Sat | Mar 24, 2018

10 enduring Star Wars elements

Published:Friday | December 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Gwendoline Christie, who plays Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

OK, so maybe he was mixing his Star Wars and Star Trek references. But when President Barack Obama spoke of getting congressional leaders into a "Jedi mind meld" back in 2013, eight years after the last Star Wars movie had come out, he was displaying in one small way just how firmly the franchise had rooted itself in our popular culture.

Well, the new Star Wars is finally out. But since it might take some time to get to the multiplex, here's something to chew on while you're waiting.

Ten reasons Star Wars has retained its exalted position in the pop culture firmament:

1. It made science fiction cool

Just ask a science fiction nerd. "I remember going with my wife and saying, 'look at these audiences!'" says Paul Levinson, sci-fi author and communications professor at Fordham University. "This franchise really brought science fiction, which had a cult following, into the mainstream in a huge way." And in a way, too, that managed to resonate with little kids, grandparents, and everyone in between.

2. It spawned a parallel universe

And we don't mean up in space. we mean down here on Earth, in human shopping malls. The comics, the video games, and, of course, the toys. "The films are the mother ship," says Henry Jenkins, professor of communications, journalism and cinematic arts at the USC Annenberg School.

"Meanwhile, all these other forms are generating content. These integrated systems have become the norm for successful Hollywood franchises."

3. Especially the toys

How big has Star Wars been to the toy industry? "The biggest property the industry has even seen, bigger than any other by billions," says Jim Silver of TTPM, an online toy-review site. "To put it in perspective, just imagine Frozen lasting for close to 40 years but with a much larger demographic."

4. Humour

One of the best things going for The Force Awakens (and this is hardly a spoiler) is its liberal use of humour amid the action, a quality it takes from the early films, particularly from Han Solo (more on him soon) and, of course, C-P30 and R2-D2. "Robots had never been funny before," says Levinson.

5. Harrison Ford, people!

To many, the dashing young Ford's embodiment of swashbuckling space cowboy Solo was the best thing in the original film. He seemed to be having way more fun and way less stress than everyone else. Well, he's still dashing at 73 years old. And he's prominent in the new film.

6. Characters to relate to

Solo's one of the best, but the whole Star Wars universe presented characters people could relate to and remember. "In the end, characters and story are at the heart of the films, not the special effects," argues USC's Jenkins. "They have so many dimensions. Compare that to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which also came out in 1977). Most of us don't remember those characters."

7. Genres mashed together

Another unique aspect to the franchise was how creator George Lucas mashed together film genres to create a multilayered world. These included the Western, the fantasy and science fiction. Jenkins also sees echoes of World War II films, The Wizard of Oz, even Laurel and Hardy. "Everyone can have a corner of the universe that speaks to them," he says.

8. Fathers and sons

What Star Wars line is more iconic than "I am your father?" (And to satisfy purists out there, it's "No, I am your father", not the oft-quoted "Luke, I am your father.") The father-son dynamic is "a motif that goes back to the ancient Greeks", says Levinson. Fans will be happy to know the motif figures again in the new film.

9. The lure of the sabre

Quick, name a movie-related toy that's had more staying power than the lightsabre. "I turned everything into a lightsabre as a kid - wrapping paper rolls, flashlights," says Gerry Canavan, a professor of English at Marquette who specialises in science fiction. Canavan was born after the first movie came out but feels like he entered the world knowing the story - and the sabre. "The noise, that hum - there's something awesome about it," he says.

10. And that crazy hairstyle

Call it cinnamon buns, bagels, doughnuts - we're talking about that crazy original Princess Leia hairstyle. Where the heck did it come from? Lucas told Time magazine in 2002 that he was looking "to create something different that wasn't fashion" (he certainly got that right) and went with "a kind of South-western Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look." Whatever! It's hard to forget.