Perplexed why Star Wars Day (a.k.a. May 4th) is getting so much attention? Can't wrap your head around Star Wars as a franchise? Are you a Star Wars fan in need some cathartic release on a day all about your favorite franchise? We've updated and re-published this feature just for you.
The odds of summarizing the collective love of three generations of Star Wars fans into a 1,300-word article for non-fans are 3,720:1, but someone has to try.
Someone has to attempt to explain why the original films about a dead-beat dad, a really weird brother-sister relationship and one colossal laser are worth so much to so many.
Someone will have to try and articulate how you can learn more about courage and standing up for what's right from an old hermit and a little green puppet in six hours than most ethics courses can teach you over a semester in college.
Someone also needs to take a stab at the reason why some folks freaked out when the series added a few fresh faces back in 2016 - and why, years from now, they might feel a bit differently.
To do that we’re going to need someone, a group of people probably, that love the series so much that they can impart the wisdom the films imparted onto them.
We’re not sure if we’re the team for the task, but all we can do is follow Yoda's timeless piece of wisdom: Do, or do not. There is no try.
Why do we love Star Wars?
The first group of Star Wars fans we want to address are the originals, the folks who watched them on the living room floor, in their pyjamas - or in the darkened theater - at a time in their life when the world was only just beginning to make sense.
For folks who grew up watching Star Wars, some of the best supervision we ever had was from a wise old kook named Obi-Wan and a scary Sith named Darth Vader.
And yet despite what any of us ‘original trilogy’ aficionados tell you, we didn’t understand George Lucas’ deep symbolism of the Empire and its demagogue emperor, or how borrowing the centuries-old ‘hero’s journey’ story archetype was an effective way to mold Luke’s character as an underdog. We couldn’t wrap their heads around the concepts of universal love, equity and fairness in a fictional world and how Star Wars was a mirror to a society that itself almost succumb to the Dark Side in 1943.
And we certainly couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of (and foresight needed to create) a story arc that made the good guys lose in The Empire Strikes Back and how that made the twist at the end of Return of the Jedi so much sweeter.
Back then, when we were all just half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herders, all we understood was that lightsabers look cool.
If you want the most basic of reasons why some of us like Star Wars, it's because the universe that so many creative hands have touched contains laser guns, spaceships, secret organisations that stretch back millennia and monsters that both frighten (the Rancor or Wampa) and entertain in equal measure. This sounds like weak reasoning, I know, but in terms of pure aesthetics Star Wars brings so much to the table.
If you're watching Star Wars for the first time, or are considering watching it for the first time, don't get caught up in the fine details of how Emperor Palpatine somehow climbed all the way to the top of the political ladder in less than two hours or if Qi’ra really has a thing for Han or if she’s just a pawn, and spend more time looking at the varied environments that never feel underdeveloped. Look at the cities that actually have a history and people…er, aliens...that have their own culture, ambitions and shortcomings. Take a good hard look at it here, because it's actually pretty darn hard to find anywhere else.
You might have heard of other creative companies making a ‘universe’ for their films or game developers that spend months crafting the perfect setting, but there’s a good reason George Lucas coined the term Star Wars universe right at the outset - the man had a vision of what he wanted to create.
Memorable characters and heart-wrenching plot
It's hard to talk about the characters and plots of the films without ruining any of what makes them so special. I can't tell you what happens to Luke or why he's so pissed off at an eight-feet-tall mechanical man. I guess I also can't tell you why Liam Neeson only made it through one film before getting forced out of the franchise.
What I can tell you is that the original movies follow this guy, a kid really, named Luke. He lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere and isn't really all that exceptional at anything. He doesn't have many friends (unless you count his soon-to-be-deceased aunt and uncle and Biggs Darklighter) and his only goal in life is getting away from where he was born.
Over the course of the next two films you watch Luke struggle to make decisions, often failing with horrible consequences (he loses his hand by the way.) There are other characters, like the roguish Han Solo, with a spotty past, and the feisty, capable leader Princess Leia who are great, too, and in time you'll come to relate to all of them in some capacity. They all exist in what we call the original trilogy.
If you start with the newer trilogy that starts with The Phantom Menace, you'll pick up with two Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, a handmaiden and a boy named Anakin Skywalker. (There's another character named Jar Jar Binks, but just ignore him.)
