November 1997: Me and My Column

Hello campers! C'est moi, Chris Hawkins' local self-styled expert on all things Star Wars. If you frequent the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.starwars.misc, the handle Rimrunner might be more familiar to you.

When Chris asked me to write a regular column for him, I accepted without much thought. Hey, y'know, I've only been posting to rassm for around four YEARS now, I've read all the books (even Skywalking), I even went to the library to research a point someone contested on Usenet. Not only am I a Star Wars fan, I'm also a geek! What could be better?

By way of introduction, I'd like to tell you Gentle Readers what sorts of things you can expect from this column for as long as yours truly is at the helm. I've been known to ramble on about the Force and its resemblance to a wide variety of good old-fashioned Earth religions, I've even made a post or two in my time emphasizing the strengths of Mark Hamill's acting skills. (He does have them. Yes, he does. You'll see.) But that's not all you'll see here! After all, if I wanted to ramble, I can go to Usenet and do that. We oldbies have earned a certain amount of latitude in that regard.

The thing about Star Wars is, even now, over 20 years after the first film was released, it remains a pop-culture phenomenon. You can find Death Stars tie-dyed on t-shirts, even die-cast desktop models in public-television mail-order catalogs. Bantam Spectra has put out a line of novels, each of which has sold tremendously well, in most cases on the Star Wars name alone. Fans put up web pages like this one, write fan fiction, dress up as Darth Vader and Boba Fett for Halloween, and hunt for references in everything from television (Seinfeld and Quantum Leap) to fiction (Good Omens and Sewer, Gas, & Electric) to the New York Times. Even the average joe on the street has seen or at least heard of Star Wars.

What IS it about these films that have made them such a force (pun unintended) in today's pop culture? The script is awkward, the performances rough, and while the special effects are still remarkable even given today's technology, effects alone do not a classic make. "Independence Day" was proof of that. The music's pretty amazing, but that can't be the only element, either; how many people do YOU know who listen to symphonies?

Well, that's what this column's all about. Each month I'll take a look at an aspect of Star Wars and flesh it out, talk about where it comes from, what it does, and how it affects us, the audience. In many ways, Star Wars is a modern fairy tale, an ancient myth come to life; unlike Beowulf, the Ring of the Nibelung or even (for some) Tolkien, it's immediately accessible and constantly entertaining. It's been imitated many times, but those imitations fall short; if we're lucky, they're decent science fiction or fantasy films in their own right. What makes Star Wars so special? What gives it the broad appeal of a film like "Independence Day", but the status of a classic that's still talked about two decades later? That's what we're here to explore.

Suggestions for column topics are welcome, and I've included my e-mail address on the index page of Force This! for you to contact me. Expect a new column to appear here every month, courtesy of Chris Hawkins, the Keeper of the Shaven Wookies. Next month: The Canon Debate!