What Star Wars Means to Me…
“Somewhere in space, this may all be happening right now.” It’s hard to disagree with that statement. This is what Star Wars was sold on. It can be heard in the original theatrical trailer, released while the movie was barely 50 percent complete. Those lines were paired with quick shots of the movie that had been completed; mind blowing special effects shots of spaceships, a giant monkey man, and an intimidating figure in a black mask. The movie had gathered a small band of fans before it was even finished. Like the group of rebels central to the series, it was the underdog, overtaking the odds to become the most iconic franchise in modern cinema; one of the critical films of the American New Wave, a pioneer in visual effects and storytelling. A story about a farm boy, more fantastical than science fiction, it has endured the test of time for the last forty-five years. This isn’t a story about the endurance of the series, however. This is a story of childhood; my childhood.
It all begins with my mother. She was nine years old and living in Longmont, Colorado when Star Wars was released. She and my aunt went to see this movie 10 times during that summer. This was at a time when you could only see movies in theaters, so she took a tape recorder with her to record the audio of the movie, so she had the experience in her back pocket. The story captured her imagination and she fell in love. She passed that love on to me. She has seen Star Wars enough times that she knows the gibberish that requires Greedo to say the words “Going somewhere, Solo?” in its original Huttese. I’d wager she knows the timing of a line of dialogue to a music cue or sound effect as well. I know I do.
My Star Wars story is different. I’m twenty years old and a classic geek. Star Wars is one of the formative pieces that led me to film school and fostered my interest in storytelling. My obsession with Star Wars got to the point where the annoyance of my parents was palpable . It was all I cared about. I had the action figures, I had the LEGO — This is embarassing, but I still do. I pretended I was Han Solo in the school yard. I watched The Clone Wars, and of course I grew up with the original six films. To this day, I have the original three films in their last release on VHS tape in 1995.
That’s not how I saw them. In late 2008, my parents decided it was time. On a Friday night, we went to Blockbuster and rented Star Wars: A New Hope. On that Friday night, my life wasn’t the same again. A couple of months later for Christmas, I received a playset of the Millennium Falcon for Christmas. A week later, I rewatched A New Hope, this time with Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to follow. My Dad and I would check out the DVDs from Blockbuster every second weekend. It would be years before I would officially own the movies, and now the Complete Saga Blu-Ray set is one of my most prized possessions. I was hooked. I was even allowed to stay past my bedtime on Fridays to watch The Clone Wars, just to get up early the next morning and catch it again.
In 2011, my family was breaking up. When my interest in filmmaking and storytelling was beginning to take hold, I realized Star Wars was my saving grace. I fell hopelessly in love with it again. It was concerning others. It was easier for me to imagine myself as Han Solo flying the Millennium Falcon than it was for me to accept the grim reality of my parents’ divorce. It was easier for me to take a trip to the galaxy far, far away than it was for anything else that was happening. Star Wars was an emotional crutch for me.
At the end of the day, it’s good character study. It’s the story of one man and how his choices impact the greater good of the universe. It’s the story of Anakin Skywalker striving to be the best and doing whatever it takes no matter the cost. Anakin’s choices impact those of his kids — Luke, and Leia. Those choices impact Han Solo and Chewbacca just as they do Jyn and Galen Erso. They impact Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus. It’s the story of one man’s failure to stop this evil at its source. It is the story of Rey and Kylo Ren working together to finish what Luke Skywalker began and fulfilling the prophecy of the chosen one. It’s the story of Qui-Gon Jinn’s unfortunate belief in Anakin Skywalker.
So many of my favorite scenes in the movies are character defining moments, and moments that so many fans hold dear. Luke turning off his targeting computer. Darth Vader saving his son by throwing Emperor Palpatine down that chasm. There is so much emotion to be seen, even through a black mask. A mask that represents fear and cowardice shifting to represent guilt and courage. Other moments ring true.Han Solo’s stoic “I know” in response to Leia’s “I love you” before he is imprisoned in carbonite. Okay — damn it, this is half the reason that Han Solo is the best character. It takes two words for this man to be a complete badass. The point being, Star Wars is about character, first and foremost. It’s one of the foundations of the universal love of the franchise.
