May the Fourth Be With You
Editor’s Note: We published this last year on May the 4th. We figured we might as well shine some more light on it today. Enjoy the staff discussion about Star Wars and its influence on culture, film, and our lives.
The recent release of a new Star Wars film has reignited a fan-base. With Star Wars Day upon us, we felt this was the appropriate time to start a conversation about our personal history with the franchise. Everyone has a story to tell. We were all introduced to Star Wars in different ways and at different times, but one thing connects us: Our love for the world that George Lucas created. Sit back and enjoy this conversation about one of the most enduring and imaginative modern mythologies.
I figure we might as well go big or go home so I’m going to kick things off with a big picture question: Why does Star Wars matter? Why has this series connected so strongly with so many people over the years since the release of Star Wars in 1977? (Phill Lytle. Favorite Film in the series: The Empire Strikes Back)
In addition to being ahead of its time as a fantasy epic tailored for the big screen, Star Wars accomplished several nearly paradoxical things that allowed it to appeal to about as wide an audience as you can in the US and the world.
It was creative, yet simple. The non-human characters, ranging from wookies to droids to whatever Yoda was, tickled our imagination in that they were unlike anything we’d seen before but were still incredibly easy to love and relate to. There are no Yodas or R2D2s in real life, yet those two got the biggest reactions in my midnight theater viewing of Episode 1 in 1999. The dialogue was filled with terms, jargon and syntax that is unusual in English, yet even a 5-year-old can follow the plot. It had the perfect fantasy action sequences, as they felt serious but not real life. Darth Vader kills but there is no blood. There are lightsaber fights, but no gore. Even Luke losing his hand was something that millions of children watched and found to be a sad part of the plot, but were not scarred for life. It gave people a perfect break from reality two hours (yet for many of us over and over) at a time.
And with the human characters we have heroes that we wanted to be: the innocent among us as Luke, the rebellious as Han and even the strong women as Leia. And it also gave us legendary villains in Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Vader and the Emperor are scary, but in a light, fantasy way. At its heart, Star Wars is the good vs. evil fight we want to be a part of, and offers a range of darkness and light that all ages can enjoy. As a child I loved Jedi the most because it ends so perfectly. As an adult I enjoy Empire the most because I appreciate more plot twists and cliffhangers and what the dark side (of any battle) contributes to the conflict. (Gowdy Cannon. Favorite film in the series: The Empire Strikes Back)
It is true that film had delved plenty of times into the far reaches of imagination prior to Star Wars. But Star Wars continues to be felt and loved more strongly than almost any other fantasy or science fiction film ever made. Star Wars surprised humankind by introducing us to a totally brand new vision of filmmaking.
I don’t think you can point to any one element of Star Wars and say, “Yes, that is the one thing that did it. That’s what made it great.” It was a big mix of great elements. It was the amazing music, the deep texture of the plot, the incredibly rich cultures, the almost endless number of awesomely imaginative characters, the almost inimitable heart, and the list goes on and on. I believe this stew of greatness matters because it ushered in a new era of film imagination. And this new vision dramatically influenced the next several decades of kids, adults, and TV show and movie makers. And the magnitude of its influence shows no sign of stopping. (Benjamin Plunkett. Favorite film in the series: The Return of the Jedi)
I don’t know how popular Star Wars was when it first came out. What I do know is that my kids have pajamas, cups, and toys with Star Wars stuff on it. I was a latecomer to this franchise. I didn’t see the movies until late in high school when the prequels were about to come out. They played the old movies at the theater. Even though I had never seen the movies I knew all about Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader (My friends had the toys in the 80s). They are just a part of our culture. When I went to see the original movies for the first time, the theater was packed! Most of these people probably owned the movies yet they paid good money to see them again. That has to say something about how much these movies matter. The characters are instantly recognizable. It probably has the most famous movie quote of all time, “No, I am your father.” Even though I don’t know why they mattered to the original audience in the late 70s, I know they matter now because of the special place they hold in our collective imagination. A galaxy far far away is such a great escape that we can’t resist it. (Brandon Atwood. Favorite film in the series: The Force Awakens)
The world of literature (and thus film) only have so many standard themes. By the time Star Wars was released, audiences were well acquainted with the typical Western-style drama. Poor kid from the ‘roughs’ discovers that he’s part of something bigger and picks up his trusty weapon to go make a difference in the world, meeting various charismatic people in the process. Star Wars was unique because it brought these familiar themes to the realm of space. To show my point, please consider three popular “Space” movies that came before Star Wars:
- War of the Worlds (1953) The world was so ready for the space genre that when this story was read over the radio people thought it was actually happening. Though an obvious landmark in storytelling, all of the action of this film happens on earth, not in space. We’re landlocked for the entirety of the movie.
