Star Wars: What Went Wrong?

A new Star Wars movie came out last weekend, and apparently nobody cares. Star Wars: Clone Wars opened 3rd at the box office with a gross of $14.6 million. That’s lower than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and people still reach for torches and pitchforks at the mere mention of that film. I’m still on the fence on whether to see it, but I don’t think I’ll enjoy watching Rip Taylor in Hutt form, or having a Jedi Padawan use words such as “Like, totally!” in normal conversation. I think it’s safe to say that what has kept us interested in Star Wars as a universe and franchise has gone for good. Recapturing the magic of the trilogy, or even building on it is going to be next to impossible with the way things are run right now. All that’s left is for fans like me to ask: What went wrong?

Was it the Flash Gordon clichés, with ships and lasers whooshing across space? Was it the Nietzschean interpretation of history? It doesn’t look like audiences had a problem with thing like that. Was it the Han shooting second? Jar-Jar? Close, but they’re only symptoms of a much larger problem. If you ask me, it all started when Lucas decided to make Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia brother and sister.

When Luke and Leia’s blood relationship was revealed, the love triangle between them and Han Solo was essentially frozen in carbonite and thrown into the deepest, darkest gas giant, never to return. Plus it made subsequent viewings of Empire Strikes Back a whole lot creepier. It makes perfect sense as a story decision, Luke desire to protect Leia almost made him turn to the dark side of the force at the climax of Return of the Jedi and it allowed Leia to get together with Han. However, it was kind of a cop-out. Before ROTJ came out people were still wondering if Leia was going to end up with Luke or Han. By the end of the movie Leia doesn’t go with Han because of anything specific about his personality or the way they relate, it was because she didn’t come out of the same womb that he did.

When you consider that the biggest character driven plot-line of the trilogy was resolved essentially by default, subsequent creative decisions about the films suddenly make sense. We could see through the prequel trilogy that Lucas abhors ambiguity about all things. There’s either a dark side or a light side of the force, people either love each other or they don’t. The lack of ambiguity works for Star Wars. When a bad guy dies, you want feel good about it. However, ambiguity shouldn’t be confused with facing a hard choice, which is what happened here.

The Han/Luke/Leia relationship was full of ambiguity because both Han and Luke were likable people, each with their own particular personality traits. If Leia chose either of them, it would be a hard choice to make and not everyone would be happy in the end. Lucas decided that Star Wars should be about choosing between Good and Evil, not Good and Good, so in came the deus ex machina of Leia being Luke’s sister, which left everyone happy even if they felt a little icky inside. From then on, Lucas’ films take on a deterministic feeling. It’s almost as if he feels that something like the Han/Luke/Leia triangle wouldn’t read well to audiences and we’ll all just tune out. He didn’t count on us sensing the insincerity behind that approach and just tuning out anyway.

The Han/Luke/Leia triangle gave us some of the funniest scenes in the trilogy (Han: So do you think a girl like her and a guy like me…? Luke: NO!). It turned Star Wars into less of technical demo and more of a date movie. Love triangles produce a lot of suspense, chemistry and character development. People are more themselves in a relationship than in any other situation. Creators who use this to their advantage can write their own ticket to stardom and fan fiction writers insane.