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Why Star Wars Matters (From Someone Who Doesn’t Much Care For Star Wars)

I’ve never been a die-hard Star Wars fan. 

Of course I loved the first three movies. I grew up in the 80s and the original trilogy was rad. Lightsabers were like the coolest weapon I had ever seen, capable of slicing through anything with a satisfying hum and that badass flash of neon.

I was a full-time film buff by adolescence and nerdy enough about cinema in general to feel absurdly-excited about The Phantom Menace when I first heard about it, a few years before it had a name. Simply called “Episode One” back then, it was the first entry in a prequel series that I had been curious about ever since I was old enough to understand what Lucas had done with the title crawl in the opening notes of A New Hope.  

I was intrigued by the idea of a Star Wars story where the Jedis were at full power instead of gasping for air at the edge of extinction, and cheered along with a packed audience the first time I saw the trailer ahead of The Matrix on opening night.

The preview was awesome, assuming you’ve never seen the movie. But The Phantom Menace ended up being an exercise in expectation management, where the syllabus promised modern-yet-nostalgic sci-fi adventure while delivering a seminar on trade disputes instead. 

I cared less and less about the series after that. 

There were things I enjoyed in the subsequent films: the handful of Clone Wars episodes I saw, the final trilogy, plus both Rogue One and Solo (I would love to read the Lord and Miller version of that script someday), and several Disney+ shows.

There is zero doubt about the cultural gravity of Star Wars. But even in the 80s, I only watched the trilogy once every year or so. By comparison, I’ve seen each of the Indiana Jones movies more times than I can count. 

It’s impossible to deny the space this celebrated franchise occupies in our popular culture, and as a storyteller, you should know why it resonates so deeply with audiences across generations, transcending the boundaries of age, culture, and background.

The Cultural Impact of Star Wars

Star Wars came out in theaters the year I was born, so I have no memories of a world where Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Force were not common to our collective tongue. The first notebook I ever remember buying read, The force will be with you.

I grew up with Star Wars references in every size and shape. Parodies and homages can be found in countless movies, TV shows, comics, and books. A thriving fan culture keeps conventions drawing dedicated fans each year. Cosplay is common and showcases the deep connection fans feel to this universe.

But Star Wars’ unparalleled success wasn’t just about lightsabers and the force. The groundbreaking special effects launched the film into hyperspace and created a franchise with global recognition across generations.

The Pioneering Special Effects and World-Building

Star Wars revolutionized the world of visual effects and cinematography before the film was even released. I had been hearing about that cultural thunderclap for my entire life, but only truly appreciated it for the first time after seeing The Matrix, ironically on the same night I saw the trailer for The Phantom Menace

The original trilogy showcased groundbreaking techniques like motion-controlled cameras, computer-controlled camera movements, miniatures and matte paintings to mimic breathtaking alien landscapes and make those battles in space even more believable. 

These innovations pushed the boundaries of what was possible in filmmaking and set a new industry standard. But beyond the visual effects, Star Wars also excelled in crafting a rich and immersive world. From its diverse array of aliens to unique planets and advanced technology, the universe felt fully realized and believable. Or lived in might be a better way to put it. 

“Science fiction was always new and shiny before Star Wars, but I loved how old everything looked,” said my father at least two-dozen times throughout my childhood. 

Attention to detail in the world-building added depth and authenticity to the Star Wars narrative in a way that made it easy for audiences to invest in this galaxy far, far away. 

This level of world-building inspired future generations of filmmakers and storytellers, showing them the importance of crafting cohesive and engaging fictional universes.

The Archetypal Storytelling and Memorable Characters

Most storytellers already know that the Star Wars narrative draws heavily from classic mythological archetypes and the hero’s journey at large. Luke’s transformation from a humble farm boy to a powerful Jedi Knight echoes the timeless tale of the chosen one who must face trials and temptations on his path to heroism. 

This archetypal storytelling resonates deeply with audiences, because it taps into universal themes and emotional truths. Familiar echoes in Luke’s journey stir something primal inside us: a reminder that every hero’s path is both unique and universal.

Star Wars also introduced us to some of the most iconic and beloved characters in cinematic history. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Darth Vader are all household names, each with their own distinct personalities, motivations, and character arcs. More than memorable, these characters embody the timeless themes of good vs. evil, redemption, and the power of hope. 

Their struggles, relationships, and triumphs are what make the Star Wars story so emotionally-compelling and enduring.

Expansion of the Universe

The success of Star Wars extends far beyond the original films, with the franchise expanding into a vast array of books, comics, TV series, video games, and more. This transmedia approach has allowed fans to delve deeper into the lore, explore new corners of the galaxy, and experience the story from different perspectives. 

Rich detail makes for a sandbox for endless storytelling possibilities. From tales of the Old Republic to adventures with new characters like the Mandalorian, the Star Wars universe continues to grow and evolve, offering fans new ways to engage with this beloved franchise. The ability to captivate audiences and continuously generate new content decades after the original trilogy is a showcase for the strength and adaptability of its world-building and storytelling.

The Impact on the Film Industry and Pop Culture Landscape

The Star Wars franchise revolutionized the film industry, ushering in the blockbuster era and changing the way movies were made, marketed, and merchandised forever. The film’s success showed studios the potential for big-budget, special-effects-driven films to generate massive box office returns and spawn lucrative franchises.

Moreover, Star Wars has had a profound influence on science fiction, fantasy, and other genres in film, television, and literature. Its iconic imagery, archetypal characters, and mythic storytelling have inspired countless creators and shaped our cultural landscape for decades. From the proliferation of space operas to the prevalence of the hero’s journey in modern storytelling, its legacy can be seen and felt across the entertainment industry.

Though I am far from being a die-hard fan, I absolutely appreciate its immeasurable significance. My son was obsessed with all six of the first episodes for a year or two. Until he found baseball. Still, this is one of the series we’ll still watch together. And, of course, we saw each of the new films as a family in the theater, from the final trilogy in the Skywalker saga to the standalone films, because with a series as big as Star Wars, how could we not? 

Pioneering special effects, rich world-building, archetypal storytelling, and iconic characters have left an indelible mark on our collective cultural experience. 

Clearly the Force will always be with us.