A strong case could be made that no work of fiction has captured the imagination of more fans than ‘Star Wars’. One could cite objective evidence like economic success. Box Office Mojo has the original ‘Star Wars’ as the second highest grossing film in the US, adjusted for inflation. ‘Gone With The Wind’ beat it, but the Civil War love story didn’t inspire multiple sequels. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, for example, is the third most profitable film worldwide.
There is also the more anecdotal evidence of the super-fan. Conventions are devoted to the Star Wars Universe . Some cosplayers exclusively costume themselves as Lucas creations. Entire categories of websites endlessly write think pieces on who Rey’s parents might be. I submit that there is one line from the film that fosters this enthusiasm, perhaps unconsciously, in movie goers.
I submit that there is one line from the film that fosters this same enthusiasm, perhaps unconsciously, in moviegoers:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
It opens every ‘Star Wars’ film for a reason. It is an imagination prompt. It is a reminder that what you are about to see isn’t sold as make-believe. While it doesn’t suggest that ‘Star Wars’ is a documentary or that the Skywalkers are based on historical figures, there is something deeply meaningful to it. It calls to mind an analogy called the “celestial teapot”, coined by philosopher Bertrand Russell, which states that a claim of a teapot in orbit around the sun is unfalsifiable. This is meant to show that such a claim should not be taken seriously until a means to prove it is provided.
The events of ‘Star Wars’ are likewise unfalsifiable. If the movie showed Luke visiting earth in the present, we would know with certainty that doesn’t happen in reality. If Luke is shown to visit earth in the future, we would, at that future point, know if that portrayal is true or false. Setting the events of ‘Star Wars’ in a time and place entirely out of our reach makes the story possibly real. Our Earth could be in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, however, unrelated to the stories told.
Characters and events out of our reach and who never interact with our history or future may as well be fiction, even given the possibility of their truth. What difference does it make to us? The difference is the Force. The Skywalkers would be long dead if ‘Star Wars’ was real, but the Force would endure. “It surrounds us and penetrates us.”
When the film establishes the time and place it makes the Force available to the audience. It’s why I stared at the No. 2 pencil on my desk in elementary school, commanding it to move with my mind. I don’t think I’m alone. During the 2011 Super Bowl, Volkswagen aired an ad in which a Darth-Vader-clad boy wanders around his house testing his Force sensitivity. When his father arrives, he takes on the challenge of starting the Passat with his powers. The Passat starts, with a little help from dad, and the boy is shocked at his accomplishment. The commercial was a hit because our inner child totally relates.
Thankfully, George Lucas didn’t push the concept of the reality of ‘Star Wars’ outside of that opening line. At least one science fiction author started a religion with less. Lucas admits that the Force is almost certainly a figment of his imagination. The magic is in that “almost” which lets us communally share the figment.
Steven is a relativistically-locked time-traveler. Follow him on Twitter for insights from the present.