Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Blame Harlan Ellison for everything that's gone wrong with Star Wars?

When Emma and I lived in Los Angeles, a friend told us Harlan Ellison was the person who told George Lucas that "Darth Vader" sounded like "dark father". I don't know if that's true—Hollywood gossip is no more reliable than any other gossip.

But sometime after the first Star Wars movie was finished, and most likely after Leigh Brackett finished the first draft of the second movie, Lucas decided Vader was Luke's father.

The idea was clever.

What Lucas did with it was not.

So even if Ellison did suggest it to Lucas, it's not right to blame Ellison for how Lucas used it. But it is right to say that the greatest problems with the series come from Lucas's decision to build trilogies around the idea.

Prequels are almost always bad ideas because they tell us more about things we already know—they often function as spoilers for the movies that inspired them, so things that are surprises without the prequels become things we anticipate with the prequels. Sequels are naturally more exciting because we don't know what to expect from them.

If the Star Wars prequels had to be made, they should have been about things we knew nothing about, perhaps focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda fighting Darth Maul or an equivalent figure during and immediately after the fall of the Empire. To make that prequel trilogy interesting, the Empire should fall in the first movie so the next two could be about the rebel worlds finding ways to keep the Empire at bay.

But when Lucas committed to the idea that Vader was the "dark father", the series became the story of the corruption and redemption of Annakin Skywalker. Then when Disney bought the material, they decided the story should continue to be about the corruption of yet another Skywalker. Which led to story decisions that do not follow from the original trilogy:

1. Han and Leia were such awful parents that they produced Kylo Ren.

2. Han was so much of a failure that Kylo could easily kill him.

3. Luke was such a loser that he threw a temper tantrum and went into hiding.

A new trilogy should have sprung from the obvious idea: a son or daughter of Han and Leia must gather his own group to defeat a new Scary Baddie. But Lucas had established the idea that Star Wars is about Skywalkers gone bad, so now we have another story about another psycho Skywalker.

I didn't hate The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, but I didn't love them the way I should have. For now, I'll blame Harlan. Even if I shouldn't.