I Am One with the Force, the Force is with Me
I remember the first time I watched Star Wars. My oldest sister still lived at home, even though she was an adult with a job as an accountant, and she had just paid $400 for a new piece of entertainment technology called a VCR. This was cutting edge, a game changer – you could record live TV and watch it later. You could buy movies and watch them at home instead of going to the theatre. You could watch your favorite movies when you were home sick.
I was sick, probably a combination of strep throat and ear infection; I had plenty of those throughout my childhood. I remember sitting in the living room on the velour loveseat with the rooster pattern and wooden trim, with my sister, watching as R2D2 and C3PO navigated the sands of Tatooine. I was four years old, and I don’t think anyone realized at that point what a profound impact Star Wars would have on my life.
Of course I had the Star Wars Read-Along Story Book with Cassette. You turned the page when you heard Artoo beep. I watched the Droids and Ewok Saturday morning cartoon series. I went through a phase around 4th grade of watching Return of the Jedi every day when I got home from school. I read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy when it was released in the early 90s and hoped it would serve as the basis of a new trilogy of movies (spoiler alert: it didn’t). I continued to read other Star Wars novels, called the Extended Universe or EU, as I transitioned from high school to college.
I was the only person from my high school to attend Pikeville College (now UPIKE), and in an effort to keep busy and make friends, I joined the academic team. I had been a member of my elementary and high school academic teams, so this was a logical step to find people with shared interests. We traveled by bus to other colleges to compete, and on our first tournament trip, I was reading Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster. This book was the first EU novel and is set just after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. My choice of book caught the attention of another member of the team, a junior and fellow Star Wars fan. He struck up a conversation with me about Star Wars. We’ve been married 21 years and have three children now. Our oldest is in the middle of his freshman year at UPIKE.
What is it about Star Wars? Why this and not something else? That is an excellent and complex question. Many people take it at face value. Derek Thompson, the author of Hit Makers, called it “Lucas’s comic-space-western-fantasy cocktail.” He’s not wrong. It’s fun and funny, action-packed, dramatic. But when you take the time to look past the engaging characters and special effects, you find out that not only is Star Wars a lot deeper than that, it was intentionally written that way.
George Lucas credits Joseph Campbell and his research into the monomyth and The Hero’s Journey as a major influences while writing Star Wars. The Hero’s Journey uses Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes, universal patterns and images that are part of the collective unconscious. Lucas was also influenced by and included reference to sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon and films like the Hidden Fortress by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. There’s so much more to Star Wars than blasters and laser swords.
Don’t even get me started on John Williams and the music of Star Wars, that’s a completely separate essay.
As I grew, Star Wars grew with me. I think that’s one of the reasons I still feel such a strong connection and can still enjoy it as an adult. It has layers. You can enjoy the surface layer, but if you’re looking for deeper and more meaningful themes and ideas, those are there as well. It can make me feel like a kid again, but there are some poignant human truths that can lead to deep thoughts and conversations.
To me, Star Wars stories are stories about hope. It’s right there in the title of the original movie: A New Hope. As dark and bleak and difficult as the stories get, and they can get pretty dark, there’s always hope. Now more than ever, I think everybody could use a little hope in their lives.
And lightsabers are pretty cool.
Pamela Klinepeter has been a librarian at ACTC for 16 years, serving as the Library Director for the past 6 years. Her favorite Star Wars movie is Empire Strikes Back and she looks forward to revisiting Batuu later this year to try the blue milk and pilot the Millennium Falcon. She acquired her first lightsaber at Christmas and has at long last begun her Jedi training.