The extent to which Star Wars has changed our culture can never be overstated, and that’s because of one reason: It resonated.
How did it resonate? It spoke to ALL of us, both individually and as part of a society. When we sat down to watch A New Hope, we knew we were in a fairy tale, but there was, as Luke Skywalker put it, “something familiar about this place.”
It’s the Hero’s Journey — the Joseph Campbell monomyth structure that set a path we have all been on at some time in our life. We all know what it’s like to strive for our place. We all know what it’s like to lose someone we love. We know the sense of isolation, of loneliness, of despair, but we also know the hope — that’s what is eternal.
As if that wasn’t a strong enough of a connection, the Original Trilogy — like the others — is filled with visual queues that resemble our world. Spaceships look like World War II fighter planes, weapons look like those soldiers on all sides have carried — everything is done to elicit a certain emotion or to connect us to something we know.
With that sense of familiarity set in, the euphoria of the space adventure is heightened — thanks in large part to massive leaps in creativity and technology in the filmmaking process.
The laser-focused commitment to excellence in storytelling on display in the movies is something that always hits me when I see these films.
With the monomyth firmly in place, it’s supported by a strong theme — that technology, while not our enemy, is still inferior to nature.
And nature, humanity, starts with the individual and the choices he or she makes. Everything we do has consequences.
It’s sometimes referred to as the “Holy Trilogy” for good reasons: These films are so perfect that even intangibles that can’t really be engineered or created work. That’s evident in the chemistry of cast.
Everyone on screen — especially Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Billy Dee Williams — understood the material. They never took anything too seriously, but their commitment to their roles could not be denied. They were having as much fun as the audience.
Of course, three-year-old me wasn’t thinking of the literary devices and cinematic techniques at play when A New Hope was rolling in my local theater. That again points to the genius and complexity of these films. What once was excitement of piercing laser blasts, screaming TIE Fighters, and humming lightsabers is now admiration and inspiration of the storytelling.
The cinematic dedication in every scene in these three films still amazes me. Everything is calculated to connect the viewer to a mindset. It’s an achievement that can inspire any artist.
Consider this: Luke’s journey starts in a baron desert, a place that signifies being lost, which is exactly where he is when we meet him. After he discovers his destiny, and that there is a larger world waiting for him after his destruction of the Death Star, he is unaware of the next step. He is frozen in where he is … so, naturally, the setting is the ice world of Hoth. It’s a literary touch that is lost in the sequels, but that also shows how hard it is to layer a story with such levels.
If one pulls back to see the larger picture, perhaps the lasting legacy of these three films is the imagination it inspired. As much has been said about the timely nature of A New Hope’s premiere. Its opening scrolled up from the “malaise” of the ‘70s and all of the dark, depressing, pessimistic (and mostly incredible) films that came with it.
Optimism was awakened in the culture. And it happened because George Lucas decided to mount beloved genres onto the Campbell Hero’s Journey, wrap it in important themes, and place the bow of John Williams ICONIC music on top of it.
Thank you, George!