I have been a fan of Star Wars since I watched Episode IV. It was great, but in context with what passed at the time it was a godsend. Star Trek had been off the air for eight years and nothing had come along to replace it. In 1977, Kirk and his crew were the pinnacle of science fiction. Even with their backward graphics and old-style plots were still well ahead of their time.
But Star Wars was more than just better than the competition. It was a grandiose space opera in the tradition of Flash Gordon and other serials of the generation before, with a strong plot and fun, vibrant characters. And it added a new idea that was a way of magnifying the more mystical aspects of the martial arts which were so popular at the time – the Force. That is possibly the coolest idea ever conceived of in the genre. And his amalgamation a beautiful success; 36 years later it is still a growing and healthy universe.
I think the key to his success was the simplicity of his story; a scholar named Joseph Campbell once coined the phrase “Six go through the World” to describe the universal hero story, and that was where Lucas started. The hero (Luke) has five companions, each of whom have different abilities that aid him in his quest. He also needs to have a mentor. For whatever reason, the story is a part of our joint consciousness, to be found in the stories of every culture in the world. Hitting on that nerve made Star Wars attractive on a subconscious level. Of course Lucas went a step further, bringing Joseph Campbell himself onto his sets to be certain he was getting all the details right.
With a solid foundation, he turned to his childhood attractions to enhance his story; the episodic science fiction and fantasy movies that were his weekly entertainment and the films of a Japanese director named Akira Kurosawa. He paid tribute to the former by generating hokey titles of the same type for his movies. He improved on them and generated energy by starting his story en media res, in the middle, with the fourth installment.
With regards to Kurosawa, he often imitated the grandiose epic scenes of his idol. More directly, he took the selfless lifestyle and swordsmanship of the ideal samurai, complete with a mystique and a duty worthy of them; protecting a government dedicated to the people. Then he took it a step further, creating beings with enhanced martial arts abilities on a mythical level – the Jedi. Of course this meant they needed an equally powerful enemy – the Sith. And, in the most ancient of literary traditions, the Sith were created from the Jedi.
The blending of his inspirations was seamless, no one without knowledge of them would have been able to guess. But what has made the Star Wars universe so durable is that one individual has created and guided the development of every character and theme, molding the formation of thousands of years of its history in the process.
And yet, as complex as it has become, there is always the simplicity at its core; good and bad, the browns and greens of life against the blacks and whites of absolutes. It’s an interesting piece of trivia that when George Lucas was working out who exactly the Imperial soldiers would be he modeled them on Hitler’s commandos, the stormtroopers. For his generation, anything Nazi was the epitomy of evil.