This weekend there was a Star Wars movie marathon on television. I haven’t watched Star Wars in a long time, and that, for me, means over a year. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a geek. The Original Star Wars Trilogy are my favorite movies of all time, unsurpassed to this day by countless other fantastic offerings. Seeing bits and pieces on television this weekend I was reminded of just how good they really are.
I don’t mean that in a fanatical way. These movies aren’t perfect. In fact, they’re rather flawed, from bad acting and bad directing to cheesy props and poor (though good at the time) special effects. But despite all these flaws there is a genius in the story that simply resonates. No one can even go so far as to say the story is particularly unique. It is the prototypical “hero’s journey” practically unchanged since humanity’s earliest myths. It is Beowulf and the Odyssey and King Arthur and a thousand other legends recombined in a brilliant and unique fashion for a medium (the special effects world of modern science fiction film) just then coming into its own.
For me, Star Wars was my first real escape. These were the first films that absorbed my mind so utterly that for a little while I could forget who and where I was. If you think this sounds like escapism, you’d be right, but it wasn’t just my life and my problems I was escaping, but my very self. For a few hours at a time, I didn’t have to be anyone.
When I was a teenager, I would have migraines and stay home from school. I would put the movies in and fall asleep on the couch listening to the dialogue and brilliant music. I came to know them so well, I could literally watch every scene with my eyes closed and quote every line of dialogue, no matter what language they were. These films were my security blanket, my drug when nothing else worked.
When I was younger, I may have identified with the so-called main characters of this story, Luke, Leia, and Han, but they never fascinated me so much as another three, Obi-wan, Yoda, and Vader. The three Jedi (one former) were the characters I watched for on screen, whose actions I pondered waiting for sleep at night. The first three fought and were prepared to die, but in the end they won. While these three, they sacrificed without hope of victory for themselves. Obi-wan bought time for the heroes to escape. Yoda died of old age without knowing whether he had trained a true Jedi or another Sith apprentice. Vader sacrificed himself following a life of horrible evil for love of a son he had never known.
I took two things from these characters. First, to never to weigh the likelihood of success against the worthiness of the goal. Or, as another great actor put it, when told to fight the fights you can win: “You fight the fights that need fighting!” And also, that even the most deeply flawed individuals can do the greatest of things. Each of these characters was flawed in his own way. Obi-wan Kenobi’s arrogance contributed to Anakin Skywalk’s fall to the Dark Side and his guilt ate at him. Yoda’s fear almost prevented him from training Luke. Darth Vader’s anger pervaded his every thought and deed. Yet in the end, each of them put aside their flaws to do something good.
I haven’t thought of them in a long time. Well, except for Yoda who seems to ride around on my back sometimes, whacking me upside the head with his stick. Ever since it is these kinds of stories, these kinds of people, the ones willing to sacrifice without hope for themselves, that draw me into novels or film or television. Star Wars was the first story I ever found that.
And you never forget your first love.