Monday, May 02, 2005
Star Wars (comic book cover)

Star Wars

The Science of Consistency

On fictional universes and the fans who rationalize them.

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) ::: pheatures ::: ::: Read the whole thing



It seems that even if George Lucas doesn’t explain the odd reactions of Obi-Wan, Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru, C-3PO and R2-D2, you have already rationalized the resulting inconsistencies.  There will likely be a long period of time separating the events of Episodes III and IV (possibly a couple of decades if they only bring us to Luke and Leia’s birth), and this time period would certainly be enough for Vader to erase the memories of those who could threaten his Empire.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05 May 05 at 02:25 AM

It’s true that Mr. Seavey has offered possible explanations for the Owen/Beru/et al. inconsistencies, but the point of his article is that his explanation, for now, is apocryphal at best. Lucas is the creator of the story’s universe, and as such his explanations for the snags will become, to continue the metaphor, part of the “Star Wars” canon. Explanations from fans like Mr. Seavey, although rational, don’t carry the same force as “official” ones like those Lucas will, I hope, provide. This is why explanations created by fans always feel tinged with desperation, like they’re trying to shore up a dam to keep the story’s world from deteriorating.

Posted by Daniel Carlson on 05 May 05 at 04:04 PM

Mr. Seavy brings up some good points in this article, but I am confused by his negative references to women.  For an article about continuity in a fictional universe, it seems a little irrelevant to criticize Meg Ryan movies for featuring “boring, conventional people with their petty love affairs and their tawdry sex antics” and then label these films as existing “for girls.”  At the end of the article, Mr. Seavy complains that his Star Wars experiment was ruined by “contamination by girl.”  I don’t know why Mr. Seavy feels that women are directly opposed to his Star Wars universe, or even why he must use the juvenile term “girl.”  While science fiction may have a predominantly male audience, plenty of women would consider themselves Star Wars or Star Trek fans.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08 May 05 at 11:20 AM

Where did you get the conflict between Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Relics” and Star Trek: Generations?  I don’t recall Scotty asking about the whereabouts of Kirk…

Otherwise, excellent piece.

Posted by Moon-God on 09 May 05 at 02:08 PM

In the episode of Seinfeld where they spend the entire episode in the Chinese restaurant, Jerry mentions having a sister.  Nowhere else in the series is this sister ever mentioned or shown.

Posted by Sam N. on 13 May 05 at 01:17 AM

>Where did you get the conflict between Star Trek: The Next
>Generation’s “Relics” and Star Trek: Generations? I don’t
>recall Scotty asking about the whereabouts of Kirk…

Well, in “Relics” Scotty doesn’t specifically ask about Kirk, but when Riker and LaForge tell him that they’re from the U.S.S. Enterprise, he says something like “The Enterprise? I should’ve known Jim Kirk would’ve come looking for me as soon as he heard I was missing!”

So the inconsistency is still there: why would Scotty expect Kirk to come looking for him when (by the events of ST:G,) for all intents and purposes, Scotty saw Kirk die and should believe him to be dead.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 19 May 05 at 12:45 PM

Lucas takes care of the inconsistency of the droids by having Bail Organa tell someone to wipe the droids’ memories at the end of Episode III.

As for “suspension of disbelief,” that’s a problem. Science fiction critic Vivian Sobchack suggests that one of the primary differences between science fiction, fantasy, and realism is that fantasy requires a suspension of disbelief, realism cannot allow a suspension of disbelief, and science fiction works for our belief. While we are not expected to believe that the world of Oz really exists, that’s okay, since we’re supposed to briefly buy into the notion that such a world exists, and when we’re done with the film, then we can go back to believing that it was all make-believe.

Science fiction tries to make us believe that its world is real. Part of the impact of science fiction as social criticism is that a science fictional world can and does exist, or it could exist. The world must be enough like our own to make us wonder if the Federation or the Galactic Empire could exist in our own galaxy. It gives us a stake in the outcome of the movie: if the Empire takes control of the galaxy, then it is as though democracy has failed in our own world, as well. Aristotle said that good drama allowed the audience to acheive a catharsis—living our own tension and fear vicariously through the actors on stage. Certainly we are more concerned about what happens to the Federation than we are about what happens to Oz. But this catharsis is only possible if the world represented in the drama or the film is enough like our world to allow us to vicariously live our fears and “trick” ourselves into thinking that we have experienced what the characters have experienced. If the setting is too far-fetched, we can’t make ourselves believe that we could be in that situation.

