I literally grew up watching Star Wars. Over and over. I couldn’t understand at the time what was so special, so captivating; now I have a few ideas about all the elements which combined together to crown the saga with a long-lasting success, making it a model of all that defines and embodies the Space Opera genre. The only real competitor Star Wars has in this field is Dune; but Frank Herbert’s work is more a cherished classic for sci-fi lovers than an epitome of pop culture.
The strength of Space Opera compared to science fiction when it comes to viral diffusion is that less tech knowledge is required to understand what is going on; it has nothing in particular to do with science and the future. Space is merely the backdrop of a story – as a matter of fact, it is significant that Star Wars begins with an introduction setting the events a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Like saying: Once upon a time…
Another characterizing element of Star Wars is the Force – not a writer’s invention but a translation of the Taoist concept of Chi. In this sense, the Force indeed is with us. Using not a transcending pantheon, but a very immanent form of spirituality, Star Wars reflected the feelings of many who were investigating in those years cultures and philosophies of the far East.
Then, there is the fact that we have a coming-of-age story (Bildungsroman) overlapping with a tale of redemption; the protagonist of the story turns out to be its incredibly scary and charming villain, capable of delivering a whole range of feelings while acting constantly behind a mask. There probably would be no Darth Vader without Tolkien’s Ringwraiths, but Peter Jackson’s Ringwraiths wouldn’t exist without Darth Vader.
And finally, we have the sheer strength of extremely good screenplay (which is why all I have said is referred to the first, original trilogy – I won’t even consider the sequels). Every major character is perfectly defined, deeply individual, and perfect for the role; I believe it’s worth analyzing them one by one. Read at your own peril, for there will be spoilers!
Darth Vader – the ultimate villain superhero. He convinces you from the screen to root for him. A mountain of charisma. And the line “I am your father” is never going to be the same again.
Luke Skywalker – so naïve, so awkward, he is simply perfect for the role of the protagonist of the coming-of-age part of the story.
Princess Leia Organa – definitely not your average damsel in distress. You can tell she feels more at ease with a blaster in her hand than in the infamous chain mail bikini. She is not shy about improvised weapons. If we compare her to the average hapless female character, it’ll immediately be clear how far she is from those models.
Han Solo – let’s make it clear: he shoots first. He’s an antihero and a badass. You would expect him to answer “I love you” when the Princess finally declares her love. What does he say? “I know”. Give me more of these scripts, please!
Obi Wan Kenobi – the wise mentor with his secrets. Very interesting, but… these are not the droids we are looking for.
R2D2 – The family dog (in robot form). He doesn’t speak, solves problems and plays tricks, and has a somewhat unpredictable instinct. He forms the perfect comic duo with C3PO.
C3PO – The apparently cowardly droid, which is actually merely just wired to be very careful. He proves this with unexpected ingenuity and by suggesting to use his spare parts when R2D2 is “wounded” in the final battle of Episode IV.
Lando Calrissian – A shrewd administrator. He’s Han Solo’s friend, so you know what to expect…
The Emperor – The evil heart of the Empire; while this character is not particularly original, it is the perfect element providing the needed twist to Darth Vader’s story.
Yoda – The most famous, small, green Jedi master in the world. A character that is a slap in the face of common stereotypes. And remember: there is no try.
And then we have the stormtroopers, wonderful costumes, incredibly well-designed spaceships, and the Death Star. Blending it all together, the combination of these elements creates a unique painting of passions and individuality; the setting may be fantastic, but the feelings of the characters are incredibly realistic and modern… which is why we love them.