With The Force Awakens just around the corner, I’ve been pondering what it means to be a Star Wars fan…
You don’t have to be a Jedi Master to see that the anticipation surrounding this new movie transcends anything we’ve seen before, film or otherwise; preview trailers have zoomed around the internet faster than the Millennium Falcon can complete the Kessel Run, and the pre-ticket sales (US$50 million and counting) pretty much speak for themselves. The fresh-faces that adorn the posters – John Boyega and Daisy Ridley – have been transformed into household names overnight thanks to a marketing campaign that has splashed their gorgeous mugs across every magazine cover, bus stop and ad break possible. Simply put, the impact this film is going to have is massive, and it couldn’t be a better time to be a fan. But what is it about the series that resonates so clearly with people everywhere?
To the casual viewer, Star Wars is a very simplistic story; if we flashback to the first film, it’s a classic heroes tale that sees Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), an honest and wholesome farm boy thrust to the forefront of a grand adventure on a galactic scale. Joining him on his journey is a wizened mentor, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), a cocksure smuggler, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and a radiant royal in peril, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). It’s all classic stuff that pretty much set the standard for popcorn flicks, but underneath the exotic locales, strange aliens and formidable villains is an overarching element that has shaped generations of fans, transcended the films and permeated through popular culture as we know it.
Star Wars’ reputation for revolutionary visual effects and blockbuster storytelling is deeply ingrained in our collective cultural zeitgeist – from the opening shot of Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) immense Star Destroyer pursuing the vastly outgunned Rebel blockade runner to the nail-biting Death Star assault, George Lucas’ Original Trilogy opened our eyes to a vast galaxy of outstanding visual effects and creative filmmaking. But, and this is a big but, I’d argue that this isn’t the most influential element of Star Wars’ rapidly broadening legacy.
Neither is it the memorable characters, dialogue or visual design. We all know of Han Solo, his snappy one-liners (“Wonderful girl. Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her”) and his iconic costume, but again, this isn’t the most persuasive argument for justifying the popularity of Star Wars.
No, to me, there is something even greater that ties all this together, an underlying set of values and themes that elevates this work of fantasy into something tangible and observable. It’s real and ethereal, alien yet instantly familiar. I am of course talking about a force, or should that be the Force with a capital F, that promotes Lucas’ work from mere films to a pseudo-religious experience.
In the first full-length trailer for The Force Awakens, the whispery tones of Luke Skywalker are used to illustrate how the mystical ties his family shares with the titular all-encompassing power is what ties together the entire series: “The Force is strong in my family” he says. “My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too.”
Although this line is a slight spin on a similar one from Return of the Jedi and has been most likely twisted to fit into the ‘next-generation’ narrative of The Force Awakens, I like to think that Luke isn’t just speaking to another character, but the audience viewing the film as whole. The Force isn’t just a hand-wavy excuse for magical powers – it’s a byword for something equally significant that we can see the impact of every day.
You see, much like how the Force binds together every living creature in the Star Wars universe, so too does it create a vast, meaningful shared experience for Star Wars fans across the world. Not because it allows us to move objects with our mind, but because it moves emotions in our heart. You only have to look as far as the #ForceForDaniel campaign that raced across social media last month to see the real world impact that this “hokey religion” can have.
Tasked with petitioning for Daniel Fleetwood, a terminally-ill fan to see the new film ahead of schedule, Star Wars fans across the globe joined forces to create one voice; a united force, if you will. After succeeding in garnering the attention of Disney, Lucasfilm and The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams, Daniel was granted his wish of viewing the new film. He sadly passed away just five days later, but the significance of the campaign wasn’t lost on anyone.
The end result was the feel-good news story of the year, the perfect illustration of how the narrative within Star Wars informs and exemplifies the actions of its audience. If you’re looking for further validation, you only need to look at the 501st Legion, a costuming charity that uses Star Wars cosplay to raise money for sick children under the tagline “Bad guys doing good”.
Star Wars isn’t simply a film, nor is it just a cinematic landmark that redefined the genre. It’s a journey that millions of people have and will continue to experience and collectively share – whether they queued around the block back in ’77 or crashed a website or two racing to buy tickets in 2015.
May the Force be with us all.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes to Australian cinemas December 17th
Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures