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Tolkien Explains the Failure of Star Wars From Beyond the Grave

Updated on July 21, 2010

It Surrounds Us, It Penetrates Us...

There's something that Professor Tolkien wrote that has helped me come to terms with one of the great cinematic disappointments in my life. Yes, I'm talking about Episode I and its companion features.

Star Wars was—and remains—a great unifying force for the nerds (of both sexes) of my generation. We quote it. When up against a tough challenge, we encourage each other to use the Force. It’s worked its way into our very language. For example, anything + “the Hutt” = something much larger than it ought to be. We make jokes about it. You probably know some of the indicators that you might be a redneck Jedi (one of them is an X-wing up on blocks in your yard). Some of us make incredibly obscure inside jokes about it. I'm reminded of a story where many people are complaining about how cold it is in the car, and after a bit of uncreative "dang, it's cold," someone in the back seat softly moaned, "Ben....Ben...." Then someone else loudly passed gas. Of course, one of the group quipped, “This may smell bad, Kid, but it’ll keep you warm.”

You Gotta Start 'Em Young

Strong is he with the Force...
Strong is he with the Force...

A Little Too Seriously..?

Some of us took it rather too much to heart, as the surprising number of people who wrote in “Jedi” on the religion line in a recent Australian census might indicate. But we nerds loved the Star Wars. We argued about whether Han or Luke would end up with Leia, and were suitably grossed out when we found out that Luke and Leia were so closely related (that kiss on Hoth stood out prominently in many of our memories). We wanted to be X-wing pilots or space pirates (or princesses) when we grew up. We wanted to live in a universe where a woman (Mon Mothma) can lead a rebellion, or a black man (Lando) can run a planet, or a squid looking guy (Admiral Ackbar) could command a fleet, and nobody thought it was at all remarkable.

We saw in Star Wars a world in which there was injustice, but in which good could triumph. It was a world where anybody, even a nobody from nowheresville, with enough training and dedication, could grow up to save the galaxy. It was a reflection of everything that our own world was meant to be. Star Wars surrounded us, penetrated us, bound us together.

Where it Went bad

For me, this background-level euphoria lasted until Episode I, when Qui-Gon uttered the following line: "I need a midichlorian count."

Star Wars Stuff

LEGO Star Wars Darth Vader's TIE Fighter (8017)
LEGO Star Wars Darth Vader's TIE Fighter (8017)

Original series Star Wars + Lego = Pure Awesome


Slowly Getting Over It...Or Not

We never heard from the midicrapians again (except once, in ep3), but from that moment, there was something wrong with Star Wars. A certain je-ne-sais-quoi had been replaced with a certain... je-ne-l'aime-pas, if you will. This bothered me almost more than Anikin's miraculous virgin conception (which sorta gets blamed on the midi-chlorine-gas, kinda, at the opera on Coruscant when Palpatine tells Anakin about Darth Plagueis). The Force, which once was this unquantifyable mystery that, in theory, anyone with the dedication could learn to use, had become a thing of science and technology, something you can measure with a simple blood test. Either you had the stuff, or you hadn't, and no amount of study, dedication, or training would change it.

Why did this bother me (and many others) so much? We knew that the Force was fantasy. None of us ever seriously thought that if we just dedicated our lives to the ways of the Jedi that we'd be able to lift stuff with our minds. But we were still vaguely annoyed. Obi-Wan’s exploits in ep2 helped a little, but in my case, by the time ep3 came along, I was so disconnected from the Star Wars universe that I almost didn't even care about the utter unbelievability of Padme (who had ruled an entire friggin' planet at the age of 14, remember) deciding that since her man had turned evil, life just wasn't worth living, even if it meant her newborn twins would be left to their own devices. Sheesh.

Tolkein Stuff

Fast Forward to Last November.

I'm reading an essay of Professor Tolkien's called "On Fairy Stories." He says a lot of insightful stuff in it, and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. You can find it in a book called The Tolkien Reader. ($7.99 on Amazon, look for it in the sidebar.) Anyway, the important point is that according to Tolkein, people like fairy stories. People, not just kids, in spite of the proliferation of books of bowdlerized “fairy tales” aimed at and marketed toward children. The reasons people like fairy stories are many and varied, but the successful stories share certain characteristics. There’s good and evil, there’s an element of the fantastic, and so forth. Tolkien really got my attention when he started talking about what it meant for a fairy story to be “true.”

Of course, fairy stories aren’t true in the literal, historical sense. Jack did not go up the beanstalk in the same way that Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest, for example. But they can resonate with the hearer; they can ring true. And for a fairy story to be "true," for it to draw in the reader or the listener or the moviegoer, for it to be a successful "subcreation," to use Tolkien's word, it must be internally consistent. Eureka!

A Sense of Closure

That's why Star Wars no longer brings us the same joy. It's not because we've gotten old or outgrown it, but because when George Lucas created the midichlorians and dumped them into his universe, he irreversibly marred his heretofore brilliantly successful sub-creation. It became not a believable world that we could visit when we fired up the ol' VCR, but rather a caricature that we have to consciously suspend our disbelief to appreciate.

