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I've Figured Out Why Star Wars Sucks

The original Star Wars (no, I refuse to call it "Episode Four," or whatever other stupid name was tacked on later. When it came out it was "Star Wars," and the other movies had other names) was a good movie. It had excitement and humor and grace and redemption. It was complete in itself and even after all this time is good enough to make many people forgive the crap that was piled on top of it.

As a story it worked. The plot arc was a sequence of events that occured as a result of the characters' choices. It was logical and fairly consistent. It was also character-based. Yes, it was a typical Hero story with all the archtypal Hero characters running through their parts, but each character had a personality and each character's actions arose logically from that character's personality. Luke was consistently rebellious and impatient in a teenager-y sort of way. Han Solo was out for his own interests, some of which were money, acclaim and love. Obi-Wan was the sage looking at the bigger picture. It all worked.

And then, the sequels piled up. As I see it, when you have a hit movie that's character-based and you want to make a sequel that ends up a flop, it's because the sequel is plot-based. In the first movie, you say "here's a group of guys that are like this, and they have this situation and let's see how it plays out." In the next movie you say "what happens if we take them and put them on a volcanic island surrounded by buxom zombie women and they're rescued by Martin Van Buren and Shaquille O'Neal who need them to negotiate a treaty to fix the world price of magnesium..." This plot may sound good on paper, and perhaps there are characters who can carry it off, but it's unlikely that if your first book was "Gone With the Wind" you're going to be able to logically shoehorn Rhett and Scarlett into that situation. In order to make the sequels move, your characters give up the internal consistency that make them compelling, and become stick figures that are now just ridiculous.

There are a few movies that have had really good sequels. Toy Story was wonderful and its sequel was even more wonderful. The characters acted in an internally consistent manner, and they were given antagonists who were also fully-realized and acted consistently. The Prime Suspect series is another example of sequels that allow the main character to be the focus, not the plot. There have been some weaker episodes of that series, but on the whole, it remains strong.

So, that's the lesson here. If you have to make a choice, go for character.


Jun. 7th, 2005 07:13 pm (UTC)
Wait wait wait... I wanna see taht Martin Van Buren, Shaquille O'Neal buddy/adventure flick.

Okay, that was my out loud typing, never mind.

The reasons Empire was a better movie have already been detailed. Add to that the fact it had a more professional look, the actors were in some ways, more believable in their roles (perhaps they were more comfortable after the success of the first movie or because of the director, Irvin Kershner), the CGI and modeling were better and it had a good cliffhanger ending. Fans of the first one did not mind that, to be honest. We knew, by that point, Lucas was planning a third film we were willing to accept that ending.

I would agree that it just stops. Even books in the middle of a fantasy trilogy or other series will have a definite end point while still setting up the action of the next book. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series are an excellent example of this skill. That's just good storytelling. Lucas did a bad job here in that he gave us a good cliffhanger, set up the plot of the next movie but did not give us any completion for the current one.

Lucas, as we've seen, is a notoriously poor storyteller so it's not surprising. It should have ended with Luke returning to Dagoba and Leia going and doing... something. Setting up a new rebel base, mebbe and regathering her forces, all the while plotting how to save Han. She got stuck in the 'heroines need to be rescued' mold that the old serials followed, unfortunatley, so she was the token female window dressing of this movie rather than a singular character of her own.

And that's my two credits.