U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Star Wars in Intellectual History

A big event in intellectual history takes place this week.

I have tickets to see The Force Awakens with my two little boys this Friday night. Which is an exciting reminder of my childhood, when my dad always made sure we attended one of the first showings whenever a new film in the original trilogy hit theaters. I love it when movies are events, and for me and millions more there is no bigger movie event than a new Star Wars film. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the meaning of Star Wars–personal, cultural, historical, intellectual, political, or whatever.

15 Thoughts on this Post

  1. One of the aspects of Star Wars that I find so interesting is the “revisionist” efforts made by Lucas to completely purge our memories (those of us who have them) of the original films. Very interesting when using this as a launchpad to historical consciousness and whatnot more broadly.

    I think someone wrote about this on the USIH blog before.

  2. I’ve always compared Star Wars to Star Trek. The former had a multicultural crew commanded by a farm boy from Iowa who explored the universe often using logic, democracy, and science to defeat or reach an understanding with their antagonists. Other than my favorite character, Han Solo, the protagonists were Princesses and other hereditary orders who teamed up with giant ape like Wookies and used magic to defeat their enemies. Clearly there was some shift in the cultural zeitgeist between the cancellation of Star Trek in 1969 and Star Wars in 1976.

    My personal favorite movie is Empire which very subtly turned the franchise inside out from the first movie and unlike so many blockbusters did not end with a happy ending. My personal favorite pop culture Star Wars reference comes from Clerks were the gang at the convenience store discuss whether a contractor’s personal politics affect the jobs they undertake. One last observation, every one of the theatres I saw the original trilogy has been demolished.

  3. I saw the first Star Wars movie when it came out after hearing raves from friends. I must admit I was disappointed to the point of never going to see another one. I felt the movie to be a triumph of effects and otherwise thin soup. It was a weak cowboys and Indians movie (not that the West isn’t an important part of American myth) that never displayed any thematic depth. Flash Gordon with better special effects.

    Despite what may have been claimed for the movie it never rose above the level of a certain superficiality. It made no important statements, though any and all could be injected into its hollowness. It was a marketing bonanza though. A real juggernaut that’s rolling full speed again over America sucking up dollars like a vacuum. But this is America after all.

    Guess I won’t be going to this one either. I won’t be missing anything though, least of all the $10 or so I won’t be spending. The force was not with me.

    • “Despite what may have been claimed for the movie it never rose above the level of a certain superficiality. It made no important statements, though any and all could be injected into its hollowness. It was a marketing bonanza though. “

      It’s probably accurate to state that some people went to the 1977 film (and will do so today) simply because it was an “event.”

      However, since these films do attract a wide, international audience, I’d like to channel my pragmatic streak for a second and ask what you think individual people take away from the succession of images on the screen. Doesn’t assuming that there are no “important statements” tantamount to saying that no individual filmgoer leaves with any meaningful experience?

      What if, during one particular scene—separate from any holistically abstracted Theme or Meaning—viewers decide that racism or sexism should no longer be part of one’s life? Might a person decide to “turn over a new leaf” after meditating on those particular scenes, regardless of the (seemingly) hollow or superficial generic qualities seen from the perspective of a movie critic or conditioned individual whose life is shaped by the particular historical moment from whence they came?

      It seems like the understanding of consciousness and the operations of the brain are far too complex to assume a certain, easily deducible output from a monolithically understood phenomenon such as a “film.”

      As pragmatists might ask, what is the viewing or attending of these popular films/events doing for the individuals in question?

      Just asking. . .

      • Sorry for the above; I goofed on the italics. This may be easier to read:

        “Despite what may have been claimed for the movie it never rose above the level of a certain superficiality. It made no important statements, though any and all could be injected into its hollowness. It was a marketing bonanza though. “

        It’s probably accurate to state that some people went to the 1977 film (and will do so today) simply because it was an “event.”

        However, since these films doattract a wide, international audience, I’d like to channel my pragmatic streak for a second and ask what you think individual people take away from the succession of images on the screen. Doesn’t assuming that there are no “important statements” tantamount to saying that no individual filmgoer leaves with any meaningful experience?