- Planet of the Apes (1968) Forever to be a cult classic, this movie twisted the way we thought about the universe. Introducing “another planet” where things ended up very different from the earth we know was genius. It took audiences ‘far far away,’ but in the end, not far enough. Again, we’re landlocked in this story.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Visually stunning, this movie explored the space genre deeper than any other movie had up until this point, but no matter how ‘cutting edge’ it was, it didn’t connect with the individual through emotional connections to the characters. It didn’t even have an accessible plot.
These three pre-Star Wars movies show two things. First, the world was ready to explore the great beyond. Second, the void left between stories we know (and love) and the current offerings was vast. And there, in the void, steps a young, discontent farm boy who spends his idle time staring at the stars….knowing there was something more. (Joshua Crowe. Favorite Film in the series: The Empire Strikes Back)
I love the variety of responses. You guys have all touched on aspects that I thought of as well. Mass appeal. Great characters. Relatable themes. World building like we had not seen before in film. Star Wars is all those things. And more. I believe Star Wars connected to a giant audience because it gave us a very simple and immediate story; a story we understood from the very beginning. A princess. A rogue. A young hero. An evil villain. These are common, fairy-tale characters and they were placed in settings that we did not recognize yet still maintained the familiar fairy-tale theme. Audiences responded to this in an almost subconscious way. Good guys versus bad guys. Light and Dark. Good and evil. Star Wars was something we had never seen and something we recognized immediately.
Allow me to take this conversation from the big picture and focus in on a more personal angle. Why does Star Wars matter to you? Each of you included things that mattered to you, but let’s take this from theory and make it more tangible and real. What is your connection to Star Wars? Why do you go back to these films time and time again? Is there a singular story that sums up your feelings or does your Star Wars story play out over a longer period of time? (Phill)
Star Wars matters to me personally because it worked wonders for my imagination. As a child, this was crucial and my imagination is very good as an adult as a result. I remember endless times where my brothers and friends and I would pretend to be the characters and fight over who got to be Luke and who was Han (and there was always one disturbed person who wanted to be Vader) and we’d act out scenes from the movies. I even remember one time my brother Ashley, his friend Shawn and I were investigating a strange noise that came from a different room in Shawn’s house and we pretended to be storm troopers. And since I was the youngest, I had to be the first to go in and get killed first.
Long before I read Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and Lord the Rings, Star Wars developed and enhanced my imagination. I go back to the movies over and over in part because they take me back to the innocent imagination of my childhood. (Gowdy)
The original Star Wars trilogy was a humongous part of my childhood. From playing with Star Wars action figures for hours (I think I also blew some up with firecrackers), to watching A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back whenever they came on T.V., to watching The Return of the Jedi in the theater on my 11th birthday. It was one of the happiest days of my life when we actually got a real live VCR so I could watch them all the time for always!
