Yes, I know. We are all supposed to be diverse, and treat every new fad as though it is as “valid” as the traditions and cultural norms spanning thousands of years. But deep down, we know that even though the more sensitive (read: adolescent) members of our culture really want us to validate their folly, it remains folly, and diversity doesn’t work in movies if it eclipses our most basic human needs and drives.
We can see the failure of the social justice storylines all around us. The most famous, of course, can be found in the more recent iterations of the Star Wars saga. No amount of money, CGI or big-name actors has ever equaled the thrill of Luke and Leia swinging over the chasm, or the cliffhanger interchange between Han and Leia where she said “I love you” and he said “I know.”
What passes for “romance” in the first three prequel Star Wars movies was an implausible mess between a preadolescent child and an older teen girl. Creepy enough on its face, it was difficult to believe that Padme Amidala could possibly have seen anything attractive in him. One day, he came to her whimpering and crying about having committed genocide. Genocide! Padme Amidala, the ruler of so many people, was completely unconcerned about Anakin’s distinctly un-manly show of emotion, or the gut-wrenching atrocity he had just committed.
Instead of running like hell, Padme Amidala MARRIED the psychopath, and unsurprisingly, his insanity continued unabated. But oooh! We are meant to be more impressed by the CGI!! Starships and pretty lightsaber duels and Really Cool Abilities!! Padme’s death was reminiscent of that one might find in an operatic heroine like Lucia di Lammermoor: she died of a broken heart. This is coherent for a princess: less so for a career politician. Where in psychological terms, a princess can represent pure nobility and pure emotion, a politician is something else entirely.
I am trying to imagine Hillary Clinton dying of a broken heart over ANYTHING that her erstwhile husband did, from bimbo eruptions to military missteps. Seriously, if Anakin’s genocide does not provoke any emotion in Padme, how could his brutal rejection cause her death?
So now we have “The Force Awakens,” where Rey can magically do anything at all, better than anyone else, despite her low economic status. She can beat a much better trained Sith lord with a sword, despite his obvious reach and height. In a swordfight, this is ludicrous. She can fly starships… could it be that in her culture, flight training is a normal part of slave life? And Finn, who really ought to be a romantic figure, doesn’t get to do a whole lot, because she is The Powerful Leading Woman. The guys stand around, or help Rey Be Impressive. They don’t get to think, or be heroic. Not very inspiring to the guys out there, except for the very few guys who hope that Finn will become a gay love interest. Is this the future of romance in movies? The women save the world and the men turn to each other??
Yes, the Star Wars franchise had a chance for a great romance, and they blew it! After all, what do men and women almost invariably want? Partners, sex, companionship, even (gasp) commitment. Movies which have good love interests pique our interests, and we project ourselves onto the characters. Millions of women wanted to have a love affair like Leia and Han, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened after he was sealed up in the mythical Carbonite! They cared! Does anyone give a fig about Finn and Rey? They couldn’t even manage a kiss.
Wouldn’t it have been more inspiring to show us that even powerful women can still love men and be loved by them? Is the bottom line that an impressive woman must be a single woman? Do powerful women still need men, or can they still choose to have them? Do powerful women regard men as bonbons to be snacked on and forgotten, or is partnership between men and women still necessary in fiction?
For those of us who belong to the human race, the answer is an emphatic YES. We need love and we want romance, and plain old stories of courtship. They give us hope. They inspire us. Will we have a generation of girls dressed like Rey, not bothering with romance because their need for love has been eclipsed by the need to Go Forth and Be Awesome? Does any man want to be like Finn, stuck in the background and un-kissed?
I don’t think so. Romance will always be in style. This is why the original Star Wars will always beat the new ones, until and unless Finn manages to give Rey a really good kiss!
For good storylines with some great romantic tension, check out the Love At First Bite Series