I’ve read the Jedi Prince series. It’s not something I’m proud of. It isn’t anything to do with the fact that it’s a series of Star Wars books. Star Wars is very popular. It resonated with so many people that it turned into its own industry, so why shame myself about loving Star Wars? It isn’t the fact that the Jedi Prince books are objectively awful, either. Reading them yields ridiculous shit like Luke Skywalker using The Force like an inept buffoon at some points while unleashing its absolute hell at others; a main villain more concerned about his image than anything in Trioculus; Han Solo and Princess Leia fretting over their wedding; Han Solo, scoundrel rogue smuggler, wistfully building his dream sky house; a Mount Yoda; Jabba the Hutt’s pop winning Cloud City in a card game against Lando; Lando running a holographic theme park (with 1138 THX Ultrasound speakers, dear fucking GOD I wish I was making that up); villains wishing each other “dark greetings;” Han Solo finishing his sky house in the third book, throwing a housewarming party, and teaching Leia a dance called the Space Pirate Boogie; and Chewbacca being relegated to a background character while new character Ken turns Luke into the annoyed pop. (You’re dying to read these books now, aren’t you?) Hell, back when these books came out, you couldn’t blame kid me for reading them because the expanded universe that’s gotten wider than the Star Wars universe itself basically didn’t exist. There was just the Jedi Prince series and Timothy Zahn’s acclaimed Thrawn Trilogy. And THAT is where my embarrassment is. I missed The Thrawn Trilogy because I was too busy reading the Jedi Prince books. All I have to stand by for my alibi is the fact that I was very young and didn’t know any better.
It was pretty disheartening to hear about the recent closure of LucasArts and the impending cancellation of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I joke a little bit about the LucasArts closing: On the downside, it means less Star Wars and fewer video games. Of course, the practical upshot is that it means fewer Star Wars video games! In all seriousness, though, it’s sad mostly because it’s 150 people who are now out of work because Disney switched the business plan. I’m certain it has something to do with money.
As a game developer, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a diehard game fan mourning the track record of LucasArts. It relied heavily on the Star Wars license, and while Star Wars has a better track record than The Simpsons as far as licensed games go, there’s no simply stumbling into a Star Wars game in the local Gamestop and buying it there. As individual games, the galaxy-wide span of Star Wars games runs the gamut of quality. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is considered one of the greatest video games ever made. After that, the quality tends to drop to your Lego Star Wars (a title I always believed should have been granted the subtitle “Together at Last!”), your Rogue Squadrons, your Battlefronts, your Episode I Racers, your Bounty Hunters, your Obi-Wans, your Flight of the Falcons, your Rebel Assaults, your Yoda Stories, and, finally, (sigh) your Masters of Teras Kasi, one of the worst video games ever made. As a whole, though, Star Wars video games are well on the sucky side.
Then there was Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In the entirety of six live-action movies, George Lucas left the vast majority of the Clone Wars to our imaginations. Throughout the Original Trilogy, in fact, we knew three things about the Clone Wars: Number one, they were wars. Number two, they involved clones in some way. And number three, they were epic enough to snap Luke Skywalker to attention when Obi-Wan Kenobi said he fought in them alongside Luke’s father. Episode IV also gave us a vague description of Luke’s father: Best starfighter pilot in the galaxy, cunning warrior, and great friend of Obi-Wan. In Episode V, we got the added detail that Luke’s father was at the right hand of the Emperor wearing a new, evil identity known as Darth Vader, so we now knew something had gone wrong for him somewhere on the line. The Prequel Trilogy was a big letdown in large part because it deprived us of a lot of those descriptions, and we only saw the beginning and end of the Clone Wars. The Clone Wars was a great series because it was able to give us the parts left out, showcasing Anakin Skywalker at his Jedi best. It went into detail about the war itself and gave us Anakin’s friendship with Obi-Wan, as well as a few other things like Mace Windu in real combat and Anakin training an apprentice named Ahsoka Tano.
I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan. I got into Star Wars before I was even into video games, which means this passion goes back quite a ways. The first time I saw the Original Trilogy was probably about the time they were first being aired on TV, when my parents were recording them – Return of the Jedi had only been released one or two years previously at that point. Star Wars is the movie I’ve probably seen more often than any other now, with the possible exception of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I still remember the first time I saw it. I hadn’t yet learned to read so I couldn’t read the opening monologue, but you can bet your ass I understood the swooping crescendos of John Williams’s magnificent score, telling me I was in for an adventure beyond anything my underdeveloped mind yet had the capacity to imagine. The opening theme ended, and then came the opening scene, with the biggest damn starship I’ve ever seen whizzing over my head. Finally, the Rebel Alliance soldiers made a heroic last stand in the halls of their doomed transport, were mowed down by the terrifyingly faceless Imperial Stormtroopers, Darth Vader appeared, and Princess Leia was captured as C-3PO and R2-D2 made a break for the planet below. Like every other kid who watched that spectacle, I was hooked on the spot. Hell, anyone who isn’t yanked right in by the time the droids reach Tatooine just hates movies. Period. It’s still probably the greatest, most effective movie opening I’ve ever seen.
