What’s So Great About Star Wars?

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Star Wars or encountered a Star Wars reference. As a version of A New Hope adapted to a children’s storybook format was read to me in preschool, I already knew who Luke’s father was despite having never seen the movies. Even my mother, who is a leader of the “this movie is so stupid” movement, can recognize Darth Vader or Princess Leia. Star Wars has completely immersed itself into our cultural consciousness. So what’s so great about it? It can be argued that the later success of Star Wars is partially due to Lucas’ obsessive re-releasing and intensive marketing, but that doesn’t explain the initial appeal. The storyline, while well-loved and inspirational, isn’t spectacularly complex or full of societal critique. I had never watched a Star Wars movie when I was twelve, and I never could see what all the fuss was about. Once I saw the original trilogy, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about the movies. The acting wasn’t that great, I think Carrie Fisher looks kind of funny, and the constant re-releases are irritating, but I still fully enjoyed it. There’s something about Star Wars that allowed me to be suspended from reality in a whole new way.

 

A quick Google search reveals the massive extended universe based around the Star Wars franchise. I can’t think of many more trilogies that have inspired as much nitpicking and arguing as Star Wars. Did Han shoot first? What language do Rodians speak? How many children did Luke and his future Jedi wife, Mara, have? Star Wars has inspired a universe in which millions of people have collectively created a past, present, and future. A canon was decided on by writers and producers under the head of Lucas, and thousands of different story lines for individual characters have sprouted from that. For some people, the Star Wars universe is as real as reality is. What makes it so believable? First, the idea that the film occurred “a long, long time ago” rather than on a future Earth gives us a sense of possibility. Something that happened in the history of a galaxy far, far away could have actually occurred. George Lucas might be a carbonite-frozen representative of Tatooine, sent to Earth to keep the heritage of the galaxy alive. There are plenty of myths circulating how Lucas came up with the idea for Star Wars. My favorite claims that he was in a coma and dreamt the entire thing from start to finish. It could be a message from God! That’s right; Lucas is an oracle.

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I think what really makes Star Wars unique is the fact that the universe which it takes place in is so worn. We meet Luke Skywalker on a dirty, tired moisture farm in Tatooine. He’s having dinner on plastic plates, getting cheated by salesmen, griping about his chores, and beating away at broken droids with tools that look like they’d probably break any delicate technology. Mos Eisley’s buildings are dirty and the town itself is rough around the edges. The Tusken Raiders are using outdated technology and wearing rags. We meet Han Solo, badass smuggler extraordinaire, when he is attempting to weasel his way out of a bad deal. His ship “doesn’t look like much,” and comparatively, the viewer understands why. The Millennium Falcon looks like it will break down any day now. The sleek, clean Imperial ships seem no match for the tired Falcon. The dirt and grime in the everyday world contrasts well with the sterile, institutional Imperial world. The contrast creates an idea that the Rebels are ragtag, the underdogs, while the powerful Empire can afford to pay a stormtrooper to personally clean Grand Moff Tarkin’s over starched uniform. Image

 

When I watch Star Wars, I see a universe I could actually live in. Previous science fiction movies tended to feature a shiny, clean future. This future seems so distant from the world that exists in 2013. It makes more sense to me that Han Solo wears a white shirt and some basic brown pants, but the clean, perfect uniforms in Star Trek bother me. People love the glamour of a rough world. From the gangster movie onward, a dirty, scruffy existence has a certain type of romance associated with it. There are so many types of professions displayed in Star Wars as well. Not everyone is a spaceship captain; some people are moisture farmers, bartenders, smugglers, bounty hunters or weird old hermits that have apparently been watching a seventeen year old boy since he was a baby. Star Wars isn’t just a set of movies. It’s an idea, a universe, that has been developed within the grimy, imaginative sandbox Lucas created.  

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5 thoughts on “What’s So Great About Star Wars?

  1. I must admit that I have always been slightly obsessed with Star Wars since I first watched it with my brothers (I was probably four or five). In all these years I have never stopped to think about the aspects that led to the creation of the the cult following that they have. It seems almost sacrilegious to say that these films are anything but absolute perfection, but realistically they are not the most artistic or well crafted films, but they still hold something that everyone can relate to and show a universe so full of wonder.

    Love this post!!!

  2. Great blog subject.

    Humans seem to have a fascination with the concept of good vs. evil. We consistently want good to prevail over evil, because idealistically, that is how the world is supposed to work. This concept is taken to a new degree with Star Wars. The literal universality of the plot is perhaps the most intriguing part. As you mentioned, the presentation of the universe is realistic. While it has the technology of a future world humans dream of, it’s a bit dark, figuratively speaking. That darkness is partly created because of the evil Empire. Thus, in rooting for good to win, we want not only the Empire to fall, but light (figurative sense) to be bestowed onto the oppressed universe. This could reflect our own desire for the future to be lighter, therefore better.

  3. So many thoughts….

    Star Wars works because it repeats/updates the classic hero story. Get thee to the “monomyth” Wikipedia entry!

    It also works because it’s a giant mashup of films/genres we already know. In a sense, Lucas was the Tarantino of his day–a master at combining genres. Star Wars is basically a Western wrapped in a Japanese samurai film rolled in a WWII epic.

    70s sci-fi is a fertile area for a blog post if anyone knows the genre. Sci-fi in general is a reflection of our current state of mind, projected into the future. And in the 70s, a downer decade if there ever was one, our sci-fi tended to be pretty scrubby. Alien, Soylent Green, Westworld–all dirty universes. Star Wars reflected that grubby universe, but gave it a positive spin that made it palatable to a mass audience.

    Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Ask me before class and I’ll tell you more.

    [/hyperventilating]

  4. As a kid, I don’t remember Star Wars being a big deal (there were no boys in the family), although I did see Empire Strikes Back at the theater. I will admit that it was not life changing (I know this blasphemous). I probably did not see all the originals until I was an older teenager. After marrying a fan and having boys, I will say that I do enjoy Star Wars, not to the same degree as them, but I get it. It’s a story that appeals to a wide audience. The Star Wars universe is all inclusive and allows you to feel part of something bigger than yourself. Maybe George is an oracle.

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