5.24.2007

IN LOVE WITH STAR WARS - CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF STAR WARS

C-3PO: Don't call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease! Now come out before somebody sees you.
(Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope)


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My best friend Cara just turned 30. She is beautiful, smart, funny and generous, but no man she dates seems to last more than a couple of months. And I blame Star Wars. In particular, I blame Han Solo.

Cara was barely one month old when Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope brought the Force to our suburban theatres. She was seven when her parents first allowed the Corellian smuggler into her lounge room. And Cara has been in love ever since.

Han Solo is the template for the men Cara chases today. She wants the maverick, the bad guy with enough wit and charisma to make you forgive his overwhelming arrogance. Want to know what maturity has brought to Cara’s crush on Mr Solo? Not much, to be honest. “He is ruggedly gorgeous, a rogue, and a very naughty boy!” she told me this morning, with a grin.

Han Solo overcame his mercenary traits just in time to turn around and help the Rebels defeat Darth Vader. But unfortunately here in Sydney, Australia, the real bad boys in Cara’s life rarely look back.

There are some elements of popular culture, pop icons, if you will, that have such an extraordinary influence on our psyche that without realising it, we allow them to become guiding forces in our life choices.

And for just about anyone born between 1970 and 1985, Star Wars is one of those pop icons. In fact, it would have been pretty hard for any of us to have avoided being touched with the Star Wars stick. In a TIME magazine article of 2002, writer Richard Corliss attributed Star Wars to pretty much every movie-marketing spin-off practice we’re so familiar with today.

For kick-starting tie-in marketing campaigns, such as those with McDonalds, he thanks Star Wars. And for introducing episodic movie cloning (“there was no Gone With the Wind II,”), Corliss says we can also look to George Lucas. Computer-generated special effects were a Star Wars phenomenon, as was the introduction of THX loudspeakers, bringing stereo sound to theatres. Star Wars created a market for collectibles (“every kid has to have Star Wars action figures, lightsabers, key chains, books,”), video arcade space themes, and warp-speed theme park rides. Even one-time President of the United States, Ronald Regan, used “Regan’s Star Wars” as the alias for his Strategic Defence Initiative.

Against such an onslaught, what chance did us vulnerable kids have? George Lucas was using the Force, indeed.

My friend Dave, a graphic designer, told me today that when he was a kid, Star Wars was The One. There were plenty of other movies, TV shows, books and games that could and did capture his attention, but Star Wars was the big kahuna, the mother of all his boyhood influences.

After a quick poll, I’ve discovered that Star Wars imprinted the following (admittedly rather questionable) lessons on the impressionable minds of my friends:

1. Sword-play is much more interesting if the blade is made of fluorescent light
2. Appearances can be misleading (think Yoda flying around his swamp doing Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-esque martial arts)
3. Villains are scarier if lung cancer has affected their voices
4. Boys like girls who wear their hair as headphones
5. We will probably be flying in space-ships by the time we grow up

In his article An American Mythology: Why Star Wars Still Matters on the Decent Films Guide, Steven D Greydanus writes:

“… Lucas’s universe has had an impact on generations of moviegoers utterly out of all proportion to its formidable qualities as spectacle or excitement. The Force, the Jedi knights, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan, Princess Leia, Yoda, lightsabers, and the Death Star hold a place in the collective imagination of countless Americans that can only be described as mythic.”

And if Aussie Cara’s story is anything to go by, the reach of Star Wars in popular culture extends well beyond America’s borders.

My own heart was not as easily touched as Cara’s, and I remained a more distant admirer of Mr Han Solo. However, I confess to wanting my own Wookie as a pet, and to trying – and failing – to wind my hair into balls over my ears.

And for about half a decade, I plotted my days under the careful guidance of Yoda. Appearing through mysterious and gloomy goop under his green feet, Yoda had the answer to any question I could put to him. So much more profound than an eight-ball, Yoda would bring his ancient wisdom to life’s many questions. To “Will mum and dad buy me a pony soon?” Yoda would sagely reply, “Probable it is.” And to “Will I be pretty when I grow up?” Yoda would advise, “Inside you the answer is.”

Which possibly explains why I have a thing for older men, and Cara is still chasing bad boys. May the Force be with both of us.