Star Wars fans receive an early holiday gift this year as the next film in the saga – The Force Awakens – will be released on December 18th. And despite the excitement for the film being palpable, many people are fearful of the end result due to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilms Ltd. In 2012. It is to these fans credit; with such a devotion to the property – myself included – there is much the new films have to live up to.
A long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away, I grew up on Star Wars. Despite being too young to understand anything, I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back with my father and brother in 1982 when it was re-released in theaters. I was mesmerized by the colors, sounds and visuals even though I knew nothing of certain formalities like the plot at the time. In 1983, with reservations about taking a then 4 year-old, my mother had brought my brother and me to see The Return of The Jedi opening weekend (my father, who was working in Boston and had seen it there convinced her to take me.) I remember – after being told not to watch certain scenes deemed “scary” – watching the Rancor and Sarlacc scenes from behind the row of seats in front of us and later cheering on the Ewoks.
In my teens I modified my 486 no-name computer with 4 meg of ram so much just to install and play X-Wing. Later on I would do it again to run TIE Fighter and Dark Forces (two of my favorite games of all time to this day.) I also dove into the Dark Horse comics and the Timothy Zahn book trilogy, which were the beginnings of the expanded universe and – I feel – led to a resurgence for the franchise in the mid 90’s. There were even the RPG’s on IRC I was involved with, which may be the most hard core geek thing I ever did. Needless to say, even with all the science fiction properties I am a fan of – including Star Trek – I will always return to Star Wars.
Why though? As it has been pointed out by the numerous Star Wars-flavored Haterade drinkers out there, there is nothing original about it. That the tropes, themes and character archetypes used are a patchwork of things taken from Shakespeare, the Arthurian legend and parts of history right down to old World War II film footage. That all Lucas was doing was ripping off of Flash Gordon – which he attempted to secure the rights to years before he decided to do the film – and from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. That Lucas is not a good director or that all he cared about was selling merchandise. I have heard them all, and I will be the first one to admit to every one of these critiques in parts of his career. But, even with the criticisms – even my own over changes made in the Anniversary editions of the original trilogy (Han shot first!) and the prequels – my heart will always be with this property.
You would be hard pressed to deny that Star Wars has not only been important in geek culture, but in world pop culture and the film industry for almost 40 years. It single-handedly reinvigorated an interest in science fiction and proved that the genre was viable for general film and TV audiences. It solidified the current model of “Summer Blockbusters” being released between May and late July (which another Disney owned company, Marvel Studios, has started to deconstruct.) Quotes and terms have seeped into our vernacular in everyday discussion. It has created such a following that being a Jedi is actually a recognized religion in the UK. Lucas created something that is fantastic, wondrous and fun, yet is familiar to all walks of life.
Lucas may not be a good filmmaker like his long-time friends Brian De Palma or Steven Spielberg; but he is a good story teller and he changed the way films are made. Star Wars had the best special effects ever done for a film at the time, creating new techniques and technologies which would become the backbone of Industrial Light and Magic. He weaved legends and history into a backdrop of a galactic civil war, offering numerous story possibilities. He invented technologies within this universe that, despite having little to no basis in real world physics – like Star Trek – captured the imagination of many would be scientists and artists. And he did all of this on a budget of only $11 million (which is the rough equivalent of $40 million in today’s dollars.)
As one of the more commercially successful artists of our time, Lucas did not let anything stop him from making his films in his vision. The iconic lead-in scroll and the lack of opening credits (both done by numerous films since Star Wars) was controversial within the industry to the point that the DGA threatened to pull The Empire Strikes Back from theaters because of it. He funded much of Empire, and later Jedi, with his own money, ensuring control of his films and the franchise as a whole. He also kept the licensing rights to the films while taking a lower paycheck, creating an empire never seen before. As of 2012, the licensing alone made Lucas $20 billion.
At the end of the day however, these reasons are ancillary to why I will always be a fan of the franchise.
Call it inspiration if you want. However, I feel the word does not do justice. My decision to become an artist, and later on a writer, ultimately stems from the property. It led me to be interested in several topics, ranging from history, philosophy and religion to the sciences, computers and film. It was Star Wars that played a fundamental part in how I developed to the man I am today.
Or perhaps it is more basic than that.
It may be nostalgia that keeps me coming back to the franchise. That I remember the times we would watch the films on television as a family. Or later on, when my sixth-grade teacher taped copies of the trilogy, I would watch them every day to escape my mother’s alcoholism or the vicious arguments my parents would have. And as a teen the computer games and books softened the somewhat awkward and confusing time of my life known as Junior High and High School. Then there is the fact that Revenge of the Sith was the last film I saw with my father in the theater before he died from cancer in early January of 2006.
Whatever the above reasons may be, they are why I will always be an avid supporter of Star Wars. Why I feel the franchise is in good hands with Kathleen Kennedy (current president of Lucasfilms) and many other capable people at Disney. It is why I pass on my appreciation of Star Wars onto my niece and nephews, hopeful they will enjoy it as much as I do. And – most importantly – it is why I will be in the theater on opening night for The Force Awakens.