Surrounding these characters are iconic spaceships; the Millennium Falcon, a character as much as any flesh and blood. The Imperial Star Destroyers, TIE Fighters, X-Wings, all brought to life by the modelmakers at Industrial Light and Magic. The Star Wars galaxy is chock full of planets with their own histories, and races with their own lore. These worlds feel inhabited and lived in, complete with dingy cantinas and pretentious royal palaces. There’s strange looking robots and monsters and magic and everything in between. The swashbuckling and suspense are all caught in the soundtrack that is composed beautifully by John Williams, who always understands the assignment. He scored all nine of the Skywalker Saga films and brought beautiful themes to the Star Wars universe. He then passed the torch to others such as Michael Giacchino, Kevin Kiner, and Ludwig Goransson who followed in his footsteps and added more beautiful music and cues to the already impressive catalogue.
George Lucas created a sandbox and invited a new swath of creators to come and play, from Dave Filoni to Jon Favreau, JJ Abrams to Rian Johnson. I have dreamed of being a part of this legacy, and it’s all because of the massive risk George Lucas took in 1977 to make a space opera more of a fairytale than space epic. The closest thing I have to it is my imagination, which always got me in trouble. I don’t have a lightsaber, but do I have a pen and paper. I can write my own stories now, inspired by the legends of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
In 2015, Disney’s tenure with Star Wars began. That year, we began to see the release of the new saga films. I was there on opening night for The Force Awakens at the Cinemark in Fort Collins, Colorado. I was there with my dad and his girlfriend at the time. The lines were out the door. Everyone was excited for this movie. Even people that had seen very little of Star Wars. I have distinct memories of a fan standing up and jokingly proclaiming that Jar Jar Binks was the best character of all time. The audience screamed like no other when the Millenium Falcon was revealed, or when Han Solo emerged through its doors a few beats later, and of course when Princess Leia appeared about forty-five minutes later with C-3PO. My Mom and I saw the film an additional three or four times before it ended its theatrical run. Tradition followed with every subsequent Star Wars release.
If there are any cons to this franchise, it’s the way that the owners have treated it. George Lucas made numerous changes to the original three films. He said they were to improve special effects but there is no reason for Greedo to shoot first. All it does is dilute Han Solo’s characterization. Or changes like Jedi Rocks or Hayden Christensen replacing Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. There’s no justification for it, especially considering George Lucas himself sits on Martin Scorsese’s Film Preservation Board. There are many fan edits that remove these changes from the films and restore them to glory. My only wish is that Disney would release them officially. It may bring about a new appreciation for Star Wars that hasn’t been unearthed yet.
Under Disney’s ownership, there have been some strange choices made about the legacy of this franchise. They’ve made more changes to the Han and Greedo scene and threw Princess Leia in the trash the second that Carrie Fisher died. They made it clear that theme park attractions and toys of our beloved characters are more important than the characters themselves. My favorite Star Wars content of Disney’s ownership has been everything that isn’t linked to the Skywalker family. Unfortunately, when something like this is working, they feel the need to bring in a character we know into the show or movie to prove to us that it is Star Wars. What is the point? The cinematic language of Star Wars is iconic enough that it isn’t necessary. While the franchise may still be pushing technological boundaries, the stories are staying near the shore. We are seeing the same three planets and characters instead of indulging in new stories.
I still love this franchise. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story remains my favorite of their new films. It’s the one that feels most like the original film. It has some of the most dire consequences of any Star Wars movie. One of my favorite Star Wars moments comes from that movie. After meeting Chirrut Imwe, Jyn Erso asks him if he is a Jedi, due to his obsession with the force. Imwe’s partner Baze Malbus responds with “There are no Jedi here. Only dreamers like this fool”. It encapsulates my points about character, and shows that this franchise is much more than mere sci-fi. It’s the writer of the film inserting themselves and giving us a reason for why it has stood the test of time. It has given people like myself, like my mom, a reason to believe; a reason to let the imagination run wild. In that case, the Jedi represent hope — which is an idea that is repeated constantly in these movies.
Star Wars is a movie that I return to constantly, and it evokes the same feelings within me every time I watch it. Oftentimes there are things within it that I try to apply to my life. Quotes by Yoda, or the Jedi Fortune Cookies at the beginning of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I watch it when I’m in a creative rut or when there is “a disturbance in the Force’’, a disturbance in my life. I listen to John Williams’ music for the franchise constantly and regularly, and I always find the time to bust open that Blu-Ray set. At least once a year, I watch them marathon style. I am always finding something new to love about this franchise. I will forever consider Star Wars to be a good friend to me, one that was there when no one else was. I’ll end this by saying that I have never ever understood how George Lucas maintains that this franchise is “for children”. It’s influenced everyone that goes near it, and continues to do so — long after we have ceased to be children.