Never give up. Never surrender!

Sat Jan 14 2017

Remember Galaxy Quest? There was nothing about that movie I didn't love, from the premise of washed-up actors as heroes, to Alan Rickman's perfectly pitched Shakespearean actor slumming it in Sci-Fi, to Tony Shaloub's hilariously disturbing extraterrestrial romance with Missy Pyle*.

But today I want to talk about the premise and what makes it work.

It's about resolve

You couldn't ask for a more unlikely set of heroes, but they work because they adopt their signature characters' motto:

Never give up. Never Surrender!

When faced with the story's challenges, from which any sane person would be expected to shrink, the characters instead rally around that motto to win the day.

Any good protagonist needs resolve, because any good plot is going to throw obstacles, challenges, and even outright failures at them. Without resolve, a protagonist would turn away from the quest and quite literally cease to be a protagonist.

Resolve needs some setup

Unlike the character's ship the NSEA Protector, resolve doesn't work in a vacuum.

Resolve is a secondary response, coming only after characters first experience a primary response to difficult situations:

  1. A difficult situation makes itself known.
  2. The characters recognize that the situation is all but hopeless.
  3. They show awareness that they could quit.
  4. But ultimately show resolve by choosing not to.

Pay attention to what comes between the difficult situation and the resolve:

Recognition of the difficulty

First, the characters need to in fact recognize the difficulty of the situation. They have to be aware of the situation's dangers and failures it may bring.

Without that awareness, resolve is impossible because they don't even see that there's anything to be resolved against. You can't be resolved to overcome something you're blithely ignorant of.

An escape route

Second, the characters must have some possibility of avoiding the difficult situation entirely by quitting.

Without an escape route--if the characters don't get to choose either to face the difficulty or run away--resolve is irrelevant.

If your Cessna's propeller suddenly falls off and you haven't thought to pack a parachute, you literally cannot avoid facing the difficulty of an emergency landing. You're not required to show any resolve because you have no choice about whether your plane comes down now or not.

No shortcuts

Those two things are critical. They are the preconditions necessary for your characters' resolve to feel both natural and inspirational.

As Galaxy Quest approaches the story's climax (spoiler alert), there is a moment when the heroes retake control of their ship from the alien enemy.

In that moment, nursing along a damaged ship, the odds are decidely stacked against them. They know this. They also know that they could abandon the Thermians and go home by means of the wormhole transporter.

But they don't. They show resolve by hewing to their motto to the bitter end. Never give up. Never surrender! And it's the emotion of that moment that drives the story into its climax sequence.

The resolve is critical, but it was the setup that made it work.

*This article is in no way intended to imply that Missy Pyle is herself of extraterrestrial origin.