I’ve been asked, more than a few times over the last decade; “why Star Wars?” from people who just don’t get it. They either never saw the films at all, or did see them, under duress, and continued to hate them out of spite and a sense of superior bitterness.
This week, “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi” opened in theaters. A new chapter in a 40 year old tale has been laid down as cannon and, as always, many “outsiders” are taking the opportunity to vocalize their distain for the franchise as a whole. As it does every time someone’s fandom becomes popular, the haters take over social media. They are hard at work belittling the joy and excitement of fans with nasty comments and boisterous claims about how “adult” they are because they don’t like Star Wars, have never seen Star Wars and how, somehow, that makes them super cool, more mature, etc.. These are the folks who say, “Why? Why be into a series of movies about characters who have a made up religion with light up swords?” …as they go about their very “adult” business of watching chick flicks and binge watching Sons of Anarchy with a sense of superiority.
For all that bitterness, it does bring us to an important question. Why does *this* story create the feelings, the power it does within us? I thought as a former Star Wars hater turned super fan, I’d take a moment to chat about this. Why Star Wars?
Hello, my name is Janelle and I am a recovering Star Wars hater. For nearly half my life, literally from birth, as the story goes, I hated it. When I was 6 months old in December of 1977, my family went to see Star Wars at the Drive-in. I’m told I was miserable and cried through the ENTIRE experience. I never had any desire to ever see it again. In fact, I think I harbored some strange, subconscious resentment toward it all through my growing up.
Occasionally, I’d see snips of it walking through a room when others were watching it but for the most part, I grew up without the influence or interest. I was however, raised on Star Trek and was proud to be a “trekkie”. I could handle Klingons, Romulans and even the Ferengi, but I didn’t enjoy the idea of mouth-breathing space soldiers trying to destroy the universe. It seemed like a silly boy’s story, a war movie hidden inside a space adventure not even remotely targeted toward girls. There was one princess who was kind of a snobby brat, everything was brown and ugly, the aliens were ugly and oozing gross stuff, no unicorns, no tribbles, no warp drive, no dance breaks… I mean, what’s the point? All it is, is “Talk, talk, battle scene, talk, talk, battle scene-repeat, the end”. Blah. Boring.
While in high school, a friend’s boyfriend was CRAZY about Star Wars. I’d tease him about it and use Star Trek as my basis for why Star Wars was lame. I did kind of want to see them, but I wasn’t about to swallow my pride enough to do it and have him rub it in, so I continued to hate it for no reason for a few more years.The closest I got was when I was still in elementary school, I saw the movie with the Ewoks and LOVED it. There were kids, there were fuzzy, adorable critters… it was relatable. Everyone made fun of me for liking it, even the Star Wars fans, so I didn’t tell anyone.
Full disclosure; I did have a fear of Storm Troopers and had absolutely NO desire to watch a movie full of them. They reminded me of Nazis only more terrifying because you couldn’t see their eyes and they seemed to have no souls, just mindless creatures of unknown origin. Oh, and the AT-ATs… yeah, no. Those things were terrifying. Some people have fear of clowns, I had a fear of Storm Troopers and AT-ATs. Even the walkers gave me the creeps as they wandered around on their giant chicken-spider legs *shiver*… no thank you with your nightmare fodder.
Anyway, when I got out of high school, I started studying and practicing within the realm of Earth-based religions, studying Taoism, Buddhism and martial arts. I integrated many of these practices and philosophies into my life. Occasionally, the term “Jedi” would surface and I began to enjoy the idea of being like this class of beings who were all striving toward balance and peace, mystics and mages and enforcers of the light. I even had friends who called me Yoda because I adopted the phrase “Do or do not, there is no try” as a personal mission statement. Yet, even with that, I hadn’t actually taken much time to watch the films (of which at that point there were still only 3, The Phantom Menace was being made, but hadn’t yet come out).
So, in 1999, I decided I had better catch up with the rest of the world before the new one came out. I put aside my anxiety with the At-Ats and my random shuddering every time I saw the Storm Troopers. I tabled all my superior-thinking and the “Star Trek is better” mantras. I made the decision to look past the ugly, oozing creatures to see the beauty in the art form, and I vowed to try and just enjoy it for once.
I allowed myself to step out of my world and into their galaxy. It was like examining a painting I’d always seen but never actually looked at. I saw the magic that I’d missed before. I gave in to the universe, allowed myself to be taken on their quest and saw the pearls of wisdom, the lessons, the beauty of the journey in their most desperate hour. I took what I needed from it at that time, as it validated much of the internal work I was doing to better myself. I enjoyed it and deeply related to the path of the Jedi, but I didn’t become a “super fan” or even consider myself a REAL fan. I just … liked it.
Years later, I dated a REAL Star Wars fan who had read the books, watched every behind the scenes film, studied the art, understood the universe and knew it like the back of his hand. Through the early years of our relationship, I watched the films with new eyes. I asked questions, I gained perspective and I learned the details that were, up to that point, trivial to me as a passive viewer. At some point along the way, I realized I had fallen in love with this complicated universe as I discovered it was not just a “war movie in space”. In fact, it was no more just about war than a zombie movie is just about dead guys eating people.
It’s about hope. It’s about discovery. It’s about striving toward something greater than oneself in a world of chaos and being able to kindle the flames of goodness even in the darkest of places. It’s about standing up for the things you believe in even when it’s difficult and, especially, when it’s easiest to walk away.
I realized at some point, this series of films was nothing like what I had thought they were as an outsider. These weren’t even just “movies”. They were legends. Right up there with Lord of the Rings, this was a quest against darkness which, upon looking carefully, was completely relatable. I’d read Joseph Campbell’s work, studied Jung’s theories and saw direct connections for the first time. Each character became an archetype, a mirror, beautifully crafted to teach us about ourselves. The Caregiver, the Sage, the Shadow, the Hero… they were all there working within this story.
There was no way I could deny the value of such an intricate mythology. Our culture so desperately needs a mythos that provides hope, strength and a reminder of the power within to create change while striving toward goodness.
As I’ve transitioned through life from child to single woman, to a wife, now a mother and teacher, Star Wars and the teachings of the Jedi have continue to hold up. 40 years, almost to the day after I screamed my way through A New Hope, I walked out of Episode VIII understanding it’s continued relevance in our life.
Come what may, the story truly is a part of my family’s culture. My children are members of the Galactic Academy, our homeschool curriculum has Star Wars-themed books and we often use movie references to discuss the challenges we face in our day-to-day life. The lessons about light and dark always striving for balance, seeking to heal the monsters and humble the spirit while strengthening the mind and body have become core family values.
Clearly, this Saga is more than idle entertainment. It’s a reminder of our connection to one another, our responsibility to our higher calling, and, if you believe in that sort of thing, our connection to one another through the The Force (whatever that means to you). It shows us we can be both darkness AND light, the Mother AND the warrior, Hero AND Fool and especially now after VIII, it utterly demands that we, like all things, must stop clinging to the past and burst forward in new and powerful ways.
So then, why Star Wars? Because it’s inspiring and we need it. Desperately. In this era of political uncertainty and social confusion, our world needs these reminders of hope and courage. We need to feel the power of the resistance and to feel those archetypes working their magic within us through Leia and Luke and all who come in contact with them. The retellings of these old lessons refortify our understanding and our connection to the world around us. They provide teachable moments and opportunities to open valuable discussions about inclusion, compassion, injustice, racism, feminism, strength and so much more.
Star Wars has always and continues to provide us a common ground in a sea of differences and nothing, not even Star Trek, can accomplish this in such a beautiful, powerful, relatable way.