Today is Star Wars Day. (May the 4th be with you, etc.) I’m wearing my requisite Stormtrooper T-shirt underneath “proper” work attire; my wife is sporting a set of Princess Leia earrings. This weekend we went to see the new Avengers movie, which was a suitably OTT colour and sound overload (never mind the Slush Puppie). It was not, however, the only highlight of the evening. I had to stop myself from standing up in the cinema and applauding when the new trailer for Episode VII appeared. I was five years old again. Like many worshippers at the Church of George Lucas, I’m counting down the months to December when the 20th Century Fox fanfare will give way seamlessly to the panorama of yellow text scrolling across a field of stars. Billions will be made and die-hard fans will see it over and over regardless of how actually good it’s going to be. (The less said about Jar-Jar Binks, the better.) As a good friend of mine posted on Facebook when the teaser trailer aired on YouTube, “Please don’t be crap... please don’t be crap...”
Star Wars means many things to me. John Williams’s six scores (so far) are unforgettable, homages to the apogees of Romantic symphonic music that can more than hold their own in a concert hall. Return of the Jedi always makes me think of my father, who loved Jabba the Hutt and Salacious Crumb. I don’t know how many times we watched it together, but whenever I hear the “Luke and Leia” theme I tear up. I also remember having a picture book with an accompanying cassette tape about A New Hope where, I think, I saw pictures of galaxies for the first time. It fuelled my life-long interest in astronomy that has both been endearing to some (picnics under lunar eclipses) and homicidal to others (Why the glum face? You should be honoured I woke you up to see the Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower at 3 am.)
Star Wars is not just robots and light sabers and Darth Vader’s asthmatic breathing. It’s opera and romance and intrigue and comedy and tragedy too. I’d go as far as to say that George Lucas created the 20th Century’s most enduring fairy tale. Just consider the opening titles. “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away”: The poignancy in that phrase kind of makes “Once upon a time” sound like a sophomoric effort.
You either like Star Wars or you don’t. This is not an admonishment: I’ve never quite “gotten” The Lord of The Rings (the books I mean). I’ve found it difficult to read, but it brings unparalleled joy to many, and there’s no question Tolkien was a consummate artist. I’m also going to out myself as a traitor here: I love Star Wars and am an ardent Trekkie too (60% / 40% love respectively.) I have relatives who frequently confuse the two: an aunt of mine kept on asking “where is the pointy-eared man?” when I was watching The Empire Strikes Back with my cousins, earning her a heavy sigh.
The Star Wars Franchising Machine is a money-making leviathan, and people have wondered whether all of its is egregious. Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, absolutely refused to let his beloved comic strip be marketed beyond syndication (compare the million Garfield stuffed toys out there.)
But, at some stage, a well-loved story becomes bigger than its author(s). Archiveofourown, anyone? I myself have penned over a 100 000 words of mawkish and badly-written fan-fiction. I’ll never admit to it if it is found. It only matters whether you love the story, and whether it moves you.
I think the true testament to the phenomenon is that for millions today, they shall be reminiscing, riding little waves of nostalgia, reclaiming, if only for a moment, a sense of wonder, of myth, of legend.
Yes to all that for me. And I’ll also confess that listening to the Imperial March while weaving through morning traffic is very therapeutic.
Happy Star Wars Day, and (yes I have to say it), May The Force Be With You.