Yes, appreciate, since I doubt some of us will ever love it the same way ever again.

What would you cut?

If you could remove one major element from STAR WARS episodes 1-3, what would it be?

See results

Alternative Director?

If you could, who would you have direct the Star Wars Prequels?

See results

Alternative Writer?

If you could, who would you tap to write the Prequel screenplays?

See results


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    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      As bad as Jar Jar was I hated the gungan ruler. He shook his head violently from side to side and spit as he talked. I never have understood the comment he made that made everyone laugh.

      That whole virgin birth story of anikins mother was stupid and since anikin was worried about his mom left behind as a slave. Fearful for her safety, perfectly understandable, and fear leads to anger which leads to the dark side. Why didn't the Jedi's have a yard sale raise some money and buy anikins mom out of slavery reunited this boy with his mom. It could have saved a whole lot of heartache for everyone.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Jar Jar definitely has to be number one, it's like an instrument in a beautiful symphony completely out of sync and out of tune. Excellent points, it really is a toss up between Jam Jam and Midichloride. But there is one more thing to add to the list of no no's: the purple lightsaber (and the line, "this party's over.")

      Okay, yes the dialogue is bad, "I wish I could just wish away my feelings," but for me, there is still a sense of magic and greatness in the prequel series and I actually prefer them over the originals, because it explores the what and why of Vader. My only real large complaint is the sudden final transformation at the end.

      You finally said what needed to be said in the way it needed to be said. May the FORCE be with you.

    • Jeff Berndt profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Berndt 

      8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Thanks for the kind words, Zak. May the Force be with you!

    • Zakmoonbeam profile image

      Michael Murchie 

      8 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Brilliant hub, loved every line ! Plus I am amazed that all my choices represented the popular consensus in the polls :) Big fat thumbs up

    • Jeff Berndt profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Berndt 

      8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      They could have used a mind like yours at Lucasfilm, Starvagrant.

      Alas for what could have been...

    • starvagrant profile image


      8 years ago from Missouri

      My response to what should be taken out of the prequels is Episode One! There is nothing in this movie that couldn't have been summarized in the first 15 minutes of Episode II. Then the sequence follows: Ep1) movie begins with separatists and ends with Clone Wars. Ep2) clone wars through the eyes of Anakin and Obi Wan ends with Anakin turning to the dark side. Ep3) the jedi just start disappearing and the empire emerges from the Clone Wars. After war ends Obi Wan figures out Anakin is behind the jedi disappearances, epic battle, then end. Hope is lost until Episode four. See? No need for episode one.

    • Jeff Berndt profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeff Berndt 

      8 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Hi, Michelle,

      Thanks for the comments. I imagine that for folks who grew up with the midichlorians, the blood test isn't so bad. But for those of us who grew up knowing that a Jedi didn't need to have anything but "the deepest commitment, the most serious mind," (according to Master Yoda) those darn midichlorians wreck the whole darn thing.

      I take comfort in the Cartoon Network's Clone Wars series, in which Star Wars seems to have gotten its groove back. You might find the variations on the main title music a bit off-putting, but stay with it. The writing is markedly superior to anything in the prequel features.

      May the Force be With You,


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A little late in this conversation, but I'm watching the 4th of July weekend Star Wars marathon on Spike TV right now...

      It didn't hit me until I read your last paragraph about "closure," but I feel the same way. It no longer brings the same amount of joy as before the prequels. As I watch Ep. IV, it's a little depressing, just having the prequels in the back of my mind. In fact, I found this site by searching "star wars blood test force stupid" while watching Ep. IV. I guess I can't watch it anymore without having the prequels messing it up for me, even more so than the special editions alterations within the originals themselves. The force blood test thing was just an incredibly asinine story element. As others have already stated, it's hard to pick just one thing that ruins it. Hayden Christensen? Jar Jar? Midichlorians? Maybe it's hard to choose just one thing b/c the whole thing sucked in general, and eliminating one element can't redeem the prequels. However, ultimately for me, the blood test for the force really sticks out in my mind. The prequels were disappointing all-around, and I've only seen each one once. They are unwatchable.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I agree; we can file Edisodes I-III under "Disasters That Happen When Someone Gets Too Famous to be Told No." Usually these results are more personal (see Jackson, Michael) but this time an entire generation of geeks suffered.

    • profile image

      Jason W. 

      8 years ago

      The main problem is Lucas had no editor. When ever I've seen a behind the scenes of the prequels, everyone was constantly bowing down to the greatness of Lucas. “Yes master that is brilliant.” The first films feel like a first draft fan fic made into a movie. No one was brave enough to say, “George, that’s stupid.” He is awesome at creating a universe, but dialogue and specific story elements are always his down fall.

      And I agree with William,your first question was too hard. I had problems picking just one thing that I would want taken out and changed about the film.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Yes, it's a toss-up between Jar Jar and the midichlorians.

    • William R. Wilson profile image

      William R. Wilson 

      8 years ago from Knoxville, TN

      You nailed it. The midichlorians are just one of the many stupid things about the first three episodes.

      As for your first question - I couldn't pick just one thing to change.


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