My Star Wars

If you live in this galaxy, by now you will have probably heard about Star Wars.  And if you read this blog more or less regularly, the chances are significantly higher.

So let’s not waste time by introducing the saga here (ok – if you really need a reminder, you can always invest 5 minutes by watching, for example, the video below).

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I will focus on why I find it so irresistible; why it is a neverending source of dreams, inspiration and ideas that I use in my life and work; and why I think it should be taught in primary school, instead of so much other completely irrelevant stuff that kids are asked to memorise without a clear reason along with the classic subjects.

Warning: there will be spoilers on the movies (except the upcoming one, of which I know as little as possible). If you think you can be offended by hints or revelations on the Star Wars saga, because after 40 years you haven’t seen the movies yet, probably you shouldn’t be allowed on the internet at all continue reading. Your choice, I warned you : better safe than sorry!

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It would be nice to see “Jedi Code” classes for kids. Instead of… you choose.

Barely two weeks separate us from the release of “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” and the whole Galaxy is in a buzz. Fans worldwide are shaking with anticipation and major companies are celebrating the event with campaigns without precedents. This is Duracell’s “Never underestimate the power of imagination”:

Or Toys’R’Us “Like father, like daughter”:

Plus, a devastating broadside of books, comics, videogames have been released in the last few months, to raise the hype even more and bring fans on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

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I mean, the amount of merchandising out these days is just mind blowing!

Star Wars: Battlefront is especially aimed at giving the fans just what they need: an immersion in the SW world (this is the very well aimed promo from Sony Playstation):

And more! Google announced that users can personalise all their G services to make them responsive to the Force, for example.

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“Choose your side” – google Star Wars.

Have you tried walking in a Lego store, these days?

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Lego has been powering the franchise since 1999.

And what about Disney? You can actually buy a working replica of BB-8, the new sphere droid featured in the movie. It works also great as a cat toy, I am told.

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And Disney jumped in in 2009. It now owns the brand and the franchise.

So, you get it. And I can see some of you smiling and thinking: “Yeeeah, it’s a colossal marketing operation, a money grinder for all those geeks fool enough to waste their savings on what are, basically, toys”. Well, there is certainly some truth in this (SW basically invented the concept of merchandising), but… there must be something else.

Take this for example. A “reaction video“, showing how fans welcomed the 2nd teaser trailer of  “The Force Awakens”. It was April, 2015, at a Convention for which fans have been queueing for 20+ hours. At the end, catch the reaction of the crowd to the appearance of Harrison Ford on screen (!), again as Han Solo for the first time since 1983 (!!). People go howling mad. 

(And if you want to see more of these epic reactions, click here)

Needless to say, I was feeling exactly the same way! If something is able to trigger such an intense emotional response (football-world-cup-crazy level of frenzy), it must be powerful.

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So, why is the power of the Force so strong?

After all, they are pretty old movies now (despite all the new re-mastered versions, made just to take even more of our money to keep the technical standards of the series up-to-date). The special effects by ILM were revolutionary for the 70s, but still there is a bunch of people in alien costumes, and it shows!

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And yet – SW is able to generate a suspension of bisbelief with very few equals. You just want to believe it. It is… magic of storytelling.

And the second trilogy (1999-2005)? It had to bring the franchise to a new glory, but it was mostly a disappointment. It’s universally established that the long-waited for “The Phantom Menace” is like everybody’s shameful creepy relative nobody wants to talk about. Episode II and III improved a lot, still being far from excellent. And yet, the love for the franchise didn’t suffer from it.

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Jar Jar Binks (centre) was supposed to be the “comic relief” of the second trilogy, but resulted clumsy and stupid not particularly well written. He had to have a central role in the story, but fans hated him so much, he was somehow put on the side. Not completely, unfortunately. However, fans have been producing a very interesting conspiracy theory on how he could have been actually the key character of the second trilogy. Really worth checking!

In fact, if anything, it only grew stronger. And that helps to explain why, ten years later, the new upcoming movie is expected with sooo much anticipation. Fans just can’t wait to see the series’ honour repaired.

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But then – why am I so crazy about Star Wars?

Well… because I am! I have been thinking about it for a while, and lacking a terribly original idea on how to structure this post, I decided to write down my own

List of ten, no, actually eleven reasons why Star Wars is so important inspirational profound – let’s just say super cool, for me.

1 – because it’s from my childhood. Let’s take off the mask here: it’s one of the first movies I have ever watched, my dad took me to cinema, and I still think of it in the golden and shiny light reserved to happy childhood memories. Yes, even just watching the logo makes me feel “that special way”. But the franchise has since then been able to build a powerful bridge across time:  in its 38 years of life, has brought together more than three generations of fans. Many of the oldest ones are now something around fourty to fifty years old; but thanks to the novels, comic books, videogames and cartoons more and more people have approached the franchise through the years, and become affectionate fans. Star Wars is not old: it’s a classic. It has proven able to stand the test of time.

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If the “binary sunset” on Tatooine doesn’t move you, then I don’t know what can.

