Special Character by Action, Not by Backstory; Or: Why R2D2 shouldn’t be in the prequels.

Like so many of us I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Wars. I’m assuming that if you spend time reading a writing blog whose contents are fantasy, sci-fi and comic book rants then you also think about Star Wars. So much has ben said about why the original trilogy is superior. I agree and want to discuss one of the reasons why, because it is one of my pet peeves when it comes to establishing background.

In A New Hope R2D2 and C3PO just seem like random droids who were given a task. They had no real connection to the story before Princess Leia grabbed R2D2 and recorded a message on him. That was what made him important at that moment. C3PO was along for the ride as R2D2’s translator. To sum things up, they proved their worth and stuck around for the next three movies.

Phantom Menace comes along and reveals that these random droids have been involved in the story since the beginning. Why? What point did that serve? Does it add anything to C3PO that he was built by Anakin Skywalker or does it just beg the question why would a little kid build a foppish, whiny robot? Isn’t it odd that R2D2 is still a valid droid? If I have a cell phone that survives more than three years, I’m ecstatic. R2D2 survives decades in what is basically a continuous war zone.

But I don’t want to just kvetch about Star Wars. I want to address the larger point that special characters don’t need special backgrounds. Sure, the occasional child of legend is great be it Anakin, Neo or Neville Longbottom. But not every character needs to be foretold in legends. Even more so characters don’t need to tie into all the backstory. Shoehorning someone into a cool event doesn’t make that character any cooler.

Likewise it doesn’t make a backstory any more interesting if a popular character is shoved into it. I’ve complained about Wolverine before, but I don’t see how making him old buddies with Captain America adds anything. Or how Gambit suddenly played in role in the formative actions of the marauders. All that did was water down both the story and the character.

In the movie Aliens, Newt was an awesome little girl who survived when no one else could. The directors cut has her family living on the outskirts of town and being the first family to find an egg. That change makes it so she not only survives, but is also that she was present at the first outbreak. It turns her into a child of legend.

To me it just shows a lack of faith in who and were a character is now if they have to be tied into something grand to make that character grand. On the opposite it shows a lack of faith in background material if you have to tie in a popular character to sell the idea or perhaps evidence that too much time was spent planning random character appearances rather than the actual story.

“So, in the Clone Wars it turns out that the good guys used clones to fight droids.”

“Wait, then wouldn’t they call it the Droid Wars since droids are the enemy? And if the main groups are disposable soldiers are their really any consequences? Unless you’re saying that the generals don’t view soldiers as real people as a kind of modern anti-war commentary.”

“No, the generals are jedi, like Obi Wan and Yoda…”

“Wait, Yoda is a general? ‘War does not make one great’ Yoda? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Did I mention Boba Fett shows up and when learn his history?”

“Boba Fett? Awesome!”

There I go whining about Star Wars again.

Basically I just think stories can be told without having to shove in popular characters or make every character important to the backstory. Characters don’t need special origins to be special.

One thought on “Special Character by Action, Not by Backstory; Or: Why R2D2 shouldn’t be in the prequels.

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