Recently on Facebook, a little eCard was making the rounds– I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it caught my eye and I thought it was pretty clever.
See it here.
I “liked” it, reposted it, and then thought critically for a moment. It’s true. Romeo and Juliet isn’t really all that great of a story. It’s not an epic romance with a captivating plot and real cathartic emotion. It’s a pair of teenagers whose families go batshit because they’re dating and in the end, 6 people are dead.
Thing is, it’s so well-written, it’s lasted for ages on stage and screen, beloved by Shakespeare fans and romantics for generations. No one really complains about the transparency of the “romance” or how silly it seems in a modern context for a three-day dalliance between a pair of lovesick teenagers to derail the daily lives of 2 whole families and completely end the continued existence of 6 whole people. It has more going for it than the romance alone, which really is the saving grace of the whole thing.
It’s got a generations long family feud with participants whose mafia-like devotion to it drive the climax. The story isn’t only about the romance, it’s also about the more interesting conflict between two families that causes them to kill each other.
But the romance, shallow though it is, is poetically written, so we can forgive it of its silliness.
There are other romances that are equally, if not more silly; for example, there’s Helen of Troy, whose beauty caused a massive war. She’s the face that launched a thousand ships, and killed thousands more men in battle.
Again, like Shakespeare, Homer was adept at manipulating words into spectacular configurations which hid the overall ridiculous nature of the Helen of Troy myth. Think about it: it’s a lady so pretty, she accidentally causes a massive war because she had a slight case of Stockholm syndrome. It’s mad.
And on the other side of the coin, we have travesties of art, like Twilight (a favorite punching bag of mine) and the first 3 episodes of the Star Wars saga.
Episodes 1-3 are particularly terrible specimens of bad romantic fiction. I think a friend of mine put it best when he said that between the two of them, Padme and Anakin manage to destroy the republican government of an entire galaxy and set up a genocidal dictatorship– all in the course of a couple decades.
Even compared with our other 2 wacky examples, this is pretty extreme.
And dammit George Lucas, if the script weren’t so terribly constructed, and the dialog so clunky, the horribleness of the plot might not be so transparent; but alas, your writing skills are not as good as those of the George Lucas who wrote the scripts for Episodes 4-6.
It could indeed be our next great romantic tragedy, but for the fact that our buddy George was actually writing the script as the films were in the process of being filmed. I’m not kidding. If you watch the behind-the-scenes stuff, you’ll see him say to Hayden Christensen that he hasn’t finished writing the scene that they’re about to film. But not to worry! He’ll be writing it this weekend.
That’s terrible. That’s university student levels of procrastination, and the results are about as well-written as a frat boy’s term paper, written after a Sunday to Monday all-nighter after a house party on Saturday.
The saddest part of this is that the original Star Wars script is a treasure trove of literary tropes and characters. High school English teachers have been known to use the Star Wars trilogy, Episodes 4-6 as a tool to teach character archetypes because it has so many of them and they play out so well. Like clockwork. If only George had hired himself some decent writers, ya know, like the kind of writer he was back in 1977.
Why are the first 3 episodes so different?
Why, in those intervening years, did his skills change so much? Or does he simply not care as much about the Star Wars universe? Or maybe it just took so much longer to make movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s that he could write the script as he went and still have plenty of time to craft the story?
Or perhaps the truth is somewhat more insidious.
What if the real George Lucas died years ago, murdered brutally by a crazy fan…
And what if that fan took his place– the ultimate cosplay– BEING George Lucas!
Swept up in the dream, he believes that he can live out the ultimate Star Wars fantasy, creating episodes 1-3 and putting them on the big screen. But alas, his deficiencies are exposed! His writing is talentless and banal; his characters are wooden and his plot convoluted. He falls short of the original shining glory of episodes 4-6, the Holy Grail of Star Wars fandom.
We only wish this were the truth. Unfortunately, the man who created the original magic is still living, barely hanging on, cashing in on his masterpiece and living as a corporate drone. Now, they’re making episode 7. I don’t have high hopes. All I ask is that it not be as bad as episodes
1-3. What are the odds it will be worse?
Well, at least we still have Shakespeare.