WE are Star Wars
You’ve seen the articles, right? Around the web and on various news outlets, you will find things showing the current tide of resurrected toy lines and cartoons making their ways back on the airwaves, riding a tide of nostalgia. Those things we played with as a child are back, and we’re forcing them on our children because we had such fond memories of them. At the top tier of this nostalgia machine is Star Wars – a multi-billion dollar industry feeding off of the memories of our childhoods.
Is it quite fair to lump Star Wars into this same rising tide? Hardly.
I was two-years-old when Episode IV came out, then just called Star Wars. While I know I saw the film, I can’t really remember it (I was two!). I do know that by the time The Empire Strikes Back came out, I was a full-fledged Star Wars geek, toys, and the works. Heck, at some point between there and Return of the Jedi, I was even a member of the fan club. Compared to the mass-marketing, toys, etc, of today, it’s nothing, but for a military brat of the time, I can’t tell you how great it was to see toys on the shelves at the Naval Exchange, to get a figure here and there, and have your uncle ship figures to you for Christmas.
While there were commercials, more and more as time passed, when it began, when the love started, we didn’t have it shoved down our throats. But, how did the love begin? How did even children get drawn into the world of Star Wars and, better yet, how did adults? Why is it that, thirty-eight years later, we have the same love as those children and adults watching, mouths agape, at a space opera, which was supposed to be a children’s movie? Wasn’t it?
Countless places have said George Lucas owes a debt of gratitude to Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, which, if we examine it at its most basic level, is about the everyman hero. In pop-culture, he or she is the easily-identifiable person with nothing special about him or her, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and is our introduction to this fantastic larger world. The hero is our eyes and ears, asks the questions we may ask and, over time, as we get used to this world, as we start to suspend disbelief in a film, for example, we are able to get exposed to more grandiose concepts or imagery, which, if we were shown in the beginning, we would have laughed off hand. Luke Skywalker is our Hero with a Thousand Faces in this case, introducing us to the world of Jedi and Sith, Starfighters and Deathstars, blasters and lightsabers, and we’ve seen many since. In our current times, he’s Harry Potter in the Harry Potter books and films, Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings books and films, and, most recently, he was Peter Quill AKA Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy.
As children, in this game of cosmic cops and robbers, we wanted to be the hero, the scoundrel, the princess, the gambler, the bounty hunter, or the big bad villain with the scary voice. There wasn’t much thought at an early age. As we got a little older, maybe there was a bit more going on subconsciously. Girls may witness the journey of a helpless princess becoming self-empowered more and more through three films. Boys may watch the hero grow up through the films, leaning more about his growing powers as he loses part of himself and finds out about his true lineage and family. There are also the more primal urges which creep in through puberty like, “I’m the hero, but I’d like to be the scoundrel,” for example.
As adults, we can look at these characters slightly differently with a deeper understanding.
· The Hero and the Princess could reflect our journeys through life and the trials we’ve gone through, while celebrating “wins” we’ve had along the way. We have battle scars, but, in the end, we triumphed over our long term goals, and we’re happy. Maybe we didn’t end up exactly where we thought we’d be when we started, but we’re “there,” wherever that is.
· The Scoundrel is the Outlier of the bunch. He’s the one everyone wants on their side, even if they don’t know it. He’s the one no one really trusts because he plays by his own rules, though he regularly swoops in and saves the day. Guess what? He gets the girl, too.
· The Sage has been through it all and learned from it and now, despite having their own journey, provides counsel, guidance, and wisdom to the next generation, trying to guide them on their own path and help them prevent similar pitfalls, while realizing and being sympathetic to the fact that they will often fall flat on their faces. They are patient, they are kind, but they have hidden reserves of power, which is often mistaken for weakness.
· The Bounty Hunter is in it for the paycheck. Their “in it to win it” mentality is a stacked deck of skill sets, looking for the next gig, meaning they’re never in it for the long haul. They are not one to be counted on for more than the project they have been hired on for. If the resume is a who’s who of six to twelve-month projects, buyer beware.
· The Gambler is always looking at the angles, looking for the next big score, often “betting on red”. Sometimes, life pays off well for them. Other times, they end up on their rears. Usually, they’re selfish and you can only count on them to take care of themselves. Every once and a while, you’ll find the gambler surprising you in the end.
· The Villain is the leader, filled with power, but also pain and inner turmoil, covered up by armor. As a result, they are cold, distant, highly effective, but not very relatable.
· The Tyrant is the powerful leader at the top of the hierarchy who fills the everyone, especially those who work for them, with dread. It’s very lonely at the top, especially when everyone who works for you fears or downright dislikes you. The Tyrant is the leader who lashes out at everyone, even their right hand…
It would be easy to pour chapters into each of these characters, expand on each of the strengths and weaknesses of each “type”, etc, but that’s not the point here (I could probably hit a search engine and easily strum up pages of results on any of those related to Star Wars). It is to say that many of us fall into these categories: what we are, what we work toward, and, in some way, what we would be if there were no rules governing us. In the same way kids want to play the bad guy in those cosmic games of cops and robbers, maybe we want to be The Gambler or bottle up like the Villain, or be that Tyrant at the top. Maybe the goals are much simpler, though, and we want to be the one who swoops in to save the day, or we would like to think that everything we’ve gone through in life is part of some larger cosmic scheme and, at the end of the road, we will find our happy ending, our “carrot” for a job well done. Enter some John Williams music, toss in some John Williams music, a medal, cut, and print!
This many years later, six movies in with a seventh coming, individual character films planned, and an ever-growing empire, what differentiates Star Wars from the other nostalgia-driven properties out there? Scope, longevity, and the ability to truly relate to any demographic. While we have properties, no offense, with turtles and ponies, Star Wars has ancient orders, distant galaxies, space ships, “magic” effectively, guns, AND sword fights. Through the decades, the property has included heroes and full story-arcs for characters of both genders and multiple ethnicities, has avoided the trappings of adding time-period clothing and music to any film, sticking to John Williams scores and other sources to add a “timeless” look and feel to the entire universe allowing you to truly believe Star Wars could be from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Why do we look for deep profound meaning in something when we should just be eating popcorn and sipping soda? Perhaps to give you a better understanding why every time you see a Star Wars toy, you get feeling you’ve had through your entire life for the franchise and can’t wait to share it with the next generation when The Force Awakens in them…
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