With the theatrical release of “The Rise of Skywalker” in December, the “Star Wars” film series will end its main “Skywalker Saga,” which began back in 1977 with the release of the original film. In the 42 years since, the series branched out into other movies, comics, books, video games and TV series. BYU–Hawaii students and an alumna reflected on the impact the series made on them and why it is held in such importance.
“Star Wars,” the original film, now known as “Episode IV: A New Hope,” was conceived by writer and director George Lucas in a quest to recapture the adventure stories and movie serials he watched as a child, according to the documentary “Empire of Dreams.” Taking influence from mythology, philosophy and Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films, the documentary states, Lucas wrote and directed the film for a studio who had little faith it could be a success.
Starring then-unknown actors such as Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and boasting cutting-edge special effects, the movie went on to be the highest-grossing film of all time in 1977, holding the top spot until “E.T.” took its place in 1982, according to Box Office Mojo.
First steps into a larger world
Lucy Torres, a junior student from California majoring in elementary education, said her first experience with “Star Wars” was when she was nine years old. The first film in the series she watched was the third movie, “Revenge Of The Sith” at five in the morning when her younger brother got up early to watch it before school.
“He was really obsessed with it, and he told me I had to sit down and watch it with him before school, so I did. After that, my family would borrow the other movies from our local library, because we didn’t own them all. ‘Star Wars’ would be a family movie night event.
“Even though they were mostly VHS copies and not the best picture quality, it didn’t matter, because it was ‘Star Wars.’ Watching the movies, even the ones where the dialogue wasn’t the best, was this immersive experience into a beautiful science fiction world.”
Jaryl Miguel, a sophomore from the Philippines majoring in hospitality and tourism management, had a similar childhood experience. He said, “My first experience with ‘Star Wars’ was when I was a kid. My uncle had a collection of DVDs of the prequels and originals. He let us borrow his DVDs, and my family and I watched them as a kid. Though I didn’t understand the story back then, I found myself really drawn to the series.”
Today, Miguel said he loves the series still “because of the deeper meaning of the movies. I think I can still learn new things from the movies, like their overarching theme of having hope in the darkest of times.”
Dr. Stephen Hancock, Faculty of Arts and Letters professor, saw the original “Star Wars” when it came out, at the age of six. “It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen,” he said. “Right after I saw the movie, I went out and bought a toy Landspeeder, R2-D2 and Darth Vader. My friends and I would play with Star Wars toys for hours. It just allowed our imaginations to run wild.
“At the time, a movie like ‘Star Wars,’ which carried themes of good against evil and finding the power inside of yourself, for a kid, were really formative. There was not really even VHS around much then, and it would take years to come out. They would re-release the movie. At a drive-in, my family watched ‘Star Wars,’ and then watched it again, because we wouldn’t be able to see it again for a long time.”
Emi Wainwright, an alumna from Florida who graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s in psychology, is a self-professed “Star Wars nerd.” Wainwright grew up watching the main films and said they taught her many valuable life lessons about spirituality and the nature of good and evil.
According to her, “I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Star Wars because I grew up watching them. Everything from the characters to the soundtrack is iconic and inspiring, and I can honestly say in a lot of ways I relate to the movies on a deeply spiritual level.
“To me, the Star Wars saga has always done an amazing job portraying the importance of having faith in a higher power, persevering through trials, and the classic age-old struggle between the forces of good and evil. Just like the characters in the movies, we constantly have to choose if we’re going to make good choices or give in to our ‘dark side’ and sin.”
Torres added, “To me, ‘Star Wars’ means the start of a generation of people who learned to appreciate things outside of what was in front of them. Kids who watched the series had their minds opened up to a galaxy far, far away.
“And the other greatest lesson is, it doesn’t matter who you are or if you’re wealthy or where your family comes from, you have the potential to be a Jedi. Anakin, Luke and Rey all start out living simple lives and then get pushed into something extraordinary. People from everywhere, any walk of life, can become a Jedi. I also like how the series shows there is a little bit of good and bad in everything.”
Miguel also said he is a big “Star Wars” fan. He said, “I feel like it has parallels with our life on earth. Like the battle between the light side and the dark side. We have the choice on which side we are going to choose.”
Of her favorite characters, movies and quotes in the series, Wainwright said, “I could go on and on, but one of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Jedi Master Yoda. When he’s training Luke on Dagobah in ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ Yoda tells him, ‘Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.’ I use the quote all the time in gospel settings because if that isn’t straight up doctrine, I don’t know what is.
“I love it because it reminds me I’m much more than meets the eye. I’m a spiritual being, a daughter of Heavenly parents, and like Luke Skywalker and the other heroes in Star Wars. I have so much potential waiting to be unlocked.”
Torres said it was hard, even impossible, for her to pick a favorite character, because according to her, “all the characters we meet in the saga have their own unique moral code and character traits. Even the villains. If I had to pick a favorite villain, I’d definitely say Darth Vader/Anakin. He starts out as this innocent little kid who just wants to have an adventure. A lot of bad stuff happens to him, causing him to feel betrayed by the Jedi and do a lot of things we consider unforgivable.
“But eventually, in ‘Return of the Jedi,’ Vader kills the Emperor, saving his son, and brings balance to the Force, dying as a hero, with his mask off.”
Additionally, Miguel’s favorite film in the series is “Return Of The Jedi,” because it shows the redemption of Anakin Skywalker, “and it ties off the entire Darth Vader story very nicely, giving Vader a heroic act and ends with a bang.”
A Galaxy Far Far Away…
“Star Wars” might appear to be similar to every other, but Wainwright said it stood out from other science fiction and adventure series. She noted how “Star Wars” had a very concise narrative. “There are spin-offs and TV shows in between the main movies of the ‘Skywalker Saga,’ but there are always going to be the main films, it makes everything less confusing.”
She elaborated how the main story, a simple good vs. evil dynamic, was timeless, and the visual design of spacecraft, planets, costumes and weapons had a unique look to them, a look rarely seen in other adventure series. “Every movie series is trying to be ‘Star Wars.’ They want to recapture the childhood wonder of seeing it for the first time.
Miguel, who enjoys other science fiction, fantasy and adventure films and TV shows, said, “Star Wars” stuck out to him because of how its universe is so vast, with another story or another planet to discover.”
Looking to the future release of “The Rise of Skywalker,” the students said they are looking for a satisfying end to a series that has meant so much to them.
Torres said she hopes “The Rise Of Skywalker” will be “a nice bow to tie all the rest of the movies together. This new trilogy has been building towards something big. I hope the cast, crew and director can deliver something truly spectacular.”
Miguel described how he is “hoping the movie will be good and exciting as it concludes the entire saga. I hope I will also find answers from questions the past movies didn’t answer.”