As everyone knows yesterday was the official premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise. I have now seen it twice and will be posting my review both on youtube and at my movie blog by the end of the day tomorrow (I’m so behind nearly everyone else I know!). Recently I also did a series on my channel with my friends Abby and Jeremy looking at all 6 Star Wars films proceeding Force Awakens, so it has been on my mind for some time.
Without giving anything away on my review I will say the new film made me very happy. I’ve seen it twice now and left with a huge smile on my face each time. That said, I have read a few reviews from people mystified at the whole Star Wars thing. To them it was just a generic space movie and the series has always been a bunch of generic space movies.
To a certain extent they are right. At its core the plot for any Star Wars movie is generic serials going back to the 50s and earlier. Why then does it matter and connect with so many people? Why when many of us saw the trailers did we cry? Why did people buy their tickets to the premiere months before? Even with the near universal displeasure with the prequel trilogy, why do so many still love Star Wars?
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think it comes down to world building. While the plot structure of a Star Wars movie may be generic, the world Lucas created is not. Other iconic characters such as Indiana Jones or Superman may be great but the world they inhabit isn’t very different from our own. It is a rare film that not only gives you a story but also creates a whole new world. So while we may have seen sword fighting before we hadn’t seen light saber battles. We have seen the battle of good vs evil before but never a force of light and darkness and a spiritual leadership known as the jedi. The original Star Wars gave us new planets, characters, armor, and even the most humorous robots we’d seen in movies. All of that combined to take a somewhat generic story into something that inspires imagination, creativity and discussion.
It’s this immersive world that allowed Star Wars to still matter despite the prequels because the love of Star Wars was never really about the story to begin with. The world is still there however tarnished. We just had to work through it waiting for the movie that would do something right with that world.
And the other thing to consider is while the prequels disappointed there was other product in books and animation that did not, and there was always the stories we told each other while playing in that world as kids. And of course the original trilogy was still there to watch on vhs.
Look at Wizard of Oz in contrast which has to take off of the novels and a movie owned by Warner Brothers. As a result, when a studio tries to give us that world back they can’t really do it. This leaves us with a ton of bad films, none of which are set in the Oz of the original movie (there is little to no similarities to between the Oz of Return to Oz, The Wiz, Oz the Great and Powerful and Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.) Even when Star Wars made a bad movie it was always in the world we loved and so we could find things to hang our hopes on and talk about.
Lord of the Rings is probably the closest counter- example as we got mythic world building but even that followed novels, which in a way limits creativity a little bit. It’s harder to tell our own stories in our play and conversation in a world where the stories have already been laid out so meticulously. Star Wars never had that. The world always had great potential for stories instead of the stories dictating the world.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense but I’ve just heard people exclaim ‘why does everyone care about Star Wars? Isn’t it a movie made for children?’. Well the answer is yes it is but it’s the world that we love and the stories we saw on screen and the one’s we played out by ourselves or with our friends.
The other reason Star Wars is important to people is because it laid out a decisive right and wrong, light and darkness in the force. We live in a PC era where nobody wants to say anything is bad or good. It’s refreshing to find a source material where it is clearly delineated. Especially kids need to see that kind of dichotomy. They need a way to order their life and know how to make the right choices. If it is just because ‘Mom says no’ than they aren’t likely to follow but if they know about good vs evil and have a reason to follow the light than they will.
So, while you may or may not be a Star Wars fan, I think it is important to remember it is not about a mere movie. It is about a world that was introduced to many of us when we were little, a world that changed movies, pop culture and that we told our own stories within. That’s a powerful thing.