The Force Awakens Generations of Fans
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the latest in a series of seven Star Wars films. If you mention your interest in it, enough of the people you talk to who are not afraid to hurt your feelings will dismiss it as popular culture and unsophisticated pablum.
I do not come from that group and while I can be snobby enough about other tastes, I waited in line for this one.
Star Wars is not simply popular culture and part of a passing fad; it is a narrative ark that safeguards important modern myths and prepares several generations for a new era of humanity. The saga began nearly four decades ago: in social terms, a long time ago and a place that seems far, far away. Since then, we have explored and expanded our world in all directions. First we went small: we mapped the human genome, made 3D printers, and learned to store whole libraries in the space of one book. We sailed large and landed rovers on Mars and sent probes beyond the edge of our solar system–truly now in interstellar space. And somewhere (or nowhere) else we have created a new, virtual world, a thriving and burgeoning parallel consciousness: for some a refuge from the crowded world, for others an encroachment upon it. Describe it as you will, but it is changing us.
When they line up for Star Wars, even the most casual fans tacitly participate in a quest for spirituality and meaning in a commoditized and monetized world. And this world is getting less “human” by the day as more and more human functions become mechanized and automated: now we talk to machines, learn from them, use them to fight wars, and soon they will transport us along the street–or through the air. We are confronted with the existential question of how to preserve the essence of being human, yet prevail in a world that won’t tolerate human flaws and has to weigh virtue against profit before virtue can lead.
For more ardent fans, Star Wars is a thinly disguised guidebook–even a scripture–for post Digital Era existence. The rules are simple: Be human and inclusive (‘alien’ takes on new meaning here), recognize technology but don’t always defer to it, stand up against bullies and stand for what is good. And believe in something benevolent and powerful and know that it exists in people–sometimes in a magical way.
In lining up to watch Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the real fans of Star Wars want to know what happens because they want to know what’s important in their lives, in this world. They want to know what to do as the changing definition of being human is changing everything. For them–the faithful–the trip to the theatre is a nothing less than a pilgrimage in the direction of the sacred. For us (because I belong to this group), the world of Star Wars takes place neither a long time ago, nor very far, far away.