2 – because it’s global. And that brings recognition and identity. Fans are at home wherever in the world a conversation happens, whether it be on endless topics like “Who shot first, Han or Greedo?”, or in which order should the movies be watched during the next marathon. To compare posters, trailers and reactions across the world is actually always a good source of facts and anectodes, and a great ice-breakers for conversations. With other fans, of course. Un-initiated brutes don’t really matter here.

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The Japanese movie poster for “A New Hope – Episode IV”.

3 – because – while certainly not an original creation (owing to nordic and oriental traditional sagas, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Kurosawa’s cinema and Frank Herbert’s Dune, among others – see below for more) – it inspires us to dream big. From the very first sentence on screen, SW is not afraid to set the challenge bar really high. A futuristic story, set “a long time ago”? With humans everywhere, but set in a galaxy far, far away? It is a revisitation of the old fairy tale genre, that many people learn to love as children and that contains some of the world’s best pieces of storytelling. We have already discussed (here) how well George Lucas was acquainted with Joseph Campbell’s work about the Monomyth. He took a generous inspiration from the classics, twisted them a bit, and serve them in an original, contemporary sauce. And there it was: all of a sudden – and for the first time on the big screen – all the things that audiences loved but could only have imagined so far, became real: far and bizarre worlds, aliens, magic (the Force), space battles, dark knights, and duels fought with lightsabers. Lightsabers! (really, raise your hand if as a child you haven’t dreamt about having one).

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Well – I did.

4 – because even if the morals have a central place, nobody is patronising you. The story is there, with its powerful cycles and Death and Rebirth symbologies, but lets the audience choose their side. The dark side is not stronger. Quicker, easier, more seductive: and comes with a price to pay. Characters were well rounded and had each their flaws, and the story makes clear that every decision has consequences. Forget the charming princes and knights in shining armours, they belong to some other kingdom. Actually some of the most beloved characters of the series happen to be bad guys (Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Jabba…).

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Everybody makes mistakes, including… yeeeew, kissing your own twin sister? C3-PO is the only one that knows the truth could have known the truth, but his memory has been wiped at the end of Ep III (well spotted by Fausto!).

5- because the characters are just great.  And for good reasons, since they are faithfully designed to reflect narrative archetypes. Anyway, names like Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia or Yoda have become icons of our contemporary culture. Sure, they can be used to sell breakfast cereals, but they also help countless people to reflect on the different roles we can take during the course of our life. And we ask ourselves the same big questions that the characters face in the story. As a father, what will I do to fulfill the expectations of my children? What is my deepest motivation: friends or career? Will I accept my role as “princess” of the castle, or am I willing to fight for what I believe is right? Rhaaaaaaarghhhh? (this last one was Chewbacca of course).

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Leia stands out as a strong, independent female protagonist. Remember, it was 1977. This is very different from your classic “Bond girl”.

6 – because it’s so well written! And to be fair, not only the first trilogy: also the second has its moments of glory. Even today, with the sensibility of a contemporary movie-goer, the scripts shine, and constantly pop out memorable one liners and quotes. Some of these sentences have become part of culture, but have a special flavour when used in a SW context, that only fans will understand – and rejoice from. From the “Do. Or do not. There is not try” by Yoda, to “I find your lack of faith disturbing“; from “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck” to “It’s a trap!“… to the “I have a bad feeling about this” that almost everybody says sooner or later. It happens sometimes that people quote the movies, without knowing it. Try it yourself and see what I mean.

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Really sorry for rev. Martin Luther King. This is a screenshot from my pc, 3rd of December 2015. True story.

7 – because space never felt so real before! Remember, the first movie came out in 1977. Humankind had already conquered the moon and the world was in full Space Age, but until then nobody had really been able to present a vision of Space that would be not only powerful, but credible. In SW things appeared used, worn-out. Starfighters are damaged, droids break down, people use spare parts to fix things, cantinas are dirty. Everything was so realistic: it’s the concept of used future, certainly one of Lucas’ most winning intuitions. Very different from the aseptic vision that Kubrik’s adopted in his “2001: A Space Odyssey“, that by the way is pretentious and incredibly boring aims for perfection and purity, and even from Star Trek, for many the defining standard until that moment. 

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“I was working very hard to keep everything nonsymmetrical […] I wanted it to look like one thing came from one part of the galaxy and another from another part of the galaxy”. G. Lucas, “The making of Star Wars”.

8 – because it re-created its own genre. SW is not even science fiction per se (let’s face it: while hyperspace jumps are at least theoretically possible, there is no way starfigthers can go all WHOOSH! and BOOM! in space) but Space Opera. However, its incredible success opened the doors to many other ambitious projects, just waiting for the right moment. Successful franchises like “Alien” (1979) or “Terminator” (1984) were green-lighted on the wake of Lucas’ huge success. As well as “Ghostbusters” (1984)“Back to The Future” (1985), to name a few. Suddenly, audience worldwide were ready – and hungry – for everything “fantastic”. Other projects, like “Flash Gordon” (1980)… well, at least have a pretty cool soundtrack.

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Space Opera can be incredibly cheesy. Star Wars manages to pull it off without being too much… well, like this.

