Squandered Star Wars Characters

October 23, 2019

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While I’ve enjoyed most of the latest round of Star Wars films, there’s something that hasn’t sat with me. It could be some nostalgia for the original trilogy, but in my mind the formula for a good Star Wars seems to be a handful of core characters (Han, Luke, Leia, R2D2, C-3P0, Chewbacca, Darth Vader), then a periphery of semi-important people (Obi Wan, Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, the Emperor, Boba Fett) who potentially all end up dying, but appear in at least two movies and make a big impact to the lore. Solid core, recycled periphery, strong lore.

In the latest batch of movies and side stories I feel we’ve been taken on a whirlwind tour of the galaxy. It’s been genuinely exciting opening new chapters of the Star Wars universe that were previously only available in … ahem …. “niche” books. And while this exciting, I’m finding myself disappointed the characters are as disposable as characters in a George R.R. Martin novel.

Here’s a list of disappointments:

4 Characters from Canto Bight: Pidys, Gheal, Heptooinian, Suerton

  • Canto Bight - I maintain the scene on Canto Bight (the Casino Planet) should never have been written in 2nd the movie. They introduced a lot of weird new creature diversity here but for no purpose at all other than to try and create another cantina. It was garish and I feel they failed miserably.
  • Codebreaker - Mans was pretty worthless. A twitchy white dude with a shallow double-cross and then he just walks away.
  • BB9-E - Why go thru the effort to make an evil BB8, market and sell toys, all for like 3 minutes of screen time.
  • Snoak - Super evil, powerful, and mysterious dude… cut down in minutes. He had the same “I can’t get out of my chair” weakness as Emperor Palpatine.
  • Captain Phasma - A bad ass, all chrome, female stormtrooper. 3 minutes of screentime in the first movie, then gets stuffed in a broom closet. Then lasts 3 minutes in the 2nd sequel before getting thrown down the garbage chute.
  • Admiral Holdo - A hero in death and a strong role model, but she was a terrible admiral and had no plan other than to stay the course. Why create such a stand-out character (literally lavender purple in a sea of grey/beige) if you’re not going to develop her further beyond a single fateful act.
  • Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, K-2SO, Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus, and Bodhi Rook from the Rogue One team. I can concede they had to perish on Scarif to achieve that feeling of mono no aware and that is what made the movie great, but I loved these characters and would watch multiple movies with them in it. On the positive side, it appears Saw Gerrera is getting a place in the Jedi Fallen Order video game.
  • Beckett (Woody Harrelson), L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Val, Rio Durant, and The Marauders from Solo. An entire movie with famous actors and voice talent creating characters with a certain degree of depth, but for an entirely disposable purpose. I understand why they abandoned the franchise after poor box office showings, but it would have been really cool to get a more in-depth glimpse at the seedy world of crime, smugglers, and bounty hunters.
  • Luke Skywalker - The entire Force Awakens was spent desperately trying to find Luke Skywalker. Then after a few rock-fighting training sessions in The Last Jedi, Luke doesn’t even leave the island. Instead, he is dispatched to the great beyond for “using too much Force”. Unless they were overcommitted to the title, the inability to rewrite Carrie Fisher’s death in the latest trilogy seems like a mistake.

Movie by movie, maybe this is fine. But cumulatively, it adds up and feels like the Universe is built up then torn down over and over again. Shallow throwaways make the world building feel shallow and empty.

The prequels, despite their glaring problems did okay with character recyclability (other than the podracers, all the Sith apprentices, and the Jedi Council). I suppose it’s not perfect, but some of those characters were given new life in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars which tried to salvage what it could from the lore introduced by the first three movies. This doesn’t exonerate those films, but all the main characters I would argue were well developed (other than Anakin, the only actor that had to be good in these movies).

I’m a bit anxious for some of my favorite characters in this final episode, The Rise of Skywalker, but excited nonetheless. I’m also glad it won’t be 20 years until we get more Star Wars with new serial content promised on Disney+. Disney, afterall, is a Character Machine and it’s in their interest to maintain good characters and lore, so perhaps the Universe won’t be squandered afterall. Help us, Bob Iger, you’re our only hope.

Though I care deeply, I suppose I’m old enough now that —like Obi-Wan Kenobi— I may have to let go and let saving the Galaxy be the next generation’s problem.