Michael O’Connor explores Star Wars plot holes and reveals why they don’t exist… if you have a little imagination.
By Michael O’Connor // You want to hear a secret? Come closer, I have good news. There are no such things as Star Wars plot holes.
I realize that you’ve probably heard otherwise. There’s a contingency of the fan community that delights in pointing out logical inconsistencies or continuity errors to disparage beloved films. The “plot hole” accusation is the most prevalent, and the reason why is simple. Logic speaks to an objective truth, and there is this illusion that when talking about art, we can categorize it, rank it, attribute a particular quality number to it… with decimal points no less!
The actual truth is that all art is subjective. That’s the point of it. You can’t measure feelings. You can’t empirically test emotional resonance. And what affects one person will have no effect on another. Which is probably why one man’s Film-Breaking Plot Hole is another’s “eh, it didn’t bother me.”
So plot holes get trotted out as evidence in the court of public opinion as to why certain movies are “good” and others are “bad.” People who take themselves very seriously argue their cases like lawyers, attempting to outwit their opponents and score points in a meaningless contest.
But here’s the thing about plot holes: they’re a lousy measure of quality, especially in a film. And more often than not, leveling the plot hole accusation at something doesn’t make you look intelligent; it just makes you look unimaginative.
Great Movies Have Plot Holes (So What?)
Let’s talk about Citizen Kane. It is generally considered to be either the greatest American film or the second greatest American film. This ranking comes from a lot of those people we just talked about. You know the type. They can apparently run a piece of art through a mathematical formula and arrive at a number ranking that has the stamp of unimpeachable truth.
For anyone who’s actually watched Citizen Kane, there’s a curious contradiction at work here. The conceit of the entire film is deciphering Charles Foster Kane’s last word–“Rosebud”. But here’s the thing: the audience is with Mr. Kane as he speaks his final word and then expires. There’s nobody else in the room when he speaks. So there’s no logical way that any character in the film could know what he said and wonder why he said it.
That’s a pretty big plot hole. But so what? It’s still considered one of the greatest films of all time.
Here’s why: films are not just narratives played out on screen. They are manipulations, magic tricks, artful trickery to get you, the audience, to feel something. Lighting, costuming, camera angles, performances, music, color, pacing, editing cuts… all of these things are just as important if not more so than the actual story taking place. A movie can exist without a script and some snarky, well-written dialogue. But it can’t exist without juxtaposition of images, without manipulation of light and movement. All these things affect us subconsciously and evoke a reaction.
George Lucas’ Star Wars saga is the epitome of that purely cinematic pursuit. The narrative is there to create the cinematic set pieces, to usher the characters into situations where they must make moral choices, to serve as allegory and metaphor to reflect back on our own world and our own experiences. It’s not there to present a progression of completely logical plot points so that someone can check them off a list like a mechanic inspecting your vehicle during an oil change.
So claiming that a perceived Star Wars plot hole “ruined” the film is absolute nonsense and completely misses the point of the films.
That said, I’m not sure some people even understand what a plot hole actually is based on the common accusations leveled against the Star Wars films. The things some people breathlessly present as hard evidence of logical fallacy are pretty easily explained. Sometimes these supposed plot holes actually lead to revelations that make the films more layered and interesting.
The Retcon Game
Some Star Wars fans accuse the prequels of introducing plot holes into the original Star Wars films because of their knack for retconning. But here’s the thing: retcons have always been a part of the saga.
For those not already in the know, a retcon is a retroactive change to the continuity of a serialized narrative. It’s introducing new information into a story that actually changes our understanding of the past. So, for instance, telling us in Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father and that Luke’s father wasn’t actually murdered. Similarly in Return of the Jedi the big retcon is that Leia is Luke’s sister, even though we’ve seen them kissing.
While it is possible George Lucas always intended Vader to be Luke’s father and he was simply keeping that a secret until the second film’s shocking twist ending, there’s plenty of evidence, like actor interviews and earlier script drafts that suggest otherwise. And regarding Luke and Leia as siblings, it is pretty common knowledge at this point that the “other” referred to at the end of Empire did not initially refer to Leia, but another character that would draw out the saga into chapters beyond Return of the Jedi.
But that’s the joy (and sometimes the frustration) of a retcon. It changes the meaning of what you have seen before. So when Alec Guinness hesitates in discussing how Luke’s father died in A New Hope, we now watch that scene and marvel at Alec’s brilliant acting and how he conveys Obi-Wan’s lie to Luke. But at the time that scene was filmed, I wonder what was really going on in Guinness’ and Lucas’ minds. I have a feeling the performance was merely intended to convey Obi-Wan’s hesitation in telling Luke the painful but accurate truth of how his father met his end.
