This is my long “Why I Love Star Wars” post. What’s worse is that my reasons are not obvious. Why is it worth a read? Because it’s about something else entirely.
I’m only really about a 7 on the fanboy scale. Haven’t watched Clone Wars. Never got into the books. The action figures were just toys, long gone. But chronologically I’m in the sweet spot. Two childhood Halloween costumes and three birthday cakes are from “A long time ago in a Galaxy far far away”- including an awesomely turd-like Jabba birthday cake.
So the Force is in this one. Strong enough that at 41 years old I’m looking for updates in my news feeds. But why am I still doing this? Why do I break out the movies annually in the hopes that my nine-year-old daughter will do more than shrug this time?
Before we get there though we’ve got to kill a few red herrings of what created Star Wars Love.
First, it’s not the “boynip”- swashbuckling, laser guns, spaceships, aliens, bikini-clad fantasy women, or the throwaway lines that let a kid create worlds of possibilities (nerf herder, wamp rats, clone wars). Look to all the SciFi franchises that faded away for proof of this red herring.
Nor is it spin-offs, merch, games, or the extended universe of stories. All that “industry game-changing” stuff. In software this features (or bloat if you’re cynical). Added features come from passion and love for a thing. It’s not a cause of it.
All that boynip on the screen helped Star Wars grow into something big sure, and features certainly helped extend its longengevity. But I want to get to the root of why it exploded.
Quickly breaking it down, what is a movie? Excepting “experimental” or non-narrative fare, it’s safe to say in this case we’re talking about a story. Okay, so what does the Star Wars story have that makes it special?
the quality of a sound that stays loud, clear, and deep for a long time
a quality that makes something personally meaningful or important to someone
a sound or vibration produced in one object that is caused by the sound or vibration produced in another
Cultural resonance. My Star Wars love changes over time. Sometimes it even helps me understand my own stuff a little better- like good art does.
So if resonance is the reason for the phenom, then it’s got as much to do with the chord, the timing, and the surrounding surfaces as with the string. It’s more about people than movies.
Why the original trilogy resonates for me isn’t revelatory but I have to explain it to get to the interesting idea- How the next string might be tuned.
Star Wars Love starts with Dad. In 1976, I was 3. I didn’t see Episode IV until it was re-released into theaters prior to Empire. I don’t honestly remember that very first viewing. My first lasting memory of Star Wars when I was 10. We were on the way home from seeing The Empire Strikes Back. I was sitting in the dark back seat of the family station wagon. It was late, and I was tired and a little down. The good guys hadn’t triumphed. It might have been my first cliffhanger and I was trying to understand it. Dad asked me if I thought Darth Vader really was Luke’s father. I said no, that I thought Darth was lying. I’m pretty sure my dad was pleased. We rode in silence for a while after that. I wasn’t fibbing to please Dad, I just wouldn’t accept the big reveal. I was Luke, who wanted to Do Great Things, so there’s no way his dad could be Darth Vader.
Fast Forward Three years- I’m 13 and have fully accepted that yes, Vader is Luke’s father, and the big final chapter is here. Excitement was huge. News had trickled to my suburban neighborhood that the original title had been “Revenge of the Jedi”. I thought that change was weak sauce. I wanted Jedi Luke’s Revenge. That three-year change from post-Empire denial to revenge fantasy says something about growing up.
Return of the Jedi happened. I ate it up. I wanted an Ewok. Today it’s proper geek form to bash everything but Empire, but I was on board with all of it.
Then I became a teenager, Star Wars Love got the growth enhancement drug called nostalgia, and I turned my dad into Darth Vader.
My Dad is from a big family and a “rough” neighborhood. He was the first in his family to go to college with athletic scholarships, part-time jobs, and some serious inner drive. Great dancer. A Motown “Preppy” before it was a thing. He was a fraternity brother, a public speaker, a College Dean, climbed corporate ladders, and married his high school sweetheart. Taking on a home project with him, you learned that he has drive for three. He built his own modest Empire.
Truth is, I never had much to rebel against. But, I’m not sure what can stop a selfish kid from hanging their angst on anything. Dads get their share- I know mine did. It might even kind of come with the job.
So there it is. Darth Vader is Dad, the Federation is “the man”, the Rebel Alliance is fandom, and I wanted to see the galaxy. I said my thoughts were kind of embarrassing, didn’t I?
Historical context: If the 1950’s and 60’s were the rise of teenage rebellion in its most authentic form, the 70’s and 80’s saw people realizing they could do what Rock ‘n’ Roll had been doing for years; turn teen rebellion into profit. In increasing speed new teen trends became opportunities for business. Arena rock becomes Hair Metal. Hip-hop goes from street to stores in months. By the 2000’s? Diminished returns. Today it’s pre-teen pop stars for two seasons, then exploit their demise for as long as possible.
So the root of Star Wars Love is an elegant cinematic co-opting of teenage boys rebellion from their fathers. Ouch.
So where does Star Wars go next? What’s the next great resonating theme?
Remember – I turned my dad into Vader. The onus is on me. He wasn’t an aloof, cold father, as much as this essay might suggest it. He is a big guy, and he could be scary- but he knew it, and used it sparingly- one of those superpowers only your parents have. I have tons of loving childhood memories with him; couch wrestling, pool games, camping, block parties, pig roasts, family vacations, hunting, family reunions, baskeball, catch, golf… My father loved being a father. Not all do. Because of this, I can’t imagine fathering any other way.
It happens that he’s endured a fall of his Empire, of sorts too. In one of those stunning life paradoxes, as a result I admire my father more than at the height of his galactic power. His accomplishments are impressive, but having watched him endure beyond them has been profound. He acts with grace absent of justice, keeps integrity despite others’ lack of it, and the result is him possessing a freeing humility today.
So, my Darth Vader survived the fall of the Empire, shed his dark cowl, and is a sort of gentle giant Yoda hanging out on the shores of Lake Michigan. He’s one tough, kind, funny, patient, wise, generous, and strong man, and I don’t tell him that enough. Happy Father’s day Dad. I love you.
Teen rebellion was essentially nonexistent prior to the 1940’s. (see the doc ‘Teenage’ http://www.teenagefilm.com/ for confirmation) and was once embodied by Fonzie on Happy Days. Now it’s twisted to such an extent that the 40-something “man-boy” is one of the biggies. Yes, I’m blending teen angst and rebellion and growing up with outright refusal to- but aren’t they just slightly different reactions?
Whether I’m just lamenting a mis-spent youth and apologizing to Dad for it, or whether this has any cultural resonance is untested, but I think there’s evidence of backlash against the “teen rebellion” trope beginning to show up in places. See Harry Potter and The Hunger Games for evidence. Even that 21 Jump Street movie was a role-reversal with teens.
As for fathers and sons? Here I’m going to completely cop out – I have no idea how this idea might fit into the next Star Wars trilogy. But that’s the beauty of it. Star Wars anticipated my teenage rebellion. It planted Star Wars Love early and deep- with Sand People and Boba Fett. This understanding didn’t come until years later. So I don’t know how Star Wars will symbolize my feelings toward my father today – it needs to know how I’ll feel about him years from now.
That’s got possibilities.
In closing, I offer this pre-emptive attack on counter-arguments to this antidisestablishmentarianism theme proposal. Imagining the argument goes something like “Nobody wants Luke to be the bad guy and the Empire redeemed”. My rebuttal is this: An angry outer space raccoon is about to dominate SciFi this summer.
As my father says, it’s all in the execution.