Star Wars Canon Tropes: What Can Stay and What Can Go?

Tropes in any form of literature and media are a good indication of individual taste. What would most likely attract someone to reading or watching and what would repel another person? Star Wars has reused many popular tropes throughout all of its content and there is a reason for the most part: they work well in the universe and play out great on a theater (or TV) screen. There are also tropes better suited for the novels (Romance genre tropes haven’t really worked in Star Wars films but have hit in novels like Lost Stars). I took a look at some common and a few new tropes in Star Wars and gave my verdict on if they should stay as a storytelling device or be left behind:

Stay: Light side vs Dark side 

Let’s get the easy one out of the way. Of course, the never-ending battle between the light side and the dark side can stay because it is a metaphor for the battle of good vs. evil, which is one of the most popular tropes in the genre. It is the basis for all of the conflicts in Star Wars. And the struggle between the light side and dark side not only means between the Jedi and the Sith or other dark side forces, but also any good force against an evil entity. While the Star Wars canon verse has gotten bigger and just started to explore more morally gray areas, the stories should always be centered with the characters struggling with this balance. 

Go: MacGuffins leading to MacGuffins 

A MacGuffin map | credit Lucasfilm

While they have been given a bad reputation in recent decades of film, MacGuffins are not indicative of bad writing or lazy storytelling. MacGuffins have been used in some of the greatest film scripts of all time: The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rosebud in Citizen Kane, Doug in The Hangover. I would even consider the Horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows as a great use of MacGuffins to drive conflict and character development. The items in those films loom largely over the characters that are presented on screen and are relevant for the entire film; however, when you introduce a MacGuffin only to lead to another MacGuffin…well that is a recipe for convolution. Between searching for the map (MacGuffin) that leads to Skywalker (MacGuffin) that powered the plot of The Force Awakens to the Death Star dagger (MacGuffin) leading to the map (MacGuffin) to Exegol (MacGuffin) in The Rise of Skywalker, I just stopped caring. Having only a few locations in The Last Jedi was almost a nice little breather, though I certainly didn’t appreciate the value of staying put until after The Rise of Skywalker. Lucasfilm has been successful in even using the SAME MacGuffin in two films: In Star Wars: A New Hope, the Death Star plans were a MacGuffin that the heroes already had at the beginning of the film that the villains were chasing. As Star Wars fans know, the plans would go on to be the main item the heroes would be after decades later in the film, Rogue One, which led to the events of A New Hope. This might be solved simply by never having JJ Abrams or Chris Terrio come back to the franchise, but Star Wars needs to run, not walk, away from that type of storytelling. 

Stay: The Morally Gray Space 

Someone who doesn’t give a __ | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Stay might not even be the right term for this as there have been almost no main characters in the Star Wars films that occupy the morally gray space. We have certainly had side characters in Star Wars films like DJ and Saw Gerrera that qualify, but the only main character is Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones and most of Revenge of the Sith (before he goes full dark). And no, Han Solo is not morally gray, and neither is Lando Calrissian. Matter of fact, neither are Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor because, given their ultimate sacrifice for just the plans to blow up the Death Star, one can’t consider them anything but heroes. What made someone like DJ interesting in The Last Jedi is that, even though his name is a reminder to himself not to pick a side, I still assumed he would do the right thing because Star Wars storytelling has dictated before that it would happen. So when he straight up helped them one minute then sold them out to the First Order to be executed (no fake betrayal, no change of heart and returning), I was surprised. I have come to appreciate DJ as a character in time and it would be nice to have a main character who is that unpredictable. The Mandalorian himself isn’t even a morally ambiguous character as he consistently chooses to help people in need. A Doctor Chelli Aphra series would live in this trope, and I have written why I think this is a guarantee for a future Star Wars show. 

Go: Unearned Redemption for the Villain 

Anakin Skywalker not only becomes a force ghost, but gets to be young Anakin | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

A key component to a compelling hero is to mirror them with a compelling villain, and the key to a compelling villain is understanding their POV and finding yourself saying “I can understand how this person thinks that way.” But just because you relate to a villain does not mean they have to be redeemed at the end of the story. If you have seen Blade Runner, you can understand the villain’s motivation to the point of arguing they might be the protagonist of the story, but they don’t get redeemed. In Star Wars, there have been horrible acts committed against the galaxy by two Skywalkers, contributing to billions of deaths. And both Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren get to have a hero moment and go out on their own terms. Darth Vader was redeemed before we got more context on Anakin Skywalker from the Prequels and The Clone Wars. Anakin/Darth Vader’s story is one of tragedy, from birth to death of always living a life in service of someone else and sacrificing meaningful relationships along the way; however, every major decision he makes is decidedly selfish. He joins Sidious and kills Jedi and Younglings because he believes the Sith Lord can save Padme from death. In the end, he sacrifices himself to save his son (and only his son), not to save the galaxy. So how does he get to be a force ghost and stand alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda at the end of Return of the Jedi? I am still not completely clear what Kylo Ren’s motivations are throughout the Sequel trilogy but those gaps will be filled in time with other canon materials. And he still won’t be worthy of redemption. Frankly, those who use weapons of mass destruction should not be redeemed. 

Go: Weapons of Mass Destruction 

Starkiller base destroys Hosnian Prime | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Speaking of weapons of mass destruction, no more. No more Death Stars, no more Starkiller Bases, no more Star Destroyers with Death Star capabilities. They have all worn out their welcome and there are so many more interesting conflicts to have Star Wars characters face than a big weapon they have to blow up. 

Stay: Here Comes the Calvary 

The Rebel fleet arrives at Scariff in Rogue One| credit Lucasfilm ltd.

Double negative alert: I will never not love the moment when the situation looks dire for one or a few characters and it looks like all hope is lost…then, suddenly, one fighter or a whole fleet shows up to save the day. The original version of this was Han Solo and his Millenium Falcon returning just in time to clear the way for Luke to take the final shot at the Death Star, sending Darth Vader flying into space as the lone Imperial survivor. More recently with Admiral Raddus’ Fleet and Blue Squadron in Rogue One. Even in The Mandalorian, this is used to a smaller scale with Mando’s rescue of Grief and Cara from a couple of TIE Fighters and Luke Skywalker single-handedly taking down a fleet of Dark Troopers to save the crew. And even though the franchise has had a few poor executions of this (too many battles going on in The Phantom Menace and an unearned hero fleet moment in The Rise of Skywalker), it does get it right most of the time. 

Go: Chosen One 

Obi-Wan laments | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

The galaxy where Star Wars takes place seems endless with habitable planets and moons. There is no official population count but it is most definitely in the trillions if not quadrillions based on numbers we are given of populous planets (Coruscant alone is described as having more than 1 trillion people). So, perhaps we can retire all these people needing to relying on one person to save it through prophecy. Jedi prophecies are not reliable anyway as there are still debates on who the chosen one Qui-Gon mentioned is actually referring to and, now that the saga is complete, you could make compelling arguments for Anakin, Luke, Ben, or Rey. Let the Chosen One trope have its’ final resting place in the past with the Skywalker Saga.  

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