4 Things That Make the Star Wars Saga Stand Out

Ever since 1977, the Star Wars films have captured the public’s imagination in a way that other studios and moviemakers have tried to recreate time and time again. As someone who studies fiction for a living, I can’t say I claim to have the answers myself, but I do notice a few consistent traits that almost each Star Wars movie and spinoff media has going for it (that is, if you don’t count the prequel trilogy from the early 2000’s). I think what makes Star Wars so memorable is the way it gives the audience a sense of just how big its universe is.

Here are 4 things that the whole saga exemplifies, from the Seventies to today.

1. War on a galactic scale

Copyright © 1983 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1983 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

Sounds obvious, I know, but Star Wars is very much a space opera when it comes to the scale and style of its battles. You don’t get just dogfights in outer space, but plucky freighters outrunning giant Star Destroyers or rebel troops going toe-to-toe with massive, four-legged Imperial tanks. You get trench runs through the sides of planet-sized space stations, as pilots execute daredevil maneuvers through a storm of cannonfire. Lightsaber battles are iconic to the saga, but just as thrilling to the imagination are the space and ground battles between resistance fighters and the Empire’s soldiers.

2. Life on the frontier

Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

For all the grandeur that a galaxy-spanning empire conjures up, it’s amazing how often the saga takes place in small, backwater worlds like Tatooine, Hoth, and Jakku. For me, it brings up what I like to call the “Hobbit effect.” In laymen’s terms, if you want to see how big a fictional setting is, show us through the eyes of the smallest people. When we see how farmers like Luke and scavengers like Rey get by on these out-of-the-way planets, we can only go up from there.

There’s also the appeal of outlaws like Han Solo and bounty hunters like Boba Fett, who give us a sense of how gritty and violent life under the Empire can be. It’s an element that clashes with the “cleaner” perspective of Jedi Knights and Rebel heroes.

3. Mythology that comes alive

Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

As big an impact as Darth Vader had when he first appeared onscreen, audiences were still ready for a classic sci-fi epic like Flash Gordon. But everything changes when we first met Obi-Wan Kenobi. We learn about the Jedi Knights, the Force, and the lure of the dark side that turns good men like Anakin Skywalker into vicious monsters like Vader.

Lucas might’ve tried to explain the Force with later additions like the midi-chlorians (ugh), but there’s always something mystical and otherworldly about the Force. It borrows from the Zen philosophy that many samurai followed, from which the Jedi Knights were mostly based on. And it clashes with the technologies that both the Empire and the Rebellion use. For all the starships and laser sword duels we get to see, it’s the mystical bonds of the Force that drives everything from behind the scenes.

4. Good vs. Evil clashing onscreen

Copyright © 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Compared to a science fiction franchise like Star Trek, which features the moral relativism of human beings encountering alien cultures, Star Wars has always been a little simpler in its conflicts. We get Good vs. Evil writ large. Fresh-faced, motley heroes fighting legions of faceless, armored shock troops. A ragtag, broken-down space freighter trading laser blasts with screaming starfighters and angular Star Destroyers. A young man with a blue laser sword fighting against a black-armored warrior with a red blade.

Even though every Star Wars film begins with an opening series of text to provide exposition, there’s almost no need. We can tell what’s happening just by the visual language alone.

So what else does Star Wars have that makes you love it? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Reading the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Novelization

Copyright © 2016 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

It’s no secret that I love Star Wars and that I adore the saga’s most recent installment, The Force Awakens. Watching this movie (3 times at the theater, as of this article’s writing) has made me remember the joy of the original films, from deadly lightsaber duels to heroic starfighter dogfights to the struggle of trying to save a droid on a hostile desert planet. And being a bibliophile, I naturally needed to read the novelization as well. When I heard that Alan Dean Foster was writing it, I was excited.

But I was less thrilled once I started reading it.

(If you want a synopsis of the novelization, I’ll point you toward my actual review of the movie, wherein I give a short, spoiler-free summary. However, there will be one or two spoilers below for the sake of this review.)

Like any good novelization, this book takes the main events shown in the film and adds literary context to everything: how the characters think and feel beyond their immediate dialogue and actions, along with backstory and details that the movie wouldn’t otherwise include. In Foster’s treatment, you can read all the iconic dialogue that you hear in the screenplay, but he does have a tendency to add more than might be necessary.

Here’s one example. In the movie, after Rey, Finn, and BB-8 escape Jakku aboard the Millennium Falcon, a First Order officer has to deliver the news to Kylo Ren. When told about the escape, Ren is fuming quietly. Then he breaks out into a violent display with his lightsaber, only to go back to his calm, chilling demeanor a minute later. All his dialogue is sparse, and you feel the officer’s dread when he has to deliver each new piece of information, knowing he might lose his life in a second.

