Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Luke Skywalker: Reconsidered from an Author's Viewpoint

Ask any editor or literary agent, and they will confirm this truism: too many coincidences make a story too unbelievable. On the other hand, a skillful storyteller can stack up quite a few coincidences and make it work just fine. Enter Luke Skywalker.

Luke is an ordinary farm kid in outer space. He doesn't like his lot in life, but he is faithful to do his duty. Now let's count the coincidences:

1. When the two 'droids that the Princess sends to Obi-wan land on the planet Tatooine, they get picked up by scavengers and sold to whom? Luke's uncle. (But Luke spends more time with them than the uncle.)
2. The all-important schematics that reveal the weakness of the Death Star are hidden inside the R2D2 'droid and are now in the possession of whom? Luke.
3. Although Tatooine must be a fair-sized planet, Obi-wan happens to live relatively near to whom? Luke
4. Obi-wan knew Luke's father and tried several times to give his father's light saber to Luke (the  uncle had forbidden it).
5. Luke now has the Death Star plans, and a guide, and a cool weapon, but wait--that's not all! Despite what he has been told, Luke is the son of a powerful Jedi knight. In fact, by sheer coincidence, the Force is also strong in Luke. Now, if only someone could teach Luke the ways of the Force... Oh, Obi-wan can do that? Wonderful.

See what I mean? Luke is a classic reluctant hero to whom we can relate, but he's also the recipient of a truckload of coincidences. He's an ordinary kid who refuses to blast off to adventure among the stars because of the coming harvest. Then storm troopers kill his aunt and uncle, thus propelling this son of a Jedi into a series of inevitable events that all revolve around him. True to form, humble Luke has little confidence in himself and for a long while doubts he will ever get the hang of using this Force thing. In this way, George Lucas made Luke a larger-than-life individual, but a hero with universal appeal because of his humble beginnings and lack of self-confidence. Even without the Force, we "become" him to save the universe.

Are you an author? If so, you might need to inject a coincidence here or there. But do so with caution until you become a Publishing Master. Too many random coincidences might Force angry readers to hurl your book all the way to a galaxy far, far away.

Now a new question comes to mind: Did George Lucas purposely embed himself in Star Wars by naming the hero "Luke S."?


  1. Nice! Posted link on Twitter!
    The way I see it, ALL fiction is full of such coincidences. Roger Ebert called it the fallacy of the correct tree, where Rambo knows which tree to hide in until an enemy passed underneath for him to drop on. And in any action story, how does the hero just HAPPEN to start investigating the villain only days before they commit their biggest crime ever? How do romance heroines just HAPPEN to meet the man of their dreams just when they are both suffering the worst turmoil or danger of their lives?
    No one wants too much reality in their fiction. If we want to know how life really works, all we have to do is wake up and go to work. When we read, we want enough reality to believe the story, but enough larger-than-life "coincidences" to take us on an adventure.

    1. Randall, thanks for reading and for taking time to comment. Yes, coincidences definitely happen in fiction. But if the writer can employ them without the reader (or viewer) yelling, "No way!" then that's a story skillfully written. Or written with Force. Whichever. ;)

  2. If you think about it, a writer's imagination is only a series on interconnected coincidences

  3. I remember sitting in the theater when it was revealed that Princess Leia was Luke's sister and Darth Vader was his father. There was mumbling throughout the theater, and the word's I heard near me were: "Oh, brother!" (A lightning-fast pun) and "I can't believe it!" Also the theater became lighter for a split second as the light from the screen reflected off a massive eye-roll from everyone in the audience. BUT YET, we all still love Star Wars. :)

    1. Good observation, Jane. For Leia to hide her message in a little mechanical guy and have it accidentally fall into the hands of a brother she never heard of in a totally different solar system.... Well, I would have been afraid to write that into my story. Maybe it helped that we didn't find out in the first film, right on the heels of the other coincidences. Thanks!