Split Decision: The Joy of Star Wars

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

What about Star Wars brings you joy?

I love everything about Star Wars because I don’t hold much sacred. But one thing I think everyone can agree on, is that Star Wars has amazing sound design. Every film has a sound I love in it. The lightsaber wrrrrrrrrrrr, the screech of the TIE fighters, the pause before the BOOM of Jango Fett’s seismic charges in Attack of the Clones, the creepy robotic chatter of the imperial probe droids, literally every sound in the podracing sequence of Phantom Menace, that adorable creature Obi-Wan rides in Revenge of the Sith, the sound that particular bomb makes blowing up the mountain in Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s…ALL OF THE SOUNDS. And no matter how “crappy” a Star Wars movie is, I know I will enjoy listening to it at the very least. And that’s pretty cool. Here’s an official top ten I did when Force Awakens came out.   –Jill Malcolm

My favorite thing about the OG Star Wars trilogy is just a story of a boy who grows up: he leaves home, meets friends, has adventures, meets a great teacher, has failures, breaks some rules, discovers his destiny, and separates from his parents. Now that looks like one of those “Explain A Film Plot Badly” memes, but it’s true. The story of Luke Skywalker is pop’s ultimate hero’s journey.

Whenever I think about Star Wars, the first image that comes to mind is that of Luke staring out at the suns, after his Aunt and uncle have just shot down his dreams a little bit. He knows there is more out there, and he so desperately NEEDS to go see it. And having seen that trilogy so many times now, it’s profound to watch that scene and think about how he has no idea what awaits him. None of us do. He definitely gets more than he bargained for, as we all hopefully do in life. —Andy Elijah

I’m going to echo some of Andy’s thoughts here–to me Star Wars has always been about the American teenage dream. It’s essentially American Graffiti set in space, where a lonely midwestern teen dreams of something bigger beyond the confines of his small-town home. The ubiquity of the automobile would make that possible for teenagers in the 1950’s, much like the ubiquity of space travel, have you the means, makes that possible for characters in the Star Wars universe. Perhaps more importantly, the idea of the force, as presented by Obi-Won, is a unifying one, rather than an exclusive one. It’s a promise of sorts, that adventure is waiting just outside your little farm town, and greatness is attainable by any who choose to seek it.

Not to make too big a point of this, but this is why I think The Last Jedi is so important to the greater Star Wars mythos–it returns the Force to the dreamers. It makes Star Wars an enormous, open universe again, rather than a tragedy about one special family. I suspect this inclusivity is threatening to some (at this point using the phrase “I suspect” is generous), but it truly is the promise of the original Star Wars and what drew me to this universe in the first place. The joy I get from Star Wars is in believing that I too could become a hero in the stars, and I am so grateful that that dream is alive and well in the context of the movies again..–Garrett Smith

I’m going to keep mine short and simple. The cantina scene from the first film has always brought me immense joy. There’s such a playful energy that never ceases to make me ridiculously happy.–Catherine Haas

I think the secret that continues to set Star Wars apart from other fantasy epics (ahem… space operas) is the rich tapestry of its throwaway references to creatures/people/occupations/planets that could drive their own trilogy of movies and books (Rian Johnson must agree with me, since that’s precisely what he’s doing). I marvel at how Star Wars has existed for over 40 years and still, I’m organically learning new things about the universe that these stories occupy without it feeling forced or over-stuffed.

But more directly, what from Star Wars gives me the most joy? The whurrrrr of a lightsaber. See the end of Rogue One for a perfect example (mild spoilers ahead). When Darth Vader emerges from the darkness, illuminated by red hue of his light saber, the corridor’s silence pierced by the saber’s activation and supported by Vader’s modulated breathing… I still get goosebumps every time I see that scene. The end of Rogue One and that Vader scene in particular inherently elevated an otherwise average Star Wars movie to one of the greatest consecutive 10 minutes in franchise history.–

The two things in Star Wars that straight-up bring me the most joy are that there’s an overweight character named “Porkins” and that George Lucas’ cameo character in Episode III was named “Baron Papanoida.” I also appreciate that Lucas suggested the big bad in the Force Unleashed video game be named “Darth Icky,” but that went unused, so Icky isn’t carved into history the way Porkins is.

