Why Star Wars Matters

My first post of each month usually announces a new monthly theme. Change of plans.

On this “National Star Wars Day” it is worth taking a moment to address the question of why Star Wars matters.

It is easy to dismiss the importance of the films and the stories they convey. There is too much hype, too much advertising, and perhaps a bit too much hipster nerd nostalgia for a lost era when Star Wars and Asteroids ruled the young teenage landscape.

But the characters and stories conveyed in this collection of six films are part of our popular culture for a reason. They present a series of archetypes that have been staples of storytelling at least since Homer: the young man pursuing his heroic destiny (Luke), good battling evil (Empire vs. Rebels), the inner battle between good and evil culminating in a final act of redemption (Vader), the secretly conniving politician in search of power (Palpatine), the self-absorbed swashbuckling adventurer who learns the importance of responsibility and attachment (Han Solo) and, finally, the practical and brave heroine (Leia).

Kids need such stories. It helps them structure their mental world at a very basic level. We all learn as we grow older that the world is not as simple as such archetypes suggest. The world is complicated. Things are rarely as clear as the battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, between the evil of Emperor Palpatine and the youthful virtue of Luke Skywalker.

But the power of such stories lies precisely in their clarity and simplicity. They suggest general patterns of thinking and behavior, simple–and even simplistic–ways of categorizing an otherwise confusing universe.

There are those who reject the value of sych archetypal characters and plots. I am not one of them. Such stable archetypes provide a sort of anchor for exploring the complexities of human morality. Attaching them to a story with action, adventure, and Wookies only expands their power. Of course, such simple patterns of thought do not serve us forever. As we grow, we learn new patterns that help us process complexities. We could do much worse than Star Wars as a first step on the journey.

Now, I have a Lego set to build and Episode 4 to watch. Happy Star Wars Day.


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