“Rookie” rhymes with “Wookie” – that’s a word association I wouldn’t have smiled to myself and felt all fuzzy inside about as recently as two years ago. I never really saw Star Wars until last year. I mean, I have watched the original trilogy twice over the course of my life, but I never really got it. I will have to say here that I didn’t grow up in America, where Star Wars is a huge cultural presence. I live on the other side of the planet, where it didn’t have quite the same impact as it did at home.
However, it pays off to have dedicated Star Wars fans for friends, and so an American friend convinced me last year to give these films another try. Third time’s a charm, they say. It was certainly true for me with Star Wars, which I discovered to be timeless and universal.
In the soulless CGI wasteland of today’s cinema, the first Star Wars made in 1977 is an incredible breath of fresh, real air. The set designs look amazing, especially considering the odds that George Lucas had to overcome in bringing his vision to the screen. There are actual locations and constructed sets that make it easy for a viewer to suspend disbelief and feel that they truly are in this galaxy that is supposed to be far, far away.
As a general feel, Star Wars is a film that is a celebration of itself. It is happy to be what it is. From the music to the rich landscape of creatures and to the actors’ performances, there is a joy of life, a positive energy and a drive to have fun that pervade the entire film. Even the evil Darth Vader seems to enjoy being in there. Perhaps all that is actually Lucas’s enthusiasm showing through.
Much of the power of Star Wars lies in its great humor, which is devoid of connotations, political or of any other kind. It is easy to embrace, and it ranges from something as simple as the sounds a creature makes or the way it moves, to the delicious sarcasm of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Eventually, Star Wars works because of its optimism. Even if there is real danger and real tragedy involved in the story, the characters always manage to look ahead with hope and confidence, and they choose to fight the good fight. That is a kind of story that is always worth telling and that we, humans, will always relate to.
The one thing that made Star Wars opaque to me for a long time, is its unique mix of fantasy and sci-fi, but I think I finally get it. What makes it unique is the seamless degree to which Lucas managed to blend the two genres. Sci-fi provides the setting for a story that is fantasy in terms of themes and characters. Star Wars is, in fact, a fantasy story set in space, with an added Western flavor. There is one scene in particular that sums up the nature of Star Wars to me, and that is the bar scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker are looking for Han Solo. The saloon-like establishment with its music and noise is a pinnacle of the Western genre. Even a bar brawl breaks out at some point. Then, there is the mix of crazy creatures that we encounter throughout the film, which are essentially aliens – a sci-fi concept – but they look like creatures that we might encounter in fantasy.
To me, Obi-Wan Kenobi is probably the character that belongs most to the fantasy genre. He bears similarities to Gandalf from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings at times. He is in possession of an ancient wisdom and he nudges the young, reluctant Luke towards becoming what he is destined to become – a hero. I loved the moment when he introduced the lightsaber, which is basically a laser sword, in other words a classic fantasy weapon in sci-fi disguise. Obi Wan refers to the lightsaber as “an elegant weapon”, opposing it to the guns that are being used in the time frame of the film. That’s an important idea in fantasy – the idea of fighting for honor and fighting with elegance as opposed to just killing enemies mindlessly. This is why I think that the character of Darth Vader isn’t entirely objectionable. He may be the exponent of utter evil with his black scary suit and mask, but he still has respect for the Force and for the Jedi way. I thought the scenes between him and the council members, particularly the one who didn’t believe in the Force, revealed Darth Vader to be one step above them, as they do not seem to believe in anything other than their obsession for power.
I found the concept of the Force to be very interesting. Obi Wan explains that it is an energy field generated by all living things and that binds together the universe, and later it is even referred to as a religion. Of course, it is not a conventional religion, but it is something that is sort of beyond the here and now. It’s something that Darth Vader himself has “faith” in. I think it was a bold and welcome move on Lucas’s part to make religion a part of the Star Wars universe. I see the Force as what religion should be in the real world. The Force acts not only as an agent of communion through all living things, but also as some kind of authority whose laws have to be abided by. It gives strength to those who have faith in it, but it also keeps those people aware of the fact that they are part of a bigger world and that they cannot harm one another without consequence.
Of course, there are also innocent non-believers such as Han Solo, who isn’t intent on harming anyone. His character is imperfect, but Harrison Ford plays him with such charm that one cannot help loving him. He’s selfish, slightly arrogant, he believes in material things such as money rather than in the Force, he has no respect for the royal statute of Princess Leia, at least not in the beginning, but through all that you can see that he’s a decent fellow and a really fun guy. And even if he himself does not believe in the Force, he respects those who do, such as Luke, to whom he says “May the Force be with you” when Luke goes out to fight the Empire while Han chooses to stay behind.
I also loved that there is a clear progression for the characters of Luke and Han especially from the beginning of the film, when they are each concerned with their own little part of the world (although Luke was dreaming of heroic deeds in the first place) to the end of the film, when they become part of the greater world. Luke’s journey is certainly that of the hero, and one big step for him is realizing that he can and he must do something to save the galaxy from the tyranny of the Empire. And that’s where things like faith in the Force come in: even if the odds are against you, you have to believe that you possess the power to make Good overcome Evil, and you have to take action.
The character of Princess Leia was another highlight of the film for me, as a girl nerd. While retaining her feminine graces, Leia is more of a Viking shieldmaiden than she is a helpless princess in need of rescue. Leia is the warrior Princess who has the skill and the courage to fight for her people, and she does so with utter confidence.
I could not end this review without mentioning the endearing presence of C3PO and R2-D2. I became attached to them almost immediately even if they are seemingly just metal and wires. But that’s the thing. They are not. The droids of Star Wars are certainly not the robots of Asimov, or the androids of Star Trek. Lucas’s droids may not be as sophisticated as Data, for example, but they have heart (and this is not meant as unfavorable commentary of Star Trek’s Data, as he is also utterly loveable). They have personalities, emotions, and they form real friendships. I find R2-D2 particularly remarkable because, although he only communicates through beeps and flashing lights, we can still understand what he’s trying to express through C3PO’s reactions, and what R2-D2 expresses are human feelings, such as loyalty, friendship or the fear of being left behind.
Ultimately, I think Star Wars is a film that anyone can watch when feeling down, because it’s so much fun and so full of energy and of hope that I cannot imagine anyone feeling down at the end of it.
Livia Miron is a hired writing gun in the IT industry and a creative writer in real life. She is a long-time Star Trek fan, a devout Middle-earther and a recent Star Wars convert. Currently, her passion for writing is driving her deeper and deeper into the mithril-laden mines of Hobbit fan fiction. Livia lives in Romania and is proud of her heritage, but she is also an incurable Anglophile.