What Happened to George Lucas?

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babies dressed as princess leia and obi wan

Image by Steve Winton

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:

  1. He knew the originals were good, but he didn’t know why.
  2. 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.

Role reversals

  • 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?

No personalities

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.

Shallow romance

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.

Contradicting ideals

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.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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18 Comments

  1. Imagine me applauding, because I am. You drew these points together so well and made something insightful of them! Bravo! Excellent thoughts, excellent lessons to be learned. There is one more lesson to be learned, I think, from the failure of the prequels. Or… make that two lessons. Both are a little less tangible than the ones you have outlined, but maybe you can make more of them.

    1. If you make narrative promises, be darn sure you can fulfill them at or above expectation. Having been absolutely fascinated by the internal battle between good and evil within Darth Vader, nothing short of an equally complicated Anakin with a profound and interesting character-arc would satisfy. Instead, I got a character wracked with teenage angst and self-pity. I mean, really?

    2. Some things are best left unsaid. It’s important to consider whether something needs to be actually on page/screen or off to have the most impact. Perhaps the age of the Old Republic and the rise of the Empire is better left in our imaginations. When shown, it loses some of its legendary power and the magic that comes from something left in the imagination.

    • Thank you! Again, I got many of the points from the Red Letter Media video reviews, which note many more errors (but are sadly also full of f-bombs. I found them brilliant, but can’t necessarily recommend them for that reason).

      Anywho – ah! You make great points that I now wish I had made. And had me up late last night thinking. Here’s what I thought out as an expansion of your first point:

      1. Anakin turned too evil, too quickly
      • In the originals, we learn the Vader suit is a metaphor for the dark side – when Luke looks at his own gloved mechanical hand and realizes he could become his father. That, combined with Ben Kenobi saying “He’s more machine than man now,” implies Anakin’s descent into evil (and transformation into machine) was gradual. In every new battle he fought for the dark side, he lost a piece of himself – literally and metaphorically – and replaced it with something less human.
      • Lucas continues the metaphor in the prequels, but too quickly. In episode 2, Anakin is “a little” evil (slaughtering the sand people) and gets one mechanical arm. In ep 3 he goes off the evil deep end and murders a bunch of children, then gets the complete suit. This goes to your second point – Lucas thought he had to show Vader at his most evil, in the complete suit, as if the audience couldn’t make the Anakin/Vader connection without seeing that. But it’s redundant. All we need to see in the prequels is what started him on his journey to the dark side.
      • I also think the act of murdering the children was TOO evil for Vader. Who in their right mind could say “there is still good in him” after that? Which brings me to my next sub-bullet:

      2. Anakin’s path to evil didn’t make sense and lacked emotional substance
      What kills me is that Lucas set up what he needed in ep 1, but didn’t follow through.

      Here’s the outline of Anakin’s journey as told by Lucas:
      • Ep. 1: Innocent slave boy wants to be a hero and free his mom. Starts Jedi training for that purpose.
      • Ep. 2: Older Jedi apprentice lets Palpatine guide him away from the democratic ideals the Jedi taught him. This shows he is weak. His mother’s death is used only to show his lack of self control (slaughtering the sand people) and introduces his new motive (keep people from dying).
      • Ep. 3: Jedi believes Palpatine can help him stop death. This shows he’s gullible. He murders children in exchange for the power to stop death – which shows he’s stupid.

      Here’s how it should have gone, and could have if Lucas had made the right connections:

      • Ep. 1: Innocent slave boy wants to be a hero and free his mom. Starts Jedi training for that purpose.
      • Ep. 2: Older, now jaded Jedi apprentice begins to see the Jedi can’t eliminate slavery in the galaxy and will not save even his mother. The democratic government has already failed to eliminate slavery. So when his mother dies, he blames both the Jedi and the government. He begins to look for a “better” way.
      • Ep. 3: Influenced partly by Palpatine, Anakin begins to see the advantages of an imperial government – centralized leadership, the power and the will to conquer other worlds. He sees this as his tool to bring freedom to the farthest corners of the galaxy. He participates in a coup to put Palapatine into power. The Jedi and Anakin’s wife see this as a betrayal – but from Anakin’s view, they betrayed him already.

      The core point in Anakin’s descent into evil has to be that he can fool himself into believing he’s doing the right thing. How he could think saving Amidala from dying by murdering children is right, is beyond me. But I can understand (though not agree with) an imperial coup to “make the galaxy a better place.”

      And they HAD to make him yell “Nooooo!” at the end. Worst moment in Star Wars history.

      Sorry for the super long comment. This really deserves another post. : /

      • By all means, make a post of it! But loose no sleep. Sleep is important.

