I can barely pick up the TV remote now without picturing it as a lightsaber. (Think I’m kidding?)
And, if I’m honest, I still feel more Jedi than wizard when I sit down to meditate today.
It wasn’t just the films and the toys. Actually, it was never really about the toys. (Although I rather liked the Micro Machines that came out in the early nineties.)
But the books, comics, the RPG, the trading card game, PC games like X-wing and Dark Forces… give me the whole gundark.
As an adolescent, it was a galaxy that was vast, old, unexplored and mine.
It was a galaxy where one small person could make a difference against overwhelming odds. You could drop a single Jedi on an occupied planet and a few days later there would be a revolution. Honour codes and open roads, man.
Sign me the fuck up.
And whilst the overall thesis of this article is extremely weak, and the characterisation of long-term Star Wars fans is lazy, and he brushes aside all Europeans as static, wise leprechauns just waiting to impart their cultural treasures to the next passing American backpacker… it does manage to get close to part of the allure here:
The phenomenal success of Star Wars speaks to a spiritual hunger, particularly in the context of America’s cultural ambiguity. Unlike the Old World, which had thousands of generations of matured tradition and myth to provide a bedrock of identity, America was and is, collectively, an uninitiated child. With no visceral rites of passage to provide a spiritual transition into adulthood, a certain portion of American youth reach for the powerful yet ultimately impoverished substitute of the cinema. Star Wars dances on the line between gaudy commercial spectacle and indispensable world-explaining myth. As far as the Cool Kids Table is concerned, Star Wars is just a weird movie about aliens and robots. To the Loner Geeks, Star Wars is proof that there is a transcendent narrative embedded in the fabric of reality.
Growing up like I did in a pre-internet world on the fringes of an empire, somewhere really hot, sandy and isolated, with an agricultural economy, it’s easy to see how Star Wars was an incubator big enough to grow the adult Gordon. I could sit, almost catatonic, for hours and just be in that galaxy. The options for cultural connectivity or identity formation were otherwise fairly limited. But here was all the context and all the story I needed to grow in the ‘lab of fiction’ rather than in the ‘natural womb of my indigenous culture’.
For me, liking Star Wars wasn’t about cool kids versus nerds. It was about those who needed a Turangawaewae and those that were happy to just surf and watch appalling Australian television. (It’s still appalling. It just complains more loudly about it now.) The spectrum wasn’t cool-to-uncool, it was mythic-to-archonic.
Today the word ‘myth’ is often used to describe something that simply isn’t true. A politician accused of a peccadillo will say it is a ‘myth’, that it never happened. When we hear of gods walking the earth, of dead men striding out of tombs, or of seas miraculously parting to let a favoured people escape from their enemies, we dismiss these stories as incredible and demonstrably untrue. Since the eighteenth century, we have developed a scientific view of history; we are concerned above all with what actually happened. But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what the event had meant. A myth was an event which, in some sense, happened once, but which also happened all the time. Because of our strictly chronological view of history, we have no word for such an occurrence, but mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence[.]
And like the Cthulhu Mythos, the Star Wars Galaxy appears to be a story on its way somewhere. It’s appearance in our reality was almost thwarted before it began. Then, from humble beginnings, immediately grew across literally all channels of media within a few decades. What has ever moved so quickly and so far?
Hence, you can make and defend the position that George Lucas may actually be the greatest artist of the twentieth century. (It almost has me convinced. My pushback is magical rather than critical: like Lovecraft, it appears he is the doorway rather than the actual house.)
In his epochal six-film Star Wars saga, he fused ancient hero legends from East and West with futuristic science fiction and created characters who have entered the dream lives of millions. He constructed a vast, original, self-referential mythology like that of James Macpherson’s pseudo-Celtic Ossian poems, which swept Europe in the late 18th century, or the Angria and Gondal story cycle spun by the Brontë children in their isolation in the Yorkshire moors…
While plot and dialogue may be de-emphasized, a simple yet cohesive philosophical system permeates all six films of Star Wars. Lucas’s youthful liberalism (versus his father’s rock-ribbed conservatism) was typical of the bohemian San Francisco Bay Area, a 1960s hotbed of radical politics and psychedelia.
Lucas understandably dislikes allegory just as much as Tolkien did. This does not mean, in both their cases, that their artistic antennae weren’t tuned to the conflicts of their respective eras. Just as the War of the Ring is influenced by the Somme, it’s not hard to see the Pentagon in the Death Star, the Empire in the Conservative/capitalist imperial project and the jungles of Vietnam in the rebel moonbase near Yavin IV. Indeed, you are pretty much expected to in film school.
