When director Rian Johnson revealed to Vanity Fair that there won't be an epic romance featured in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this news might have disappointed a number of avid shippers who were hoping for a Finn and Poe love story, or a Finn and Rey pairing — depending on which ship you're sailing on. The absence of a love story in the next #StarWars film raises an interesting question: Do movies always need to pair their main characters with a love interest?
Movies like Star Wars may not make the romance a central focus of the plot, but it is common to almost always have a romantic subplot, whether moviegoers are looking for one or not. After all, we're social creatures by nature and we enjoy connecting with other people. Living vicariously through these fictional people, it isn't surprising when we form an attachment to a character and we want those characters to find happiness and ride off into the sunset with a special someone.
Love is a mysterious, wonderful, heart-wrenching, complicated emotion. Sometimes we want to explore the nuances of relationships through the eyes of someone who isn't us. And let's face it, love stories in movies are much grander and exciting than the reality of most romances. But for all the thrills and goosebumps a romance can bring, it becomes less so when the romance feels unnatural or becomes an unnecessary add-on that serves no real purpose to the story.
Romance Or Showmance?
Last year's Captain America: Civil War included a brief kissing scene between Cap (Chris Evans) and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) before the most epic of battles takes place between the divided Avengers. While a romance does develop between Captain America and the niece of his first love Peggy Carter in the original comics, the scene wasn't a huge hit for fans when the movie came out.
"I just feel that, you know — I wouldn’t want to date my great aunt’s guy. It just feels like it crosses an incestuous boundary. And Peggy just died. That’s even more disrespectful, right? It’s like, ‘don’t touch that. You can’t tap that!’"
Whether it's a lack of chemistry between the two actors that fails to sell audiences, or writers shoehorning in a romantic moment that feels out of place, it isn't the first time we have seen flat romances play out on screen, especially from #Marvel.
In a Vanity Fair piece from last year, writer Joanna Robinson observes other failed ships in Marvel films, like Thor's attachment to Jane Foster, or Black Widow's dalliance with the Hulk's Bruce Banner. At times, the inclusion of a romance became too distracting or even hindered its characters in the overall story, rather than enhancing them. Robinson wrote:
Scarlett Johansson’s hugely popular character is the most fun when she nowhere near romance but, rather, palling around with Hawkeye and Steve. Perhaps it’s Joss Whedon’s influence on Phase 2 of Marvel’s superhero universe, but these characters seem destined to not be happy in a relationship unless, like Hawkeye, they take their love stories completely off the grid.
The romance between Johansson’s Black Widow and The Hulk in The Avengers: Age of Ultron was oddly placed and just as unpopular as that Cap and Sharon Carter kiss. The inclusion of a relationship between Black Widow and Hulk that's more than just that of friend or colleague even sparked a discussion about the troubling ways in which the Black Widow character has been treated in the #Marvel films thus far.
Robinson may actually be onto something. Black Widow is a better character when she isn't focused on romance, especially when that romance serves as a function to develop her male counterparts and not herself. Not that #BlackWidow can't have a romance somewhere down the line. It just has to be better written and fit seamlessly with the rest of the MCU. Marvel films also tend to be at their best when romance takes a backseat in favor of backstory into our heroes' pasts or developing the platonic relationships between characters. Audiences could benefit from learning more about Black Widow's past with Hawkeye or continuing to explore Cap's bromance with Bucky.
The most meaningful connections aren't always romantic and a movie can survive just fine without any sweeping love stories. If a film is going to have any kind of romance, the chemistry between the characters has to be there and it has to make sense for the characters involved. If the romance portion of a film feels like it can be edited out and the movie would still work without the love story, then it probably shouldn't be there in the first place. #TheLastJedi may not have any kind of budding romance between any of its core characters, along the same vein as Princess Leia's and Han Solo's epic love story, but that means we can concentrate on more pressing matters. Like who are Rey's parents?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters on December 15.
Do you think it's necessary to include romance in most films?