It is May 1977 and a cinema event unlike any before it is about to take place; the premiere of Star Wars – A New Hope. A film that would not only breaking the boundaries of film, sound and science fiction. But also go on to become cultural phenomenon of film and culture. While spawning sequels, prequels, toys and television. Alongside a whole galaxy of characters and stories.
The cultural impact of Star Wars is undisputed in film history. From its transformation of science fiction and adventure, to its revolutionary use of film, visual effects and sound. Creating a film that leapt from the screen and into public consciousness. A feat that continues to this day as the saga continues to enthral new generations. However, the success of Star Wars in capturing imaginations can be found in a multi layered story that encompasses multiple genres and themes.
Not only does Star Wars play with the age-old concepts of friendship and good versus evil with links to ancient Greek mythology. Working alongside more modern literature ranging from Tolkien to comic books. This is a film that also embodies the mystery and adventure of early Japanese filmmaking and American children’s matinee films. While combining both with the vision and creativity of Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey .
However, apart from its roots in literature and film Star Wars also embodies many of the social themes present on its release. From the anti war movement, to protest and fears of dictatorship and control. Wrapping these social themes in a film that continues to speak to each new generation in its own unique way.
Star Wars – A New Hope launched into a world where the fear and unease of political and social divide dovetailed with ghosts of the Cold War. The film narrative playing with terminology ranging from ‘Empire’ and ‘Dark Side’ to Rebellion and freedom. In turn portraying social fears of democracy versus authoritarian control. In a world where the public still feared empires built on subservience, while the western world embraced democracy. However, democracy itself was also under the microscope as young people fought against the perceived governmental control of old generation. And while it’s true that Star Wars also played to themes present in the allied fight against far right extremism during the Second World War. It could also be argued that Star Wars reflected a far more nuanced generational change occurring in the post war world.
To further explore these concepts we need to look at the era Star Wars was born from. An era that not only included the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. But also centred on social revolution, and the demand for equality and human rights. While emerging youth culture and freedom changed Western societies as young people found a voice in politics. One that no longer purely dovetailed with the beliefs of their parents.
Following the social creation of the teenager in the 1950s. Youth culture continued to diverge from the adult world in the preceding decades. As music, education and identity continued to develop in allowing young people to express their own values and beliefs. By the 1970s this increased confidence among younger generations had also led to increased political engagement. Not only using the power of emerging youth culture to challenge socio-political systems. But also demanding change from governments inequality and opportunity. While they fought against a perceived indifference from older generations to the needs of a changing world.
Young people proudly fought for a world where peace, love and reconciliation sat at the core of politics. Challenging older generations who they often saw as imperial in nature. While also ignoring the views of a younger generation while in turn demanding their allegiance in domestic and foreign policy. The protests against the Vietnam War provide us with a clear example of this clash of government and youth. With generational divide in the reasons for war dividing young people from many of the views held by the adults in their world.
While here in the UK, the turmoil of a changing economy, dismantling of the British Empire and emergence of sub cultures equally defied older views on society. With young people leading a revolution in art, fashion, music and culture born in the 1960s. While pushing older generations in the fight for equality and diversity.
Youthful rebellion against government, injustice and inequality were reflected across many Western democracies during this period. Often echoing a fear among older generations of young people as ‘out of control’ and dangerous to social stability.
As a result of these social constructs many of the young people watching Star Wars on its release would have related to the films themes of rebellion. Its characters reflecting a message of hope over oppression. While also embodying the fear of a world where freedom and equality of opportunity where restricted and oppressed.
Star Wars – A New Hope offered a reflection of a youthful belief in change and equality. The films structure providing a clear divide between a youthful and diverse rebellion and an Empire of patriarchal and oppressive figures.
Our orphaned young lead (Luke Skywalker) plays to feelings of youth isolation in creating social and individual change. Luke is stuck in a world created by his aunt and uncle. While also frustrated at the restrictions of his life and his ability to escape and find new opportunities. His belief in a better world only given the green light on meeting a like minded group of young rebels. While Kenobi acts as an unthreatening grandfatherly figure. A source of historical knowledge and advice who provides Luke with the encouragement and empowerment he needs to escape. In essence a youth worker who understands that change only occurs through empowering its younger citizens.
As Luke is joined by the feminist political voice of Leia a rebellion is born. One that believes in equality, diversity and peace. Slowly encouraging those who are sceptical on the power of belief into their gang. While the oppressive Empire struggles to circumnavigate the youthful rebellion at its heart. By the end of Star Wars – A New Hope we see our young rebellion destroy a symbol of oppression (The Death Star) through perseverance and hope. A younger generation not only dismantling the advancement of war and conflict. But also demonstrating their right to impact change and social advancement in their universe.
Star Wars spoke to the hopes, dreams and aspirations on young people in changing the world. Doing so in story full of adventure and effects that cemented it to a whole generation of young people. However, its core themes of young people being the spark for change continue to resonate. Whether that be through the fight for climate action or the fight against poverty. Ensuring it continues to speak to new generations just as it did those watching it for the first time in 1977.
Director: George Lucas