The STAR WARS Films and Their Hold on Viewers’ Inner Lives: A Video Essay

The STAR WARS Films and Their Hold on Viewers’ Inner Lives: A Video Essay

Most American moviegoers who are old enough to have seen the original Star Wars films in the theater, back in the 1970s and 1980s, oversized iced beverage on one side, tooth-rotting candy or dehydrating popcorn on the other, air conditioners blasting, every seat full, utter silence in the days before cell phones, have some emotional relationship with them. It may be awe at the scope of their story, with its aspiration to an epic structure (in the true sense of that word, not the recent malapropic usage that has been popular in recent years). It may be amusement at the stilted acting pervading the original series, the black-and-white themes and messages as tall as the screen on which the tales were projected. It may be disappointment at their successors, which have all been flawed in one large way or another. Regardless, it’s safe to say that George Lucas’s three original films burned themselves into America’s cultural DNA, forming a point of reference for individuals of different backgrounds, tastes, professions, and levels of intelligence. The Prince-Valiant-esque goodness of Luke Skywalker, the raffish heroism of Han Solo, the misshapen evil of Darth Vader are all as familiar to many Americans as apple pie, the American flag, or George Washington. So, too, as this personal and sharply edited video piece by Clara Darko points out, are the ideas the films express. Good may in fact triumph over evil. Self-confidence can help the ordinary human become extra-ordinary. Wisdom trumps reckless ambition. Huge things come in small, odd-looking packages with distended green ears, inverted grammatical constructions, and frog-like voices. And so on. The funny thing about these ideas is that many viewers search for them, perpetually, in films, regardless of how well-trodden they might be. Those ideas might not be sought in isolation–the same viewer might seek out both stories of dissolution and hopelessness along with tales of triumph. The person who watches eight hours of footage of the Empire State Building today might easily gaze at the adventures of dashingly dressed heroes on a desert planet tomorrow. The point about these films is what they tapped into, a yearning for myth, for story, and perhaps for closure that has proven to be universal. Darko calls her piece "All you need to know about life," suggesting that the films taught her many such lessons. And perhaps they could teach these lessons. I wonder, though, if the piece also couldn’t have been called "All you need to know about you."

One thought on “The STAR WARS Films and Their Hold on Viewers’ Inner Lives: A Video Essay”

  1. hmmm… What this article arguably neglects is the unique ability of Star Wars to transcend a genre polluted with film-makers intent on kicking down the fourth wall to get across quixotic – or dystopian – at times arrogant speculation and conjecture on the trajectory and apotheosis of Man. How Star Wars does this, (aka what makes it a perennial classic) is its ability to convey the ‘Tragedy of Darth Vader’ in parentheses of the everyday. It makes no bold claims about the hubris of man and the firmaments that he attempts to conquer or the tragic curiosity of humanity; opening doors naive to, or perhaps because on the other side of that particular scientific discovery or paradigm shift in public consciousness may lurk something beyond human comprehension. Star Wars avoids all the problematic pontification on human fate that sci-fi is notorious for, and INSTEAD, provides a new-age, humanist tragedy, conveyed in a no-nonsense, saloon-bar cadence refreshingly free of ‘in-crowd’ jargon and excessive periphrastics. It’s a classic for the same reason King Lear is. Because it could be re-imagined as a puppet show, as a series of pictures through its basic plot elements and the universality of its characters; the complex characterization being what most enables it to stand out from the generic allegories it espouses. The great classics are those that can relate universal themes in a way that’s neither bloated with hackneyed exposition nor a compendium of cliche. Star Wars can be conveyed in a single word. As could Hamlet or Othello.

    That, and the rich tapestry of vertigo-inducing space scenery which grounds itself firmly in science fiction but chooses not to paper over the narrative cracks, leaving space for the profligation of fan fiction and interaction in every stratum of the dizzying universe that Lucas’s original conception has spawned, from facile giggling at ‘nerf-herder’ to a profundity and universality in the ilk of the great classics of any ostentatious cultural epoch.


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