How the ‘Star Wars’ fandom continues to define each generation

May the 4th be with you

8:00 am EDT, May 4, 2017

It’s time to take a moment to appreciate one of the most multi-generational fandoms of all time, and what it stands for.

For many of us, Star Wars was something introduced to us almost ceremonially. It was a childhood milestone. Family members sat us down to watch the trilogy that marked them growing up, and passed on their love and dedication to the films as they enjoyed, second-hand, the wide-eyed wonder of being whisked away to a galaxy far, far away for the first time.

With the franchise nearly midway through its third trilogy (and spin-off films), even some grandchildren of those original audiences from the ’70s are now wielding lightsabers of their own. Star Wars is a lesson they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives, just like their parents did.

Somehow, despite the progress of special effects and the sci-fi genre in general, Star Wars has kept its charm — an inexplicable appeal that can’t be diminished, even when A New Hope’s special effects become more noticeably aged. Through the generations, the soul of the films prevails.

star wars empire

But beyond the mysticism of the spirit of the original movies, Star Wars’ expansion into practically every aspect of life it can possibly fit into has been unparalleled. And it wasn’t only clever marketing that did it. No studio could have predicted the growth of the trilogy into such an incredibly detailed expanded universe, across books, comics, TV shows, videogames and more; because it was fans who fed it, and more often than not, created it.

Star Wars owes is growth to a fandom that dedicated years of their lives to loving and developing it. It was the fans who kept coming back — even when the prequels disappointed them; even when every other thing about their life had changed from the time they had watched their first movie.

For many, Star Wars was a gateway into fanfiction or fan art, or an inspiration to follow lifelong careers. It became required watching in many homes around the world, and a part of family identity — in some cases, even influencing the names of the children of newer generations.

star wars force ghosts

Star Wars’ overarching story, after all, is multi-generational (or at least, that’ll be confirmed at some point in The Last Jedi, if Rey is in truth a Skywalker). It’s not only the fandom that has grown: the story has evolved across multiple platforms, most noticeably in the films.

The relatively simple, classic Hero’s Journey became more complex as Luke not only became a hero, but a symbol, and a redeemer of the mistakes of the past. And though (deservedly) disliked for many reasons, the prequels did open our eyes to the wider politics that surrounded the Jedi Order, and also to its imperfections.

The Force Awakens took it one step further, and we saw entirely new characters with new, exciting storylines. Kylo Ren, a natural evolution of Darth Vader’s legacy, and a realistic depiction of an easily-corrupted youth clinging to an evil past; Finn, a look into the reality of Stormtroopers, and the first main character of color Star Wars has ever had; Rey, the first female Jedi main character — and Jyn, proving that female main characters are not only there for shock value: they’re claiming their rightful place.

As fans grew, so did the story; we became more critical as characters became more fleshed-out, began seeing ourselves in new characters as we discovered new parts of ourselves. The release of each trilogy was a step in a coming-of-age process, from hope to disillusionment to a more nuanced approach.

star wars leia

Carrie Fisher’s heartbreaking passing showcased the amazing power of one woman over generations. From heartfelt articles, to little girls crying at the news of Princess Leia’s passing… the grief of old and young alike was staggering. And the presence of women and little girls dressed as Leia in marches all around the world this year showcased the important role she played in developing our collective sense of justice.

For many girls, Fisher was the first female heroine we saw in science fiction; a new standard set for female characters. She was an example of what it means to stand up for yourself: both as a woman on screen, and as a woman in society.

The growing diversity of the cast in recent films is also a reflection of the higher standards we have, not only in the film industry, but as a fandom with the ability to speak up. Seeing more variety in the characters represented is evidence of how Star Wars is expanding to accommodate everyone; any age, any gender, any background. We’re a part of it, just as it is a part of us.

star wars rey

This generation faces widespread political and social turmoil. Like all generations before us, we identify with the struggles of the rebellion and the Jedi… with the seemingly endless battle against the Dark Side, the magnitude of missions that feel too big to us, and the constant, unwavering presence of the Force.

It’s the continuation of an old, but immortal story, the lessons of which persist today through the labors of its characters. Obi-Wan patiently planted the seeds of hope for the future. Jyn and her team committed the ultimate sacrifice. Luke defeated the Dark Side and redeemed its most powerful villain and victim. Now, Rey seeks the ever-elusive Balance, in a world that seems to only grow in complexity.

Star Wars is a fascinating and poignant study of the great truths and the great struggles of our civilization. It’s an insight into our progress. A public record of where we stand — or where we hope to stand.

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