A space opera. Akira Kurosawa with lasers. Cowboys in the cosmos. A family drama concerning a big part-robot bloke with invisible magic powers and chronic asthma, his estranged Princess/General/breakfast pastry coiffed daughter, and simple blue-milk drinking yokel farmhand son with a sword made out of a big torch. These are all adequate and accepted definitions of the Star Wars saga, and when you look at it, it is a series that really shouldn’t have worked.
But it did. Oh boy did it work.
40 years, four and a half films (we don’t include the prequels round these parts, and Rogue One was only kinda Star Wars) and billions of dollars in revenue later the Star Wars train shows no signs of slowing down. By the time you have read this, Episode VIII – The Last Jedi will be out in cinemas and many of you may have already seen it (no spoilers please, thank you). The Disney helmed galaxy busting bonanza is already predicted to rake in an opening weekend total of over $220million, just shy of the $248million record set by – you guessed it – Episode VII – The Force Awakens back in 2015.
Studios famously thought the original would sink without a trace back in 1977, so much so that 20th Century Fox allowed George Lucas control of all merchandise and licensing rights in lieu of a $500,000 pay-out for his work on the film. After-all, this would work out cheaper for them in both the short and long-term because no-one in 1977 would take a sci-fi epic seriously, right? Listen closely and you can faintly hear Lucas dab away tears of laughter with hundred dollar bills, or official Star Wars branded tissue paper, y’know, whichever is nearest.
The question lingers; what is it about Star Wars that birthed such a phenomenon that only grows stronger with each passing year? Is it the cool character designs? The fiercely independent female characters who tell girls and boys you can do whatever you want regardless of your gender? Chewbacca yelling at people for no apparent reason? Mad puppets? It’s a lot simpler than that.
The appeal of Star Wars is that it is a classic tale which has been told time and time again, just reframed; you have the rescuing of a Princess, the battle of good against evil, the guidance of a wise old man and young men doing backflips in a swamp with magic riddle-spouting green OAP frog things in their backpacks… well, maybe that last one was an original concept, but the other points still stand. Audiences are familiar with Star Wars before ever clapping eyes on it, because George Lucas in his wisdom managed to piece together many successful elements from different genres and merge them into ‘a mere sci-fi romp’.
The obvious comparison is that the Star Wars films can be seen as classic Westerns, but set in a galaxy far far away. Think about it; Darth Vader is an evil Sheriff bedecked all in black. Luke Skywalker is the lowly farmhand who leaves home in search of adventure and purpose. Han Solo is the cocky hired gun found in a rough saloon.
Other genres are thrown into the mix too. You have the Jedi and Sith, who are based on knights and samurai respectively. The Force is a way of getting fairy tale magic in the mix, furthered by the inclusion of the Ewoks and their enchanted forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. You have horrific monsters like the Wampa in Empire Strikes Back and the invertebrate gangster/intergalactic party-slug Jabba the Hutt. And finally for some pure sci-fi credentials, bung in some robots and exploding spaceships. Et voila; the majority of popular genres mixed together to make a sci-fi fantasy stew guaranteed to enthral all that encounter it.
What makes a good story iconic is if it is passed down to each new generation. With Star Wars, my older brother showed it to me when I was 7 and I was instantly hooked, then a few years back he showed his son and daughter, with me backing him up when explaining why Boba Fett is dead cool. When I finally bless/curse the world with children of my own you can bet your house that I will introduce them to Leia, Obi Wan and co as soon as they are able to comprehend stories. Heck, as soon as they are able to open their eyes they’re getting sat down in front of Star Wars with me enthusiastically explaining complex lore and mysticism that will definitely go over the head of any one-month old baby. I can’t wait.