Waiting for Star Wars

Andre Jockyman Roithmann
11 October 2015

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Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was a good film – perhaps not a great one, but certainly a massive improvement on Attack of the Clones and, of course, The Phantom Menace. I watched it maybe four or five times in the cinema. But Star Wars is not just a “good” saga, it is a great one. The Star Wars franchise has proved time and again to be larger-than-life, having survived all kinds of silliness and degradation (Holiday Special, I am looking at you). It is now much bigger than anything its creator, George Lucas, could ever have dreamt of thanks to a legion of fans and writers contributing their own plots and characters in the form of comics, novels, video games, TV series, and amateur films. This year, however, all of this changes. As of December 2015, we will have the very first “professional” Star Wars film neither directed nor produced by Lucas. Its title is The Force Awakens, and it is directed by Star Trek’s J. J. Abrams, working under Disney’s supervision. What comes of it is not yet known (no spoilers!). Many hope we will witness the return of the original trilogy’s naïve, opera-like action and adventure, not far from an old classic Western. Of course we would all like to see a gritty, Dark Knight-style Boba Fett film, but that must wait: the series must be reinvented first through nostalgia. Others, still feeling the bitter taste of the “new trilogy”, have bleaker predictions and expect to be treated to a lightsabre-yielding Mickey Mouse set against the background of Star Trek’s infamous lens flares.

My purpose, however, is not to entertain any ideas of what J. J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens has in store for us. Speculation leads to anger, anger leads to cheating: the shadow of spoilers that is. At this moment, I believe we must instead ask ourselves what makes Star Wars “Star Wars”, and why we are so eager to see the continuation of a saga started in 1977. Today, much – perhaps most – of the franchise’s target audience was born long after Return of the Jedi was released in 1983: this, if nothing else, is a testimony to Star Wars’ enduring and perhaps irrevocably child-like quality. But then again, is that a surprise? All good stories endure long past their creators. I am sure the popularity of any new King Arthur film owes at least part of its success to that very same reason. And what to say of Marvel’s “Thor”? Stories have been told since the beginning of time, religions are formed based on these stories, and often history is written after them. The saga of the “generic lone hero”, facing all manner of difficulties to reach a super-human stage is essentially the same from Heracles to Beowulf, from Buddha to Jesus, and from Frodo Baggins to Luke Skywalker. The universality of these tales was explored masterly in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 The Hero with a Thousand Faces – a work with a direct influence on George Lucas. Perhaps another reason so many young people flock to Star Wars is because they – we – grew up with it. As for myself, I knew the original trilogy backwards before I ever laid eyes upon Harry Potter or even Lord of the Rings, and as the years passed the situation became ever more critical… I now find myself in that special position, where one can re-watch childhood classics and appreciate them in a wholly different light. Revisiting Revenge of the Sith earlier this year, I was able to appreciate a great irony in the plot I had never noticed before (spoilers ahead). Anakin joins Palpatine after the latter has promised him knowledge of old Sith magic capable of cheating death – which he desperately wants to save Padmé from her foreseen doom. This of course leads him to fall to the Dark Side of the Force, and indeed to Padmé’s death. However, at the end of the film, Yoda cryptically tells Obi-Wan: “An old friend has learned the path to immortality. One who has returned from the netherworld of the Force… Your old master.” Yoda of course was referring to Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan’s master killed by Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. We are not told what Yoda truly means by “immortality”, but one wonders what would have happened if Anakin had been a bit more patient and sincere to his friend and mentor Kenobi.

There is a term used to evaluate video games: “replayability”. A game with a good replayability, as the term suggests, is one capable of offering the player an enjoyable, non-repetitive experience if played over and over again. Likewise, Star Wars – the whole idea behind it – has great replayability. Its “simple enough” story – the idea of the “generic lone hero” and the often quite straightforward fight between good and evil – lends it the universality to connect to millions worldwide. From that solid basis, all sorts of imaginary adventures and discussions are possible, from the nature of the Force to complex backstories for supporting characters. We do not know what the future holds, and what stories will be told, but one way or the other, may the Force be with you… and NO SPOILERS!

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