Star Wars was a work of accidental genius. I mean both the original film that we now know as A New Hope and also the entire saga – although each is its own accident. George Lucas himself never understood the true reasons for their respective successes, and that’s why he wasn’t able to replicate it with the prequel trilogy.
99% of the philosophical depth of the Star Wars universe was added by people other than George Lucas. In Part 1 I noted that the original film is nothing more than a solid, fun adventure romp. The philosophical depth of it is minimal. In Part 2, I noted that the philosophy underlying everything else came from the second installment in the series, The Empire Strikes Back. Yesterday, I talked about how much depth was added by the Extended Universe (EU).
But the richest source of the depth often attributed to Star Wars comes from an unexpected source: the collective imagination of the fans. If you look at the series – the films, the TV shows, the novels, the comics, and – heaven forbid – the Star Wars Christmas Special, if you really look at them, what you’ll eventually realize is that most of the depth we’ve attributed to it for decades isn’t really there at all. Aside from the occasional trip into real depth in the EU, there just isn’t much.
But in another sense, the depth is very real. To all of those who imagined our own stories set inside the Star Wars universe, to all of us who stayed up late into the night discussing frivolous technicalities of the world, the depth that we added was very nearly tangible. Our imaginations filled in the gaps, and we created a nearly infinite mythology.
The problem is, the depth that we created was never really there to begin with. And this is why there are so many people out there who never did – and never will – “get” the movies. For better or for worse, they lack the imagination to flesh it out in their own minds. In the early days, this was a rather large portion of society. Those of us who did “get it” were the outliers: nerds, geeks, and weirdos. Today geek culture reigns, and the majority of Americans seem to get it.
But how many of them truly got it on their own? How few were there all along, right in with the fun? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not out to label anyone as a “wrongfan.” I don’t care. It’s a movie, and if you didn’t enjoy it then but have learned to enjoy it since, I consider that an act of growth. It’s good for all of us to get outside of our comfort bubble. But I do have to admit that I laugh a little every time I see an old friend or acquaintance – the kind who resolutely made fun of those “Star Wars nerds” in the 80s – now profess that they’ve been “Star Wars nerds” all along.
This is also the reason the prequels were ultimately so disappointing. To be fair to George Lucas, nobody could have created a mythology that lived up to what we’d already collectively built. But putting the man who’d only ever created the genius accidentally back in charge of it was guaranteed to be the worst disappointment of all.
Beginning at midnight tonight, many of us will get to experience the next chapter in the Star Wars saga. Early reviews are positive, which is encouraging. But as someone who camped out for all three prequels – I was second in line for The Phantom Menace at my local theater – I’m approaching this new film in a much more sober manner. It will be good. Or it will be bad. Or it might be mediocre. But now matter how good it is, it will never live up to the mythology that exists in my own head after thirty seven years of daydreaming.
So enjoy the show, as best you can. I plan to take my children on Saturday morning. My very awesome boss rented out an entire theater for our small company, and no matter how good or bad the movie is, the experience itself will be a blast (just as camping for the prequels was, despite the poor films). May all of us enjoy some more accidental genius – this time with minimal involvement from Lucas himself.
And may the Force be with you.