ByÂ Gautam S Kumar:
In a galaxy, far far away…
For a true Stars Wars fanatic, these words bring indescribable joy accompanied by a mixture of warm and fuzzy feelings each time they scroll across the screen. For a newbie, they bring unprecedented curiosity and then life as they know it is simply not the same anymore. But why? Why is it that a movie franchise that has been around for close to 4 decades (Gosh, that is long) so successful? How is it that a science fiction franchise that is from an era without mobile phones or the Internet still continues to dazzle, amaze and garner new followers? …
Star Wars presents an innovative, one of a kind approach to story telling:
Star Wars is a franchise that spans 6 ‘episodes'( Episode 1 — 6 ). The peculiar part being that episodes 4,5 and 6 were the ones to come out first, starting from 1977 with ‘A new hope‘ to ‘Return of the Jedi‘ in 1983. Although the actual intended order of viewing is in the order they were released, there are 3 options before for the audience. And each order presents a completely new perspective to the storyline. Each order makes complete sense, and each order presents a new protagonist. No other series can boast of being able to do so and no other series has been able to replicate this unique style of storytelling.
The movies, in their order of release present Darth Vader as the charismatic villain and a gang of social outcasts as unlikely heroes. 4,5,6 presents the main storyline with Luke Skywalker serving as the sympathetic protagonist and episodes 1, 2 and 3 serving as prequels. Although most people who watch the movies in this particular order end up shunning episodes 1, 2 and 3 and labelling them as ‘boring’, it is the most widely followed ordering and is often dubbed as the ‘actual’ ordering. One of the biggest problems with this ordering is that the series ends on a low, and people who want happy endings are left feeling betrayed and even disturbed after the end of episode 3.
The movies may also be viewed in the order of episode numbers. That is, from 1-6. This ‘path’ , believe it or not, showcases the villain in Option 1 as the protagonist of the series and convincingly portrays Star Wars as the tragic story of its charismatic anti-hero, Anakin Skywalker, or as he is more popularly known, Darth Vader. This order presents the main storyline itself as an epic saga spanning 6 movies and is a favourite among many fans. However, following this order would mean missing out on many of the twists and turns in the series as presented in Option 1. Another drawback would be the stark contrast in the quality of the special effects , as episodes 1,2 and 3 were released in the years 1999-2005 and make 4, 5 and 6 look cheap.
This is the most unorthodox of viewing orders, but still manages to pack quite a punch. The order being episodes 4, 5 and then 1, 2 and 3 (serving as a flashback) finally ending in 6. This route offers a strong build up to the final episode and often has the audience rooting equally for Vader and Luke by the end of episode 6. It may, however, prove to be a bit confusing as the ‘flashback’ in itself is 3 whole movies. But people who are immersed in the Star Wars universe by the end of episode 5 can easily follow this route and still manage to follow the storyline.
Star Wars manages to keep its fans engaged even without movies:
Little did creator George Lucas know in 1977 that his movies would spawn a huge universe that he, himself would have no control over. The universe is ‘fan-powered‘ with a lot of novellas , games and TV shows being brought out by fans of the movies and thus adding to the already rich variety of characters, gadgets and subplots.
Most movie franchises lose steam after a while because they fail to keep their faithful engaged. Being a community driven franchise, Star Wars ensures that this does not happen. Once a person is done with the movies, he/she can choose from a mind boggling number of star wars books to read so that they retain their daily dose of ‘the force‘ .
For fans who are not the reading type, Star Wars offers games on a number of platforms with each game bringing a new a subplot. The beauty of all this being that, everything threads seamlessly with the original movie series and not a single game or book feels out of place.
Some of these books have even managed to get recognized by George Lucas himself, like ‘The Thrawn Trilogy.’ The internet is filled with book recommendations, reviews and *cough* downloads *cough*. And the universe is set to expand even further with Disney (Although this worries most fans) acquiring rights to the franchise and 3 new movies in development. It is thus one series that keeps giving the fans more and more reasons to follow it.
The Cultural Impact of Star Wars
Darth Vader, is arguably Star Wars’ biggest contribution to the world. The character’s iconic status has made him a synonym for evil in popular culture. The character has been ranked third in the list of 100 greatest villains and heroes brought out by the American Film Institute . Psychiatrists often consider him as a useful example for borderline personality disorder. Even for a person who is completely ignorant of Star Wars, it is impossible not to come across Darth Vader and/or his villainy. His impact has been such that many movies like Back to the Future and Chasing Amy have paid homage to the character.
Another interesting fact is that in the 2001 United Kingdom census, some 390,000 people stated their religion as Jedi(a spiritual organization in Star Wars), making it the fourth largest religion surveyed. A whole religion, spawned by a franchise, pretty impressive come to think of it. Darth Vader’s dissatisfaction with his life has been compared by analysts to Siddhartha’s before he became Gautama Buddha. A Mexican church persuaded followers not to view The Phantom Menace(Episode 1) because it portrays Anakin Skywalker as a Christ figure.
Star Wars gadgets have begun to find their way into real life as well. For every fan , owning a Light Saber is the dream, and although physicists initially cried foul about at the science of building real life light sabers, a new discovery from researchers at the Harvard-MIT Centre for Ultracold Atoms has changed everything. According to www.Phys.org, they have discovered how to make individual photons interact and bind together into molecular structures. Not only does this represent a whole new state of matter, but these light molecules can potentially be shaped to form solid structures – in other words, light sabers! Walking robots , taking inspiration from the AT-Ats are being developed by the US military to carry equipment where conventional vehicles cannot go.
Thus a franchise continues to grow and influence by bombarding people with its elements no matter where they go. And unlike most propaganda, people warmly welcome this bombardment, as it brings with it a strange sense of hope. Star Wars is ‘Pure Genius‘ simply because it has the right mix of innovation and charm to attract and inspire millions. The impact it has had and continues to have in spheres ranging from religion to science is testimony to its greatness. The bottom line remains that no matter who you are, where you are from, ‘The force’ will find its way to you, and will continue to be with us all.