Why Did Star Wars Stick? #MayThe4thBeWithYou

star wars logoIt’s an interesting question. Cheesy lines, over-the-top acting, zippers up the back of the monster’s costume–how many films just like it have found their way into the Betamax bins of history? Yet, Star Wars lives–not only lives, but thrives, growing in popularity as its universe of characters grows.

If we are to believe the writers of That ’70s Show, it is the keen action and the super duper special effects. But there is also something more. Watch the first little bit of the famous ’70s Show episode, “A New Hope.”

The entire episode is filled with nostalgia and hilarious throwbacks to the original series. The nostalgia continues to this day, from reproductions of Star Wars lunch boxes to celebrated Goodwill discoveries. Though it was almost lost in the incredibly painful second film of the prequel series, Attack of the Clones, the third episode, Revenge of the Sith, begins to recover the things we loved most about the original three.

Now we can look forward to another new episode, that looks like it contains no overlap with the characters we know and love, yet with a story inserted into the one we know. The trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One looks promising.

This is all built, of course, upon last year’s new episode, The Force Awakens. Predictably, it was filled with nostalgic moments:

“Chewy, we’re home.” Classic.

Über critical fans did not like it, I think. To them, it looked like a commercial grab for the fans of the past blended with a technological capability George Lucas could only have dreamed of. Personally, I loved the new characters and think the visual technologies have finally found their home. Star Wars still fails to answer its own question of providential luck–characters in The Force Awakens find each other across staggering distances or in buildings of infinite complexity. But I like how it is paced, and although there are huge gaps, and a gaff or two, it fits well into the Star Wars universe. More than nostalgic, it is framed up like a remake of A New Hope.

Imperial-class Star Destroyers wrenched into the sands of an alien world, Darth Vader’s mask from the flames, R2D2, the ping-pwang of laser fire: nostalgia, certainly. But, nostalgia for what? There has to be something at the core of the series, beyond cheese and lights. Why has Star Wars stuck with us?

I think the answer is hidden in this long lost trailer from 1977.

In the days after Saturday Night Live and Spaceballs and The Simpsons, it’s hard not to imagine going into the theatre in 1977 and expecting a spoof. Perhaps we’ve lost our innocence as a culture these days.

And it is also easy to forget how far special effects has come. When you live in a generation where you can use shareware software to stage an at-home light saber battle, 20th century effects won’t impress us much.

star wars posterBut it isn’t just effects is it?.

The films that visually impressed me the most growing up–Toy Story, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix, Shrek, and, more recently, Inception–had more to them than technology. 2012 is a good example of a film with no story and a pretty dumb premise but pretty good effects.

No, I think the reason we love Star Wars is that it goes deeper into our cultural consciousness than we can imagine. Look at the stunning statements made by the trailer:

“an adventure unlike anything on your planet”

“the story of a boy, a girl, and a universe”

“a big, sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance”

“it’s a spectacle light years ahead of its time”

“it’s an epic of heroes and villains and aliens from a thousand worlds”

“a billion years in the making: Star Wars”

Then the flash of light.

A_long_time_ago prologueGeorge Lucas is, I think, at the deepest level, a mythmaker. He certainly is a genius SciFi world-builder. He takes the universe-changing work of Larry Niven and Frank Herbert to a new level with his own mythic Empire. But while Ringworld and Dune are set in the future, Star Wars is set in the deep past.

Star Wars isn’t just adventure. Star Wars is mythology.

In this sense, I think that as much as George Lucas relies on the SF masters, he is also a deep reader of the master myth-maker: J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien understood the project of mythopoiea at the most intimate level, shaping Middle Earth out of a worldview that is entirely consistent with itself. Moreover, Tolkien’s project does what myth always does: it tells us about the present world. Myths are never really buried in the past. True myths, the good ones, will resonate again and again through cultures that appear long after the myth-making culture has slipped into legend.

That’s why I think Star Wars has lasted. Beyond big names and big budgets and super duper effects, when you watch Star Wars you get the sense that it really is a film “a billion years in the making.” It is a story that tells all our stories, a myth speaks to us today.

Really, it’s a film that’s worth feeling nostalgic about.  May the 4th be With You today!

star wars box 1979

Plus, this is amazing:s

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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11 Responses to Why Did Star Wars Stick? #MayThe4thBeWithYou

  1. Great post. May The 4th Be With You! 🙂

    I absolutely love The Force Awakens. It has a great Star Wars story plot and it “felt” like it could have been part of the original trilogy.

    One thing, you stated that “Now we can look forward to another new episode, that looks like it contains no overlap with the characters we know and love, yet with a story inserted into the one we know.” – I look forward to Rogue One as well, but it is supposed to have some overlap. I understand that it will have a lot of Darth Vader in it showing off why he was the most feared person in the Universe. 😀


  2. jaredlobdell says:

    Don’t overlook the fact that (the original) STAR WARS like AMERICAN GRAFFITIi is a coming-of-age mythos like THE HOBBIT — and TLOTR. And yes, I’m sure Lucas read JRRT, and even if he hadn’t, Tolkien was in the air he breathed in those days. If I’d made an AMERICAN GRAFFITI movie in Madison WI (where I lived back then), the kids would have been hanging out by the huge sign on the construction fence around the Elvehjem Art Center that said FRODO LIVES!


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Nicely three-fold coming-of-age, too, Luke, Leia, and Han, variously – at least (how about C3PO with respect to more respect for R2D2, as well?). And, a couple films further, the teleological coming-of-age of Darth Vader.


  3. Agreed. I don’t remember ever seeing the “original trailer” before I walked into the Center Theater in Salt Lake City the day Star Wars premiered. The only trailers we saw really didn’t show anything. I had no idea what to expect, but I was changed as a person by that film. Star Wars changed everything. Movies were never the same after that.
    I’ve been reading Lewis’ “An Experiment in Criticism” and when I read the chapter on “Myth” I immediately thought of Star Wars — it’s the only explanation that makes sense.


  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Myth, ‘fairy-tale’, Providentialism, eucatastrophe: the treacherous, planet-destroyingly murderous tyranny can suddenly, surprisingly (if also, as it were, ‘inevitably’, because, justly) be thwarted, defeated, though the story continues… (as Tolkien says, in On Fairy-Stories, “there is no true end to any fairy-tale”).


  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    That original trailer… the music… we think it’s the first part of the first movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’, ‘Allegro [in this performance exceedingly] non molto’, with the twiddly bits not very twiddly, either… compare the first 68 seconds or so, here:

    Where was John Williams? (Or was it perhaps his idea for subtly building tension?)


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