Ender vs. Anakin

Orson Scott Card’s classic award-winning novel Ender’s Game features Ender Wiggin, a six-year old boy genius who saves the world. Ender has superhuman talents that enable him to accomplish great feats, just like Anakin Skywalker from George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But unlike Ender, Anakin Skywalker is more cutesy than heroic and more annoying than inspiring. What did Orson Scott Card do right that George Lucas didn’t?

Genius equals talent plus skill. You may be a talented writer, but without writing skills, your writing will be haphazard at best. I remember in high school, I wrote a piece about my favorite teacher of all time. My English teacher at the time liked it so much, he put it on the front page of the class newsletter. It would be years before I wrote something that good again. It was a fluke, an accident. I needed to improve my writing skills.

So when we see that Ender has certain mental and physical talents of strategy and tactics. Even his thought and speech patterns are those of a thoughtful leader, not an impulsive little boy. We believe there are great things he may be able to do. But we don’t believe he can do them immediately. First he must develop his skills and his body. It would be amazing if Ender, even with his superhuman talents, would be able to accomplish anything significant before he’s 20.

So Ender goes through an arduous training program. The deck is stacked against him. There is an imminent risk that he will fail, or even die. The stakes are high, but so is the payoff. As he faces each new challenge and overcomes it, his skills develop, piece by piece. By the end, we fully believe that this boy, now 7, is already a great military leader. And even then, Ender’s coaches stack the deck in his favor, in order to sidestep his weaknesses.

The Phantom Menace, on the other hand, introduces us to Anakin Skywalker, who talks like a kid, walks like a kid, and thinks like a kid. I don’t even remember how we found out that the force was so strong with him. Somehow, he wins a pod race and saves the day, in a racer that had never been tested, without so much as even successfully completing the course. All he gets is a brief word from Qui-Gon Jinn, “Remember to use your feelings.” Okay.

I’m sure this all is supposed heighten the tension, but it achieves the opposite. We believe this all is contrived, and we believe it’s been inserted to improve sales of video games and toy pod racers and action figures.

If George Lucas had demonstrated to us Anakin’s talents, maybe by having him know the future. Then if we had seen him in training, learning how to use his talents to improve his racing. If we had seen him exult the first time he made it through the course. Think Chariots of Fire. Then we would believe in his ability to win, even though the odds are still stacked against him, and we would’ve been emotionally involved with him in the race. He would have become a hero rather than a mockery.




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