While the later movies are a tale of heroism and overcoming the odds, the former are about the temptation of power and the lengths we'll go to when protecting the ones we love.
Each are so important to the Star Wars world and while every fan will have something they’d like changed (whether that’s the existence of midichlorians or if Greedo shot first or second), it’s better to spend less time looking at little details and take in the entire tapestry as a whole.
To that end, the second reason the vast majority of us love Star Wars is that it’s a continuing saga. Characters change and some fans might take umbrage with that, but don’t let them turn this franchise that’s supposed to be about hope and heroism into a niche experience that only caters to a single cultural viewpoint.
To put it more succinctly, why we all love Star Wars so much is because like us, it never stopped growing - and that’s really important.
But the new stuff is trash, right?
If you’re someone reading this and think just because we’ve talked about the original trilogy so much that we don’t absolutely adore the new films, you’re wrong - we think films like Solo, Rogue One and Episode VIII are just as good as anything that’s come before them.
We’re not saying Episodes VII, VIII and IX aren’t without their weak spots, because boy are there some issues, but they still offer valuable lessons on heroism and how failure as a teacher is exactly what students need to see. Heck, even parts we didn’t like - Rose saving Finn, for example - we came to understand as necessary for a bigger plot arc. (Sacrifice in war, don’t forget, is a key theme in Star Wars.)
Similar points could be made for Solo and Rogue One, two movies that expand the cinematic universe without necessarily following the same formula we’ve seen EIGHT times already. These films, despite not following Lucas' template, allowed other filmmakers and different voices play in the sandbox that is the Star Wars universe and is so important for its growth and continuation for the next generation.
And look, if you’re just starting out with Star Wars, we encourage you to start anywhere you want. Whether that’s Episode I (the first film in the main franchise) or Episode IX (the most modern film in the franchise) or even the side stories, any place is a good spot. Star Wars films, we think everyone will agree, are by their very nature adventure stories and adventures often have multiple beginnings.
For the rest of the fandom out there, we could take the time to outline why Episode VIII needed to end like that (that’s the way the force works), why Episode IX succeeds in spite of its flaws, why Rogue One introduces characters never seen anywhere else (that’s the way espionage works) or why Solo is the most self-referential film of all-time (see: Qi’ra knowing Teräs Käsi), but we won’t. Because that sets a precedent - that movies need to cater to us rather than live by their own ethos.
On that note, the last reason we’ll give about why we love Star Wars is that it reinvents itself - both in films and TV shows, but in comics and games, books and fan-fiction. It lives on in the hearts and minds of those who love it, cherish it and, eventually, through the people who spread it onto the next generation. (Hint, hint, that's what the new trilogy is all about!)
Apologies for the Midi-chlorians
Here comes the apology part: If you don't feel this way about George Lucas's films or don't have that sense of curiosity for the universe or get overwhelming nostalgic for your childhood (or whenever it was you saw your first Star Wars), I'm sorry.
I'm sorry you'll never get to experience the same thrill we did when we saw the decrepit Star Destroyer in the first The Force Awakens. I'm sorry you won't be able to make jokes or get the cultural references that the rest of us will continue to make for the next few decades.
But if this explainer-turned-apology letter didn't change your mind about the franchise, that's OK. It's OK not to like something that many other people like. Heck, I've never understood why people liked Elvis so much. I've never seen The Godfather and I haven't read Lolita. So if you choose to make Star Wars your Godfather or Elvis, I understand.
That said, for the fans out there who expect us to be angry at the franchise because it didn't do x, y or z, or because Disney has been pushing to create more content in that universe, we're not that kind of site and I'm not that kind of person. Creating films is a hard business and while we don't always love companies using Star Wars to sell merchandise or interrupt shows and movies you actually like to remind you that there's another film on its way, we respect that the people working on these films love them just as much as you or I do. Don't let a few bad experiences ruin what could turn into a lifelong obsession with one of the only truly great franchises to survive into the twenty first century.
If Star Wars has taught me anything, it's that there's more good than bad in life. You live in a universe with at least seven billion other people, and even though some of them may seem like strange alien lifeforms, we all generally fight for the same thing: a peaceful place to live.
To that end, if you're looking for something as inspirational as it is action-packed, as thoughtful as it is original, then do I have a series for you.
- Need a guide to get started? Here's how to watch the Star Wars movies in order