        What if, during one particular scene—separate from any holistically abstracted Theme or Meaning—viewers decide that racism or sexism should no longer be part of one’s life? Might a person decide to “turn over a new leaf” after meditating on those particular scenes, regardless of the (seemingly) hollow or superficial generic qualities seen from the perspective of a movie critic or conditioned individual whose life is shaped by the particular historical moment from whence they came?

        It seems like the understanding of consciousness and the operations of the brain are far too complex to assume a certain, easily deducible output from a monolithically understood phenomenon such as a “film.”

        As pragmatists might ask, what is the viewing or attending of these popular films/events doingfor the individuals in question?

        Just asking. . .

      • Since you asked. . .

        I do not speak for others. This was an expression of my views and mine alone. The man asked for opinions and I gave mine. I can’t really say what other people think about something. You will have to ask them.

        Anything is possible so, yes, someone can turn over a new leaf and decide to do or be just about anything or anyone after meditating on Star Wars. That has nothing to do with my opinions, however. It is the decision of that individual.

        As I said, I represent and speak only for myself and can’t help you with the question of whether any given person leaves the theater with or without a meaningful experience. As I said, I can’t rule anything out. I personally didn’t care for the film. That doesn’t make me wrong or right in any universal sense just as it doesn’t make someone who loved the movie to the point of thinking it was better than sliced bread and decided to get a full body tattoo of scenes from the movie right or wrong either.

        I didn’t assume there were no “important statements” in the film; it’s what I experienced and believed.

        You ask: “what is the viewing or attending of these popular films/events doing for the individuals in question?”

        Again, I can’t say. You’ll have to ask them what they are getting out of the experience. I told you what I did.

        Peace.

      • Thanks for the reponse.

        However, I’d like to press you a bit further if possible.

        In your first paragraph, I understand you’re giving your personal opinion about the experience you had. All of us have movies they enjoy or loathe (or a little of both).

        However, in your second paragraph, you seem to make a universal, objective claim about the film that is based on your previous individual-leaning opinion:

        “Despite what may have been claimed for the movie it never rose above the level of a certain superficiality. It made no important statements, though any and all could be injected into its hollowness.”

        So, for example, if Mark Thompson claims that the movie did rise above something

    • Publius,

      Thanks for the response.

      However, I’d like to press you a bit further if possible.

      In your first paragraph, I understand you’re giving your personal opinion about the experience you had. All of us have movies they enjoy or loathe (or a little of both).

      However, in your second paragraph, you seem to make a universal, objective claim about the film that is based on your previous individual-leaning opinion:

      “Despite what may have been claimed for the movie it never rose above the level of a certain superficiality. It made no important statements, though any and all could be injected into its hollowness.”

      So, for example, if Mark Thompson claims that the movie did rise above something—whatever that might mean—you’re suggesting, aren’t you, that my claim is erroneous; that, Star Wars (1977) is, objectively speaking, “superficial,” and therefore, I need to discover the “truth” about a cultural artifact that takes the form of a type of media that, historically have been multivalent in their interpretative possibilities.

      In other words, I’m not talking about a rock, objectively speaking, but a complicated film that (in my mind, at least) draws upon all kinds of textual and social impulses—including the collective unconscious (but we don’t have to agree on that last point).

      Thanks for the dialogue. . .

      • Nope. “…for me” is implied at the end of the first sentence of. The second paragraph.

      • Nope. “…for me” is implied at the end of the first sentence of the second paragraph.

        Sorry had to correct.

  4. @Mark Thompson:
    Probably the films are ‘doing’ different things to/for different viewers. My sense however is that they are not, generally speaking, effective ‘political’ vehicles, as elaborated on in my comment on T. Lacy’s post on Star Wars and ’empire’.

    • Louis,

      I do agree that any political readings Lucas might intend for this film (or have intended, back in ’77) can easily get swept away by the plethora of cast interviews doing the late-night show rounds; I’m sure they won’t be talking about capitalism (or other “isms”).

      Sometimes I think certain generic elements cue people too quickly (because they’ve been overused and have built up a thick block of signifying seasoning) and generate the feeling that these products are great for the “masses,” but contain no redeeming social value.

      I will take your advice, though, about the ear plugs. . .

Comments are closed.