Luke Skywalker became one of my childhood heroes, and Princess Leia my first dream girl. To this day, those two particular characters are extremely representative of the kind of man I want to be and the characteristics I like in women. (It’s no coincidence that my biggest celebrity crush as a teenager was on Sarah Michelle Gellar.) Upon the introduction of the Prequel Trilogy, in which we learned that the whole saga was the story of Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker, it took on an even deeper resonance. In a spiritual sense, I was able to draw certain parallels between Anakin’s choices and my own life. I’m aware of the little plotholes and inconsistencies, and I frankly don’t care. I’m still waiting for the day lightsabres become a reality.
I’m not exactly what it is about Star Wars that it casts such a spell over myself and others like me. Perhaps one answer is because the Star Wars universe is so simplified and its views of good and evil are so direct. Did anyone, on seeing Darth Vader for the first time, have any doubt he was the bad guy? While the obvious retort to that idea is the end of Return of the Jedi – where Vader finally renounces the Dark Side and becomes Anakin Skywalker long enough to perform his final act as a Jedi Knight – every movie in the series, as well as a lot of the material in the expanded universe, emphasizes The Force as having a Dark Side which is always there, tempting the Jedi who know giving into it produces dire consequences. The Star Wars universe gives us something we don’t frequently have in real life: A clear-cut division between good and evil, where the bad guys are easily distinguished by their heavy english accents and dark, mysterious wardrobe choices. The good guys are archtypes: The young kid looking to learn, the wisecracking hero, and the seen-it-done-it old guardian whose pearls of wisdom offset the younglings’ ability to get the group into trouble. In the inversion category, Star Wars gives us three cute animal sidekicks: One is a tense ball of nervousness and primness; one is his adventurous best friend who excels at getting them into trouble; and one is a beacon of overwhelming physical strength with a heart of gold. The Princess is both an archtype and an inversion of it – she needs rescuing, but is more than capable of defending herself. Her immortal first line when the good guys bust into her cell is a masterwork of defiant snark: “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?”
My mother explains my father’s love for Star Wars by saying it’s a classic fantasy story in a sci-fi cover. I don’t doubt that, but this angle has been run into the ground, so I feel very little need to expound on it.
In a way, Star Wars also tells two stories which are, at heart, quintessentially American. The first speaks to the country’s origins: A small band of struggling rebels rises up and overthrows an evil, oppressive empire. No matter how debatable the accuracy of that summary is, it’s still the commonly propagated story every American schoolkid hears to the point of such repetition that they all tune it out after awhile. The less obvious parallel is the story of Luke himself, rising from a humble, unassuming origin to become the most powerful Jedi Knight in the galaxy. I imagine that while Han Solo may steal much of the show, it’s Luke Skywalker that many of us dream of being in some way or another. By the end of the Original Trilogy, it’s Luke who has grown the most. After starting as a naive little farmboy with nothing to offer except an open mind, Episode IV ends with him being awarded as a hero of the Rebel Alliance, a result of his resourcefulness and maximization of the few abilities he has. By the end of Episode VI, he’s the greatest Jedi Knight in the galaxy. In the expanded universe, Luke has the responsibility of beginning the Jedi Academy after Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine nearly wiped out the Jedi. Like Luke, many of us dream of rising as high as we can using our smallest, most bare resources and abilities.
It seems a little too easy and convenient to play the Star Wars is Just Cool card because it comes so close to winning the sabacc hand that doing so feels like cheating. But it is true, and anyone who doesn’t think that is either a hipster or Alec Guiness. I can sit here and write out rehashed intellectual theories until the banthas come home, but I’m also part of a generation that was fortunate enough to see the magic of Star Wars when it was still a very recent thing. Did I know WHY I like Luke and Han? Nope. I knew I loved the Battle of Hoth scene, and that I wanted a lightsabre. Even the comparative suckitude of the Prequel Trilogy and the Jedi Prince books never spoiled it for me. Why couldn’t I have my own smuggling cargo spaceship to go to an interesting planet like Bespin? People falling in love with Star Wars for the first time at a young age aren’t saying “What kinds of different meanings and influences could the mysterious Force hold? What parallels can be drawn between the Battle of Endor and modern Islam?”
Disney owns Star Wars now, and they’ve handed it off to JJ Abrams for direction, and subsequent spinoffs will be written by Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. George Lucas said there would be no more new Star Wars movies after the Prequel Trilogy, but hell, he also said that after the first Star Wars movie. (Which explains a few things in Empire and Jedi.)
I’ve had the fortune to be introduced to a lot of beautiful sci-fi/fantasy escapist paradises in my lifetime: The Lord of the Rings; Dune; Doctor Who; and Harry Potter. That last one there, Harry Potter, brought in the only weapon possibly cool enough to equal lightsabres with the way it used magic wands. While the magic wands don’t have the ominous whirling sound and hypnotic glow of a lightsabre, they do have the ability to produce many powerful spells. But, given the choice, I would probably still take the lightsabre. Actually, I take that back; I would take the magic wand, immediately use it to construct a lightsabre, then sit back and relax as “problems” and “irritants” became concepts relegated to the knaves.