And I echo Gowdy’s sentiment about Star Wars’ enormous impact on my imagination. It surprised me in my youthful timeline, inspiring me with a whole new world of wonder with its universe of droids, wookies, jedis, rebels, sith, spaceships, strange planets and a million other incredible creatures, personalities, mechanisms, and worlds. The love I have for the Star Wars universe of imagination has never gone away and I don’t think it ever will. (Ben)
I’ve seen the Star Wars movies several times and I’m sure I’ll keep watching them. My boys are just now getting into Star Wars. The latest movie really drew me back in. I’m not really a huge Star Wars fan. I don’t have any collectibles or anything. I’m more of a Lord of the Rings guy. The fact that I like the Star Wars universe so much speaks to how much I personally enjoy the films. Normally, I don’t watch much sci-fi. Star Wars is pretty much it. They personally matter to me because they are a connection to many of my friends who are much bigger sci-fi fans than I am. (Brandon)
Star Wars matters to me because of the beat up video cassette that was recorded from TV (1980’s DVR.) A New Hope was labeled with the simple words “Star Wars.” It resided not at my house, but like my grandparents and like the house itself, it was a refuge from the tumultuous childhood I experienced. Retreat is not a strong enough word for what Star Wars offered me. There was something about space that was vastly infinite compared to Columbus, MS. My parent’s divorce, our meager station in life, my broken hometown were nothing when I boarded the Millennium Falcon with Luke. (Josh)
Clearly, Star Wars has had a huge impact in one way or another for all of us. To me Star Wars is a connection to my dad and to my kids. My dad introduced me to the films and I have continued that with my own boys. I remember watching the original trilogy on VHS with my dad when I was young. I hope I have given my own children those same sort of memories and experiences. Personally, I have gone through periods of intense fanaticism and periods of indifference–primarily as a result of the Prequels. Thankfully, The Force Awakens has reignited my passion and my love for the franchise. Which leads me to my to my final set of questions: Now that Disney is in charge of the Star Wars universe, what do think Star Wars will look like in the next 10 to 20 years? What are your fears about this arrangement? What excites you about it? (Phill)
The Force Awakens gives me nothing but hope that the next 10-20 years are a bright future for this franchise. I am not the guy to make predictions on this franchise. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t have specific expectations. I just know that the possibilities are endless for what they can do with Kylo Ren and the three heroes from TFA. No real fears from me. Just excitement that the saga continues in a way that honors the original trilogy and yet adds to it with newness and distinction. (Gowdy)
I don’t really have any fears now that The Force Awakens was so awesome. I’m excited that we will get to know more about Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. We will get to see Luke and Rey together! My kids will love seeing more of BB-8. Now we have a new series to wait for each year with anticipation. Getting to experience this universe expand even more is going to be really fun. (Brandon)
I do think that the future of the continuing Star Wars universe does look very promising. Not only with the present unfolding trilogy, but also with the apparent side movies that are going to be made. I had my serious doubts about them, but the trailer for Rogue One dissolved those doubts completely. I think that aspect of it looks bright. However, even if the Star Wars story wasn’t going to be continuing, I think in ten or even 20 years the original trilogy would still be ingrained in world culture and dearly loved by sci-fi fans–and many who aren’t sci-fi fans–all over the world. The only way that Star Wars is not going to maintain its treasured status for that long would be if Jesus returned first. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. Until then, I will be roaring with Chewbecca, beep-booping with R2-D2, and smirking with old Han. (Ben)
I think the next 20 years we face what may be the do or die moment for the Star Wars franchise. As Disney acquired the rights, we started seeing more and more merchandise on the shelves. Just before The Force Awakens was released, it hit its critical mass. I was seeing Star Wars eye shadow, Star Wars slippers, and Star Wars glitter. Some say this is good because it creates interest among the younger generation. I say that it has the potential to corrupt something wonderful. I feel the franchise is in danger of becoming sold out to being a brand.
That said, the quality of The Force Awakens gives me a little hope for the future films. The prequels were abysmal. There isn’t time nor space here to share just how abysmal, but trust me, they deserve every single slice of hatred thrown their way. The Force Awakens showed us all that with the right person at the helm and the freedom he needs, there can be “good” Star Wars films. I have hope for the future of Star Wars, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come at the cost of the franchise’s soul. (Josh)
For the record, my six-year-old has Star Wars slippers and they are awesome. I get what you are saying though, Josh. That is one of my fears as well. But Star Wars has been over-marketed and over-merchandised from the beginning. As long as the films are not driven by the marketing or the merchandise, then I think things will be fine. The Force Awakens righted the ship. It washed away all the stink of the prequels and has made it possible for the franchise to be fun and exciting again. I am extremely excited about the future of Star Wars. (Phill)
Thank you for reading this “discussion” about the most popular film series of all time. We would love to hear what you think about the whole thing. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. Happy Star Wars Day and may the force be with you.