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Wired’s (Slightly Belabored) Guide to Star Wars

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 02, 2018

Suppose you were an alien, from a galaxy long ago and far away, who otherwise completely resembled a modern human, and you arrived on Earth with the mission of completely understanding its major forms of entertainment, but in a hurry. Plot summaries and casting and merchandising are equally important. Like, you don’t know anything, but you only really have time to skim.

You, my extraterrestrial friend, are the perfect reader of The Wired Guide to Star Wars. It’s not bad, per se. It’s just unclear to me who it’s for.

My favorite bits come at the beginning and the end, when there’s almost room for some critical analysis. First, on the genesis of the story and the weird bits of genre fiction that cling to it like iron filings to a magnet:

Lucas kept the swords, the magic, and the knights [of mythic hero stories]. Then—and this was, perhaps, his greatest innovation—Lucas kept everything else, too. Wizards, dragons, princesses, horses, cars, motorcycles, airplanes, ships, ray guns, teddy bears, his family dog, pirates, car chases, Nazis, gangsters, samurai, dogfights, gunfights, swordfights, fist fights, gladiators, spies, castles, and robots. In space, traveling at hyperspeed.

And last, on the curious persistence of that overpacked universe, knitted together from so many fictions that it somehow became real:

The particular strength of the Star Wars shared universe—as opposed to, say, the Marvel shared universes, the DC Comics-based shared universe at Warner Brothers (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, etc.), or the ones that other brands have tried to spin up—is its depth. Possibly because of the nostalgia Lucas built into his very first movie for the days before the dark times of the Empire, the Star Wars universe feels like it exists even when you’re not looking at it. In the language of psychology, Star Wars is a paracosm, a complete world populated with autonomous characters. That’s why it’s possible for young-adult books about teenagers training to be Rebel pilots to coexist with half-billion-dollar movies about Rey and Kylo Ren, comic books about Darth Vader, augmented-reality apps that let you insert Stormtroopers into Instagrams, and Barbie-like fashion-play dolls of Jyn Erso, the hero of the Disney-era prequel Rogue One.

That paracosm is so vivid, so enduring, that Kennedy and Lucasfilm can continue to pursue an aggressive release schedule, one movie a year, for … well, forever, actually.

It’s almost a better thought exercise: instead of imagining what comes next in the Star Wars universe, try to imagine what earthly force could stop it.