I have noticed that non-Muslim Americans, even those who love and support Muslims, often make the mistake of thinking that Islam is a race or nationality. Something "other", in other words. In truth, Muslims can be as white and/or American as anyone else. They're just normal people. And while they certainly deserve their reputation for being devout, far more so than Christians in many cases, they have other pursuits and interests just like everyone else. I thought about this recently when I watched "Rogue One" again and noted that, since it was partially filmed in Jordan, the credits listed several Jordanian people of whom the vast majority are undoubtedly Muslim. And Riz Ahmed, the rapper who was so eager to play defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook that he sent in ten audition tapes, is a Muslim. I hope this doesn't sound patronizing. I only wish to tear away some of the "otherness" that many of us ascribe to Muslims without even realizing it.
So it got me thinking, what is it about Star Wars that transcends cultural and religious differences, that appeals to Muslims as well as Christians or atheists or whoever else? Of course, all of the above enjoy the action sequences and cool aliens and so forth as much as the next guy, but I think there's a deeper reason than that, especially for people as devout as most Muslims who weave worshiping God into every day of their lives. In my futile and long since aborted quest to collect all the Star Wars books that existed, I got "The Episode I Scrapbook". It was full of pictures and trivia and it had a behind the scenes section with a couple quotes from George Lucas that I think speak to why Star Wars is so universally appealing and enduring.
"The Force evolved out of various developments of character and plot. I wanted a concept of religion based on the premise that there is a God and there is good and evil. I began to distill the essence of all religions into what I thought was a basic idea common to all religions and common to primitive thinking. I wanted to develop something that was nondenominational but still had a kind of religious reality. I believe in God and I believe in right and wrong. I also believe that there are basic tenets which through history have developed into certainties, such as 'thou shalt not kill.' I don't want to hurt other people. 'Do unto others...' is the philosophy that permeates my work."
"The first film simply sets up Anakin as a sweet kid, which is what we have to do - say, 'First of all, he's just like you and me. He's a nice little kid and he wasn't evil.' A lot of people got very upset and wanted him to be an evil little kid that went around pulling wings off flies, as if that would explain everything. But then where does the story go? The point is not that you are born evil - the thing that makes the film work ultimately is the fact that he is a good kid, trying to be a good kid, and he grows up to be a good kid. It's simply that his emotions take him places he can't control. He becomes evil out of his own ambition and greed, and revenge and hatred - all those things that kids face."
And virtually all of those books are now non-canon anyway. Goodbye, Dave Wolverton's masterpiece "The Courtship of Princess Leia". No more of Han gloating, "Kiss my Wookiee!" No more of Luke threatening, "Take your hands off her or I will take your hands off you." No more of C-3PO singing, "Han Solo, what a man, Solo, he's every Princess's dream!" I hope great lines like these will at least be reincorporated into future movies. The Nightsisters of Dathomir did get used in "The Clone Wars" series, at least, resulting in an utterly ridiculous but thoroughly awesome storyline.
Star Wars is a subgenre of science fiction called space opera, which is sort of grand and sweeping and larger than life. Viewing it as a work of art as much as a story has helped me tolerate some of the more ridiculous elements, like technobabble and single-biome planets and blockades of only three ships and old friends running into each other in a galaxy of over a quadrillion people, while still appreciating the internal logic and consistency and depth of everything else. So many planets and characters and species and ships and droids and stories... it's got to be the largest franchise in the history of ever. And I'm blessed to have been born into the small window of human history when it exists. But the absolute most ridiculous thing that I can't get over is in "The Force Awakens" when Han uses the hyperdrive to get past the third Death Star's, I mean Starkiller Base's shield and then slows down before hitting the planet. Light travels at 300,000 kilometers per second. The Millennium Falcon was going faster than that. Either from hitting the planet or decelerating so abruptly, it would have been pulverized to atoms.
