For any geek born after about ’65, an inborn love of Star Wars comes standard. With only the rare exception, we have our opinions, our theories, our love and enthusiasm, all in various degrees of fanaticism. We had our minds blown at an early age, and it shaped our lives in a way no film made before or since has done to such a large populace.
Coughing up a few thousand words on some Star Wars related subject is not difficult, as a cursory scan of the internet will tell you. A much trickier proposition comes in trying to say something on the subject that has not already been said from a dozen to a million times over. That estimate is absolutely literal; people can’t shut up about Star Wars, and people are pretty obsessed with it, especially the story’s absolute minutiae. Very few fans would fail a test with questions like “Name each bounty hunter” or “identify the name of each Imperial/Rebellion ship,” even though that information isn’t in the actual movies themselves. Star Wars absolutely breeds obsession.
The Sequart organization specializes in separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to garden variety geeks and those with almost professorial level expertise on pop cultural matters, things many would perhaps rightly consider absolutely trivial. I’ve written for their website a time or two (or three, or four), and been honored to do so, because I feel like my snobbery on these subjects is somewhat vindicated through association with these gentlemen. We’re not talking about disposable trash, this is high art, and we can build a case for you.
It was only a matter of time before they would set their sites on Star Wars. It’s finally happened, just ahead of The Force Awakens and the holiday season. The first book of three is now available:
Considering just how many geeks could’ve been chosen to contribute an essay to this tome, I’m more than a little honored that editors Rich Handley and Joe Berenato asked me to do this. I tried to go as deep geek as I could manage, and went heavy into the breach. Here’s a bit from my essay, entitled What’s So Dark About the Dark Side? Good, Evil, and the Spectrum of Compassion in the Star Wars Saga:
When one speaks of the struggle at the root of every chapter of the Star Wars saga, it almost always boils down to the basic, maybe even pedantic (depending on who you are talking to) old chestnut of good versus evil. There’s the light side of the Force and there’s the dark side. Those on the light side are virtuous and good, the types who live to serve all that is right in the galaxy. Those on the dark side, by contrast, are cruel and villainous, prone to strangling their own minions and murdering the innocent for little or no reason.
In the original film – the one that forms the basis of how this series of movies will be perceived until Disney produces enough of them that there are too many to watch in a single weekend, and enough time has gone by that the average mall theatergoer will be as unlikely to recall who Harrison Ford is as a Hot Topic customer today would be able to tell you three things about Burt Lancaster – this simple “nice versus mean” dichotomy is especially prevalent. In 1977, the theatrical release of Star Wars was welcomed as a new, big break in what was becoming a lexicon of science fiction material that had forgotten how to just exist as pure, whimsical joy. Star Wars wasn’t an allegory for Vietnam, Watergate, racism, social injustice, or anything existential at all. Timed perfectly by happenstance with disco’s ascendance, Star Wars was celebrated as a complete release – a good-time thrill ride, a way to forget your troubles and tribulations for an hour and a half, and to refrain from asking yourself even as simple a question as “Why are the explosions in outer space audible?”
Star Wars became cemented right away as the science fiction that you turned to if you didn’t feel like thinking too much. If you felt like being bummed out, you still had 2001: A Space Odyssey to fall back on. Hell, even a flick as corny and hammy as Invasion of the Body Snatchers still had a message. As radio spots advertised at the time, Star Wars was “all for fun.”
However, The Empire Strikes Back, as has been pointed out numerous times, complicates matters. In this movie, the first signs emerge that the villain in the black hat wasn’t always evil, and perhaps the possibility exists that the callow young space farmboy might just potentially follow suit. However, “I am your father” and all it entails and signifies has been dissected more times than the common frog, so let’s shift focus a bit.
As Luke (with R2-D2 in tow) trains on Dagobah, and while Han, Leia, and the rest of the gang hide out in Cloud City, we start to see our first glimpses of the rigidity in the old Jedi Order. Yoda initially outright refuses to have anything to do with Luke, as he is “too old…” at all of 23. But what becomes clear, on repeated viewings, is that the big-eared wiseass might just have been toying with our hero, trying to manipulate him into reacting a certain way. Yoda perpetually goads Luke, sort of the bad cop to Obi-Wan’s good cop in the old interrogation routine, similarly designed to break down the subject and build him back up again as something else.
There’s a very pivotal point at the end of Luke’s time on Dagobah (which is a frustratingly indeterminable amount of time, for those of us who think deeply about such things) that few fans ever seem to recognize. Pay attention, as this will come up again later. Luke senses that his friends are being tormented. He must go to them. Yoda tells him essentially that they aren’t worth it, their lives are insignificant in the bigger picture, and completing his training is more important. But Luke dismisses the little green man who would forever redefine little green men, flying off to face a much more powerful enemy for the love of his friends, the people (and Wookiee, and robots) who had become his family.
If you’re the kind of person who isn’t rolling your eyes or drowsing off by now, this is the book for you! Order it here, or if you live in Louisville, hit me up. I’ll have a reduced price for you.