The Generational Effects of Star Wars and Why They Are Important
I’ve been trying to find the words for this since I saw the second teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens live from the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. I couldn’t even form them in time for May the Fourth. To begin, I will admit that I completely forgot that the panel was being live cast on YouTube until I opened Twitter and found a few notifications asking me what I thought of this reveal or that. I stopped what I was doing, sat down at my desktop computer, and was instantly glued to the screen. When the teaser started I got chills. When Luke Skywalker said, “You have that power too,” I felt like he was talking right to me. Me–I had the power of The Force!! That’s when the tears started to well up. Then the action scenes started.What finally sent me over the edge was when Han Solo came on the screen and said, “Chewie. We’re home.” Happy tears fell from my eyes as I was transported back to 1983 when I was only five years old and my life was changed forever.
It was such an amazing experience as a kid. I’d seen E.T. and it was ok, but Star Wars? Star Wars was heroic, and lasers, and The Force, and good vs. evil, and lightsabers! At that point I was a geek, there was no going back. I wanted to be a Jedi when I grew up, my first car was going to be an X-Wing, and Han Solo was going to be my best friend. I spent my recesses and after school with empty paper towel rolls having lightsaber fights with my friends.
Star Wars is one of those films that is a generational phenomenon. The first film came out in 1977; just a little before I was born, and while the special effects are somewhat dated, the movie still holds up today. The themes, the story, and the characters all fit into classic hero’s journey. The much maligned prequels came out in 1999; the year my son was born.The final movie came out in 2005–he was six and as much as I wanted to take him to his first Star Wars movie I felt that it was a little too dark and sad, so I settled for the DVDs at home. It wasn’t quite the same, but it still had the desired effect, and by the time Revenge of the Sith was released on DVD we completed the prequel trilogy and his journey towards the fandom was complete. While I wasn’t thrilled with his love of Jar Jar Binks, or the prequel trilogy in general, I never told him he was doing it wrong. He was loving it his own way, as passionately I had when I was five and seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time.
Many people are reluctant to get excited about the new movies after their experiences with Episodes I, II, and III. This is understandable. On the surface, they weren’t very good. There were flaws, but a great deal of what was presented in those films was important. The hero’s journey ends three ways–in victory, victory through death, or by falling from grace; which is what we see from Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. What is important is that these weren’t our Star Wars movies. I’ll try to explain.
Episodes IV-VI were made for me. Thematically, they were exactly what the world needed at the time. Everything looked horrible. (If you aren’t sure what I mean, take a look at images from 1970’s America. It wasn’t pretty.) Thanks to Watergate, the end of the Vietnam war, the oil crisis, and more, hope was in short supply. Episode IV was a “New Hope” and that was one of the reasons it was successful. It also tapped into classic storytelling tropes, and by the end of the trilogy the world had changed. It wasn’t the movies that changed the world, but we often can look at the themes of the entertainment of an era and see why they were successful. The people of the world needed hope, and Star Wars gave it to them.
Episodes I-III were made for my son’s generation, or perhaps the generation just before his. Terrorism, not an evil, unstoppable Soviet juggernaut, was the thing that people worried about. You can see the movies’ themes begin to change in Episodes II and III, and by the time Revenge of the Sith was released we were looking at things like TSA screenings in airports, restriction of liberties and the often debated Patriot Act. The line, “This is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause,” was a warning that we were walking down a dangerous path and we need to be mindful lest we watch liberty and freedom get trampled in the name of a safe and secure society. The film’s message seemed aimed at the younger audience, in case they need to fix everything we broke.
So why is The Force Awakens the most important movie you may see this year? Well, because no matter what you think of it, no matter how much you love it, or hate it, Episode VII wasn’t made for me, or you. It was made for our kids. This movie is for the next generation of geeks and nerds and those that haven’t seen Star Wars on the big screen with the big sound. It’s for those who haven’t had that spark of their imagination ignited by the mix of science fiction and high fantasy yet. It’s their movie. We can only take them to a Star Wars movie, like our parents before us.
Now you might be asking yourself how does this make it the most important movie that I’m going to see this year if it isn’t for me? Well let me tell you. Star Wars is a rare thing. I called it a generational phenomenon and that’s exactly what it is. Rare things like Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Beatles and Elvis–these are things that stand up to the test of time and stay relevant all these years later. Certainly you can look at the older products of all of these things and find things that are no longer fit today’s narratives but there is something about them that holds up. The characters, the stories, the music, and the themes themselves are timeless. The Force Awakens is the most important movie you will see this year because you are taking the next generation of nerds to see it.
While I don’t know enough of the story that is going to be presented to say there will be a strong message sent to the youth and adults about the state of society, or give us the hope that the
original trilogy did, I do know that J.J. Abrams is taking us on a new journey to a galaxy far, far away. There will be new heroes, and some old, some new villains and foils. Whatever you may feel about Star Wars, Abrams at the helm of this project, Disney owning the rights, and all the lens flares we may see–if the work J.J Abrams did on Star Trek is any indication of what may be in store for us, I think the franchise is in good hands. With Star Trek, he respected the original product while innovating with new material.
Rey, Finn and BB-8 are going to be the heroes of this generation of dreamers, geeks and nerds just like Luke, Han and Leia were for me and like Obi-Wan, Anakin, and R2-D2 were for my son. So if you happen to see it and not like it, just remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the wide-eyed kid that you brought to the movie to share your passion. The fandom has plenty of room for plenty of new fans loving the movies, comics, and even the no longer cannon Expanded Universe however they want. So when you see it, and you see their jaws hit the floor with excitement, remember if you didn’t like it the movie it wasn’t made for you. Nurture that love, celebrate it, and let them be their own kind of fans.