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The STAR WARS Films and Their Hold on Viewers’ Inner Lives: A Video Essay

The STAR WARS Films and Their Hold on Viewers' Inner Lives: A Video Essay

Most American moviegoers who are old enough to have seen the original Star Wars films in the theater, back in the 1970s and 1980s, oversized iced beverage on one side, tooth-rotting candy or dehydrating popcorn on the other, air conditioners blasting, every seat full, utter silence in the days before cell phones, have some emotional relationship with them. It may be awe at the scope of their story, with its aspiration to an epic structure (in the true sense of that word, not the recent malapropic usage that has been popular in recent years). It may be amusement at the stilted acting pervading the original series, the black-and-white themes and messages as tall as the screen on which the tales were projected. It may be disappointment at their successors, which have all been flawed in one large way or another. Regardless, it’s safe to say that George Lucas’s three original films burned themselves into America’s cultural DNA, forming a point of reference for individuals of different backgrounds, tastes, professions, and levels of intelligence. The Prince-Valiant-esque goodness of Luke Skywalker, the raffish heroism of Han Solo, the misshapen evil of Darth Vader are all as familiar to many Americans as apple pie, the American flag, or George Washington. So, too, as this personal and sharply edited video piece by Clara Darko points out, are the ideas the films express. Good may in fact triumph over evil. Self-confidence can help the ordinary human become extra-ordinary. Wisdom trumps reckless ambition. Huge things come in small, odd-looking packages with distended green ears, inverted grammatical constructions, and frog-like voices. And so on. The funny thing about these ideas is that many viewers search for them, perpetually, in films, regardless of how well-trodden they might be. Those ideas might not be sought in isolation–the same viewer might seek out both stories of dissolution and hopelessness along with tales of triumph. The person who watches eight hours of footage of the Empire State Building today might easily gaze at the adventures of dashingly dressed heroes on a desert planet tomorrow. The point about these films is what they tapped into, a yearning for myth, for story, and perhaps for closure that has proven to be universal. Darko calls her piece “All you need to know about life,” suggesting that the films taught her many such lessons. And perhaps they could teach these lessons. I wonder, though, if the piece also couldn’t have been called “All you need to know about you.”

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