Saturday, September 3, 2011

Star Wars: A Modern Cultural Phenomenon

Although I'm not the type that dresses up and goes to convetions, and nor did I ever sit in line waiting for the midnight showing of any of the re-releases or the prequels, I do consider myself to be a fairly avid Star Wars fan.  I wasn't even alive for the release of the original film, yet I still get a sense of nostalgia when I think back to the first time I ever saw it as a child.

some 30 years later, Star Wars is still one of the best known movies ever made.  Lets consider some of the greatest movies of all time to Star Wars.  Citizen Kane, widely considered to be quite possibly the greatest film of all time, is still nowhere near as popular as Star Wars.  How many people have actually seen Citizen Kane?  Not me.  It's not that I have an aversion to it, I have just never seen it.

From one low-budget film with no-name actors in the late 70s sparked a huge fucking cultural phenomenon that has endured for the last 30 years.  From George Lucas' original A New Hope, we've got 5 other films, countless books and video games, and there's an entire history behind the Star Wars universe that is both compelling and rich (Ron Burgundy).

But why has it marked Western culture so profoundly?  I think it's because the entire series hits the audience on so many thematic levels that it's difficult to not be enchanted by it.  It's sort of amazing that Lucas was able to tell three stories so masterfully.  For the sake of argument, and because the prequels cause so much heated debate, we'll only consider the original three films in this analysis.

There's three main stories being told in the first Trilogy.  First we have the story of Luke Skywalker, an 18 year old farm boy on a remote desert planet who is suddenly thrust into some seriously fucked up situations.  He's whiney and annoying at first, but because of everything going on around him, he has to grow up a lot in a very short period of time.

"This is certainly the strangest dildo I've ever seen . . ."
Then we have the story of Darth Vader.  At first he is portrayed as the Emperor's evil servant, whose purpose is only to serve the will of his master.  Later we discover that he was once a Jedi himself, and turned to the Dark Side of the Force, betraying his master Obi-Wan Kenobi and destroying the Jedi order.  Vader is a tragedy, a story of how far a human can fall, only to still be able to regain his humanity at the end of things and redeem his soul.

And finally we have the meta-story, the struggle of a band of rebels against an empire that has an iron grip on all life.  We see the struggle for peoples to be free while their opressors seek to sterylize everything and to destroy any aspect of joy or color that life may hold.

We all know the stories, but those stories are why Star Wars has endured for so long.  They represent parts of our lives that we've all experienced.  We all remember how it first felt to go out into the world at the age of 18, to be on your own and to have to learn how to navigate the dangers and complexities of life.  We all know what it's like to give in to our desires and to feel like everything is hopeless but to serve some master, whether that master be a shit job or our own licentiousness.  And every day humanity struggles to maintain its identity, to be free and happy in the face of tyrants who would dehumanize us.

Star Wars captures the entirety of the human experience in an extremely entertaining way, and although the story telling itself is rustic and simplistic at times, there is so much content underneath the surface that the films remain rewarding experiences forever.

One of the most iconic scenes in any film in history
deserves respect and reverence, so I will refrain from
making a crass caption.
I find it amazing that one man's vision for a movie can mark humanity so profoundly for so long.  We should count ourselves lucky that such awesomeness can be created from the human mind.

(For those of you who enjoy Star Wars and some of the philosophical implications of the universe, I strongly urge you to look into the Knights of the Old Republic lore.  It's amazing, and it fleshes out some of the finer intellectual points behind the universe of the original films.)


Harrison said...

He just made a movie out of what Joseph Campbell wrote (with help from Cark Jung).

Jar Jar sucks.

Silverfiddle said...

I strongly urge you to look into the Knights of the Old Republic lore. It's amazing, and it fleshes out some of the finer intellectual points behind the universe of the original films.

You are a Star Wars nerd...

OK, just joking, but you are right. What other movie has captured the world's imagination so? It's adventure, its good vs. evil, and it is so well made.

I remember sitting with my dad in the theater and being completely blown away by the awesome sensory experience.

No previous movie have ever looked and sounded like that. The effects were awesome. It really looked real. That's what I remember.

Jersey McJones said...

I saw Star Wars when it first came out at the RKO Paramus when I was kid. The seats shook with big Dolby sound as the imperial ship flew into the scene from above.

It was an amazing cinematic moment.

It was also a fun moral play. One conservatives fail to understand. I'm sure there are "Darths" out there to this day, proud of being immoral.