Hi and welcome back! It’s Star Wars Day! Man, that whole series has some serious staying power, doesn’t it? Today, let me show you how the first movie impacted me, back in the day — and what its legacy still means today.
Star Wars: Lines Around the Block.
The first and original Star Wars movie came out on May 25, 1977. At the time, I was a skinny little tyke living in Honolulu. I’m very thankful that my parents took me to see it.
My memories of the day are very hazy, but I remember two things above all:
- the sheer lines lines lines wrapping all around the movie theater
- that first swooping shot of the Star Destroyer closing in on the rebel ship
We waited an absolutely interminable amount of time. It was agonizing for a constantly-in-motion kid like I was then (and arguably still am as an adult). Finally, we got into our seats in the packed movie theater. And then the words flickered to life. The words. Those words.
I read them, already entranced:
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
I can’t even think those words in my head without also hearing the amazing soundtrack behind them in the movie.
And then that goddamned ship came out of nowhere. It just kept. On. Flowing. Across. The screen. And I stared, utterly enrapt. More than forty years later, that is still my most vivid memory of the first time I saw this movie.
Opening sequence of Star Wars — Episode IV: A New Hope.
(See below for some full frontal nerdity.)
My Very Own Laser Pistol (Sorta).
Just a few years later, in 1980, the second installment in the series came out: The Empire Strikes Back. By now, I was ten years old and living in Corpus Christi, Texas (and haaaaaaating it).
Back then, kids loved to play Star Wars. This involved pretend laser fights and rebels vs. stormtroopers matches. Also, forts. Lots of forts. There were several girls in my gaggle of friends, so there was always some concern (read: boisterous arguments) about who got to play Princess Leia.
When my family moved to a very rural part of Northern California that fall, this play continued — except now we had gorgeous woods in which to play these games. It was absolutely perfect. (The third movie would film in similar woods.)
Somewhere around here, I still have the stick I found in those woods that I used to play these games. It looked to me like Han Solo’s laser pistol, so I carried it for years. My mom saved it, like she saved dang near everything her kids made or treasured, and when I found it again a couple of years ago I just sat down hard and stared at it. Memories flooded me again. (She also saved a bunch of my Star Wars action figures! But my Death Star action figure backdrop/set, bought at a yard sale and enjoyed for years, was a bit too big to store gracefully.)
Luke Girls and Han Girls.
In 1983, the third movie, Return of the Jedi, came out. By then, me and my friends were peeking through the blinds at puberty and adolescence — at once intrigued and horrified at what lay beyond our comfort zones. By now, straight girls were sorting themselves according to which male Star Wars hero they preferred as romantic partners.
By “male hero,” I mean Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, of course. For some reason, nobody fixated on Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, or Porkins. Or Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. (BTW: his Simself just decided to marry one of the Lannister gals in my current Sims 3 “Into the Future” game. Maybe he just likes the drama!) Or “Uncle” Owen Lars, Chewbacca, Yoda, or Wicket. No, I don’t remember any of my friends talking about them, even though some were legit dreamboats.
Instead, we sorted ourselves into two camps: Luke girls or Han (Solo) girls? It was a bit like how girls divided into Team Edward and Team Jacob during the long years that Twilight held sway over Young Adult (YA) fiction. Interestingly, some people still have opinions about that love triangle!
Labels often matter a great deal to people generally, but they matter even more to young adults trying to work out who they are. In a lot of ways, my friends and I were asserting our own identities and hopes for our futures through these musings. Were we the kind of girls who liked nice farm boys elevated to hero status? Or did we prefer rebellious smugglers with hearts of gold?
What kind of life did we want as adults?
What kind of love spoke loudest to our hearts?
(I was a Han girl. Of course.)
Jedi Hero With a Thousand Faces.
As I got older, I learned more about how the story in that first movie worked. According to Wookieepedia, an avowed Star Wars fan site, George Lucas had written two early drafts of Star Wars when he ran across a book that influenced him for life: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
First published in 1949, this book was still super-popular in the late 1970s. It examined heroic tales from a psychological perspective to find common threads between them: their plots, their heroes, their villains, and the elements of their narratives’ construction. Campbell identified a monomyth that he felt was sort of the archetype of all heroic tales. This monomyth idea became a blueprint for Star Wars.
Even in the 1980s, Campbell’s book and more importantly its ideas and concepts were still popular. I even read it at some point in high school. It probably did influence my own writing and storytelling.
