Thursday, June 6, 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 concidences. 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."?

Rick Barry is the author of over 200 published short stories and articles, plus two novels. Visit his personal blog at


  1. If you think about it, a writer's imagination is only a series of interconnected coincidences tied together to tell a story that coincidently involves words :)

  2. Rick, you're listing of the coincidences reminds me of one pointed out in the Mad satire Star Roars: Luke and Princess Leia happen to find a cord to swing across a chasm, while the storm troopers fire at them from close range and miss every time.

    One label you could have included is "Suspension of disbelief", because I believe that's the concept you're talking about. Do the coincidences stretch that suspension past its breaking point?

    Good article.


    1. Thanks, Jeff. Concerning storm troopers missing their targets, I think it's a given that most bad guys in movies are lousy shots. Well, sure, they can plug unimportant characters (think "red shirts" on Star Trek), but when it comes to shooting starring heroes, they couldn't hit the broad side of a Death Star!

    2. I had to laugh because Star Trek was so obvious. Even my young daughters would say, upon seeing incidental unknown crew members, "He'll be dead before long." They also noticed the lack of grief on the faces of the survivors. Both factors taxed S.O.D. greatly, but we continued to watch.

  3. Great fun topic. Star Wars is my favorite movie in that series because it is such a fun romp-through-the-galaxy adventure. It's about the storytelling more than the technical, which helps me buy into whatever he wants me to believe. As far as gun play goes, another favorite is Mr. & Mrs. Smith where the two assassins are firing heavy duty stuff at each other and hardly get scratched, despite totally destroying their own home. What a great scene! "Are you still alive, Baby?" - Of course I am. I'm a hero in an American movie. And Luke S.? Well, either way, the Force was with him.

    1. Mary, you make another excellent point. Although it is sci-fi, there is really very little science in Star Wars. No need to reverse polarity of the phase inducers or jettison the warp core before it explodes, etc. Primarily Star Wars is a story about people and a struggle between good and evil that happens to span several solar systems.