The Splash Page: The State of Star Wars


Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Samuel G. Reece | @_samreece, Contributing Writer

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans: let me begin by taking a look backwards. Over the last 43 years, we’ve been through a lot – the destruction of Alderaan, Jedi battles and the rise and fall of galactic empires. We began with a sleeper hit in the last days of 1977, a short and somewhat trite adventure in a galaxy far, far away. As Watergate ended, so did the Skywalker Saga begin. Our beloved “Star Wars” became more than just a movie – it spawned two sequels, a Christmas special, several cartoons and an ever-expanding universe of novels and comics and toys. It was, and is, a cultural touchstone – a thing which we look back on with moist eyes and faint smiles and remember as being ours

And yes, there was a drought of new stories for a time, but then we were allowed a peek back into the past, to see the answers to so many questions. How had Anakin become Darth Vader? How did the Jedi work? And yes, fine, those films did not exactly live up to our expectations – they were near impossible to watch – and so, in some part of ourselves, we let that galaxy fade away into the night sky. The 2000s had well and finally done what they had been promising to do, had completed their mission of ending the ‘70s once and for all, though – of course – they had begun with only the second impeachment trial in American history, a ‘70s throwback if there ever was one. And this was the way it was. 

But, as we would learn, no one is ever really gone. Suddenly, there was that first trailer, and the Millennium Falcon was back. The Force (or, the Disney Corporation – is there any difference?) had worked its magic and transported us (sometimes literally) to be with our old friends Han and Luke and Leia and Chewie again, and to meet some compelling new pals along the way. “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Force Awakens” seemed, somehow, right. And when it came the whole world gathered around to hear it, and we were pleased.

We forget why we need “Star Wars. We forget why we have always looked to it for guidance, for inspiration. In those first days of 1977, in that first year of the Carter presidency, the country was in dire straits. Watergate and the Vietnam War hung over the nation, our national image shattered and betrayed, just 200 + 1 years after the states united, it seemed to have all been some kind of lie. And yet, Luke Skywalker knew what was good and right. Luke and Han and Leia were rebels fighting against the dark empire, they were explicitly referencing the serials and adventures of the 1940s, when American knew that it was good. They were, unquestionably, Americans thrust into a time and place without an America or an Earth, but Americans, nonetheless. 

Perhaps, in some ways, that is why the Prequel Trilogy – Episodes I, II, and III – didn’t work, why they could never have been written or directed to feel like Star Wars. They were forged in a pre-9/11 world, imagined in the magic of the late 90s, blessed by the Clinton Economy and unquestioned international influence. But the sequel trilogy – “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker”those films were, in many ways, harbingers of the dire straits we find ourselves in now. We forget that the way things are today were heralded by the things that happened in the years before 2016, that the signs were always there, thought we weren’t quite ready to read them. We lose sight of the convergent processes through which Leia’s famed Resistance came to share a name with the “Resistance” movement that has organized events like the Women’s March. What is “Star Wars” if not a reassurance, in times of national discord and distrust, that those brave Rebels will bring back democracy, come what may? 

Perhaps that is why “The Last Jedi” faced so much pushback – it dared to ask whether those brave rebels had perhaps only been partly right. It dared to wonder if, perhaps, the blustering and self-important Americans of the 20th century had made mistakes.  Perhaps the troubled critical and fan response to “The Rise of Skywalker,” a film concerned most it seems with deciphering a middle path between the old and the new, is proof that there is no nostalgic vision of America’s rebellious youth that can sweep us all along anymore. 

And so, my fellow Americans, I look to the future. To another season of “The Mandalorian,” to whatever Rian Johnson and Kevin Feige are cooking up in the Lucasfilm offices, to a period of more and more and more “Star Wars.” We cannot say yet what that future will hold; we know only that the Skywalker Saga has, for now, come to an end. But, as the impeachment trial of a president winds its way through the Senate, I think we can continue to expect that Americans will look to a galaxy, far, far away for some kind of comfort. If those stories follow the mold of “The Last Jedi,” we may yet see an America that thinks of itself very differently than in the past; if they follow “The Rise of Skywallker,” we may see a return to an old order of business. But we must keep in mind that there is always hope. 

Goodnight, may the Force be with you, and may the Force be with the United States of America.