Every May the Fourth, Star Wars fans reunite to celebrate a franchise that has inspired countless other flights of imagination. But throughout its 45-year history, this pop culture juggernaut has transcended its science fiction trappings to become something truly special.
If you were to go to Star Wars Celebration later this month and poll random fans about the first time they were exposed to the series, there’s a good chance each would be able to regale you with all the details of their individual stories. You would likely end up with an incredibly diverse range of accounts, with each of the eleven theatrical films named, and probably a good smattering of video games, TV shows, and books as well.
Every Star Wars fan was introduced to this franchise through a different lens, from those who saw the movies in the theatres in 1977 to those who were kids for the Prequels or Sequels, and every point in between. These initial experiences shape our perceptions of the series—those who first met Anakin Skywalker as a conflicted Jedi in the Prequels will have a very different outlook on Darth Vader than their parents, who first met him as a black-suited monster.
Unlike almost any other intellectual property, Star Wars has developed an incredible malleability over its 45-year history. It has so many different aspects that you can set almost any kind of story in its sandbox, from sweeping space operas like the Skywalker Saga to personal Westerns like most of The Mandalorian, or spy thrillers like Rogue One. Creators can drill into one specific region of its lore, like a ragtag squadron of Rebellion pilots or that one bounty hunter with cool-looking armour, to produce something unique that simultaneously fits the larger franchise.
Through the slate of Canon books published by Del Rey and Disney Lucasfilm Press, as well as the comics from Marvel and IDW, there’s an incredible range of protagonists and genres. The current multimedia project The High Republic is one of the franchise’s most ambitious and successful initiatives yet, while the Crimson Reign miniseries is giving more “screentime” to highly-demanded characters, and Doctor Aphra keeps the old Lucasfilm/Indiana Jones archaeological spirit alive. And that’s to say nothing of the live-action and animated shows you can binge on Disney+ or the oncoming wave of video games.
It’s hard to imagine almost any other franchise really drilling down into a secondary genre like Star Wars has over the last ten years. The original three films had such a rich balance of influences, laying ground for future tales of political intrigue, rebellions, mystical warriors, smugglers, starfighter dogfights, outright military conflict, and even more. Star Wars‘ current stewards have leaned into these individual sub-influences to create something more than simple science fiction, something where a masked man who almost never speaks or shows his face can become the biggest thing on television.
(Granted, Marvel has been attempting to do this as well; Ant-Man leans into heist vibes, and The Falcon & the Winter Soldier lays on the political thriller trappings. However Star Wars has been arguably more successful at breaking out of its original genre and creating something more unique, like Star Wars Visions or Claudia Grey’s novel Lost Stars.)
And across all of these sources, there’s a wide range of protagonists in which we can see ourselves reflected. Luke Skywalker’s teenage whininess, Rey’s lonely search for meaning, Obi-Wan’s heartbreak over his pupil’s fall—beneath the laser swords and bipedal tanks, Star Wars cuts to the core of human experience from every direction. Every year it becomes easier to see something of yourself in its countless characters’ journeys, whether in a new character or some new look into a different moment in an old favourite’s life.
This flexibility of medium, tone, and character is truly the strongest aspect of Star Wars. It’s not just a film trilogy, or simple science fiction, or a story about one family of moisture farmers. It’s all-encompassing, an ever-swelling symphony that speaks to the evolving human experience. It’s popcorn entertainment for family movie nights, but its themes speak directly to the soul—through the conflict between light and dark, the preservation of hope, or just the simple desire to be a good person.
More than nostalgia, it’s this willingness to experiment with practically every layer of the storytelling process that has kept Star Wars relevant and exciting after four and a half decades. After all, as Obi-Wan himself said, “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Examining as many perspectives as we can is one of the best ways we can improve ourselves, and Star Wars is the ultimate vessel for doing that.
May the Fourth be with you!