This post is a little late thanks to real life events and complications.
For those of you who don’t (already) know, May 4 is “Star Wars Day”. I wouldn’t have known of this if not for my two younger siblings, who are into collecting random trivia and commemorating strange holidays. But yes, May the 4th be with you.
As far as fandom is concerned, Star Wars ranks up there with Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and a few other iconic shows, movies, and cartoons that have gathered hundreds of fans across continents and decades. I consider myself a second-generation Star Wars fan; I definitely wasn’t around when the original three movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) were first released in the 1970s. However I was old enough to watch them when they were re-released in the 90s, complete with extra footage of Han Solo conversing with Jabba the Hutt. It was only years later, after having survived sitting through the (in)famous prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith), that I realized that the Star Wars that my parents and other relatives knew is not the same Star Wars my friends and I grew up with.
When I asked my father about this, he said, “I watched because it was an action movie, good guys fighting bad guys in starships. The mystical thing with the Force only came later.” And perhaps that is true of the first years of Star Wars. It was an archetypal world with stock characters, a quest, and a Big Bad to defeat. It was a good, trusty war story taken to elaborate proportions. The emphasis, especially in “A New Hope” was really on the action: lightsaber duels, X-wing battles, and a few chaotic blaster fights.
Fast forward twenty-one years after the release of “A New Hope”. A nine year old girl, who dreamed of being a Jedi, went through a sci-fi bookshelf and found a novel titled: “Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron”. Somehow the “galaxy far, far away” had taken on new dimensions in the minds of novelists who created what became known as the Expanded Universe (EU to some enthusiasts). In this Expanded Universe, new worlds and characters were introduced after Return of the Jedi. There were more Force-sensitive people in the galaxy. Luke Skywalker got a love life. And finally Han Solo got Princess Leia to marry him. Family issues got dredged up not just among the major characters, but even with minor ones such as Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar . These were among the earliest twists in the Expanded Universe portion of the Star Wars saga. For some fans, the Expanded Universe stories may be bordering on anathema; in fact my sister calls my novel collection “licensed fanfiction”. However for some fans, the Expanded Universe was a way of continuing the adventure and connecting it to more gritty realities. The novels sometimes demystified the Force, but also brought attention to other heroic characters and situations in the galaxy. I believe that this was one of the appeals that the Expanded Universe had to fans: to explore a spectacular universe as seen through more ordinary eyes.
Then it seemed as if the Star Wars phenomenon entered another phase with the release of the prequel movies. New animation and filming techniques allowed the prequel movies to show a galaxy before its (presumed) darkness under the Empire as seen in the original trilogy. I remember my friends asking, “What happened to all the cool ships in the other episodes? Did the Empire destroy them all?” Star Wars was now combining the sense of action and adventure from the original trilogy with the more introspective and exploratory edges from the Expanded Universe stories. No, it was not simply a trilogy of action films: it was psychological and social examination, a little didactic and trite at times, but a good depiction of how seemingly innocuous evils could bring down something so great and glorious.
And that is the Star Wars of my adolescence.
I’ve stopped buying the Expanded Universe novels; after a time the plot twists became too ludicrous for me to handle. Yet there will always be a part of Star Wars that my mind will happily return to: that first feel of adventure, of flying through outer space while dodging laser bolts, and that wonder about that mysterious thing called the Force. It’s still a good story, no matter what. And maybe that is what the Force is all about: possibility, potential for good, and sheer wonder in a world that far too often gets too gritty and tiresome for its own good.
May the Force be with us all. Always.