I have always had a massive fascination with Star Wars, especially the Original Trilogy, and like Thousands of other people, of all generations, I follow Star Wars and love it.
I’ve been immersed quite a bit in Star Wars the last couple of months. I recently started replaying the CCG I played when I was younger (I’m still as bad at it as I was!), I got caught up with the Clone Wars cartoon, I re-read the graphic novel adaptations of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, and have been entertaining myself with a fantastic Star Wars quiz book I received as a gift. Inevitably, despite of all the expanded universe goodness I have been enjoying,one glass of red wine too many got me to ranting about the original trilogy and the many things I felt the films represented for me and many other people. That drunken rant, as much as I can recall, informs the content of this blog post.
Star Wars is entirely escapism. Not only do the movies take you away from your life, they take you to a different place. Its a complete universe, detailed down to the smallest aspect; a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. However, underneath all the fantasy and escapism there are lessons for us all about humanity and morality that we learn without even knowing it.
To my mind Star Wars is effectively a fairy tale for the 20th century generations. It offers us a moral paradigm, like the Fairytales of yore, in a medium which we can relate to in the modern world; through the entertainment value of the moving picture. The films create definite divisions between good and bad, right and wrong, light and dark. The characters represent exaggerated metaphors for the audience to empathise with, engage with and learn from, models that they can transfer into their own personal lives. Human values, like honesty, honour, freedom and friendship are all promoted through the events of the films.
Let’s look at Han Solo. Han begins his journey as a rogue & a scoundrel; he hangs around in seedy bars, he’s a gambler (“YOUR ship!? Remember you lost her to me fair & square!”) and is an accomplished smuggler for a villain of galactic proportions. Yet, in spite of all this, he decides to join the right side. He becomes a role model where the roguishness becomes simply a charming characteristic of an important individual in the Rebel Alliance. Through Han’s actions we are shown that by doing the right thing (Joining the Rebellion.) you are duly rewarded (by winning the heart of the beautiful princess).
Like a true Fairytale the trilogy also has a beautiful Princess, but in a 20th Century Fairytale she isn’t a traditional damsel in distress. While certainly true the Universe that Star Wars inhabits is clearly a male-dominated one (a sign of the times when it was written) Leia is a strong, independent female icon who serves her cause with a sense of duty and passion. So the narrative opens with Princess Leia being captured and turning to the old male authority figure of General Kenobi for help (“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”) – she soon shows she can play with the big boys and give as good as she gets. After all – who saves who? In this 20th Century Fairytale it’s the knight in distress who needs saving by the Princess (“…because he’s holding a thermal detonator!”). When my little girl is old enough I will definitely be introducing her to Star Wars and having her see a strong, independent female like Leia.Parallels certainly can be drawn between Star Wars and culture defining events or periods in American history. One’s mind could immediately leap to the Cold War environment Star Wars was written in; The Empire can easily be interpreted as the oppressive image of communism; something that was deeply embedded in the American psyche during the 1970’s and 80’s. Like many films of it’s age it is a film that shows the great American-style underdog, standing for truth & justice triumphing against the cruel, repressive, dictatorial regime of the Empire.
The film reflects US history & values in other ways that lie further back in time than the Cold War parallels. The position of the Rebellion echoes the American Revolution; Star Wars represents everything America stands for; a country of mixed heritage, a country that upholds liberty, equality and moral values. The film capitalises on more than just the ideals from American history; Luke Skywalker starts the trilogy as a farm hand; a small town boy with no direction and a simple heritage, much like many of the immigrants starting out in the land of promise. The trilogy shows us that with some self-belief and some key American moral principles one can elevate themselves to a higher social position. The essence of Western capitalism, rags to riches, the American dream.
Star Wars is exciting, entertaining and fantastical. One element I certainly enjoy is the action aspects of the trilogy. It draws upon the most popular action film forms to satisfy the various tastes of its audience. The dogfights and pitched battles of 1950’s war movies, the swordfights and mysticism of Japanese samurai films and the darker, seedy side of Jabba’s Palace that echoes the classic gangland film. (Think Sarlaac = concrete shoes) Not only this but the locations and characters are exotic, completely existing in a different reality. Unlike some science fiction Star Wars is not limited by real science; no legitimate scientific answers are applied to the narrative. (And when it was tried, in The Phantom Menace, it failed miserably) We are not restricted in the use of our imagination; the trilogy allows us to completely remove some conventions and limitations that exist in the real world. We can suspend our disbelief and be carried to a new, bizarre and alluring places to explore.
Did the 20th Century need a Fairytale. Obviously it did; the huge success of Star Wars shows that it taps into something deep within us and the above were just a few of the reasons why it is so popular in my eyes. It stands to explain why America engages with it so much.