By Tim Barlow
I remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4. It was the network television premiere of the movie and my Aunt and I watched it like an historic event in the basement of the very first home I can remember. She made popcorn with real butter. We taped it from the TV onto VHS, making a game of trying to perfectly time the returns from commercial breaks. I stayed up way past my bedtime. I remember my first of many covetous glimpses at a light saber (an elegant weapon for a more civilized time). I remember Darth Vader’s light saber was red, and Luke’s was green. I remember how Han Solo came back at the end.
One of the reasons I liked (and continue to like) Star Wars so much is, and this is probably grossly oversimplified but, Star Wars allowed good to win – and it’s reassuring to see good triumph over evil. There’s a trend in modern storytelling, especially the more epic, long-form plot lines (now taking place largely through TV series) focused on an anti-hero as protagonist – the drug dealer, the mobster, the crooked cop, the misogynist ad man. Maybe it’s just considered passe or too puritanical to allow audiences to root for the good guy to be, well, good, but there’s a part of me that thinks maybe it’s a matter of a cynical audience getting exactly the show they want, right now.
Times aren’t easy; you could throw a rock in any direction, and hit a new thing that scares the crap out of me (though admittedly, I should never be used as the benchmark for optimism), but while times are tough, they have been bad before. 1977 was a pretty tough year. A bad recession. A stock market that dropped nearly 20% over the course of the year; one of the worst declines in history. An energy crisis and record high oil prices. A serial killer, taking orders from his neighbor’s dog, terrorizing New York. But on May 30th, amidst this backdrop, Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope) was released.
From it’s opening scene, Star Wars acknowledges the situation at hand: a small rebel spaceship darts in front of the camera, only to be pursued through the frame by a ship from the Empire, just filling the screen, going on and on like a four engine freight train, dwarfing, to a ridiculous scale, the tiny rebel craft. At 3, I didn’t yet know the word hopeless, but I felt it, in one dialogue free 10 sec clip — even a small child knows when something doesn’t stand a chance
The word “hope” has seen a lot of action in recent years (yay! Washington), but maybe we can let down our (now tired) guard to admit that to hope in something would be pretty great. Star Wars touches a nerve with me, because despite being a movie set in distant galaxy complete with Wookiees, Jawas, Jabas, Yodas, and Vaders, in the end, it’s really just a movie about people stuck in hard times, in desperate need of hope. This is why I love Star Wars: it wasn’t too cool or too smart or too skilled at writing, on and on about our broken human nature, to offer up a solid, feel good, epic, underdog win for the good guys – sometimes that’s just what we need.