Debunking Star Wars Plot Holes
I could dedicate tens of thousands of words to debunking supposed plot holes in Lucas’ six film saga. Instead, I’m just going to cover a few highlights to make my larger point. Each response will do two things; 1) it will show why this particular plot point is not a plot hole or can be explained simply with a little imagination; and 2) it will discuss how it actually improves the saga by adding depth and layers to the saga.
Midi-Chlorians Destroy the Mystery of the Force
Debunk: This has been covered elsewhere plenty of times, but it’s worth addressing one more time for the cheap seats. Midichlorians are not the Force. They are simply the means by which a Jedi communes with the Force. They are the biological reason why some people can move things with their minds and why Han Solo cannot. They change nothing of the mysterious nature of the Force. No one even knows why some people have midichlorians and others don’t.
How it Improves The Saga: Midichlorians actually deepen the Force’s mystery when you consider Anakin’s off-the-charts midichlorian count or the possibility that he was conceived by them. These two revelations are huge and reveal for the first time in the saga that the Force is not just an energy field that talented individuals can tap into to give themselves superhuman abilities. Rather The Force has its own will, its own autonomous directive, and in being able to create life, it is also far more powerful than we had any right to imagine given the evidence in the original trilogy.
Also from a thematic, symbolic perspective, high-midichlorian count is clearly a matter of status and privilege in the Star Wars galaxy. The Jedi live in a (literal?) ivory tower, looking down on the world and by extension the galaxy from above. They are arrogant and convinced that they know best, that they are uniquely superior to others. Having a high midichlorian count is the Star Wars equivalent of being born to a wealthy family. It’s the cosmic lottery, and it’s so ironic that a poor slave boy from Tatooine of all people happens to have a higher count than anyone in that ivory tower.
The Gungan Shields
Debunk: How can battle droids just walk through the Gungan energy shields when their cannon fire can’t puncture it? This isn’t a plot hole. Not even close. This is the way the shields work. They block other energy, but not physical objects. We see how they function earlier in the film when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon move through one to enter the Gungans’ underwater city.
How It Improves The Saga: Honestly, the invasion of Hoth has always confused me. At first I always wondered how the AT-ATs even land on the planet to start their assault on the shield generator if said generator is projecting an orbital shield to keep the Empire out. Then I realized that a line of dialogue in the film clarifies that it’s only protecting a certain area of the planet, presumably Echo Base. That said, wouldn’t the shield generator be inside the shield that it’s projecting? How could the AT-ATs move through that shield to target and destroy the generator?
Only one way: if they operate just like the Gungan energy shields. Rabid Empire fans, you can thank The Phantom Menace for fixing your plot hole.
The Sifo-Dyas Mystery is Never Solved
Debunk: I’m always surprised by this one. The mystery is absolutely solved. If you want to look for more complicated explanations, you can read a bunch of EU novels (or season six of The Clone Wars). But all you really need to know is that Count Dooku used the alias Tyranus to hire Jango Fett to be a template for a clone army. Either he or Palpatine also used the alias of Sifo-Dyas when communicating with the Kaminoans to order the army. He then killed the real Sifo-Dyas. The timing all matches up and it makes perfect sense.
How It Improves The Saga: The Jedi are reluctant to accept the clone army and certainly wouldn’t do so if they knew it had been ordered by a Sith. But they knew Sifo-Dyas, and he was a Jedi, so clearly he must have ordered that army for a good reason. Remember: these are the same people who refuse to believe that Dooku could be behind Amidala’s assassination attempts, because “it’s not in his character.”
The ambiguity and the segmented reveal of certain details is intentionally done to unsettle the audience and foreshadow that something is amiss. Just like in The Phantom Menace, Palpatine’s ingenious machinations are at the heart of this deception and further demonstrate the Jedi’s blindness and arrogance as being at least partially responsible for their downfall.
A Plot Hole As Big As An Exhaust Port
Debunk: One of the more obnoxious things I’ve read in the media response to Rogue One is that the new film “fixes” A New Hope‘s greatest plot hole: the unprotected exhaust port on the Death Star and how a single proton torpedo could cause a chain reaction that would destroy the entire battle station.
First off, let’s make one thing crystal clear. The exhaust port on the Death Star is not a plot hole. At worst, it’s a plot convenience, but it certainly doesn’t contradict anything known about the Empire or about the Star Wars galaxy and the way it operates. In fact, it’s utterly consistent with the rest of the films in Lucas’ saga and is thematically integral to the philosophy of Star Wars. If anything, coming up with a reason why the exhaust port is there and why a chain reaction will destroy the battle station may actually undercut its symbolic importance.
How It Improves the Saga: The exhaust port is and has always been the Death Star’s Achilles heel. It is the chink in the armor, the flaw in the Empire’s thinking that if you have a big enough weapon and frighten everybody with it, you can’t be defeated. The exhaust port is the entire point of the Rebel Alliance’s fight against the Empire in the original Star Wars. Nothing is hopeless. No power is absolute.
