May the 4th: The Forgotten Secret of Star Wars
I love a lot of things about Star Wars. From the snap-hiss of a lightsaber to the insanely cool visual of s-foils locked into attack position. I adore the brash rogue who makes good in Han Solo, the imposing presence of Darth Vader, the enthusiastic wonder of Rey, and the criminally underrated character of Lando Calrissian.
Now, I know I’m not alone in my love for this franchise. Star Wars has become part of our cultural pantheon. But there’s something about the 1977 release that gets overlooked in the way books and movies are created and consumed nowadays.
I’ll give you a hint:
And then BOOM! John Williams’ fanfare turned up to eleven and there was no looking back.
To fully understand how important those words were to the people sitting in theaters throughout that amazing summer, we need to remember the feel of science fiction at the time. It was often dark, bleak, and carried a morality tale about the hubris (and eventual downfall) of mankind the way Yoda carried his gimer stick.
Don’t believe me? Think back to Planet of the Apes (1968) – “You maniacs! You blew it up!” Logan’s Run (1976), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Soylent Green (1973).
Classics. Entertaining, all of them. But also, kind of a drag. And it went back to films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Each one focusing on the shortcomings of mankind, the foibles that spelled our demise. Couple that with the real life legacy audiences lived through like the energy crisis, Vietnam, the U.S.S.R., Iran, inflation and–Whew!–depressing, right?
Enter, A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
What those nine words did was tell the audience that they could relax and enjoy what came next. It gave the moviegoer permission to forget about whether this could scientifically happen or not, whether it spoke as an allegory for the problems of the day. It was about getting lost in a fantastic adventure. (This is why the prequels suffered. Also, midichlorians).
What Star Wars did in 1977 was give audiences permission to have fun at a sci-fi movie. And with that established, everything exploded. Audiences hissed at Darth Vader, cheered when the Death Star exploded, and argued over whether Han, Luke, or neither would win Leia’s heart throughout the years leading to The Empire Strikes Back’s release.
As a writer, I try to take my cue from Star Wars’ iconic opening line. Just like the late 1970’s, there’s no shortage of things to worry about. We’ve experienced long wars, political and social turmoil, economic hardship, and bad music.
There are plenty of writers, directors, and politicians determined to beat us over the head with how much things can suck.
I write a paranormal noire series about a fake-it-til-you-make it Detective named Sam Rockwell living in the 1950s who specializes in working with Returns, or ghosts who come back with unfinished business. It’s a funny world of an America lost that never existed outside of old Hollywood movies, but hey, that’s the point.
I write ‘til Death because I believe there’s a lot of us out there who want to open a book and know that, for however long they choose to stay in the world of the page, they’re allowed have fun. Based on the feedback I’ve received from my readers, and the love showed for Episode VII, I think I’m right.