This question has bothered me for a long time, almost since I started watching it in the first place.
See, I really struggle with living in a society that somehow is convinced that a science fiction adaptation of The Seven Samurai is a children’s movie. I saw it for the first time at the age of 12, but for some reason every adult that I knew apart from my parents thought it was a movie for six year old boys, and so I’ve been hit with, “Why do you like Star Wars so much anyway?” ever since I first dared tell someone I liked it. It’s always been awkward having this movie in common with my friends’ toddler younger brothers — not because I thought there was anything wrong with me liking it, but that these kids were way too young to even know what it was. And they are. But that’s a different rant.
All I’m complaining about here is that most people seemed to criticize me for being too old to care about something I’d only just seen for the first time — something which I personally think should’ve been rated PG-13 from the beginning even though PG-13 didn’t yet exist.
All this is preface to the first time I got distressed by answering why I love Star Wars. On May 14, 1999, a homeschool co-op parent asked me on the way to class why I liked Star Wars. Being your average articulate 14-year-old, this was what I wrote: “Mrs. L asked me that today and I’m trying to think WHY I love SW. I think its the charicters, and the stories. I’m not sure. All I know is: I LOVE STAR WARS, AND I LIKE LOVING IT!! To tell the truth: I’m OBSESSED with it. AND I like THAT, TOO. I don’t know why. It just hit something in my imagination that I just like the way it feels when I watch or read about it. But WHY does it make me feel that way? In fact, why does ANYONE like ANYTHING?”
That was too much philosophy for me and I left off the diary entry at that point. And yet it’s a question that’s haunted me all these years, one I’ve struggled to find some way to answer or express.
This week I was listening to The Princess Bride audiobook, which was on every possible level random because I rarely do the audiobook thing. It was a Christmas gift from probably eight or nine years ago and I recently found it in my storage unit while looking for CDs.
At the very beginning of this cleverly done book — as tongue-in-cheek and satirically funny as the film itself — the narrator attempts to explain what it was about his “barely-literate father” reading S. Morgenstern’s classic tale of true love and high adventure to him. And — paraphrasing here, because I don’t have access to the book — it grabbed him because it made him care about what happened in the story.
Star Wars made me care about what happened. All these years, I’ve read Campbell and treatises on mythology and even took a class on the subject, trying to determine just what it is about Star Wars it is that gets me ticking, and you can say whatever you like about archetype and cosmology and myth and cliche, but the simple fact of it is . . . Star Wars made me care about the characters, on a level I had never previously cared about them before.
Their battles were my battles, their triumphs were my triumphs, their fears, my fears. Their universe was not truly inherently different from mine, and really, with as much as I loved Han from day one, I must have always seen myself as Luke, because at the age of 12 when I first saw him, I was just embarking on my own path — the road to personhood — as he was embarking on his path to knighthood and heroism. And maybe somehow if I watched him suffer and overcome enough times, I, too, could suffer and overcome. And maybe have a robot. Robots are cool.
I guess that’s what it comes down to. I love Star Wars with a kind of fervency that is not obsession, that lives somewhere beyond obsession (cf. this post), because it was the first time I ever cared on a personal level about the people in the story I was experiencing. Always before Star Wars, all I cared about was the story itself. I was a plot person, as it were. Stick figures or faceless silhouettes could have been the ones saving the world, rescuing the princess, ending tyranny for all time for all I cared; the heroes as well as the villains were interchangeable blanks who did not matter to me whatsoever.
After Star Wars, the story became second. Suddenly it didn’t quite matter to me if the heroes were on a quest to end all evil forever or just heading down to the corner for a pizza: as long as there were characters involved, that was the important part. Ever since the end of Return of the Jedi, when I first noticed Luke’s shoulders crumple as he wept over the man voted Most Likely To Never be Wept Over (before he killed the ones who voted it), all I have cared about is the character. I’d watch a feature-length film that contained nothing apart from Luke Skywalker Reads Novel In Comfy Chair because Luke Skywalker is the interesting part — not the lightsabers and spaceships and war.
And that, Mrs. L., is why I love Star Wars, because Star Wars made me love characters (“charicters” in my 14-year-old misspellings), and characters are my favorite thing in the universe.