Ever since George Lucas shared A New Hope with the world in 1977, Star Wars has been an unstoppable force in pop culture. The film introduced us to some of the most beloved characters in movie history such as Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. The first film was also progressive for its time, as Princess Leia ended up helping Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo in her own rescue mission. The initial trilogy kick-started the behemoth that the Star Wars franchise is today. Star Wars quickly became one of the most successful franchises of all times, spawning comic books, merchandise, video games, animated series, and now even an entire attraction at Disneyland. This initial trilogy also created one of the biggest fan communities of people from all walks of life. In 1999, The Phantom Menace was released which was the start of the divisive prequel trilogy. The prequels proved to not be as big of a critical success as its predecessors, and was also less of a success with fans. The prequels were, however, a financial success which proved the continual profitability of the franchise in the 21st century, and led to Disney eventually buying Lucasfilm Ltd. With Disney now in control of the franchise, fans have recieved a third trilogy added to the Skywalker Saga, which began with The Force Awakens in 2015, and recently concluded with The Rise of Skywalker in 2019. During Disney’s reign over the franchise, we also got a few spinoffs with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and a series, titled The Mandalorian. The franchise is a phenomenon that you either love or hate, but whether you are a fan or not, Star Wars has influenced many parts of modern pop culture. With the first and most beloved trilogy. Lucas revolutionised motion picture special effects which he continued to advance with the prequel trilogy.
It has also become impossible to interact with any part of modern pop culture that does not reference Star Wars in some way, and it is a guarantee that everyone has said ‘may the force be with you’ at some point. The original films revolutionised how the industry creates merchandise for movies, and is responsible for the thinking of toys as collectibles rather than just for children. It is also important to note that if we did not have Star Wars, we probably would not have the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Star Wars led to the success of blockbusters filled with special effect imagery and popularised the idea of a movie franchise.
Sadly, not everything in the Star Wars franchise is perfect and one of the biggest problems it faces, is its own fans. Cracks in the fan culture first started to show when the prequels were released. The character of Jar Jar Binks was punitively criticised by Star Wars’ fans and critics alike.
Ahmed Best, who played the character in the prequels, has stated that he considered committing suicide because of the intense backlash towards his character. In more recent years, Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019), was the target of racist and sexist abuse online by fans. Tran was the first woman of colour to hold a major role in the franchise. The online harassment led the actress to delete her social media as she was inundated with comments suggesting that she was only added into the film as a social justice warrior, or to meet the “quota” of racil inclusivity. Daisy Ridley, the lead actress in the newest trilogy, deleted her own social media soon after. Toxic and problematic fans caused an up-stir regarding issues they did not agree with, and therefore led to a distate to the last trilogy for other, casual viewing fans.
With a franchise that has such a cultural impact and is embedded in pop culture, it is important to foster a community that is inclusive rather than the exclusionary nature the fandom has had in recent years. It is also important that Disney understands the value that they hold with the Star Wars franchise – as by flooding the movie market with countless trilogies, as they currently are, the “magic” and enjoyment is lost, and will surely lead to a disdain for the Star Wars franchise. Regardless of some problematic fans and an at times saturated market, the love and culture of Star Wars is not going anywhere.
Illustrations: Cassandra Eardley and Kara Olivier