Science fiction’s attempt to encourage our belief is actually what is going on in the creation of complex universes. Our own universe is consistent; in order for a science fiction universe to be believable, it must also be consistent, and inconsistencies (like Scotty not remembering that Kirk died) must be explained, somehow. This is not a function of science fiction requiring us to suspend our disbelief; rather, it is a function of science fiction trying to be as believable as possible, trying to persuade us that it is real and not just make-believe.

Posted by Mark Wilson on 31 May 05 at 05:01 PM

So, how do you feel now, having seen it, and found that not only were some of the continuity errors simply left unresolved, but that the ones that were were done so with all of the broad, heavy subtlety of wrapping up a checklist?

Posted by Adam Fields on 31 May 05 at 08:40 PM

Anakin’s comments about “points of view” seemed even worse than the rest. I think that stuff was thrown in to reconcile the equally disappointing “points of view” lecture that Obi-Wan gives Luke in Return of the Jedi. What used to be just bad writing becomes, when the films are viewed in episode order (I-VI), badly written foreshadowing. Similarly, Bail Organa’s arbitrary decision to wipe C-3PO’s memory felt like something Lucas had to do just to make the story gel.

Posted by Daniel Carlson on 01 Jun 05 at 12:35 PM

Bail Organa’s decision is not that arbitrary. Think about it: only Bail, Obi Wan, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Beru know that Anakin—now Darth Vader—is the father of the twins Luke and Leia. Their interests in hiding the twins are (1) to prevent Darth Vader from knowing that they exist and attempting to turn them to the Dark Side, and (2) to prevent Luke and Leia from knowing who their father really was. This second point seems to fall more into “shameful family secret” than security for Luke and Leia; clearly, Bail would rather have Leia believe that he (an honorable nobleman from Alderaan) is her father and Obi-Wan would just as soon have Luke believe that Darth Vader (an evil treacherer) killed his father, the honorable Anakin Skywalker.

Erasing the droids’ memories falls into the category of security for the twins. The fewer people that know who Luke and Leia really are, the better. What if the droids were captured and their memories examined? Darth Vader would know that his children are alive, and he would go on a demented quest to find them. (This makes me wonder, though, how Darth Vader didn’t sense that Leia was his daughter at the very beginning of Episode IV.) Bail Organa’s decision seems perfectly logical and in the interests of security. When I heard him say it during the film, I thought, “That makes a lot of sense.” Thus knowledge of the family secret is limited to Bail, Obi-Wan, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Beru.

Furthermore, we see so many droids during the movies—and they all look similar—that Darth Vader would probably not think that these two particular droids—which are identical to half a million other droids he’s seen during his life—are the droids he knew as a child and a teenager.

Posted by Mark Wilson on 01 Jun 05 at 04:45 PM

Except that they look alike and have the same names.

This explanation may have made sense if both droids had their memories wiped, but there’s no obvious reason why R2 is left intact.

Posted by Adam Fields on 01 Jun 05 at 04:50 PM

But if only four people know that Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker, why is he given the name Luke Skywalker?  Wouldn’t that tip off the rest of the world?

Posted by Sam N. on 01 Jun 05 at 09:29 PM

“Luke Skywalker” is the Star Wars equivalent of “Dan Smith”. It’s nicely inconspicuous.

Posted by Adam Fields on 02 Jun 05 at 12:09 AM

I think “Luke Lars” would be more inconspicuous though.

Posted by Sam N. on 02 Jun 05 at 02:28 AM

See how we’re trying to rationalize the inconsistencies? Specifically because we don’t want to suspend our disbelief. Suspending our disbelief with regard to Star Wars would mean that we could accept such inconsistencies. But because we want to believe that, somehow, Star Wars is real, we try to iron out the inconsistencies.

Or we try to explain things further. I am not too proud to admit that I own the blueprints of the Enterprise-D. Why? Because it furthers my belief that the universe of Star Trek is real. (And if I frame all 27 giant pages, it will look really cool.)

Posted by Mark Wilson on 02 Jun 05 at 01:39 PM

I think you missed the line where we crossed from rationalization into outright ridicule.

Posted by Adam Fields on 02 Jun 05 at 01:47 PM

To Todd Seavey: I liked the self-deprecating tone of your article, and laughed allowed when “the girl” ruined your experiment. It’s both exhilarating and slightly embarrassing to be so in love with a movie, and I think your article captured both of those emotions.

