better place for everyone.”

3. Then remove the Star Wars.

Star Wars is going to be a part of what you create as an entry, but to test your idea it’s helpful to consider if it would fly if it were removed from the classic motifs of galaxy far, far away. “On all our films, we constantly check ourselves to make sure that even if we removed all of the classic Star Wars elements, it would still be an emotional, exciting story worth telling with characters we want to follow on an adventure,” Swartz says. Pitch the story to a friend without any Star Wars names or references. “If it still works, you’re on the right path — if not, see what new approach you can take to hook your audience, and then layer the Star Wars back on.” 

4. Make sure that you come through in your story.

No one can tell this story quite like you, so make sure whatever you create feels authentically yours. “We make it a point to work with filmmakers that have a strong point of view of the stories they like to tell, and have a clear vision for how they like to tell them,” Swartz says. And that makes each individual film feel at once special and also a part of the fabric of the larger Star Wars universe. Celebrate your individuality, and the way you see things from a certain point of view. That’s what award-winning Star Wars stories are all about!

For more advice from Swartz, check out Pro Tips on The Star Wars Show below!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.​ Enter contest between 7/18/18 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (“PT”) and 9/17/18 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. & D.C., Canada (excluding Quebec), Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico who are 13+ at time of entry. Limit 1 submission per genre per person. There are 34 Star Wars prize packs available to be won (Estimated Value: US$200 each). See Official Rules {https://www.starwars.com/star-wars-fan-awards-official-rules-2018} for full details on how to enter, eligibility requirements, prize description and limitations. Void in Quebec and where prohibited. Sponsor: Disney Online, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-7667.

Photos by Kyle Kao.

Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives on Digital and Movies Anywhere on September 14 and on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and On-Demand on September 25.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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