The Significance of “Star Wars”

May 25, 1977. That date may or may not have significance for you, but for many in the world, it was the beginning of a total paradigm shift in the way that films were made. It may seem hyperbolic to say this, but May 25, 1977, was the first day of a revolution: It was the release of “Star Wars,” an unprecedented cinematic phenomenon that has irrevocably affected pop culture and countless subsequent films and filmmakers.

The original movie, now titled “Episode IV – A New Hope,” was predicted to be a box office bomb. This viewpoint may seem ludicrous after the fact, but there is some evidence to support why someone might have held that belief. Consider that nothing like “Star Wars” had ever been attempted before. To an outsider, the sets and models being constructed must have looked ridiculous, the puppetry childish. There’s nothing terribly new being done with the plot either, and to top it all off, each one of the main cast members was an unknown.

One of the many reasons that George Lucas was able to overcome all of these obstacles was the strength and clarity of his vision. Lucas knew that he wasn’t reinventing the wheel with the story, quite the opposite in fact. The “Star Wars” mythology is an elaborate amalgam of sci-fi and fantasy, a combination that had never really been done in film before. It was sorta sci-fi because these characters are in space, and the technology is futuristic. However, it also has a lot in common with the works of Tolkien and other masters of the fantasy genre. Luke is the “chosen one,” a farmboy with a destiny whose journey involves mastering the powers (magic) of the Jedi (wizards) and teaming up with a rogue pilot (an errant knight turned thief) in order to rescue the princess and defeat the evil Empire. I can go on and on. The parallels are easy to make.

Because the characters are so archetypal, they are also easily accessible. We root for Han because who doesn’t know someone who has a good heart but is a little rough around the edges. We commiserate with Luke because we have all, at times, felt the weight of our parents’ legacies. We are in awe over the world (or worlds) the characters inhabit because they are rich to an extent that really had only been done in literature up until that point. I would also be remiss if I failed to mention John Williams’ iconic score, which is recognizable and resonant around the world.

What catapults “Star Wars” into its lofty status as a classic, however, is its staying power. Multiple generations now have experienced the story at different ages and at different points in history, and the story remains intact and unblemished by the passing of time. I’ll never forget my great aunt’s description of seeing the opening sequence of “A New Hope,” of seeing the sheer terror and scope of the Star Destroyer as it fills the screen. It made me see the film in an entirely new light. It informed me that I was watching something special.

Others have different personal connections to the saga. I have a friend whose first viewing of *SPOILER ALERT* Yoda’s death in “Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” as a child was so visceral that he refused to watch any more, locking himself in his room, crying over the loss of a beloved character who had become real to him. Now, after some coaxing from his older brother, he was able to finish the movie, but I will never forget hearing that story for the first time, a poignant reminder of how powerful the film can be, especially for children.

The passion shared amongst fans can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated or those whose interest in the movies is marginal. Many “Star Wars” fans who were bullied in school or whose interests fall in the “nerdy” or “geek” territories identified with the franchise’s message of hope, indomitability and hidden greatness. The themes created a form of fellowship in the fandom that is intense for those who don’t identify as strongly.

Let’s also not forget the prequel trilogy. The “Star Wars” films of the late ’90s to mid ’00s left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. The story is less engaging, the performances more wooden across the board and the magic of the practical, special effects are replaced with cold CGI. A friend of mine once described the prequel trilogy as an attempt to rekindle a torrid, yet shortly lived, love affair. Personally, I have a bittersweet relationship with the prequels as they are the films that came out in my lifetime. I have a fond sense of ownership over them, good or bad. A couple of my friends even go further to say that they are the films that got them into the franchise, and they will forever be thankful for them. Overall, however, the view of the trilogy is negative, and took more than a little wind out of the franchise’s sails.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are more than aware that December 18, 2015, is the official release of the first film in a new trilogy, the beginning of a full-steam-ahead initiative by Disney upon buying the hotly contested property from Lucas in 2012. Whether this new movie rekindles the love affair or not, let’s celebrate the potential sparking of the imaginations of another generation of filmmakers and the strengthening of the fellowship for future outsiders. The Star Wars may have taken place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but for fans, it will forever be close, present and dear to the heart. VT