On this day forty years ago, Star Wars: A New Hope came to cinemas.
Forty years ago. Think of it. That was before a lot of us were born. Some of us have parents who weren’t even born then. Some of us have parents who were there in the summer of 1977 who went and saw it and then saw it again and again and again, and who were there for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars, Then and Now
Think of how different the world was back then. Gas was only sixty-five cents a freaking gallon! The first personal computer, the COMMODORE PET, debuted at a technology fair in technology. The Cold War was still ongoing, and Vietnam was a recent memory. There were a lot fewer TV channels, no VCRs or DVDs. Disney’s The Rescuers and Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind also debuted in 1977. Rocky had come out just the year before. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. Top music hits included “Dancing Queen” by Abba, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me this Way” (featured in The Martian‘s mixtape), and “Fly like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller band—those are just the ones I’ve heard of! The most popular TV shows of 1977 included “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “M*A*S*H, and “Charlie’s Angels.” Music legend Elvis Presley passed away that August.
The groundbreaking special effects work done for Star Wars made all of the big Hollywood action movies and TV shows that came after it possible—Superman, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Back to the Future, Harry Potter and, yes, big-screen Star Trek adventures. It is a tradition that continues today with The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy–big summer blockbusters with jaw-dropping action and special effects. Star Wars changed the movies, it changed the way stories were told period. Star Wars and the earlier film Jaws paved the way for the summer months to become the best time of year for movies. The Star Wars films went on to inspire many of the great filmmakers and artists who came later, notably James Cameron, J.J. Abrams, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, Peter Jackson, need I continue?
Star Wars changed the world, but it also reflected a lot of the world around it. When Star Wars came out, the Cold War was still ongoing, and the conflict in Vietnam was a recent memory. As much of a political satire of its own time as Star Wars was then, the themes of A New Hope and other installments of the saga have remained relevant with the times and continue to resonate to this day.
Vincent Canby wrote the following review of the film for the New York Times (link to full article);
Star Wars, which opened yesterday at the Astor Plaza, Orpheum, and other theaters, is the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made. It’s both an apotheosis of Flash Gordon serials and a witty critique that makes associations with a variety of literature that is nothing if not eclectic: Quo Vadis?, Buck Rogers, Ivanhoe, Superman, The Wizard of Oz, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table.
All of these works, of course, had earlier left their marks on the kind of science-fiction comic strips that Mr. Lucas, the writer as well as director of Star Wars, here remembers with affection of such cheerfulness that he avoids facetiousness. The way definitely not to approach Star Wars, though, is to expect a film of cosmic implications or to footnote it with so many references that one anticipates it as if it were a literary duty. It’s fun and funny.
How silly that now, we anticipate every Star Wars book, comic, TV spinoff, and film installment with an almost religious fervor, like whatever new material gets revealed is a matter of life and death. That’s the way it is, because for so many Star Wars has created meaning…because of the ways in which it is “fun and funny.” Because it’s great, and we want more.
The Things that Matter Most
The most important thing I feel today about Star Wars is how grateful I am for the difference it has made in my life.
Over a month ago at Celebration Orlando, George Lucas told the story of how Star Wars came to be, and he shared the following about his original intention for these films:
“You’re about to enter the real world. You’re moving away from your parents. You’re probably scared, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Here’s what you should pay attention to: Friendships, honesty, trust, doing the right thing. Living on the light side, avoiding the dark side.”
I think that he carried out that intention very well. We’ve seen the stories of the people who both fail to learn these lessons, and the ones who succeed. A lot of the newer Star Wars content is delivering on this theme so far. I hope it stays that way.
Taking a moment here to put the Mormon in The Geeky Mormon, Star Wars, in my mind, is a gift from God. All good things come from God (Moroni 7: 13). Those things that George Lucas mentioned—love, friendship, choosing the Light, choosing the things that matter—as well as the other lessons I’ve derived from the saga, lessons about family and hope and love, those are things that the Gospel teaches, things that I personally believe in. It’s wonderful to know that the Star Wars fandom is a place where these values can be shared. God can speak to us in many ways—including through space operas. The real miracle is when we recognize His hand. To quote Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Granted, any human can take anything and use it to satisfy their carnal tastes, but the fine thing about a work of art like Star Wars is, it can also edify the soul as well. Star Wars has made me the person I am today. It has taught me lessons about love, and life, and choices that I do not think I would understand in any other way. The fandom has helped me to connect with so many people, through the internet and in person and both. It has been bread and meat to my imagination. Star Wars makes me happy, period.
At some point this year I would like to write a more objective post about how Star Wars relates to themes in Mormon theology. But for now, I can tell you that Star Wars is probably the fandom that has the biggest influence on my faith. They inform each other.
I hope every Star Wars fan can take the time to remember that it is those things like friendship and integrity that matter far more than lightsabers, spaceships, and our petty feuds over which Star Wars movie is better or some related nonsense. No matter how you like Star Wars, no matter what message you take from Star Wars, no matter which characters you like or whether you choose the light side or the dark, remember that YOU ARE A VALID PERSON and just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean you have to take it personally. So let’s maybe not take ourselves so seriously, and instead think of the ways Star Wars has made a difference in our lives for the better.