But in the novelization, we get this long, strange monologue from Ren before the officer can deliver his report:

“Look at it, Lieutenant. So much beauty among so much turmoil. In a way, we are but an infinitely smaller reflection of the same conflict. It is the task of the First Order to remove the disorder from our own existence, so that civilization may be returned to the stability that promotes progress. A stability that existed under the Empire, was reduced to anarchy by the Rebellion, was inherited by the so-called Republic, and will be restored by us. Future historians will look upon this as the time when a strong hand brought the rule of law back to civilization” (Foster p. 92).

I can see a few problems here. One is that this style of speaking is far too romantic for a sadistic Force-user like Kylo Ren, especially if he’s trying to emulate his idol, Darth Vader. Another is that this speech kills the dread building up from the beginning of the scene. A lieutenant has to tell his master that a Resistance droid escaped Jakku with help from a rogue stormtrooper, and he’s expecting to die just like any officer under Vader would. In the audience, we’re counting on that same event to happen. But one thing Vader would never do is stop to make a subordinate join in his navel-gazing. He cared about results and used his words sparingly, just as Kylo Ren does in the film—but not in the book.

To be honest, the author adds a lot of dialogue where it wouldn’t be needed, getting rid of some of the tension that screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams built into those scenes. Another example is this gem from Poe Dameron:

“This isn’t about my life, or yours. I’m sorry, Finn, but there are far greater things at stake. Forces are in motion that must be dealt with. Unfortunately, I seem to be at the center of them. It’s a responsibility I can’t—I won’t—forget. I’m sorry you’ve become caught up in the middle of it, but I can’t do anything about that” (Foster p. 60-61).

This long snippet takes place while Finn and Poe are trying to outmaneuver the laser blasts of a Star Destroyer inside a stolen TIE fighter. I’m aware that the original scene had a lot of back-and-forth dialogue between the two men as they made their escape, with Poe explaining flight controls and his mission to Finn, but this kind of calm, reflective tone doesn’t feel right in what’s supposed to be a high-stakes, life-or-death situation. Not to mention the fact that Poe talking about being an agent of the largest cause doesn’t really clear things up with Finn.

In fact, two lines later, Poe tells Finn that his droid is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker. Again, just like in the movie, but the movie’s dialogue was about Poe trying to convince Finn to go back to Jakku while trying to outrun fire from a Star Destroyer. Time was a factor and every word counted. The abovementioned aside from Poe about dark forces in motion doesn’t help persuade Finn, nor does it heighten the drama of the scene.

Ironically, Foster’s treatment does work when he writes out the deleted or implied content from the movie. This includes Leia’s envoy speaking to the Republic Senate before their planet’s destruction, Poe Dameron’s dramatic escape from Jakku, and one last encounter with the junk dealer Unkar Plutt. Because these scenes weren’t included or alluded to in the final cut of the film, I think the author has a lot more freedom to play with them, so these sequences stand out compared to the rest of the novel.

I really want to like this book, but only because of the movie. I don’t think Alan Dean Foster is a bad writer at all; after all, I enjoyed the novelization he wrote for the first Star Wars film back in 1976. But it doesn’t have the same depth and tension that other authors brought to their take on Star Wars, like how James Kahn did for Return of the Jedi or Matthew Stover did for Revenge of the Sith (you can read more about the latter in my review of the book). Ultimately, if you want to gain a little more perspective on the events of The Force Awakens—or, at least, see a few deleted scenes explored to their potential—then I can recommend giving the novelization a read… but only so far.

The Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

Bibliography: Foster, Alan Dean. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (novelization). New York: Del Rey, 2016.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Fighting the Empire Never Looked So Good

Copyright © 2015 by Lucasfilm
Copyright © 2015 by Lucasfilm

What can I say about Star Wars? Quite a lot, actually. If you want to know and have a lot of free time, I recommend you run a search through all my posts tagged “Star Wars” over the last 5 years. Needless to say, it’s been one of my favorite franchises to follow and a key inspiration to me in becoming a writer and storyteller.