To Mark Wilson: Just a note - all films must create a suspension of disbelief to effectively tell a story. Even a film that is realistic, the audience knows is not real - but audiences want to believe while they are watching that it is. We want to believe that there is hope for the protagonist whether he/she is Luke Skywalker or Sheriff Brody or Mr. Smith or Holly Golightly. We want to believe that the antagonist will get his/her comeuppance, whether he/she is Darth Vader, Cruella De Ville, a great white shark or the murderer from In the Bedroom.

I just want to point out that your argument seems to undermine all the work that goes into making any filmic world believable. In short - just because a film’s style is “realistic” doesn’t mean there is no suspension of disbelief.—

Finally, I think that fans attempt to hewn together potential inconsistencies because we want to protect the movie we love, as Todd suggested. Possibly so we can allow ourselves to like it (despite its flaws) but moreover so others can’t rightly chastise us for liking it. If we can explain away the clashes of logic – no one can take away from us what is the greatness of our favorite movie. It’s the same kind of sentimental rationale that gets applied to comic books, or novels or even friends and family. We construct ulterior universes (Earth-2 as Todd notes), or allowances for change in audience (the Harry Potter books), or supposed motives (“Aunt Bea only called you fat because she was joking!”) We allow for certain audacities so we can continue to love it. We overlook or pervert potential upsets to our devotion by explaining them away. And while this holds true not only for sci-fi but for many areas, this article explored that both giddy and ridiculous search for allowances. Nicely Done.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06 Jul 05 at 06:16 PM

To witness the extent to which love alone keeps the Star Wars series coherent, visit There is everything from inclusive midichlorian lists (Beru has a higher count than Owen, for example…) to jedi geneology.

Despite all his grand claims, I think it is clear that Lucas DIDN’T sketch out a six-part story from the outset. Only Empire and ROTJedi fit together in a manner to suggest they were written at the same time- the “new” trilogy almost seem to have been composed entirely independently of each other, with little or no sense of direction.

Introducing major plot elements and characters, even in the closing chapter? “Sifo Dias” was one half-baked and abandoned plot-line; “Doku” appeared out of nowhere at the end of ep2 when he should have been a functioning Jedi in ep1… There are other examples, all of which point to one thing: bad writing.

But don’t get me wrong- I adore the whole series, and mourn its end… It is this love, this rationalising, which allows me to do so.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 17 Jul 05 at 07:30 AM

I agree wholeheartledly.. a writer with the foresight to sketch out an entire series would be able to avoid glaring contradictions between films.

Posted by Sam N. on 17 Jul 05 at 05:07 PM

[To witness the extent to which love alone keeps the Star Wars series coherent, visit There is everything from inclusive midichlorian lists (Beru has a higher count than Owen, for example…) to jedi geneology.]

Ha. You actually believe what you read on SuperShadow. I have pity on you.

Anyways, I remember having a conversation with my friends (on the internet)  about the binary stars around Tatooine. We where talking about why they didn’t have two shadows [when on Tatooine], as there are /two/ suns around Tatooine.
We worked out that if one sun was brighter then the other it would cancel out the other sun’s shadow. We think… lol

I love rationalising too. :P


Close the blast doors! *Pause* Open the blast doors! Open the blast doors! :P

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01 Dec 05 at 04:26 AM

I don’t see any suggestion that “I believed”; I don’t “believe” in fictional stories. In fact, had you read a little closer, you would have identified this as a pejorative statement; that is to say, ironic incredulity.

As for your “rationalizing”, have you considered using two torches to confirm your theory? You could cover one with grease-proof paper.

(Psst: that was ironic incredulity too).

Save your “pity”.

“Anyways”, when we’re talking about inconsistency, how about Obi Wan’s oxymoronic line: “only a Sith deals in absolutes”? Do you think Lucas meant to be paradoxical, or is he merely writing badly?

It reminds me of that state slogan- which one was it- “Freedom or Death” or “Live Free or Die”? New Hampshire? Doesn’t matter I suppose.

Please correct me if I’m missing the point there; I’m not familiar with such things, not being an American. Lucas’ did attempt to draw (albeit, cack-handedly) parallels between Anakin and Bush (ergo sum, American politics, policy and principal). “If you’re not with me, then you are my enemy”; It didn’t work, seeming cheesey.

Is it reasonable for somebody like Lucas to make such sweeping attributions? Being so flimsily executed, wouldn’t you say it reeks of band-wagon jumping?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01 Dec 05 at 05:34 PM
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