It's May 4 once again and millions of fans around the world are toasting the magic of an intergalactic battle that is Star Wars. It's incredible how the film has amassed such popularity since the franchise stated 41 years ago in 1977. Therefore, on this day, millions worldwide will be exchanging, "May the Fourth be with you!"
Why does the film resonate so much with a lot of people in different age groups and nationalities? What is the drawing power of Star Wars? Even one-year olds today know the theme song of the movie and love to play with light sabers. To think that some of the parents of the children who are now also fans of the movie franchise weren't even born when the first Star Wars film hit the big screen.
There is no doubt that the world of pop culture was changed by Star Wars. It's the first ever science fiction dealing with space adventure that reached such massive popularity. Star Wars is a great marketing tool for several products. Lucasfilm has earned so much from licensing alone, earning over $20 billion from books, video games and action figures.
Such is the popularity of Star Wars that in the UK some people have created a ''religion'' called Jediism, which has more than 175,000 followers. These people not only want to play Star Wars; they wish to live it.
The psychology of Star Wars
Tenured Henderson State University Professor of Psychology, Dr. Travis Langley said that Star Wars was openly shaped by psychology. He firmly believes that George Lucas had a plan when he created Star Wars and that his execution of that plan was done in an extremely intelligent manner.
He added that George Lucas manages to weave all the elements of success of several historical heroic stories into Star Wars. George Lucas acknowledged that he drew inspiration from the book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell. The book discusses the journey throughout history of a person who was an ideal hero. Campbell based his prototype hero from the works of Carl Jung on the power of myths and archetypes.
Dr. Langley is an authority on Star Wars and is a regular panelist during the San Diego Comic-Con every year. He is also the lead author of "Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind."
Based on the book of Joseph Campbell, the ideal hero's life journey consists of 12 stages.
- An ordinary and boring life
- An occurrence forced a change in the person's life and there is a call to adventure.
- The person is hesitant to pursue the call for fear of the unknown.
- The person meets a seasoned traveler who becomes the mentor.
- Through the teaching and urging of the mentor, the person decides to leave his boring and ordinary life.
- The would-be hero faces tests, enemies and allies and form alliances.
- The allies and the hero prepares for the challenges.
- The hero faces a life-changing ordeal (he confronts his greatest fear or faces death).
- He is rewarded from the ordeal but will have to face new challenges.
- New adventure beckons the hero.
- The hero undergoes a rebirth or resurrection from the latest adventure.
- The resurrection transforms him.
The stages are similar to what Luke Skywalker went through in the first three Star Wars films. Dr. Langley mentioned that George Lucas consciously put together the best characteristics of a typical hero into the story. Lucas found it difficult to finish the story until he followed the stages of a hero's life from Campbell's book.
With the heroic adventure story done, Lucas put together a great creative team and first-of-its-kind special effects as well as extremely frightening villains and moviegoers around the world were hooked on the franchise.
The adventure that endures
Although Star Wars went through changes and technological advances since the late 1970s, it's incredible to witness its staying power. Even the production outfit of George Lucas created so many technological innovations related to Star Wars, in terms of effects, animation, computer graphics, animatronics, costumes, lighting, props and more. You could say that Star Wars grew with the times, and what fans see now is different from what they saw four decades ago.
It is difficult to give just one answer as to why Star Wars is still enjoyed today as it was since it first came out on screen. It could be because the film was able to tap into the deeply hidden interests and desires of individuals. It is a like creating a new recipe by blending classic ingredients and giving it a clever and creative twist with high-tech elements.
However, George Lucas himself offered an explanation to the phenomenon in an interview in 2014. He said that the message of Star Wars is simple. People should not kill one another. Instead they should show love and compassion.
Other takes on the popularity of the franchise
The Star Wars franchise was a commercial success – at the box office, in product merchandising (collectibles and toys) and related materials, including video games. It is estimated that the gross earnings of the first six movies of the franchise were more than the combined total sales of Harry Potter and James Bond movie franchises.
Many people attempt to provide the answer as to why the Star Wars franchise is so successful. Let us put aside the fact that it follows the reliable narrative of a young hero going into an unknown land where he had to grow into an adult quickly and later returns home as a legendary champion.
Star Wars is a combination of mythical Greek heroes, dashing cowboys and epic stories of WWII that is supported by a huge budget. It provided summer fodder for thousands of moviegoers who were passionate about commercial films that stirred up various emotions and senses such as The Exorcist and Jaws. Some people believe that it is a simple formula of good versus evil, light versus darkness. It's the existence of a dual concept, with one side opposing the other, based on Manichaeism.
Still, many have followed the formula but failed to achieve the level of success and popularity of Star Wars.
Closely analyzing Star Wars, it is relatable because it is primarily about family issues and the struggles of each member of the family. The core narrative is the story of Leia, Luke and Anakin Skywalker.
Later there was a shift in the Trinity in the Star Wars prequel, with the two Jedi brothers, Padmé Amidala and Anakin once again. Within their struggles for survival, there are struggles with family dynamics, such as the father-son tension between Darth Vader and Luke, the innocent attraction between twins Leia and Luke and the dysfunctional relationships between Anakin and Padmé Amidala as well as Han Solo and Princess Leia.
These are family issues that are tackled in many soap operas, which many people are accustomed to seeing, either in real life or on television. But given that there are also many family dramas shown on the big screen, these reasons do not provide a solid answer as to why Star Wars, the trilogy, the prequels and the sequels were all phenomenally successful.
Perhaps, it is because of the relatable characters such as Han Solo and Princess Leia, the cute and lovable characters like C-3PO, Chewbacca, Yoda and R2-D2 and the frightening Darth Vader and a host of villains in various forms. It could be because viewers imagine themselves as space explorers fighting unknown enemies and encountering new ones, good or bad. Or it could be because it is an easy-to-understand movie. Viewers do not have to think too much and they just enjoy the ride, anywhere in space, with fantastic weaponry at their disposal.
One thing is clear. Even in the far away galaxies, family issues exist.
Aside from the variety of characters, Star Wars developed fictional languages that avid fans took the time to learn and speak. Galactic Basic is the lingua franca, but many of the characters speak other languages. Chewbacca spoke Shyriiwook while BB-8 and C-3PO used droidpspeak. Jabba the Hutt spoke Huttese, while the Ewoks spoke Ewokese.
Ben Burtt was the developer and sound designed for the prequel and the original trilogy. He was responsible for the creation of the fictional languages, which were based on the sounds of Tibetan, Haya and Quechua languages. George Lucas also commissioned the creation of an alphabet, which look like pictograms from some ancient cultures. Used throughout the entire franchise is the Aurebesh alphabet. It is a representation of the written form of Galactic Basic. Different accents and manner of speaking contributed to what seems like several more languages spoken in the franchise, although other languages were indeed developed for the sequels. Here's how Aurebesh came about.
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