Last month, my fiancé expressed an interest in re-watching the Star Wars saga, because he’s always loved them. I’d never seen Episodes 5 and 6, and my memories of 4 were vague, so we began the six-movie journey through George Lucas’ world.
It cannot be denied that the Star Wars Universe is an expansive, nuanced, interesting, and exciting world. I love almost everything about it: lightsabers, alien races, differing planets, space-age technology, political and social upheaval around every turn. It’s a robust creation that rivals Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
The original Star Wars trilogy also made history. It revolutionized the film industry for the better, forever changing how we make films. And it also helped the science fiction genre leap onto the screen in a way that hadn’t been done with such a broad appeal before.
With all of the wonderful things I could say about the Star Wars Universe and what the original trilogy did for the craft of filmmaking, I can say very little about the movies that paint them in a positive light.
They’re simply terrible. All of them. (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this!”)
I am not saying anyone that likes these movies is an idiot – far from it. There are a ton of bad movies that I love; it’s perfectly all right to love bad movies. But just because mass quantities of people love these movies does not mean they’re good. It means that the world created in the films has resonated strongly with people, not that George Lucas succeeded in creating a thrilling narrative. (Because boy, he sure didn’t.)
The reason the world works as he’s created it is because he nails what screenwriters call “The Holy Trinity of Sci-Fi Storytelling” – Science, Religion, and Politics. Every aspect of those three things are displayed throughout the movies in a fashion that’s just vague enough that ANYONE – no matter what race, religion, or political creed – can relate to it.
I’m not going to talk about Episodes 1-3, as those movies seem to be universally panned by even the most devout Star Wars fans. But I have news for you all – Episodes 4-6 are EXACTLY the same as 1-3 in almost every way: bad acting, terrible dialogue, non-existent narrative, and a horribly slow pace with entire chunks of screen time completely diverting from the “story,” all of which creates a boring film. If you think otherwise, then you are viewing the original trilogy through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.
The problem is that he doesn’t earn most of his story beats. They just sort of happen, because that’s what’s next in the script. His action scenes suffer from this the most, and they go on for far too long, at the end of which nothing has ultimately changed for the main characters. Many of his scenes do so little (if anything at all) to drive the story forward.
These films are all so light on plot points and filled with sequences that don’t serve the story that I’m confident the ultimate narrative could have been successfully told in a single film. (The opening sequence on Hoth where Luke is taken by a yeti, anyone? Or when the Millenium Falcon is inside the creature on the asteroid? Or how about Jabba the Hut’s Palace? Or the crazy Ewok dinner party where they’re worshipping 3PO? All of these scenes take up a large chunk of screen time and contribute nothing to the story of the films they’re in, nor do they reveal information about the characters.)
After finishing Episode 4, even Brad (who likes these films and wanted me to watch them) turned to me and said, “Huh… that WAS pretty boring…” (Side note: I’m not sure if this was an intentional inside joke from Lucas, or if he’s just that horrible of a storyteller, but the line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” is spoken MULTIPLE times by MULTIPLE characters in all six movies…)
While many people are quick to say that Luke is the protagonist, I have to greatly disagree. There doesn’t seem to be any protagonist in the original trilogy at all; there are simply people that the script tells us we’re supposed to like. A protagonist drives the action, but rarely does Luke ever push things forward. He spends most of the films being totally passive while (dead) people tell him to do things.
If you look at the movies from a narrative perspective, then R2-D2 is actually the protagonist of Episode 4. He’s the one that holds the information necessary for success. He’s the one that is constantly fighting against the odds to get the information where it needs to go. Although, I’m still not really sure why this is so important, because there doesn’t seem to be a worthy villain in the film for them to fight against. Vader spends the entire movie ominously walking through the halls (slowly) and ordering people around. He Force chokes a dude at one point, but there’s nothing particularly vicious about the sequence.
On top of Luke being mostly passive throughout the series (including spending 75% of his Episode 5 screen time sitting on his butt listening to Yoda talk in an abandoned swamp, leaving all of the action sequences to Han and Leia), in the end of it all, he actually LOSES.
The only reason the rebels ultimately succeed is because Darth Vader (in an unbelievable 180 from villain to good guy in a matter of a few seconds) stopped the Emperor from killing his son. Luke does almost nothing of import in the entire series, not to mention he does all of this after only having about a day of Jedi training when it’s supposed to take years to become great.
I also don’t have any idea why people have an inexplicable love for the character of Boba Fett, who only has a total screen time of about five minutes across the original films. I don’t even think he’s got any dialogue, so why did he become so popular amongst fans? I can only assume it has to do with information about him that has come out in the expanded universe materials, because it can’t possibly be from his minimal amount of forgettable screen time in the movies.
Princess Leia is also a pretty big jerk. Yes, she’s a badass fighter, and that’s great – but there’s also almost nothing likeable about her, which means that Han was only going after her for her looks, which doesn’t make me want to root for their relationship.
But my biggest point of contention with all of this stems from something that plays a major role in the universe of Star Wars…
It is insanely inconsistent throughout the movies, and most of the time, it’s used as a really cheap deus ex machina because Lucas couldn’t come up with a good story reason for things to happen. These Jedi push things all over the place with the Force – except when they actually SHOULD be using it. There were a monstrous amount of moments when I’d be watching, and I’d say, “Now why the heck didn’t he just use the Force to push that thing away like he did FIVE MINUTES BEFORE in the previous scene?!” This happened far, far too often.
And one of the big twists in Episode 6 – “Leia’s my sister!” I turned to Brad in legitimate confusion, and I said, “Wait, did I miss something? How did he know that?” And Brad’s response was: “I don’t know. He used the Force, I guess.”
That’s a pretty lame excuse to reveal major plot points, and it seems to only exist to get the characters out of sticky situations, which further drives home the point that many of the moments aren’t actually EARNED by the characters, which is how the majority of this six-movie journey felt to me. Nothing was earned – not even the franchise’s popularity.
The Bottom Line:
I love the Star Wars Universe, legitimately. It’s a great world with many great aspects, and I like Star Wars video games and other forms of entertainment. I also fully recognize that the movies did amazing things for the sci-fi genre and the craft of filmmaking, but they’re just so terrible as narrative devices.
My favorite was actually Episode 3; that’s the one that felt like the narrative was actually building toward something that ended up having a satisfying payoff (cheesy dialogue aside). In that regard, Episode 6 was my second favorite, for a lot of the same reasons (minus most of the Ewok scenes). The biggest bummer of it all was that Luke never earned any of his successes. They were always due to someone else helping him or flat-out doing it for him. And that is not a strong protagonist.
Loving Star Wars and its expanded universe is fine, because it’s exciting and fascinating. But you can’t critically look at these movies and say they’re great, because they’re far from it.