Star Wars is not about blowing up the Death Star; it is about family

May 15, 2017

When you approach a story, such as Star Wars in my post title or anything else, the common way to understand it is “this story is about war” or “runaway technology” or “dragons” or “school competitions” or “piracy on the high seas with historically-inappropriate accents.” As that, it can be compelling. It can compel you never to look at the story again, if, e.g., you hate pirate stories.

This is a darn shame.

To a large extent, it is because the reader/viewer/listener missed the point. Star Wars is a helpful example because it is so well-known and people typically have a clear like-or-dislike attitude toward it. It’s difficult to avoid forming an opinion when culture shoves it down your throat every day . . .

But thanks to that suffusion, the ideas in it are everywhere. You know what the “Death Star” is. Some real-world people claim to be “Jedi.” And all these people seem to forgive that the movies were fallible creations like any other; they just wanna play with a light saber woo!!!

That’s all the surface.

Neil Gaiman had a helpful observation:

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

The Death Star is your “dragon.” Or maybe Governor Tarkin is, who knows. Is anybody surprised — anybody — when the hero(es) win(s) and the Death Star is destroyed? Of course not. So why would anybody — anybody — read another fairy tale, or watch another space-fairy tale like Star Wars, when you know how it’s going to end?

Because there is something else behind it. How did you get to that end?

I have repeated over and over across these posts, starting when first I observed Sir Terry Pratchett’s words on it, that there is a distinction between the point and the plot. Sir Terry mentioned how fans tried to give him ideas for stories. “You should do a pirate story!” they’d say. “Alright,” Sir Terry would reply, “what would it be about?”

He couldn’t just do a pirate story. Saying “pirates!” would tell you the plot, but what was the point? What would the life of piracy reveal? What moral, message, feeling, would you the reader take away in the end?

It’s as with those quotes from Jonathan Blow I referenced when discussing games as culture:

“Why do people [enjoy stories]? We already know one of the answers is pretty obvious.
“1. [Stories] can provide entertainment/fantasy/escapism. . . . But if this is all that [stories] were, I would be intensely dissatisfied. Because fantasy and escapism is not fulfilling to me. At the end of the day, I want to feel like my life has meaning.”

Sir Terry never just did a pirate story, as there was no point. He couldn’t just write escapism.

I like the structure of Shakespeare’s quote about brevity, so let me make this overlong. The “point” is the soul of the story, and the “plot,” genre, setting, and million-dollar-budget special effects are the limbs and outward flourishes.

Blowing up the Death Star is essential to the plot. As is beating the dragon. How do you, the hero of your own story, get there? By believing in yourself; letting go; reaching out with your feelings. Funny how that lesson sounds like it can be applied elsewhere. Where else?

Well . . .

Star Wars movies continued beyond just the first one, and a casual plot point about Luke Skywalker’s father became more involved. Seriously involved. An entire prequel trilogy addressed the Skywalker family ancestry, and these days a new sequel trilogy is being released to follow them further. Not to mention Rogue One (Optional Subtitle) A Star Wars Story. And they keep blowing up the Death Star. How does this work?

In a sense, every Star Wars movie is about blowing up the Death Star (or its equivalent). But that’s not what it’s about, i.e., that’s not the point. Really, every Star Wars movie is about family.

In the original trilogy, reconciliation with the lost parent becomes key to the Skywalkers. Lo and behold, a new Death Star shows up just in time to be the one thing keeping them apart. Conveniently, the most personal heart-to-heart conversation is held while standing in the thing — this giant unfeeling monstrosity that is “destroying all your friends.” Reconciliation saves the relationship (all of them!), and, as a pleasant bonus, halts the hero’s own journey to “the dark side.” Pretty good deal when we thought we were talking about space stations.

In Rogue One, yet again, the story is about the loss of a parent. What’s getting in the way? The Death Star. What’s it doing there? Well, it’s kinda the parent’s fault. Sorry about that. “But I was doing it all to protect you!”

Those words . . . huh. I thought we were talking about space stations.

Plot, genre, setting, and multi-million-dollar-budget special effects? Not nearly as important as the people in the audience noticing those key words and remembering them when somebody off the screen says them. Somebody like themselves.

So Star Wars is about believing in yourself to surmount your obstacles; about family in all its conflict; heck, it’s about faith, too, and we could talk a lot about world religion in its relationship to the Jedi. And therefore someone could ask a reasonable question:

“Why didn’t you SAY SO?”

Why all the fantasy? Why all the special effects? Why didn’t you “just” make a story about those things that you’re saying are oh-so-important?

I will address this . . . in my next post.

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