Jar Jar Binks did not ruin Star Wars.
Actually, I found Jar Jar amusing. But there’s a reason I put it on my “If I Ever Get Filthy Rich” to-do list to buy the rights to Star Wars so I can completely remake the prequels:
George Lucas ruined Star Wars.
Now, let’s not harp on the guy. He obviously didn’t mean to ruin Star Wars. So what went wrong?
And how do the rest of us avoid doing the same thing?
Obviously, the specific errors are too many to list – from the overuse of CGI to the nonsensical plot – but it all boils down to two general problems:
- He knew the originals were good, but he didn’t know why.
- Rather than taking the time to figure out why, he opted to start making money NOW through the prequels.
The meat was what made Star Wars great—the characters; the story. Lucas didn’t take the time to understand either of those things. Maybe he was lazy, or impatient, or afraid to fall whilst leaping for greatness. But all he managed to do was copy the occasional catchphrase and the droids’ comic relief, and set up a few scenes to mirror scenes in the originals (whether or not it made plot sense). But all these things are just accessories—they make the story better only when the story is already good. When the story isn’t good, they just aggravate the gag reflex.
Here are the major character errors Lucas committed. If he had taken the time to understand and develop the characters, the plot would have formed itself.
No clear protagonist
Who is the hero of the new trilogy? You know, the Average Joe to whom all the weird stuff is explained (and thus explained to us); the guy we like and root for?
- Is it Anakin? But we don’t even meet him until 32 minutes into the first movie (which itself is only two hours and change). And even then, he doesn’t know what’s going on until movie two.
- Is it Obi Wan? He’s on screen a lot, but we don’t get an inside look at his motives or emotions.
Our lesson: Know who your hero is. Introduce him early. Ensure he is likeable.
- Movie one: Master Qui Gon recklessly gambles with someone else’s ship, while his young apprentice, Obi Wan, sits by wisely questioning his choices.
- Movie two: Obi Wan switches to the reckless master position: after telling Anakin to think before he acts, Obi Wan promptly crashes through a window to grab onto an assassin droid that really doesn’t look like it can support his weight – and Anakin’s the one to rescue him.
- Amidala resists a romantic relationship just because she’s in politics, while Anakin, who’s been brainwashed to reject romance for the last ten years of his life, is hitting on her from the very first moment
- And why does she show all that skin if she wants to keep things professional?
Our lesson: Make a list of the major actions in your story, who performs those actions, and what their motives were. Does it make sense, or do you need to swap some things around?
The original trilogy abounded in distinct personalities.
- Luke Skywalker: sheltered, idealistic, brave.
- Han Solo: roguish, jaded, heart of gold.
- Princess Leia: smart, stubborn, caring.
The new trilogy, however…
- Anakin Skywalker: uh…whiny, homicidal, stalker-ish?
- Obi Wan Kenobi: doesn’t seem to know who he is (see above).
- Queen/Senator Amidala: uh. Nondescript?
Our lesson: Can you describe your main characters without mentioning their appearance or occupation? If not, you’ve got work to do.
Why do Anakin and Amidala fall in love? Aside from the fact that they are both good looking, and they get shot at together a couple times, there is no foundation for Amidala telling Anakin “I truly, deeply, love you.” I mean, Amidala’s been dealing with galactic politics since she was 14—why is she attracted to this kid who complains about his teachers being too strict?
Our lesson: If your story includes romance, ask yourself what, particularly, makes those two characters suited to each other? Find something in their personalities that’s complementary.
Lucas contradicts not only the facts of the story (for instance, according to the original trilogy, Anakin never knew Amidala was pregnant), but the ideals. We go from Yoda telling Luke that “War does not make one great” to Obi Wan telling Anakin of his lightsaber that “This weapon is your life.”
Our lesson: Know what ideals your characters hold, and check that their actions and dialogue match those ideals.
What bothered you the most about the new Star Wars trilogy? What did you like about it?
NOTE: I owe many of the points in this post to Red Letter Media’s Star Wars reviews, which are horribly inappropriate—but annoyingly insightful.