A Whole New Galaxy: The Enduring Appeal of Star Wars

So the new Star Wars movie comes out this Friday.  And naturally, I’m going to talk about it.  I mean I can’t just talk about politics and video games all the time can I?  Hmm…I wonder……

But in all seriousness, Star Wars might as well be the definition of a cultural phenomenon.  Even as a little kid I was aware of it, despite the fact that Return of the Jedi came out seven years before I was even born.  It’s one of those pop-culture pieces of entertainment that transcends the generational boundary.  Not everyone will understand video games.  Not everyone will understand rap music.  But almost everyone understands Star Wars.

Which then leads me to ask, why is Star Wars such a popular thing?  You could argue that the franchise isn’t particularly that original.  It borrows heavily from Westerns and Samurai movies.  Its influences include Flash Gordon and other pieces of fantastical science-fiction.  A lot of it could be argued to be merely cut-out tropes from other stories that preceded it.

But you know what?  That’s a moot point.  Art imitates art.  Everything has been inspired by something.  Even the old literature that we constantly reference were influenced by older folk tales and oral storytelling.  Truly original stories no longer exist in our modern world, which is perfectly fine.  We as humans enjoy the comfort of the familiar.

Some of you who have taken literature classes might have heard of something called the “monomyth”, otherwise known as “the hero’s journey”.  The concept was introduced by Joseph Campbell back in 1949.  Essentially the monomyth is a generic plot structure used by many stories.  It starts out with a hero who goes on an adventure.  The hero faces hardships and trials that train him to become a better version of himself.  Once his training is complete, the hero faces the climax or final battle.  After the battle is won, the hero returns home a changed person, with some kind of reward or greater understanding of himself and his place in the world.

The formula looks like this:

separation–initiation–return (taken from here)

It’s a brand of storytelling that we are all comfortable and familiar with.  It’s simple and enjoyable, a timeless classic.  And that’s pretty much what Star Wars is.  The stories (at least in the movies) are rather uncomplicated.  It’s a tale of good vs. evil, light vs. dark.  There isn’t much complexity in the way things play out, although the characters in the universe aren’t necessarily bound to their sides (as proven by Darth Vader in the end of Return of the Jedi).  But the lack of complexity is actually the franchise’s strong point.  It allows people to jump in and just enjoy a grand journey.  They don’t need to sit and dissect the movie forever to understand it, like with some more experimental indie ventures.  The moment you see the words “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”, you know what to expect.

So in a lot of ways, I’m not expecting to be too surprised by The Force Awakens.  I expect that I will enjoy it, that I will consider it to be at the very least a good movie, but I’m not expecting it to throw me any curveballs.  And that’s fine.  I don’t really want Star Wars to suddenly become this super brooding and deep meditation on human existence.  That’s not what it’s about.  Star Wars is about adventure.  It’s about action.  It’s about the journey of the characters in this fantastical universe filled with mystical meaning.

But most importantly, it’s about fun.  Star Wars is just a fun time to watch, which is partly why I never understood the constant fighting between Star Wars and Star Trek fans.  They are two very different types of stories.  Star Wars is an action epic whereas Star Trek is a slow-paced, more thoughtful type of science-fiction.  They’re not really fighting for the same space I would argue.  But they do both serve the same purpose, and that is escapism.

And in the end, isn’t that what storytelling is, a chance to escape the humdrum of the real world, a chance to immerse yourself in a place that you can never go?


Well that’s all I have for this time.  Tune in next Wednesday and as always, have a wonderful week!

-insert obligatory Star Wars reference here-


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