9 – because its approach to cultural diversity is still fresh, and something we could learn from. The Galaxy is big and full of different creatures and cultures, and nobody seems to make a big fuss out of it. Different planets, different environments and species. Humans, aliens, droids: everybody seems to have a place. While war is still there and conflict seems to be an inevitable part of life, it is portrayed as a clash between powerful, opposing forces; and not as caused by different ideologies, cultures, or someone’s skin colour.

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Mos Eisley’s cantina still hosts a most “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, but everyone seems to be getting along more or less with each other. Well, more or less.

10 – because it combines western and eastern philosophies in a unique mix, that still feels authentic and profound. You can find references to Christianity, Buddhism, the Samurai code… without offending anybody. Nowadays, it’s kind of a miracle. And the SW philosophy actually works well as a life compass: Jedis have their Code, and so have the Sith; the Force is as close as it gets to a religion, but it’s not petrified in dogmas. At the end of the day, everybody will have to take their decisions, and live by their consequences.

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The “ghost council” at the end of “The Return of the Jedi” (1983). This is the classic version. In the more recent, the young Darth Vader / Anakin is played by Hayden Christensen.

11 – because the SOUNDTRACK – and here, even the most skeptical non-fan will have to agree. John William’s work contributed to the movie’s success in a way that is impossible to define. Star Wars IS its music. And it doesn’t matter if you let your heart beat wild at the sound of the Imperial March, or you tap your feet irresistibly when you hear hints of the still-jazzy-but-alieny Mos Eisley’s Cantina theme, the music composed for the movies is some of the best soundtrack work that was ever done. And its magic still works. Peeeeriod.

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Want to see more of Lucas’ sources of inspiration? Check out this impressive scene comparison with “The Dam Busters“, English war movie from 1955:

or this, from “The Hidden Fortress“, by Akira Kurosawa, 1958.

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Conclusions. What is coming next – and what do I expect from The Force Awakens?

A lot of good things. First, J. J. Abrams has never really disappointed, and is a devoted life-long fan of the series. He has already resuscitated Star Trek with two very convincing films. Everything leads to believe that his movie will be a real gift to the fans (old and new), and one made with love.

For the script, he joined forces with the most-celebrated Lawrence Kasdan, loved and respected for writing and directing “The Empire Strikes Back” (considered by many the best movie of the franchise… so far).

The original actors, plus John Williams as a composer, joined the project. It is really like being invited to a school reunion… except that you will be happy to meet everybody there.

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Harrison Ford has always been too cool for school. From the original cast, he had the most successful and varied career, and was always hesitant to fully commit to the Saga. And yet… there he is, once again.

It is going to be a planetary celebration, expected so wildly that the feeling will be of a big, global event. It’s impossible to count realistically the number of Star Wars fans worldwide, but they (we) are probably in the hundreds of millions. A “Star Wars” google search shows 416 million pages as a result (and that’s in English only), while the first official trailer counts more than 66 million views to this date. It’s more than the inhabitants of Italy. Since the beginning, the release of each teaser has generated a little, glorious mediatic event of its own.

And the box office pre-sales have blasted into interstellar dust every record so far, tickets are sold-off for weeks, and the expectation is that sales will possibly go “Avatar” kind of big.

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The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood at the 1977 premiere. People went mad all over the world, from the beginning.

What about Disney? (in 2009 Disney acquired Lucasfilm and all the franchise, for the galactic sum of $4 billion and that made many, many fans cry out in pain).

Yes, I know, it’s a global megacorporation that sometimes seems to put profit and business logic before artistic values. Honestly, I don’t feel threatened by it. My imagination owes a big debt of gratitude to the Big Mouse, and I simply wouldn’t be the same person, had it never existed. I sincerely believe they will do nothing but the best to assure that one of the most loved pieces of modern culture – not to mention, a veeery profitable business – will be treated as it deserves.

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This is how some fans believe Disney’s Star Wars movies would be like… In their worst nightmares.

And besides… a bad Star Wars movie is still better than nothing at all, right? Just like sex.

Did all this convince you? You can still become a real SW fan in a few easy steps. Here is described how. And may the Force be with you!

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PS

Of course I do my part in the expanded, living universe of Star Wars. SW: The Old Republic is a massively multiplayer role playing game (MMORPG: à la World of Warcraft) that allows hundreds of players to live adventures at the same time. Gameplay is individual, with a strong focus on storytelling, but players can also meet up and play scenarios together. The action takes place on a big number of worlds, from the classics to new unexplored ones, plus a whole section is dedicated to starship battles.

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The Imperial characters posing for a group picture. Bad guys are such posers.

It’s possible to play on the Imperial side (the bad guys), or on the Republic one (the good ones). But choices taken individually matter, and with a total of 8 playable character classes, the replay value is virtually endless. It’s great fun, and I have already wasted a few hundred hours of my life playing it for me it’s a way to remain connected to the Saga also in my free time. Want to join the game? The basic account is even free-to-play! Let me know and I will show you the ropes :)

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And meet Nathaniel, my level 44 scoundrel (space adventurer). He acts a bit tough, but is a lovely guy.
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