A few weeks ago, I enjoyed being interviewed by a student at the college where I work about my interest in Star Wars and why so many people are so excited about the new film. His question: “Why is Star Wars important to you?”
Being an academic librarian, I immediately launched into a bunch of words about Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. We talked about the importance of mythology and where mythology comes from and where we find it in our own society and then I stopped and laughed, realizing that was all completely wrong.
It was true but it wasn’t the right answer to his very simple question. He had asked why Star Wars is important to me. I espoused a bunch of psycholiterary babble, which got toward the raw materials of what Star Wars is about. But the answer to his real question is simple and took a little work to admit. “Its the toys,” I said, smiling. I was thinking of the hundreds of hours I spent playing with Star Wars action figures from the ages of 5 to 13. I had a handful of figures, a few ships and, at one point, the Death Star complete with throne room and working trash compactor.
I had friends who had more and better toys. I never had the Millennium Falcon or Slave I. It didn’t matter. The hours I spent playing with those figures — in my room, in the basement, outside – were my earliest kinds of storytelling. They were, I realize now, the earliest moments of my creative life. The fierce battles. The harrowing rescues. The improbable interspecies romances. A sprawling, intergalactic tangle of story. A glorious mashup of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and G.I. Joe. Whatever I saw on television, whatever books or comics I read, all went into the mix. A wonderous jumble of thoughts, ideas and experiments. My stories were borrowed things, mixed from a melange of sources and made new.
And now, at 41 years old, I find the raw materials of my childhood purchased by Disney, rebooted for a new age and I cannot be happier. Many of my friends are expecting Disney to screw it up. To get more of the prequel mess that some thought dampened some of the joy of their childhood. Doesn’t bother me. More stories are a good thing. An expanded, sprawling universe of new storylines and explorations, one new movie every year for many years to come, is only a good thing. Even if they miss the tone. Even if they completely step on sacred toes and butcher all the sacred cows. More stories mean even more material for the imaginations of even more people to tell their own stories. More childhoods like my own.
This is why Star Wars matters very much. It is permission to make stories from universal themes. Disney has a talent for capturing creative content, connecting it to the popular mindset and making a ton of money at it. They also have a knack for protecting their market with absurdly long copyright carve outs. An interesting paradox that the company best known for locking up intellectual property to keep it from the public domain will be perpetuating a line of stories that will generate more and better folk art. More and better stories. And as we tell them to each other, we will be reminded that even though it is a most closely managed licensed property, Star Wars really does belong to everybody.