An idea for an article had formulated in my mind a few weeks ago as I was rereading the Harry Potter series in preparation for both the new movie and the final book. The idea was to play off Harry Potter as the future sequel to Star Wars. There were so many similarities that I thought the connection was strong enough for one simple article. After finishing the last book, I have come to another much more certain conclusion, Harry Potter and Star Wars share such a strong link because J.K. Rowling and George Lucas share the same strengths and weaknesses as storytellers.
My original connection was to introduce the idea that the magic used throughout Harry Potter is actually the Force. Since Star Wars was "A long time ago," there has been plenty of time for people to lose the ability to independently control the Force and instead are required to use the crutch of the wand to channel the Force.
And then there is the endless similarities. An orphaned "chosen one" sent to fight the "dark side" and a great, evil, near-omnipotent being. The hero has two close friends who eventually hook up. They meet older, wiser masters who help teach them of their arts before dying. Apparently I'm not even the only one to see these connections
Don't bother with all of the similarities, they are not even surprising. When creating an epic story of a battle between good and evil, there are certain archetypes that you are bound to find. It's not like other tales such as The Lord of the Rings, Dune or even The Matrix were lacking in "chosen ones" or dark, evil, near-omnipotent bad guys. The stories also diverge more than enough that my initial idea was little more that triviality.
However, as I finished the last book and with this initial connection already on my mind I began to realize that the connection between Harry Potter and Star Wars is less in the setup and more in the storytellers themselves. The initial success of both Harry Potter and Star Wars are so very similar because J.K. Rowling and George Lucas are similar in talents.
Both Harry Potter and Star Wars contain obvious faults from the start. Neither is all that artistic in an elitist sense. The prose of Harry Potter and the dialog of Star Wars were both clumsy at best. Both were dependent on overused archetypes and predictable story arcs. Character development was completely lacking.
So why did each become historical successes? That is answered with the strengths of both Rowling and Lucas. They were able to create extremely detailed, extremely original universes and then proceed to give us an adventure and sense of excitement great enough that we completely ignored all of the great many faults. We didn't care about cheesy dialog in Star Wars because we were busy imagining ourselves dogfighting in an X-Wing. We didn't care about Rowling's awkward use of language because we were busy in wonder at Diagon Alley or thinking of how fun it must be to chase a snitch on a broom. Even with all the faults of each series, the highs were so high, that the lows could be completely ignored.
The first five Harry Potter books just kept getting better and better. The Star Wars trilogy is amazing and one of the greatest tales of all time. Jedi may not have lived up to the standards of the first two movies, but all things considered it was still quality. It would have been great if each storyteller had realized these strengths and just kept giving us more of the same.
Instead whether through ego or ignorance, both Rowling and Lucas decided to change directions and travel where their talents would not follow. The first few books of Harry Potter and the original Trilogy of Star Wars were comedies. That's in the Greek theater sense of comedy as opposed to tragedy, though that is not to say they did not include some great humor too. Let's classify them as adventure comedies.
However, for the final few books for Harry Potter and with the prequels of Star Wars, Rowling and Lucas both drastically changed directions and headed towards tragedy. The Star Wars prequels were tragedies in the strictest of senses. Not to give anything away about book seven for the two of you yet to read it, but the last few Harry Potter's are also tragedies, more or less.
In their later works Rowling and Lucas deemphasized the humor and adventure in their tales and greatly increased the drama and seriousness. However, neither Rowling nor Lucas have talents in either drama or serious storytelling. Their bread and butter is adventure and wonderment with the right mix of humor. It is with that combination that they can captivate their audience and smooth over their other weaknesses.
In the last two Harry Potters and in the Star Wars prequels there is not enough adventure and wonderment left to compensate for the flaws that have existed in the series for both storytellers. We start to notice the weak prose and bad dialog. We grow tired with repetitive plot points and static characters. We start to think rather than enjoy. In tales of fantasy, it is never a good idea to let your audience think too much. Their suspension of disbelief falters and with that, any hope of really engrossing them in the story.
I'm not too sure why Rowling or Lucas decided to change direction so. Perhaps J.K. Rowling felt the need to grow past writing merely a "children's book" and needed to add some drama to earn literary street cred. Perhaps George Lucas was so busy with his CGI effects that he forgot to even look at the story he was telling. Perhaps this was a direction each was heading already, and each franchise was doomed to falter at the end regardless. Harry Potter did grow a bit darker with each new book, not to mention including the death of more and more important characters. The original Star Wars did contain some scenes of drama, "Luke, I am your father" and the like.
However, this drama never took anything away from the wonder and adventure throughout these stories. It was only until the final two books of Harry Potter and the Star Wars prequels that Rowling and Lucas abandoned the comedy for the tragedy, the adventure for the drama. These stores are still somewhat enjoyable on their own, book six and seven of Harry Potter more so than the Star Wars prequels, but they all pale in comparison to the heights achieved in the rest of the two series.
Here's to hoping that J.K. Rowling is able to recognize her true talent and can create another series as exciting as George Lucas' Indiana Jones.