April 16, 2014

A Long Time Ago…Star Wars at Thirty-Five.

Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars?

Thirty-five years ago today, Star Wars debuted in theaters, quickly smashing previous box office records  and beginning one of the most iconic franchises in movie history, introducing the world to light sabers, Darth Vader, the Jedi, and the Force.

Equal parts science-fiction and fantasy, Star Wars has found a place in our imagination in the tale of Luke Skywalker‘s journey to destroy the oppressive Galactic Empire and become a Jedi. Along the way we met his mentors Obi-wan and Yoda, created friendships with the swashbuckling smuggler Han Solo and his side-kick Chewbacca, and found his lost sister, the Princess Leia (or was he the lost brother?).  And who can forget R2-D2 and C-3PO, the hapless participant droids without which Star Wars could not have been complete? The magic and the myth are as much a modern telling of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero of Thousand Faces” as any in our time, and so, perhaps, as simple as the story often appears, we should not be surprised that it has weathered the decades so well.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that George Lucas has been an ardent force in expanding the franchise himself.

In honor the original Star Wars trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), and in spite of the prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith), I present a look back at the history of Star Wars and a few times that it made its way into our politics.

First, the history as presented in a chronology put together by Newsarama:

Star Wars hasn’t only been a financial success. It’s also found its way into our culture and the characters and themes are some of the most referenced in popular culture.  Even today, three and a half decades later, a Volkswagen commercial featuring a tot-size Darth Vader is as recognizable to children as it is to adults who grew up with Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewbacca in the 1980s.

Politicians get into the act, too. When, in 1983, Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the  ”evil empire,” it wasn’t a far cry from the “Galactic Empire” that a small band of rebels fought to bring down in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Later, critics of the Reagan Administration assailed the Strategic Defense Initiative plan to use satallites to shoot balistic missiles out of the sky, calling it “Star Wars.” Naturally, like any businessman whose livelihood is dependent on trademark, George Lucas sued, and lost, to stop the use of his “Star Wars” as part of the debate. In the ruling, the court admitted that the phrase had entered the lexicon of public use, and was not proprietary.

When politicians, newspapers, and the public generally use the phrase star wars for their convenience, in parody or descriptively to further a communication of their views on SDI, plaintiff has no rights as owner of the mark to prevent this use of STAR WARS. … Since Jonathan Swift’s time, creators of fictional worlds have seen their vocabulary for fantasy appropriated to describe reality. Trademark laws regulate unfair competition, not the parallel development of new dictionary meanings in the everyday give and take of human discourse.

It’s been a long time, but Star Wars effect on our culture has continued to grow and, though the nostalgia of the original series makes it difficult for older fans to accept, has gained new fans in younger generations with the Prequels and an expansion on the history of Anakin, Obi-wan, and the fall of the Jedi.

So, do you remember where you saw it first?