        First off: “And they HAD to make him yell “Nooooo!” at the end. Worst moment in Star Wars history.” I know, right? If anything should have been left alone, it was that…

        I agree with your summation of the plot/character-arc problems. Personally, I wanted the first two “episodes” more focused on the central quartet of Anakin, Amidala, Palpatine and Obi-wan. I wanted the third to deal with, perhaps, Obi-wan’s last attempt to “reach” and save an Anakin who is already becoming the right hand of the Empire.
        The richness and variety that could be made from just those four! The lost potential! You have Anakin moving slowly from good to evil, perhaps mirroring but a good many steps behind Palpatine’s journey (I wanted to see more of that, too), you have Obi-wan moving from the stalwart, hopeful, and adventurous Jedi to the disillusionment and loss that turns him into an embittered recluse, and you have Amidala’s struggle to maintain a crumbling empire and the heartbreak that gives Leia an impression of her mother’s sadness (the “force-imprint” memory idea is bull… I felt cheated by that).

        Amidala disappointed me as much as Anakin did. She should have set the stage for her daughter’s strength, leadership and attitude, and instead she was barely a character at all.

        The one thing I felt worked well in the films was the corruption and collapse of the Old Republic, though the slaughtering of the Jedi was rushed and weird.

        • Augh! So true! I didn’t even see why Amidala had to be a queen/senator, since Leia was a princess/member of the Imperial Senate by adoption (at least I think so? I was never really clear how the Imperial officials got their titles), so it seemed like Lucas making her a queen was rather juvenile attempt at being interesting. I mean, does everybody in these movies have to be super important politically? I always thought she’d be a regular person, who was just really beautiful and strong and could hold her own against all these VIPs. But you’re right, he simply didn’t use the queen thing correctly. He could have done so much more with that. She could have been amazing. And yes, the force imprint thing is ridiculous, ’cause Luke didn’t seem to have it. I think Lucas originally meant that Leia actually spent more time with her mother, a couple of years probably, before Amidala died. Maybe they found a home for Luke right after their birth, but it took longer to find someone willing to adopt and hide Leia. Either way, Amidala and Anakin had to have been separated early on, because he wasn’t supposed to know she was pregnant.

          Yeah, the corruption was interesting. I thought two of the best scenes in the third movie were (1) Anakin and Palpatine’s conversation in the balcony at the opera and (2) When they voted emergency power to Palpatine and Amidala says “And this is how democracy dies: with thundering applause.” There was some good stuff in there. Too bad it was wasted.

          When I become filthy rich and acquire the rights to remake these movies, can I call you to collaborate?

          • Heck yeah! Nerd collaboration for the win!

            I could go either way with Amidala’s position in society, so long as they gave her the character that she ought to have had. And yeah… I’m afraid Lucas fails at consistency.

            There was good stuff. Lots of good stuff, actually, but without direction or good writing, what worth are those solitary sparkles?

      • Very well said!

  2. What everyone has been saying has huge merit and I agree with most. The thing that bugged me the most is why would you teach a jedi not to love? In all the original books and movies it is actually opposite. Now you have this society of monk like people who are not allowed to have relationships? What happened to the force being hereditary? Just seems stupid that loving someone “leads to the dark side” now.

    • Yes! Omigosh, good point! I think I kind of assumed they just changed the rules after all the jedi were killed so they could repopulate the order. But really, it doesn’t make sense from the start.

  3. The biggest complaint I had about all three movies is that ‘they are trying to fit 4 to 6 hours worth of movie into 2 hours’. This ties in to a lot of the complaints. These movies didn’t give the time needed for Anakin to fall in love, turn from a dedicated Jedi to killing Younglings, etc. They compressed too much to let the story be believable.

    The acting was a little dry too :/

  4. also if you haven’t seen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgICnbC2-_Y give it a watch

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  6. Great post, but I have complaints about Star Wars – Return of the Jedi as well.

    After all, what was the point of Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister? Did this really add anything to the story? Would it have made any difference to the story if this had been left out?

    • Well, I think it made a big difference to Han. 😉
      Also, it added a lot to Luke’s emotional state in his showdown(s) with Vader. When Vader realized Luke had a sister, and claimed he’d bring her to the dark side, that was another catalyst that made Luke lash out at him.
      And Leia’s relationship to Luke and Vader meant that “the Force was strong with her” – which was how she kept from spilling her guts about the Rebel Alliance despite Vader/Tarkin’s truth serum when she was captured in A New Hope. And that was how she knew where to find Luke after his battle with Vader in Cloud City.

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