Live from America! “Star Wars”

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(For information about the origin of the series “Live From America,” click here).

Dear Advanced Life Forms of the Future (Alf):

I would be remiss in my duties as American Reporter if I did not comment on cultural events as well as politics.  After all, millions of Americans completely ignore politics and foreign policy, but nobody is unaware of the recent movie release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  It came out at the end of last week and grossed more in opening weekend sales than any movie ever: $517 million in worldwide sales, with $238 million in the United States alone, according to the New York Times.

What is it about this movie—and the whole “Star Wars” series in general—that makes it so popular?  Honestly, I don’t get it.  But then, there are so many things I don’t understand, such as quantum physics, the popularity of tattoos, and why Ben Carson thinks he is qualified to be POTUS.

Just between you and me, Alf, I have only actually seen the first “Star Wars” movie, the one that came out in 1977.  I found it enjoyable enough, especially the android characters R2D2 and 3CPO and their bantering, bickering relationship.  When it came to the battle scenes, though, which I guess is the main attraction, I became bored.  Shoot-em-up chase scenes have never done much for me, whether they take place on earth or in space.

Overall, watching “Star Wars” passed the time pleasantly enough, but I wasn’t drooling with anticipation to see any more episodes.  In that way, I am apparently different from approximately 95% of the other humans on this planet.

In order to better understand the phenomenon that is “Star Wars,” I decided to interview an expert witness, “Star Wars” fanatic Mandolyn Manhattan.  On her Facebook page last week, she posted this status update.

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GUESS WHAT COMES OUT TODAY YOU GUYS grin emoticon grin emoticon grin emoticon

Because of my advanced critical reading skills, I was able to detect from this post that she kind of liked this movie series.  So I asked Mandy to explain to me what makes “Star Wars” so appealing to so many people.

She responded, “I think the thing that makes “Star Wars” important is how it makes people feel.  “Star Wars” speaks to people of a better way of life.  Everyone knows how to speak other languages, fly a ship through space, fix things, or fight with a laser sword.  Everyone has these incredible skill sets and banks of knowledge!”

Mandy makes a good point: these characters are quite advanced in knowledge and skills.  Now that I think about it, they are also quite sophisticated in their dealings with creatures from other planets.  Where I live, there are plenty of suburban white folks who are afraid to go to downtown Minneapolis because there are black people there (no joke).  In “Star Wars,” people don’t bat an eye at the myriad life forms they run into—unless those life forms have turned to the Dark Side, like Darth Vader, and are trying to destroy them, of course.

Mandy also observes that in “Star Wars,” “morality seems simpler: you either hurt people or you help them.”  This is a key point, I think.  “Star Wars” depicts an epic struggle, one in which the Bad Guys (Darth Vader and the Evil Empire) are clearly Bad and the Good Guys are clearly Good.  Good vs. Evil fight it out, but in the end, Good triumphs over Evil.  What’s not to like about that?

While I understand this is an appealing narrative, its simplicity also explains why I am not an enthusiastic devotee of this series.  In real life, the conflict between Good vs. Evil is never that simple. In the original “Star Wars” movie that I saw, the fight was against the Death Star and its inhabitants.  All of the inhabitants, as far as we could tell were evil men clad in Stormtrooper armor.  We could not even see their faces, much less understand the characters as individuals with unique personalities and life histories.  Did they have mothers, fathers, wives, children who loved them and depended on them?  We don’t know and we don’t care.  Stormtroopers are just symbolic embodiments of the Bad.

In real life, bombing other countries leads to the destruction of some Bad Men, but also to the killing of Good Men, Fair-to-Middling Men, and Women, Children, Grandmas and Grandpas of all stripes.  It also leads to hatred of us and the cancerous growth of more Bad Men. But this is pretty complicated and not that much fun to think about.

That’s why people flock to “Star Wars.”  I think I get it now.