In his Star Wars Episode 1 review/analysis, Mike Stoklasa used a certain challenge as a device to illustrate how poorly thought out the characters were:

Describe the following characters without mentioning what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession or role in the movie was. Describe them like you would to people who've never seen Star Wars.

He then listed Han Solo, Qui-Gon Jin, C3PO and Queen Amidala, each followed by descriptions (or attempts at them) by various people.

Is this a correct way of assessing characters in a film, at least in a one with three arcs structure and clear protagonist and antagonist? Are there some important aspects of characters that it doesn't cover?

  • Is that the hour plus long (and completely hilarious) dissection of Star Wars I? You should add the link for those who haven't laughed hard recently.
    – Fosco
    Nov 30, 2011 at 20:10
  • @Flimzy, look for 'Plinkett Star Wars review'. I don't want to give a link because it contains mature language and themes. Dec 1, 2011 at 2:55

2 Answers 2


I want to defend this approach to some degree. As presented in the (NSFW) review the idea seems kind of superficial, the interviewees can come up with a few descriptive adjectives for the characters from the original series and struggle to do so for the characters from the prequels. So what?

I will suggest taking a slightly deeper approach: try to describe the character's personality and thought process as if you were doing a little pop psychoanalysis. Your goal is to describe the character so that a viewer seeing the film for the first time would be able to fit description to character without you having told them anything about the role in the move: no visuals, no plot elements, no job, no back story---just what kind of person they are.

The reason I think this has some value is wrapped up in the theory of the mind: if you are able to attribute a thought process to the character as you would a person you were interacting with in real life then the movie portrayed a person in your mind. Failure isn't however a simple indication that the character is not well developed: the character may be hiding his or her intent and thinking as part of the plot. For instance, I find Vader's inner life pretty opaque: his actions betray little more than duty and anger. Likewise Leia's character in the original is pretty simple, she doesn't really come into her own until The Empire Strikes Back.

Here are the ones I did for the characters from the original series (it's pretty hard to stick to the restrictions on avoiding role-related data, try doing your friends too).

  • XXXX is a more or less nice guy with a pragmatic streak when it comes to dealing with life's little difficulties. He's convinced himself that he has a hard heart and a black and white view of the world, but his actions betray a sentimentality underneath.

  • XXXX is a prissy worrywart with an inferiority complex insufficiently compensated for by a degree of contrarianism; he's also bit of a coward and has only one skill worth anything. This makes it hard for him to secure his place in life which feeds back into his anxiety.

Neither of these will let the audience predict the behavior of the characters in the movies ahead of time, but nothing you could write in a few lines would. The question is "Having heard these description, could a first time viewer correctly match the descriptions to the characters?".

  • You have a much better handle on this than I do! +1.
    – hairboat
    Jan 20, 2012 at 15:48

I don't think this way of analyzing a character tells you the whole story.

When you describe a character without mentioning their appearance and occupation

It can be important to mention a character's occupation in order to demonstrate how the character relates to that occupation. "She is forced by circumstance to be a bounty hunter, as it's the only job she's qualified for, but as a pacifist and a rebel sympathizer she constantly experiences internal conflict." This begins to describe a complex and interesting character in a way that someone who has never seen Star Wars would understand, but it still mentioned the (imaginary) character's occupation.

I also think it's unfair to discount wardrobe as part of what makes a character interesting. Clothing and style are a large part of any person's identity, and movie characters are no different. Perhaps more so since a director and a costume designer choose wardrobe very carefully while considering what a character's clothing conveys about their personality and their circumstances.

If I were to simply say "You know Princess Leia, she's the one with the cinnamon bun hair," just to get my non-Star-Wars-watching friend to realize who I was talking about, then that would be a shallow and uninteresting description - but to me that doesn't mean that the character is shallow and uninteresting. Mentioning the character's clothing and occupation in order to describe them appropriately shouldn't disqualify them from being an interesting or complex character.

(n.b.: I have not seen the review you are referring to, so I'm not sure if this answer addresses your question completely. But this is my opinion on whether or not that's a "correct" way to analyze a character. And let's also keep in mind that I don't believe that there is only one "correct" way.)

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