Now that Star Wars movies are being released in December I have to write about them and Christmas at the same time, and there's only so many ways to tie them together. Is there Christmas in the Star Wars galaxy? Their equivalent is generally considered to be "Life Day", first revealed in 1978's really really really bad "Star Wars Holidy Special", a holiday that Wookiees celebrate by covering their nudity with red robes and evidently taking some kind of psychedelic drug so they can walk through space into a star and listen to Princess Leia sing while she's so coked up that her eyes are pointing in opposite directions like a chameleon and she has to hold onto Chewbacca to stay standing. But the special was actually aired (one and only time) around Thanksgiving, not Christmas.
The 1980 album "Christmas in the Stars", in addition to giving a young Jon Bon Jovi his debut on one track, revealed that the Star Wars galaxy has Christmas as well. Not that it's saying a lot, but this album is scads better than the Holiday Special and I actually like it and recommend it to everyone without apology. You don't want to miss Artoo beeping along to the tune of "Sleigh Ride" as Threepio teaches him to sing, or a bunch of droids pondering the age-old question of what to get a Wookiee for Christmas when he already owns a comb. (I shared that a couple years ago here.) In the end [SPOILER ALERT] it is revealed that Santa's brother helps him deliver toys because the galaxy is too big for him to do it on his own.
Why do we spend so much effort making movies where the entire point is that Santa Claus is real and the skeptics need to have faith when Santa Claus is not, in fact, real? I think it's because Santa Claus should be real. In a just world, Santa Claus would be real. Because Santa Claus is second only to Jesus as an embodiment of all that is good and right and noble. But if we cultivate these attributes in ourselves, and keep them alive not just at Christmastime but all year round, then Santa Claus is real in a lame metaphorical not real sense.
One of my bishopric members really wanted to read my book, providing an opportunity to see how the more chronologically advanced Mormon demographic will receive it. So far he has been thrilled and not bothered by the thematic elements, cynical critiques of the human condition, or references to evolution. He says he learned some new words for the golf course; "Fardles" and "Space spit" (affectionate homages to Anne McCaffrey's "Dinosaur Planet" and R.L. Stine's "Space Cadets" series, respectively).
Originally I used real swear words, mainly because "The Outsiders" didn't and it totally ruined my suspension of disbelief. "We'll kill each other with broken beer bottles, but we won't swear or talk about sex, no matter how contrived this makes our dialogue at times. Also, we have names like Soda Pop and Pony Boy." So I was just being realistic. But then I read an interview with Dave Wolverton, who was asked how his Mormon faith influenced his writing and said in part: "When I first started writing, I was trained by my professors to try to create natural sounding voices (so if people swear, then you should swear), and I started realizing that I was really not being true to myself. Just because people swear doesn't mean I need to do it in my writing. I decided after my first novel to sort of back off on that, and I've noticed that a lot of other fine bestselling authors do the same - they don’t use any profanity at all." I figured that probably no one would read it because of the swearing, but people might not read it because of the swearing. So I fixed that. Though the concept of having words in our language that we're not supposed to say is still stupid to begin with.
I hope Star Wars doesn't steal all my ideas. "The Force Awakens" had me a little worried when the Millennium Falcon's escape from Tatooine, I mean Jakku, bore somewhat of a resemblance to a similar escape in my book.
Rebel Force Band - Living in These Star Wars
The original Star Wars movie was supposed to be timeless, but the myriad third-party attempts to cash in on it, including at least a score of disco or pop covers of the main theme (with the one by Meco charting at number one), were forever rooted in 1977-8. This band went a little too far with this album. They thought that Lucasfilm wouldn't sue them if they wrote the final S in "Star Wars" backwards, but they were wrong. Forty years later and like most of the others it's long since become public domain. I like it not just for its "camp" charm but legitimately as good music. Sue me. With gems like "Don't Fall in Love With an Android" and "Chewie the Rookie Wookie [[sic]", how could I not?
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.