How important is Star Wars, really?

Back when I was in high schoo/college and they first started talking about VCRs I remember thinking how amazing it would be to watch Star Wars in my own home any time I wanted to. Now I’m finding out how much of a dinosaur that makes me, not just because I can remember a time before VCRs but because I actually remember when Star Wars was the new, exciting movie franchise.

We were living in Munich, Germany when the first Star Wars movie came out and someone who had seen it before moving to Germany was trying to tell us about it. It just didn’t sound that interesting to me, but when I finally saw it, I was a complete convert. The epic nature of the movies, the startling special effects, Harrison Ford… Star Wars had everything.

When Empire came out I was living in Las Vegas and was in college. We went to see it over and over again in the theaters even though we really couldn’t afford it. I gave my sister tickets to see it one more time for her birthday, even. These days, how often do you go see a movie at the theater more than once? I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean twice and that was a big deal. I don’t remember how often we saw Empire at the theater, but it was probably five or more times.

So, what is the point of all of this? Well, I TiVo’d all of the movies, starting with the disappointing 1-3 saga and ending with the original films. The special effects in the old films don’t hold up well, nor does poor Mark Hamill’s acting, but I still prefer the originals. Anyway, I was watching Empire this morning, still my favorite, and I mentioned to my buddy, Chris, that Mark Hamill never looked the same after his car accident. Chris didn’t know what I was talking about! Now Chris has lost all computer geek credibility. He’s got to spend the weekend watching Princess Bride, Young Frankenstein and Monty Python to prove he’s a true geek.

In the meantime, I asked the girls from work if they knew who Mark Hamill was. Four out of four could not identify him and only one of the four has seen the movies, and that was under protest. When I expressed shock, they told me that maybe the movies were only a West Coast thing. What??? This is Star Wars, people, not some obscure indie film. Am I the only one who remembers how much impact these movies had on our culture? Star Wars ranks up there with Star Trek and… I can’t even think of anything as big. The Star Wars phenomenon dwarfs the Harry Potter franchise. Sure HP is fun, but it is not Star Wars. Of recent movies, only the Lord of the Rings trilogy can really compare.

So, how important is it that people know and love the same movies? If you believe, as I do, that every culture is defined by the stories they tell and the legends they share, then movies perform a much greater role than merely entertainment. They give us a frame of reference, a shared experience. We no longer sit around firesides and listen to stories of heroes who face down evil and survive, we sit in darkened theaters, but the effect is the same. Sure, most of the movies we see are forgettable and many of them are pure dreck. But when something comes along that speaks to our core values and connects with us on a deeper level, it binds us with other human beings who feel the same feelings. It gives us a starting point and a shared experience even if we have only just met. It gives us a history together.

How important is Star Wars… it’s just entertainment, or is it?

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