Similarly, in Episodes I, II and III, you can see the same neoconservative imperial actors playing both sides of a conflict via lies and false flags to completely erode the liberties and safeguards of the Republic, replacing them with an unelected, militaristic oligarchy guided by its own twisted religious sentiments. (!)
This is what good myths do. This is how tales grow in the telling. Rather than simply telling us about our past, they offer us a way to see the world in a context that empowers us to live in it and make it better.
Let’s quote from a review of Why America Failed by Morris Berman:
At the time of Twilight’s publication, America had not yet had an election of questionable legitimacy. It had not yet been attacked simultaneously in its political and financial capitals. It had not yet stripped millions of citizens of their constitutional rights in the name of safety and security. It had not yet invaded a country that posed no threat. It had not yet begun practicing torture and it had not yet allowed New Orleans – one of its greatest cities – to perish for lack of assistance in the world’s richest nation.
The attacks of September 11th, the brutal governmental response, Hurricane Katrina and the criminally negligent governmental response to it, all transpired between the publication of Berman’s first America book and his second, Dark Ages America.
Imperial upkeep eats away most of the federal budget – the current budget allocates 57 percent of discretionary spending to the Pentagon – and the nation is going bankrupt as a result. Meanwhile, an aggressive foreign policy makes for a jingoistic, bloodthirsty citizenry. Berman points to studies and surveys showing terrifyingly large numbers of Americans supportive of limitations on free speech in wartime, restrictions on religious freedom for Muslims, and harsh regulations on the editorial liberty of the press.
Back to Star Wars… specifically Revenge of the Sith.
The Mustafar duel, which took months of rehearsal, with fencing and saber drills conducted by the sword master Nick Gillard, was executed by Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor at lightning speed. It is virtuosic dance theater, a taut pas de deux between battling brothers, convulsed by attraction and repulsion. Their thrusts, parries, and slashes are like passages of aggressive speech. It is one of the most passionate scenes ever filmed between two men, with McGregor close to weeping. The personal drama is staged against a physical one: Wrangling and wrestling, Anakin and Obi-Wan fall against the control panels of a vast mineral-collection plant, which now starts to malfunction and fall to pieces. As the two men run and leap for their lives, girders, catwalks, and towers melt and collapse into the lava, demonstrating the fragility of civilization confronted with nature’s brute primal power.
Lucas crosscuts to the delirious destruction on Coruscant of the Great Rotunda of the Galactic Senate, with its thousand round balconies in cool tonalities of gray and black. This twinned ruination of industrial and political architecture is an epic Romantic spectacle, like split parts of J.M.W. Turner’s eyewitness painting of the catastrophic burning of the British Houses of Parliament in 1834. Williams’s thunderous choral score, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, has the implacable charge of a Black Mass. The sound mix, overseen by Lucas, is unnerving: a tempest of roars, hisses, sputters, clangs, and splashes goes shockingly blank and silent when Anakin’s arm and legs are severed midair. He falls heavily to the ground, where he crawls like a serpent with demonic yellow eyes before he catches fire and is half-incinerated.
After Palpatine defeats Yoda amid the ruins of the Republican Senate, the little green one says “into exile I must go. Failed I have.”
This pretty much brings us George Lucas’s sale of Lucasfilm and Star Wars to Disney. Tales grow in the telling and this story is on a mission of its own.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly… Yes, Disney is a giant corporation and blah blah blah. (Whereas Lucasfilm is what? A struggling independent staying true to its non-commercial roots? Krusty the Klown is less of a sellout. I say that without negative judgement.) But Disney, at least, also has a decent track record in rebooting Errol Flynn style swashbucklers and comic heroes. With the mouse in the house, our beloved galaxy is more likely to go to a decent director and not Michael motherfucking Bey.
Secondly… The Cthulhu Mythos only really got good when it was gamified, if you ask me. I don’t actually think Lovecraft was that talented a writer. Lucas freely admits to disliking screenwriting. Here’s a thought experiment: what is the Star Wars Mythos going to look like in 80 years time?
Finally… we can own the DVDs or the books but none of us actually own a mythology. (Lucas just rented it, anyway.) Like Yoda, we have to let that fixed perspective on the world go. The Lucasfilm sale doesn’t outrage me. Do I think it’s a good thing that kids in the near-future may get brand new Jedi tales straight-to-phone?
Yeah, I do. Failed we have.
And as a result, they are really gonna need the Force to be with them.