“I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people.” (Maz Kanata) “When you look at the dark side, careful you must be… the dark side looks back.”(Yoda) “On a clear day, you can see forever and forever…” (movie On a Clear Day)
Mother of moons, in a Poltergeist/Pennywise kinda way, they’re back…Palpatine, death stars, familiar robot droids, Jedi ghosts and silenced voices… They came, they sawed (using the Force), and conquered. One saga has concluded and portals have been opened for a new zoo review of anti-heroes, weapons of mass distraction, and custom crafted light sabers. The Star Wars (SW) franchise that gave us nine plus queued movies, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers inspired crawl lines, and persistent messages—has said ‘that’s a cosmic wrap.’
They did it, or as Yoda would say, ‘do or do not, there is no try.’ I’ve tried to move on, but can’t, although there are digital pills this SW’s junkie can take—new comics, cartoons, and web sites that explain and expand on the canonical nine plus episodes, and a Disney/ized spinoff The Mandalorian. Despite mixed critiques, storylines modeled on hero/ine journeys, and use of primitive, anti-Jedi violent approaches to solve problems, I still get a crystal tingle when I think about the SW’s saga, and an atavistic longing of sorts when someone beams a laser pen near me.
I didn’t grow up reading sci fi books and comics; I did, however, marry a guy (a long time ago in a galaxy…alas, he’s now an X-man) that introduced me to dozens of inspiring, inventive golden era sci fi writers like Heimlen, Bradbury, Howard, Orwell, Wells, and Farmer. I avidly watched Star Trek, Logan’s Run, Outer Limits, Superman, Rollerball, and One Step Beyond. I spent a dozen years working in the aerospace industry with MIT and Jet Propulsion Lab engineers and brilliant, eccentric scientists that built rocketships. I am also a devotee of fairy tales, fantasy novels (White, St. Exupery, Baum, Lewis, Le Guin…), and world mythology. When episodes IV, V, and VI were released in the late 70s-early 80s, we’d have lively discussions about interstellar travel, magnetic fields, and whether these movies were sci fi or fantasy, stories from our past or from the future? I’m still not sure.
Before seeing Return of Skywalker, to bring ‘balance,’ I watched all the other episodes (again) in slow motion and fast forward mode (22+ hours). I took notes and tried to be as cool as a dead star. After seeing episode 9, my first thought was gratitude—that it didn’t end like season 8 of Game of Thrones. My next thought was I still have questions. That’s what a good story does; it leaves enough space to allow you fill in the blanks.
In the summer of 1977, my expectations were simple: tell me a story, thrill and scare me, hit me in my solar plexus chakra. SWs did all those things from 1977 to 2019, with differing levels of success. As a writer and lover of stories, I understand characters have to die, bad guys win too often, and without change, there’s no progress; there would be no butterflies (Skidmore). At the end of the prequels (I-III) I had so many character and plot questions, I hoped there’d be more episodes. I gulped hard when Disney bought the franchise—and I pondered much.
Clever commentators and critics have written copious articles about Lucas’ storyline and character influences and origins. This includes possible links to Nazi “stormtrooopers,” to Templars and Samurai, Campbell’s hero’s journey, and a 1958 movie version of Hamlet. Some thought Dune resembled Tatooine, and story devices were similar to Kirby’s comics and Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Others dove into etymology roots and wondered if Yoda is actually Yodda (warrior in Sanskrit) or Yodea (Hebrew for ‘knows’) and did Lord Vader’s name come from the dutch word for father? SW’s creator and collaborators may have been influenced by all or a few of these things.
I pondered some more, and acknowledged the canonical stars were elders now. Had they made the same life bloopers I had? Would fans demand, in addition to killer visuals, that Luke, Leia, and Hans led exemplary existences? Technology was up front and in our faces—so was the vastly interpreted word ‘evil.’ I braced for a Disney commodification/commercialization of SW’s. I sluffed through dozens of Star Wars imitators—The Last Starfighter, Masters of the Universe… When I watched Episode VII, The Force Awakens in 2015, I realized I too was an elder. I analyzed (and still questioned) everything, but my tastes were more sophisticated. Questions persisted—just who put the Force to sleep? Who would be next to succumb to the dark side?
Episode VII begins 30 years after Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Yes! There was the familiar crawl screen, Williams’ musical score, and a storyline continuation. Leia is searching for someone again, a sinister new order has risen… The story loving child in me re-emerged from a voyeur stance. For the space of a few hours, I watched enchanted, my sense of magic, myth, and intuition reinvigorated. It happened again in 2017 in Episode 8—the sacrifices and failures were heart wrenching—the reveals empowering. And Episode 9 didn’t disappoint. The Rise of Skywalker, what does that mean? Skywalker Luke died in Episode 8. The newest crawl line discussed the media (of course) and the return of something sinister… Through the magic of cinema, the dead lived again. Meanwhile…
I was grateful, wowed, confused, and at the same time wretched. I felt as if a great affair had ended, as if Oliver Twist had gotten the very last spoonful of porridge in the world, or like the moment when Cuba Gooding Jr. finally realized what was taken from him in the movie Instinct. I felt perhaps like Luke did in Episode 8 as the last of the force left him and he was absorbed into the Force (Collective). And yet, I still wanted more please dam#⁢ I still wanted my questions answered.
I’ve had lots of practice saying goodbye and grieving, but it still hurts like a phantom limb. That’s what, I suspect, makes Star Wars so grand to its fans, enchantment mixing with pain—the letting go and holding on. I recognized a constant in the nine movie arc is the enduring presence of (often hard to see) pure evil in the form of Palpatine, the Siths, dark stars, and sullied planets like Exegol. It hurts like a holocaust that no matter how many times you kill evil, throw it down a reactor shaft, or blow up a death star, it returns—eviler, spouting the same message ‘let the hate flow through you.’ Perhaps that’s also why it’s called Star Wars, and not Star Truce or Star Lore. Good and bad are never simple to define. Zen and the Art writer Robert Pirsig said good was reality itself, ever-changing, ultimately unknowable… He also tied evil to technology in that evil begins when you treat human beings as things.
Then there’s the quiet awareness and gumption exemplified by Luke and Leia, Rey and Finn, Yoda and Obi Wan, Poe and Admiral Holdo, and Ben (but not Kylo Ren)…and echoed by anthropologist Margaret Mead, ‘never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.” I do wonder, however, what our rebel forces are waiting for in 2020.
What’s not to like about Star Wars—operatic force wielding, villain killing (and reanimating), and all that sand…trickster droids and unfathomable voids, father/son angst and virgin pranks. We seem to possess a near universal dreamlike longing to be the chosen one, reside among the stars or worship from afar, although we already are composed of stardust, dreams, and fiery desires (Latin: desiderae ‘from the stars’). Those needing a SW fix can watch The Expanse or dozens of other offerings, read the sci fi classics, join the new US Space Force, To the Stars Academy, or Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Or wait for the franchise to return in 2022. As for me…
A long time ago, 42 years ago to be exact, I watched Star Wars Episode IV, and was transported to places where beings battled, bartered, bled, and bounced from star to star in the battered Millennium Falcon or a sleek Sith Infiltrator. I acknowledged this paean is over and laid my light saber (pen) next to my carbonite paperweight, grateful the saber glowed a gorgeous green, not pink or dark side red all these years. In my stardusted dreams, a new crawl line rolled and epic music soared on celestial airwaves. I squinted to catch the words… May the source of what makes you YOU, of what ignites and activates your positive potential, glow eternally and inspire others. “Your path, you must decide.” (Yoda)