My other answer (the one I would have given you as a kid, pre-irony poisoning my brain) is essentially the same as Jeff’s: I liked that there were a thousand books that made up the greater Star Wars canon. I read maybe half of one book, but that didn’t matter. I liked that the books were there. A friend who was more into Star Wars than I was would actually get through the stories and tell me about Leia and Han’s twins and Dash Rendar and the uncovered family trees of various minor characters, and it made Star Wars, then just seven or eight hours of movies, feel solid. The idea that the stories in Star Wars extended a million years in each direction was thrilling. The books I actually cherished for their insides, the Visual Dictionaries and Incredible Cross-Sections, were perfect daydream prompts. Reading 100-word blurbs about bounty hunters and rebel ships that weren’t in the films led to me spending more time sitting on my bed, wondering what could possibly have happened on the planets we hadn’t seen yet, than I had actually spent watching Star Wars. I’ve heard that’s all been bulldozed, which doesn’t bother me– I’m not a huge Star Wars person and saying one part of a fake thing is more fake than the other fake parts isn’t going to ruin my day. Again, I’m just happy the universe was there. It’s good to know that somebody plotted out the why of Salacious Crumb, regardless of what happened to that information when Disney became involved.–Alex Rudolph

When James Cameron’s Avatar came out, I remember being completely unmoved by the design. Sure, the movie was a ton of (extremely dumb) fun, with the added bonus of being a technical marvel, but the design just didn’t capture my imagination in any way. It was certainly creative, and built on a comically thorough base, but none of it made me feel like Pandora was a world I wanted to visit. I say this because in that respect, Avatar was the polar opposite of Star Wars. My absolute favorite part of Star Wars is the design. Be it Bespin, Hoth, or even Otoh Gunga (yeah, I said it), I’ve always imagined what it would be like to step through the screen and into a galaxy far, far away.

The ships, the costumes, the endless parade of Muppets – it’s all just so much fun. This is why I can never find it in my heart to poo poo on any Star Wars flick. Even at its worst, the franchise imagery is always a joy to behold. Plus, LASER SWORDS.–Dan Scully

Finding hard to find or rare Star Wars toys that are overpriced online and difficult to find in retail – but also how much it means to different people of different ages, backgrounds and experiences. It’s something almost everyone likes because it is inherently magical and fun.—Jacob Harrington

The simplest answer for me is that Star Wars IS joy for me. I was first introduced to the series with seeing part of Return of the Jedi on TV at my cousins’ house, following by borrowing the VHS tapes from my grandfather. The only pop culture that runs as deep and as continuously for me are Batman (I watched the ’66 movie on repeat and had my ’89 action figure patrolling my Sesame Street playset) and The Beatles (I wore out a VHS of Yellow Submarine).

And what a weird time to grow up a Star Wars fan, something most of my peers seemed to be unaware of, favoring Power Rangers (which I also enjoyed, but not as deeply). We owned the 1995 THX rerelease on VHS, which was 4 years after Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novel was published. This was Star Wars emerging from the Dark Age of 1985, and slowly building to the prequels. There were new toys, and after devouring the awful Jedi Prince series of young reader novels (Palpatine has a grandson who is a triclops! There’s a Zobra the Hutt!) I moved on to the novels aimed at adults (which are also less adult feeling than most of todays YA novels). I was a complete obsessive, putting hours into Rogue Squadron on my N64 and learning everything I could about the series.

Star Wars was an escape and a refuge. While living a relatively privileged life, I was often a lonely kid, but connecting to Star Wars made my small Northeast Philadelphia life feel that much bigger. And then the prequels happened, and by the time Revenge of the Sith came to theaters in 2005, I was cynical and burned out on how bad I felt those movies were. But of course, I was 20 years old and an idiot. I still was reading almost every single Star Wars novel published, but killing Chewbacca with a moon in 1999 and the shift into longer, darker storylines made it feel like something I loved what slipping away from me.

Over time, I’ve come to accept the prequels for what they are, but embrace things like the Clone Wars animated series and the Disney reboot. While I love that the original six films are the vision of George Lucas, I’ve always loved the additional voices present in the expanded universe. And I love that the Disney-era is both more inclusive and more consistent in terms of how everything fits together. The new expanded universe is great, and I’ve been devouring it voraciously. We’re still in early days, but I love that Star Wars has some to mean as much to so many others as it has meant to me over the years. And The Last Jedi gave me the ultimate joy: seeing a sublime, fantastic, and surprising entry into the franchise I love most for the first time sitting in a theater with other fans. It didn’t make me feel like a kid, since my childhood experience of Star Wars was on the worn carpet in my home. Rather, it connected me to those watching Empire Strikes Back for the first time in 1980. The feeling that I had just seen the boundary between popular culture and high art torn away in dazzling fashion. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt that way in my life, and it is a high like no other.  —Ryan Silberstein


Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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