So, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015) is out today. I have my ticket for an 11 a.m. showing and plan to post about it soon after, but until then, let’s talk original trilogy. So much has been said about these three films that I could easily start regurgitating oft-heard opinions, so I’m gonna stick to a single feature of each film I particularly like and one I particularly dislike; a light side and a dark side, if you will (see what I did there?).
Not Getting Any Action (Star Wars)
What I dislike about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977) is Luke’s (Mark Hamill) lightsaber never sees any action, and before you all start shouting that the original trilogy isn’t all about dumb action and lightsaber duels like the prequels, hear me out. If you consider that the film was intended to function as a standalone piece – with the prospect of sequels in no way a certainty – then Luke’s lightsaber really should see some action. I mean, he’s given it, told its backstory, trained with it, and then he never uses it. It doesn’t make any sense. Some heroics on the Death Star featuring Luke whipping out his weapon to fend off some stormtrooper fire, proving Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) right about its superiority over a blaster and silencing Han’s (Harrison Ford) mockery, seem like the obvious payoff to this lightsaber setup.
What I like about Star Wars is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Leia is set up as the damsel in distress whose heart will be won upon her rescue by the brave hero. This doesn’t happen. But I’m not gonna complain about the lack of payoff, because in this case, Luke not getting any action is a good thing. Luke’s fantasising about rescuing Leia is presented like your standard fairy tale adventure, with the hero believing he will win the princess as a reward upon her rescue. It’s made immediately clear upon her rescue that Leia has no interest in falling into the arms of her rescuer. In fact, she’s sure she could have done a far better job if the roles were reversed. Showing Luke’s beliefs were wrong draws attention to the sexist ‘women as reward’ trope, acknowledging the belief that women are just objects to be won is pure fantasy. In the end, no one wins Leia, and the heroes’ rewards are the friendships they’ve formed and their personal growth. Oh, and shiny, shiny medals. Look at them shine!
The Wrong and the Right Kind of Force (The Empire Strikes Back)
What I dislike about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980) is Han and Leia’s relationship. I can hear the boos from fandom again, but again, hear me out. Why does Leia fall for Han? All he does is pester her about his belief that she has feelings for him – when she seems adamant she doesn’t – and jibe her with misogynistic remarks. And somehow this courtship technique works? What? Did he force her into submission with his sexism? What kind of message is that? No matter how many times a girl says no, just keep pestering them and acting like a jerk and eventually they’ll give in because every girl, deep down, loves a bad boy? I’m not averse to the idea of them having a relationship, just the way it’s presented. Han does nothing to deserve Leia; he doesn’t change his ways, and he’s too arrogant even to tell her he loves her when he may never see her again.
LEIA: “I love you.”
HAN: “I know.”
There’s a suggestion in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983), when this famous exchange is reversed, that Han loves Leia for her ruthlessness and ingenuity as a fighter. These are attributes she has in common with Han, and ones that Empire would have done better to draw attention to, to make their relationship more believable and morally credible.
What I like about The Empire Strikes Back is its energy. There is no sitting down to work out emotional issues; it’s all worked out during the action, which makes it really exciting. We also have an exuberant Yoda (Frank Oz). The Yoda in Empire is fun. He laughs, cracks jokes, is full of energy and good advice, is surrounded by nature, and is enjoying life! The stiff, humourless Yoda of the prequels, who spends his time sitting in a big metal tower with a bunch of other stiff, humourless characters, makes the light side look a lot less appealing.
Strangle that Slug, Sister (Return of the Jedi)
No, I’m not gonna hate on the Ewoks. Yes, perhaps their defeat of the Empire is slightly ridiculous, but it has symbolism, drawing attention to the series’ theme of technology vs nature; as the equally ridiculous destruction of the Death Star in the first film did, which is not criticised nearly as much. Plus, they’re damn cute! No, what I dislike about Return of the Jedi is Leia’s reveal as Luke’s sister, which is far more ridiculous than teddy bears beating up space Nazis. It was clearly just included in an attempt to rival the “I am your father” twist from Empire, and it fails miserably. Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) revelation came out of nowhere, but still had credibility, a big emotional punch, and consequences (the bad guy’s the good guy’s dad? Oh no! How can he keep fighting him now?). Leia being Luke’s sister was clearly never the intention of the filmmakers while making the previous films – Luke’s attraction to Leia being a main story point of the first film – and doesn’t really change the character dynamics (the heroine’s the hero’s sister! Well, I guess he’ll carry on caring for her just like he did before. Just with less kissing). Furthermore, when Leia is told she’s Luke’s sister, she doesn’t react to the fact this also means Darth Vader is her father. What’s all that about? Lazy writing, that’s what that’s all about.
What I like about Return of the Jedi is… Well, it was a lot harder to think of something, to be honest, and what I eventually thought of is still connected to something I dislike. I dislike Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit (as did Carrie Fisher). Leia has gone from a strong female character, who would not be a reward for any man, and who would always stand up for herself with her actions and her words, to being dressed up like a prostitute for an obese space slug and seemingly shocked into silence by the trauma. The one thing I do like about this is Leia gets to strangle her male oppressor with the very chains he imprisoned her with. It’s something at least.