And George Lucas says it definitely influenced him. He says he deliberately drew from the book to create his new science-fiction movie. In fact, it was so tightly connected to Star Wars that after the movie came out, the publisher put Luke Skywalker (as portrayed by Mark Hamill) on its cover for a while!
That deliberate use of classic motifs and archetypes may have helped George Lucas create a movie that felt at once fresh and new, but also mythic to its bones.
Rise of the Real Life Jedi.
In Australia, Star Wars fans have even started a religion based on the Jedi Knights in the movies. Australian fans began marking themselves as “Jedi” on the country’s censuses around 2001 — and a stable number of 60-70k of them kept doing it. Their spokesperson, Peter Lee, described in 2018 why he began marking himself as a Jedi:
“I declared myself Jedi during the 2001 census because I saw something happening and I wanted to be a part of it. I saw that people were starting to say ‘We’re allowed to believe in what we want to believe in’.”
And yes, they are. But Australia decided not to count the Jedi answers as legit in 2016, prompting outcry. As Lee said in that 2018 article:
“As a martial artist, I teach people about the life force energy that we call ‘Chi’ in Kung Fu. But I found it much easier to call it The Force. And my students had a much quicker understanding, because Star Wars is actually part of our culture.”
And yes, it very much is. Nowadays, a number of countries have seen citizens marking themselves as “Jedi” on census forms.
(Atheist groups only ask that people not use census forms frivolously. Obviously, such a thing would artificially inflate the number of religious people.)
A New Kind of Heroine.
I can’t talk about Star Wars without also mentioning the character of Leia Organa. Out of everything else the movies did, they brought girls my age a very different kind of heroine.
Nobody was tying this princess to any train tracks, nor locking her away in towers where she’d pine away for a rescue! Leia was a real departure from the norm of passive female characters who existed solely as plot devices for male characters.
Princess. Ambassador. Rebel spy. Pistol-packin’ resistance leader.
She was all of these things and more: gracious and fiercely compassionate, brave, resourceful, intelligent and quick-witted. She even possessed a different kind of beauty than most movies presented us. Leia might have been one of the best possible role models for young women of my generation.
Carrie Fisher, the incredible actress who brought Leia to life, passed away in 2016. When we found out, many of us here went into mourning. I’m sure some of us still miss her like I do.
The Legacy of Star Wars.
It’s strange to speak of Star Wars’ “legacy” when Star Wars stuff is still in active production. But to be sure, it does have a legacy. It’s been around for over 40 years. That’s more than long enough for people who saw the first movie to have their own kids and maybe even grandkids to share it with.
My own mom was in her mid-20s when she took me and my little sister to see the movie, and then she got to take my sister’s first child — her first grandchild — to see the new trilogy’s movies when they came out (The Phantom Menace in 1999 and Attack of the Clones in 2002). That had to be quite a rush for my mom.
And yes, whole families still bond over these things.
Even now, it’s a delight to me to encounter young adults who’ve seen and loved those first movies. Not everyone has, and of those who have not everyone likes them. And obviously, that is perfectly okay. We all like what we like, and the movies do have their flaws.
For those who enjoy them, Star Wars speaks to us. It sings to us about a universe where good people try their best to rise to heroism, where heroism itself matters, and where a hero can take any number of forms.
In times like these, such messages become even more important.
Friends, “May the Fourth” be with you.
NEXT UP: A new bioethics concern has arisen of late. We’ll check out what it might mean for human rights and the future. See you tomorrow!
Me, pointing at the video: Honey, what is that big ship called?
Mr. Captain, immediately and without hesitation: It’s a star destroyer. In fact, that is a Super Star Destroyer called The Executor. It’s Darth Vader’s personal ship.
I ♥ MY NERD. Seriously, not one moment of hesitation. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody more dedicated to his fandoms than Mr. Captain is. In addition, he’s beat at Lord of the Rings only by those guys who can speak fluent Tengwar.
Please Support What I Do!
Also please check out our Graceful Atheist podcast interview!
If you like what you see, I gratefully welcome your support. Please consider becoming one of my monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve for as little as $1/month! My PayPal is email@example.com (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips.
You can also support this blog at no extra cost to yourself by beginning your Amazon shopping trips with my affiliate link — and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media!
This blog exists because of readers’ support, and I appreciate every single bit of it. Thank you. <3