*takes a moment*
*turns on the soundtrack, Once There Were Dragons*
Ok, now we’re ready.
Ending a series is about as easy as juggling torches. Writers have to be concerned with creating an epic plot with unexpected twists while tying off loose threads and satisfying readers’ desires. It’s a balancing act worthy of a circus performer.
When I dived into theaters to watch the last installment of the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, I didn’t expect much. The trailers didn’t show depth, and the villain looked like a repeat of the warlord from movie #2.
When I walked out of the theater an hour and forty-five minutes later, I had no regrets.
The movie was good. Real good. The writers not only balanced expectations but exceeded them to bring a deserved and appreciated finish to a much-loved franchise. The tactics they employed to bring success to the story can be used by any writer to help bring their own trilogy to an end.
Warning: This article contains spoilers.
The first awesome thing How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World did was draw from some of the most impactful moments in the first film. The clifftop discussion between Astrid and Hiccup after Toothless’s kidnapping was an echo of the one on Berk in movie #1. The framing composition during Hiccup and Toothless’s final goodbye reflected their first meeting, and the way Hiccup’s son covers his eyes when he first touches Toothless mirrors his father’s reaction years before.
Though the callbacks to the previous film were on-the-nose at some points (*cough* I’m talking about you, clifftop talk *cough*), they gave an extra thrill to fans who had poured their love into the first film. They jerked on the heartstrings and brought out nostalgia, giving watchers an extra burst of emotion.
But most importantly, the references added depth and meaning in a subtle, symbolic way. The callbacks reminded readers where the characters had first started and how far they had come. The simple allusions flooded those little moments with the meaning of the entire journey.
What might this look like in your own books? Perhaps your character’s final face off with the antagonist happens where they first met. Perhaps the MC shares lines that brought hope to him during a dark time with someone else. Though the situation in which writers include these references are different from the original scene, they still pack a punch.
Before I watched HTTYD #3, I knew a sad ending was coming. I wasn’t wrong. Toothless and Hiccup’s separation was pretty heart-wrenching. But, despite the sadness, a note of hope remained. Thanks to the final scene, viewers learn that Toothless never forgot—and never will forget—his Hiccup.
What would have happened if the writers decided the movie was too long and cut the final scene? They would have killed the positive tone the other films ended with. But instead of making viewers depressed, writers managed to add both a bitter and a sweet element to the conclusion. It retained the overall tone of the rest of the series, so watchers gained something familiar and something new.
The last book needs to be consistent with the tone set up by the others. If the first note of a song is one of hope and victory, the last should blend with it, neatly framing the entire bundle with their harmony. Yes, the ending and beginning should be different. But the tone shouldn’t drastically vary from the one readers have become familiar with in previous stories. In other words, if your stories are generally happy, don’t murder everyone at the end. If your stories are sad, don’t give every character a happy ending.
The first HTTYD movie never promised Hiccup would marry Astrid, Toothless would find another of his kind, or they would all start adorable families. But when the premise of the third movie was announced, viewers got hopeful. They had watched the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid and the search for new dragons continue through the second movie and were ready for the wedding bells to start ringing.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World gave readers what they wanted. Hiccup and Toothless started their own families, and viewers met their little ones. Satisfying readers’ hopes made leaving the final movie easier and gave the story a satisfying, full feeling.
Of course, writers can’t give in to every reader’s whim. Sometimes character development doesn’t allow happy endings. But at the same time, we shouldn’t murder characters just because readers want them to live in the end. We owe a lot to our readers, and if we can satisfy some of their hopes while doing what is best for our story, why not?
Like I said at the start of this article, I didn’t expect much from the film because the trailers didn’t seem deep. But the film tackled significant subjects like love, loss, and doing what’s best for others when it hurts.
Giving such an admired series a shallow, cheap ending story would have made viewers feel cheated. But because the writers probed deep aspects of what it means to be human, viewers felt satisfied.
It’s important to fulfill hopes and keep the tone of the story consistent, but if the tale doesn’t say something about life, it will ring false. This last story must leave readers with something to remember. They’ve have stuck with the series for a long time. The ending should be worth it.
What do you think, readers? Did How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World end the series well? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
The Introvert (A.K.A. Gabrielle R. Pollack)