While Star Wars seeks to find balance, Lord of the Rings demonstrates harmony.
In the world of science fiction and fantasy writing, the author’s imagination can develop very complex themes and characters as, they are not constrained by the bondage of earth. Two epics in these genres are “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” These stories, written on the hearts and minds of generations, depict the consummate struggle between good and evil. They each take us to worlds apart from modern day, where we get lost in the defeats and victories of the characters. While engaging and escapist, Star Wars lacks the character development necessary to compete with the moral complexity of Lord of the Rings.
Along with other successful adventures, Star Wars has the generic unwavering bad guy, Lord Sidious, the Emperor, and the beloved good guy, Luke Skywalker, who withstands temptation. One character that brings about moral questioning is none other than Luke Skywalker’s father Darth Vader/Anakin. Throughout the story Anakin is tempted time and time again. He begins to question what is good. He lets his passions conquer his reason. Committing the most heinous of atrocities, butchering innocent children who trust him, he turns to the “Dark side.” As he loses his inward humanity, he loses his outward humanity, “He is more machine than man now. His mind is twisted and evil,” says Obi Wan (original script) of his former apprentice. It is only through the power of a son’s love that Darth Vader can be redeemed. Luke’s refusal to believe there is no good left in his father, combined with his stalwart stance against the dark side, provide the path Vader needs to find his way back. Eventually, when push comes to shove, Darth Vader’s moral compass finds true north. With the threat of impending death for his son, he does what is right, destroying the Emperor. Anakin, has now brought balance back to the force.
Star Wars is a movie about finding balance. Balance is a simple concept. While Star Wars takes place in the future it has the moral complexity of a good old fashioned western. The bad guys wear black and they are all bad, with no redeeming qualities. The hero is idealistic and unwavering in his goodness. These characters are loveable, we root for them, but they lack development.
Star Wars can in no way compare to the complexity of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. What Lucas has done in two dimensional Technicolor, Tolkien has brought into life in three dimensional characters that are full of the foibles and strengths. Their struggles are relatable. For example, how often are we faced the prospect of telling a lie to spare someone’s feelings? We are not trying to do evil, but this lie will let evil into our being. So, in an attempt to do good, we are tempted to do evil. This dilemma is propagated by the Ring throughout the stories. Boromir would choose to take the ring to Gondor. But in doing so his attempt to “do good”, would bring evil into the heart of the city he longs to save. Boromir is not an evil character, but he battles that which would try to overtake him.
The character development in Lord of the Rings has a moral depth beyond the black and white of Star Wars. Aragorn knows he has a legacy to fulfill, but is haunted by the failures of his ancestors. Frodo demonstrates the strength found in humility, yet he doesn’t have the fairytale ending. His wounds will never fully heal. Faramir, while nobler than his brother, suffers the pain of rejection by his father. In spite of the rejection, he continues to do his father’s bidding, in an attempt to earn his love.
While Star Wars seeks to find balance, two notes leveling each other, Lord of the Rings demonstrates harmony, many notes working in concert to make a beautiful melody. In Star Wars, we have good and evil, light and darkness. Lord of the Rings has good and evil, but with notes of struggle to maintain goodness and sorrow at its loss. It recognizes evil cannot be used for good as evil will corrupt good. It shows that even in victory, there is loss; and often the struggles we go through change us so profoundly that in a sense we can never “go home again”, for we have changed while home has not. Both sagas have great merit, as well as, a loyal following, but for moral complexity Lord of the Rings is superior.
Luke Westcott is 17 years old, and attends a local private Christian school, Master’s Academy, in Florida.