But today, we’re here to discuss the marvel of the seventh official film in the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, our story picks up in the middle of a war between the First Order, the successor to the Galactic Empire, and the Resistance. When a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) defects and frees a Rebel pilot (Oscar Isaac) from captivity, they find themselves stranded on the desert world of Jakku. Finn crosses path with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who soon becomes the center of a plot to hunt down the last of the Jedi. Much like the heroes of another generation, Finn and Rey are swept across the galaxy in a desperate bid to shut down a planet-destroying superweapon and evade capture by the relentless Force-user Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Copyright © 2015 by Lucasfilm
Copyright © 2015 by Lucasfilm

Is this film the greatest ever made? No. But does it bring Star Wars saga back to life? Yes, it does. Its plot structure is basically the same as Episode IV: A New Hope, from saving a droid with crucial intelligence in its databanks to meeting a young hero on a desert planet with a gift for the Force to a climactic battle between starfighters that ends with a planet-sized explosion. I’d say I’m giving away most of the plot right there, but if you’ll remember, this was essentially the same plot to Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

The key difference is that, in Force Awakens, we see everything done much better visually. J.J. Abrams retold Lucas’s first Star Wars film with a budget and special effects that he could’ve only dreamed of back in 1977. From the first shot, you’re immediately sucked into this world, where practical effects and CGI blend together almost seamlessly. You feel like you’re running from stormtroopers across sand dunes or getting into blasterfights in tight, cramped starship corridors—because it’s all actually there. I will admit that some of the CGI was a little odd at times, like with the holographic image of the Supreme Leader or that random chase scene with the tentacle monsters, but for the most part, it helps carry the story forward.

Compared to the prequels, with Lawrence Kasdan writing, we got a strong dose of storytelling back in the saga. There’s a brilliant theme of searching for a family that ties the entire plot together, from Finn trying to make sense of his life after abandoning the First Order to Rey waiting to be reunited with her missing family, to even a tense but meaningful scene between Han and Leia near the third act. It fits in just as well with our new villain, Kylo Ren, whose connection to the Solo family and his struggle to fully embrace the dark side makes his dialogue incredibly poignant as the film goes on.

Speaking of which, this production deserves an A-plus for bringing together an amazing cast. Everyone, new and old, brought something creative and inspiring to this movie, from Harrison Ford’s stellar performance as an aged but still sharp Han Solo to Oscar Isaac’s cocky ace starfighter pilot Poe Dameron. The first winner, however, was Daisy Ridley (my new favorite actress) for her portrayal of Rey. She balances her world-weary, tech-savvy scavenger background with a dose of curiosity and apprehension when faced with the horrors of the First Order and the myths of the Jedi.

When Star Wars first came out in theaters, what captivated audiences was what it brought to science fiction and fantasy genres: a spirit of mythology and a sense of living on the frontier. We got Jedi Knights inspired by Akira Kurosawa stepping out from desert worlds inspired by John Ford Westerns. With the prequel trilogy, we lost some of the myths and the frontiers in favor of fleshing out backstory with dry Jedi Council debates and epic CGI battles set on big, flashy worlds, with little character to distinguish anything.

But thankfully, The Force Awakens is bringing back that sense of mystery and rugged adventure, now with a more modern sensibility, a more diverse cast, and a set of legends ready for the 21st century.

At the time of this writing, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Bibliography: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt. Based on characters created by George Lucas. Perf. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow. Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bad Robot Productions. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Original release date: December 18, 2015.

First Look: The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer

For some, last Friday was a day to recover from their Thanksgiving feast. For others, it was a day to splurge on football or get crazy at the mall with Black Friday sales. And for some of us, it was a day that had long been coming.

Last Friday, Star Wars came back to life.

Many people by now have seen, documented, commented, and critiqued the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakensthe first of the long-awaited sequel trilogy. For many fans of the original trilogy, watching this was like being catapulted back into our childhood, when seeing a beat-up Millennium Falcon race across the screen gave us more joy than the overdone CGI aliens and space battles of the prequel trilogy ever could.

What this trailer shows us is a continuation of the epic battle between the heroes of the Rebellion and the remnants of the Empire. We get to see stormtroopers gearing up for battle, young heroes trekking through the deserts of Tatooine, and familiar ships like X-wings and the Falcon herself going toe-to-toe with TIE fighters and Star Destroyers in beautiful detail. And through it all, we get a voiceover from an as-yet unknown actor:

“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? The dark side, and the light…”

Here are just a few glimpses of the best shots from the trailer, the ones that really make me sit up and grin with delight.

I’m sure we’ll see a full-length trailer in a few months’ time, at which point we’ll probably get a clearer view of the film’s plot and some cameo shots of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. But even then, this teaser will be enough for me. It’s a reminder of what Star Wars was and can be again: that headlong rush into a magical universe of danger and wonder.

The official release date for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been confirmed for December 18, 2015.