We need only look at other examples in the saga to see that this is a prevailing theme in Lucas’ canon. The Imperial Walkers on Hoth appear to be invulnerable until someone gets the bright idea to just trip them. The stormtroopers look like more than a match for our heroes, but they can’t shoot very well, can they? And the Ewoks may be primitive without any of the fancy Imperial armor or weaponry, but they still find a way to win, don’t they?
Obi-Wan Doesn’t Recognize R2-D2
Debunk: Everyone knows Obi-Wan is a liar. We’ve all been okay with it since 1980 when he was caught fibbing to Luke about his father. But for some reason, fans nitpick his line not recalling owning any droids or recognizing R2-D2.
Here’s the thing: Artoo has seen it all. He knows all about what really happened to Luke’s father; he’s probably got all the data stored away in his memory banks. Do you really think it’s in Obi-Wan’s best interests if he wants to keep Anakin and Padme’s past hidden from Luke to reveal that he recognizes Artoo and that it used to be his mother’s droid and that it could tell Luke everything he ever wanted to know about his family?
How It Improves The Saga: It’s our first indication that Obi-Wan’s going to mislead Luke about the past and implies that Obi-Wan and R2 are working with a certain amount of information that Threepio and Luke aren’t. Plus, he still greets Artoo with a “hello there” and addresses him as his “little friend.”
The scene also reinforces an interesting dynamic where R2-D2 doesn’t trust Luke at first; he doesn’t show him the full message intended for Obi-Wan, he tricks him into removing his restrainer bolt, and he runs off without Luke to find Kenobi. Now, why wouldn’t he trust Luke completely? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the last male Skywalker he knew killed his former master (Padme)?
Leia Remembers Her Mother
Debunk: How could Leia remember her mother if Padme died moments after Leia was born? This is one of the best examples of fans lacking imagination when faced with a potential plot hole. For one thing, let’s look at what Leia actually says when Luke asks if she remembers their mother and what she remembers.
- “Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.”
- “Just images really. Feelings.”
- “She was very beautiful. Kind… but sad.”
Technically, none of this contradicts anything in Revenge of the Sith. Padme did die when Leia was very young and she was very beautiful, very kind and very sad. Where most people have a problem is the assertion that Leia has any memories at all of Padme. After all, who has memories of when they were babies, especially if they were just born? While it’s worth pointing out that Baby Leia did have her eyes open and Baby Luke did not, it’s more interesting to consider another possibility…
How It Improves The Saga: Leia can sense things about her mother that Luke was blind to, and that’s important for a few reasons. The first is that it foreshadows Luke telling Leia that the two of them are related and gives the audience evidence of her Force ability. The second is that it actually insinuates a level of power in Leia that not even Luke has. She may in fact be more powerful than Luke.
Before Revenge of the Sith, we wouldn’t necessarily have any reason to think that. But how else could she sense these things about Padme? Combine this scene with the one in A New Hope where Vader reveals that Leia’s “resistance to the mind probe is considerable.” Her own father, a Sith Lord, attempted to interrogate her and use a “mind probe” to extract information about the Rebel’s hidden base. Not only did he fail to learn any information; he also failed to detect her Force aptitude. Compare that to his immediate recognition of Luke’s abilities in the Death Star trench, when he remarks, “The Force is strong with this one.”
What if Leia wasn’t just Luke’s backup option? What if she was Obi-Wan and Yoda’s first choice? After all, she was on the front lines of the conflict well before Luke and it was only once she was in distress that Obi-Wan drafted Luke to help rescue her. How might this new sequel trilogy have been different had Leia fulfilled her destiny and become a Jedi like her brother before her?
Star Wars Plot Holes
As I mentioned in another piece, part of the fun of Star Wars as well as the purpose of it, is to use your imagination. If there’s anything that doesn’t make sense to you about the saga, why spend time whining and complaining about it, seeking to blame others for a gap in your enjoyment? Why not instead look at it as an opportunity to ask yourself a question about that problem and see if you can’t come up with a creative solution?
Sometimes you might find an answer that not only improves the scene and patches up the hole but also deepens your appreciation and enjoyment of the entire saga. Give it a try… or actually, as Yoda would say, don’t try. Do it.
Power to the Prequels is an ongoing column that aims to critique and analyze the Star Wars prequels and demonstrate their worth as individual films and also as components of a larger saga. The goal is neither to blindly praise these films nor condemn them. Rather, the aim is to specifically and respectfully consider the artistic decisions made by director George Lucas and draw conclusions that may differ from the mainstream consensus.
Your Focus Determines Your Reality: Debunking Star Wars Plot Holes