Movies succeed at the box office due to effective marketing campaigns. Movie franchises, like Star Wars, the Hunger Games, or Jurassic Park, thrive because they either (a) mirror our lives or (b) speak into our human nature on a deep level.
Jurassic Park thrives because, in addition to capturing our imaginations through the resurrection of the dinosaurs, it poses the question as to whether man has the ability to create life, species, and whether we can overcome the natural order set forth by our Creator. Spoiler alert: We fail every single time.
The Hunger Games succeeded because it captured man’s natural desire to be free, the fact that hope never completely dies, and the lengths to which man will fight to win his freedom. All of that was embodied in the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who struggled through poverty, oppression, imprisonment, torture, and PTSD to lead a rebellion against a powerful overlord who subjugated everyone. Most who watched that series could identify with Katniss on some level, which is why the series succeeded.
The success of both of those franchises, however, pales in comparison to the success of the Star Wars franchise, which has become the definitive movie franchise for three generations due to the fact that it speaks into virtually every aspect of our lives, from our family life, to our professional life, to our philosophical life. Star Wars touches on family drama and pain, captures the plight of characters who are trying to overcome their station in life, and poses the bigger questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
On this level, Star Wars speaks to our entire persona. We are all trying to make our way in this world, battling the elements of opposition as we try to climb the corporate ladder, move into the next tax bracket, or obtain the next level of education. While we fight those battles, we deal with issues at home. We struggle to repair or maintain relationships with our parents, to make our marriages work, to give our kids positive direction, and to keep from losing touch with those closest to us.
This multi-generational family story is laid against a back-drop of intergalactic battles, space ships, and planetary conquests.
In an interview after he sold the franchise to Disney, George Lucas said, “Star Wars isn’t about space ships and aliens, it’s about family.”
Those who understand that statement will understand Star Wars that much better. The franchise follows the plight of a single family, the children of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, as they learn their family history and fight to keep the galaxy free. Skywalker was overcome with rage and a desire to rule the galaxy, so Amidala took her two twins and hid them in separate places with friends and family.
Their circumstantial reunification and new-found purpose became the first Star Wars Trilogy, Episodes 4-6. In order to explain that trilogy, Episodes 1-3 were later released (for better or worse) in the 1990s. Now, we’re working on the third trilogy, which will follow the plight of the third generation of Skywalkers.
You see the family drama at work when Darth Vader is reunited with his son, Luke Skywalker, as well as when Hans Solo and Leia pine for their wayward son, Kylo Ren. Rey is trying to solve the mystery of who her family is, and why they left her on a desert planet, and Finn is the orphaned former Stormtrooper who’s searching for belonging.
You see the quest for betterment as Hans Solo continues his career as a smuggler, as inn-keepers and bar owners struggle to stay in business, or when Rey seeks Jedi training.
And then there’s the forbidden love between Anakin and Padme. Those two had to defy all customs and protocol in order to be together.
The issues that these characters deal with are issues we can all relate to. We’ve had family struggles. We’ve experienced lost love. Our kids have turned on us. We struggle to overcome, and we often feel like we get caught up in world affairs beyond our control.
And that’s why we love Star Wars. We see a little bit of ourselves in those characters, and so we root for them. We rejoice with them, we cry with them, and we die (figuratively speaking) with them.
Right now, critics and fans are debating whether “The Last Jedi” lives up to the hype. If it turns my life into another sci-fi thriller, it most certainly will.