The Hope of Star Wars
--Thanks for joining me again in my final article in the series all about Star Wars. Be sure to check out my first article ruminating on all the possible directions of the franchise, and my second article speculating what a Knights of the Old Republic show might look like.--
Think of your favorite things about Star Wars right now. Go ahead, take your time, I know there's a lot to choose from. Is it the space battles? Is it the lightsabers? The giant planet-destroying space stations?
Perhaps, it's more specific, like Han Solo dashing in at the last moment before Vader wrecks Luke's rise to stardom. Maybe it's Luke rejecting Vader's offer before being saved by Leia. Or even Vader saving Luke form being zapped...damn Luke needs to get his shit together! How many times does he need help?
Of course, one of your favorite moments might be from the prequels. Uh...the Darth Maul fight? The pod race, even though it ruins the pacing of an already terribly plotted movie. The space battle in Revenge of the Sith is cool, right? I'm trying here, fans of the prequels, but they don't make it easy.
You could go the other direction too. Kylo Ren freezing that blaster bolt in mid-air. Rey, well, doing anything really. She's the best. Poe Dameron's perfect face?
The point is, there's a lot of Star Wars out there, and there's so much that is iconic. How is it that one idea, one concept, made in a decade where it was difficult to bring Science Fiction to the big screen in a way that wouldn't look instantly fake, be so beloved? What makes Star Wars so special?
Let's find out.
You have something really special when the actors of the original Star Wars are caught off guard by the giant Star Destroyer dominating the opening shot. This was good news after Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill witnessed a crowd heckling one of the first trailers for the film.
Once May of 1977 rolled around, the world was introduced to the phenomenon known as Star Wars, and people were as nuts about it then as they are now. (I mean, I wrote over 3000 words on my speculation of a live-action TV show for Christ's sake). There is something special about the franchise that even the prequels couldn't destroy. Defining what that is, however, takes a little more work.
Perhaps the eventual title of the original Star Wars reveals some insight. New hope. There's something about the kind of movies that inspire hope in an audience. People needed it in the 70's, people need it now, people will always need it. There's a reason we, as an audience, love the Hero's Journey, where a call to action takes the main character through darkness to accomplish an epic task. We need to see overwhelming odds beaten back. We need to see that one person can make a difference. We need hope.
Luke Skywalker represents all of us. He's just a normal kid, who wants to hang out with his nerdy friends buying power converters, who still lives with his parental figures. If that doesn't speak to the stereotypical geek in all of us, then nothing will. Luke finds out there's something special about him after all, and all it takes is for him to believe in himself a little bit. (And some help from friends).
The powers shown to him, and his belief in those powers, are what brings an end to a machine of unimaginable destruction. One person, making one critical shot, risking everything, makes the difference. It's a simple story in a complex setting. It feels real. And to a young imagination, being shown that they matter in this complicated world, it is real.
The journey isn't without its hardships. Luke fails again and again. His training is difficult and the simple belief is challenged by the allure of becoming more powerful. He could give in to emotions that would make the journey easier. When Vader pushes him to the literal edge, Luke seems to have only one choice: reach out and take Vader's offer. The offer of control. The offer of power. All underlined by the chance to connect with Luke's real father. Something he didn't think would ever be possible.
Through all those temptations, struggles, and darkness, Luke keeps true to the good virtues of friendship and forgiveness. He's able to bring his father back from darkness and crush the evil Empire in the process. Hope kept its promise.
Some, including myself, would love to see Star Wars taken in darker directions. We've even seen a little of that already. Spoiler alert: Rogue One features a story where everyone dies. All the main characters, everyone we have connected to, sacrifices themselves. This isn't the typical narrative for Star Wars. Yet, in the end, their sacrifice brought hope. The hope that sets up the entire original series.
So what makes Star Wars, Star Wars? Hope.
The kick-ass X-Wings, the cardboard wrapping paper tube fight inspiring lightsaber duels, and scruffy scoundrels, would all be for nothing without that deeper meaning. All your favorite moments, the iconic characters, the quotable lines, are all connected to the hope that Star Wars brings. You do matter, you can make a difference, and there's something special to believe in.
I get it; The Force Awakens is a re-hash of the original Star Wars. A droid with secret plans, a young hero called to something greater, a giant machine capable of crippling the galaxy, it's all very familiar. That's done on purpose. It reminds you to access those feelings from your childhood. It's meant to capture the imagination of a new audience, while inspiring that long-dormant hope in the old fans.
So far, these new films still carry that special something of Star Wars. I see it when a little girl comes into the store where I work on Halloween dressed like Rey. It's there when I hear stories of a little boy who tells his parents, “I love Finn! He looks just like me!” It's there inside the movie itself when Rey puts on the X-Wing pilot's helmet and sits in a moment lost in her own thoughts. There's hope here.
With only a couple of weeks before the release of The Last Jedi, we wait anxiously for that something special. The critical-minded part of myself prepares for a re-telling of Empire Strikes Back. But there's something inside, some childlike wonder, that is excited about that hope.
Star Wars is built on hope.