Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.C.S. Lewis, On Stories, and Other Essays on Literature, 1982
Today is the 76th birthday of American filmmaker and storyteller, George Lucas.
Yes, the George Lucas. The creator of Star Wars. The perfecter of Sci-Fi. The apostle of space opera.
As you may have gathered, I am a Star Wars fan. No, who am I kidding – I’m an obsessive Star Wars fanatic. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the worlds.
But I won’t bore you with an outpouring of obscure Skywalker trivia or reflections on the Battle of Crait. For Lucas’s birthday though, I want to briefly go over 5 reasons why I love the franchise – and why you should too.
(This is not an exhaustive list of all the reasons I love Star Wars. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife or coworkers.)
1. “Luminous Beings are We, Not this Crude Matter.”
This is probably my favorite quote from all of Star Wars, at the very least my favorite from the Original Trilogy. Jedi Master Yoda tells this to the Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker as the latter is struggling to connect to The Force, the energy that binds and connects life and everything in the fictional universe.
Luke is struggling to break free of the veil he’s had over his eyes his whole life: a veil that makes the universe seem like a purely physical manifestation; a veil that keeps Luke from seeing the deeper connections that link all of us together – good and bad, weak and mighty, rich and poor – we are all connected.
This sounds like a lot of us in reality as well. We can get so focused on the here-and-now and material concerns that we become numb and blind to our common humanity and the inherent value in that that binds us all. Every now and again, we all need to be reminded: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
2. Luke Skywalker’s Struggle with Violence
Luke Skywalker is a starfighter pilot. A Rebel warrior. A Jedi Knight. It seems obvious that violence would be a part of his life, an inescapable aspect of the roles he choose to take on and grow into. However, it would be more accurate to say that the struggle to reject violence violence is the crucial facet of this character.
In the Original Trilogy, when does Luke Skywalker truly become a Jedi Knight? When does he embrace his destiny and make the choice that his father was unable to? When is Luke at his peak “goodness”? I would argue strongly that this moment does not occur until the end of the final film in that trilogy, Return of the Jedi. At this point, Luke has given into anger. He has tried to kill Vader and the Emperor. He has succumbed to his rage.
Then, something wonderful happens. With his nemesis at his mercy, Luke pauses and realizes the path he is going down – and he rejects it. He tosses his lightsaber away, and with it he tosses away the last things that were holding him back from returning the light of the Jedi to the galaxy. He spares his enemy and truly become a Jedi
Now, Luke still struggles with violence – that’s undeniable. We see this when he nearly kills his own nephew in a moment of fear and panic. But again – as his final act – Luke redeems himself at Crait by confronting evil and saving his friends without ever raising a weapon.
Luke’s back-and-forth struggle to reject violence and rage mirrors many of our own struggles, and shows us that there is always hope of being better.
3. The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker
I’m about to make a bold claim, but one that I will gladly defend to the death: Anakin Skywalker is the most tragic character in all of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Ever.
He is a slave turned warrior. A warrior turned hero. A hero turned monster. And finally, a monster that embraces it’s last sliver of goodness.
He was a child desperately seeking meaningful attachment who was cut off from those he cared about, forged into a weapon, and then told to make and find peace.
In so many ways, he never had a real shot. The Jedi Order – despite Obi-Wan’s best efforts – had nothing to offer him. Palpatine had his claws in him from Skywalker’s youth. He experienced loss after loss after loss.
Looking back on it, it’s amazing that Anakin remained good and as hero as long as he did. There’s a stark contrast there – one man, Anakin, exhibits the very best of life, and monster, Vader, exhibits are worst potential.
They often go unnamed, and most of them even go through the entire saga without showing their faces. Nevertheless, the various troopers of Star Wars should never – never – be taken for granted.
The Clone Troopers, Battle Droids, Stormtroopers, Rebel Soldiers, First Order Troopers, and Sithtroopers all add so much depth and scale to the universe. None of the stories would be complete without them.
Most of the time, these troopers go along as extras in the background. However, they occasionally get the chance to shine (namely in the Clone Wars show). And it’s in these moments that their shared being-hood (I can’t accurately say humanity here) is on full display, even in the Battle Droids.
5. The Corruption & Redemption of the Jedi
Watching the severely underappreciated Prequel Trilogy, it should be obvious that the Jedi Order is bogged down in corruption, hubris, and apathy. The Jedi are subservient to a galactic bureaucracy and fail to help many of the desperate and helpless on even their own base-planet. They’ve gone from peaceful guardian-monks to State police and soldiers. Their order is a travesty.
This is never told to us explicitly until The Last Jedi, when Luke Skywalker says essentially all of that to the naive Rey. It’s weird to realize that the heroes of the franchise are so faulty, so mired down in a Order that has, to be frank, grown terrible.
I don’t like this per se. It makes me sad. But it’s important to remember how quickly good intentions can sour with complacency and arrogance. The faults of the Jedi also give us a chance to see their redemption though. As Rey and Luke go on to show, the legend of the Jedi outshines the Order’s mistakes, and they can still try their damnedest to live up to that legend. Just because the Jedi’s past is full of filth, doesn’t man their future can’t be bright.
Like I said at the start, this is not in any way even close to being an exhaustive list of all the reasons I love Star Wars. Goodness, the more I think about it I’m not even sure if these are my top five reasons. I could right a book with hundreds why each movie, book, and show should be loved.
Instead I’ll just close with this:
Thank you George.
Thank you for dreaming and for staying true to your visions. If you hadn’t grabbed a pencil and notepa to start writing the wacky and inspiring adventures of Luke Starkiller, Mace Windy, and the Whills over forty years ago, my imagination sure would have been a lot poorer off. My childhood, and my whole life, would have been a lot less fun and have a lot less heart.