Written by George Lucas.
George Lucas is a great storyteller. Unfortunately, he’s only so-great a writer. On paper, Star Wars is one of the greatest science-fictions ever written. It’s a return to the classic adventure, an Edgar Rice Burroughs of outer space. But George Lucas doesn’t seem to know how best to tell his story, because he’s only quite good. He isn’t good – that must be understood – but he’s at least quite good.
This all comes down to the detail. Many of the critics to give Star Wars a loving review must only be looking at the whole picture, but that picture itself cares about the audience zooming in and noticing certain aspects that it becomes difficult to take it as seriously as it seems to want you to.
It’s conducted like an epic, and in one way it is. It begins with the caption
A long time ago
in a galaxy far, far away…
and is therefore constructing an old legend. The opening scroll set the scene of this not being so much a motion picture but a visualisation of what it wants you to image, as if the scroll is someone telling you the story. But then there’s the obvious question of why Lucas didn’t tell the story as a novel. It was adapted into a novel, but the source material is this motion picture. Had it been a novel, the flaws would have more obvious to people: the dialogue sucks! The phrase “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” must be said at least three times by multiple characters, and R2-D2 and C-3PO are the most annoying of them! One communicates only through two sounds, and another has too much of a personality for me to believe he’s an android. Which is a shame, because that personality serves only as comic relief, made doubly shameful by those two characters being important plot devices. And that’s their main fault: as androids, they’re supposed to serve certain purposes, but Lucas is asking us to care about them as if they were people. The reason Douglas Adams made Marvin the Paranoid Android so likeable is that he gave him the Genuine People Personalities software and even inserted it into his name.
What Lucas should have done was decided what kind of story he wanted it to be. Perhaps the most tedious aspect is the constant switching between perspectives. Just as one character’s situation reaches its peak of tension, we switch to another doing something totally arbitrary, only to switch back again. That disconnect makes it difficult to care about anyone, because you find yourself failing to understand who to be rooting for. Everyone says Darth Vader’s the villain, but he has so many protagonist traits that that isn’t demonstrated. The only indication of him being “evil” is that the opening scroll tells us that. But then it’s exposition. Lucas had to start his story with an infodump, rather than just establishing things as the narrative goes on through a clear, one-character perspective. He was so keen to tell the story of an entire galaxy that he forgot to step back and think “what’s the story I’m actually trying to tell? Let’s focus on that”.
He’s keen. He’s definitely passionate about what he writes, but watching Star Wars is like watching an unfinished rough cut of something yet to be completed with a script that’s just passable – the characters might have little to no actual personalities and the dialogue may be completely unsophisticated, barely mattering who’s saying it, – it still creates an atmosphere. In writing Star Wars, Lucas wanted to recreate the old adventure serials of the 1940s, but didn’t realise it was okay to improve the storytelling style of that period. And yet, it’s nostalgic. It still creates the tone of what the audience remembered from their childhood. It might not be very good, but it might be what everyone wanted.