To say Star Wars is the best movie franchise of all time might be overselling it (especially considering the execrable episodes I-III), but it was the first movie I ever saw on the big screen, and yes, it was brand new when I saw it in 1977. I was five, and even though I didn’t understand the subtext, it helped define my lifelong love of science fiction and high fantasy and the same can be said of millions of fans worldwide. The question is “why”? Why is it so important to so many people? Why has it been translated into dozens of languages, spawned more movies, cartoons, dozens of novels, and a fanatical global following? Why are my friends handing down their original 1970’s Kenner action figures to their children, like some ancient sword passed down from their father’s, father’s, father? Why is it being reborn, yet again, by Disney and directed by the highly respected J.J Abrams?
Two simple words: It’s awesome.
Prior to Star Wars (now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, an inelegant name for an inelegant time) a “Space Opera” was a pejorative term for the cheap, pulp comics of the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a science fiction story or drama set in space; space fiction esp. of an unsophisticated or clichéd type.” These stories are known for their melodramatic and overly romantic portrayals of enemies fighting each other in outer space using advanced, futuristic weaponry and technology.
By 1977, Space Opera was a well-established – if fringe – genre in comic books like Flash Gordon (1934), television shows like Star Trek (1966), and films like Barbarella ( 1968). But Star Wars brought something new to the equation; a complex coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a totalitarianism and rebellion.
Themes of mysticism, oppression, community, colonialism, trade politics and self-discovery gave the first trilogy a depth that did not jibe with the “unsophisticated” definition of Space Opera. The genre had suddenly become something for grown ups: The number of times you saw “Jedi” became a badge of pride for geeks and non-geeks alike. Its state-of-the-art special effects blurred the line between reality and fiction to the point that robots and fighting teddy bears became lovable – and essential – characters. Discussions about hyperdrive, Jedi mind tricks, and the feasibility of real world light sabers became water cooler conversation. It marked a sea change that first legitimized Space Opera and, by extension, science fiction as a mainstream genre.
Viewership for shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Gallactica swelled as fans hungered for more and the success of these shows and ancillary movies spawned hundreds of sci-fi knock-offs and permutations. Whether you love Star Wars or not, it can be argued that all modern science fiction, from blockbuster movies like Interstellar and Transformers to TV shows like Futurama and Doctor Who, owe their continued success, and even their genesis, to a low budget 1970’s film trilogy about a farm boy, a scoundrel, a sassy princess, and a few droids who toppled an oppressive empire and saved their galaxy a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
To learn more about the Star Wars universe and its influence, check out these Falvey Memorial Library resources:
Star Wars and Philosophy : More Powerful than you Can Possibly Imagine
by Kevin S. Decker
PN1995.9.S695 S76 2005 – Falvey Main 4th Floor
Empire Building : The Remarkable, Real-life Story of Star Wars
by Garry Jenkins
PN1995.9.S695 J46 1999 – Falvey Main 4th Floor
Culture, Identities, and Technology in the Star Wars Films : Essays on the Two Trilogies
by Carl Silvio
PN1995.9.S695 S55 2007 – Falvey Main 4th Floor
From Star Wars to Indiana Jones : The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives
by Mark Vaz
PN1995.9.S695 V3913 – Falvey Main 4th Floor
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis
by James Luceno
PS3562.U254417 D37 – Falvey popular reading collection, Main floor
Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn PS3576.A33 H45 1991 – Falvey Main 4th Floor
Search for articles using the search terms “Star Wars” (in quotes) and Film. Other useful search terms: politics, mysticism, influence, impact, technology, etc.
For help with research on the movies and their influence, contact Rob LeBlanc, first-year experience & humanities librarian at firstname.lastname@example.org.