Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Review: The World According to Star Wars by Cass R. Sunstein

World renowned Legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein wrote a book on a most unlikely topic for someone in his field: the Star Wars phenomenon.  Sunstein relates how over a year ago he revisited the first Star Wars film A New Hope and got hooked on the saga and became fascinated with how it captured the imagination of the entire world.  A fun read from start to finish.

While many have attempted to explain the enduring success of Star Wars, more than any other writer, Sunstein uses common sense to explain.  In a way, its a nice antidote to the legions of haters against George Lucas.  For Sunstein, Lucas created a work of genius that will endure through the ages.

Each chapter, divided up into episodes, looking at specific aspects of Star Wars ranging from the story's roots in world mythology, parent-child relationships, politics and history, freedom of choice, even constitutional law.  

Why did Star Wars catch on?  Sunstein offers three possibilities.  It just too awesome to be ignored?  Historically, there are many examples of what is now considered great art that was rejected at the time. Or was it a cascading effect, meaning when a bunch of people love a movie, it gets contagious. Then again, many box office hits do not stand the test of time. What was the top grossing film of 1987?  Three Men and a Baby, don't see anyone rushing off to see it now. Or did Star Wars come out at a time when people were ready for it?

All three factors were in play.  Star Wars was an awesome movie, it caught on like a wildfire, and yes the zeitgeist of 1977 played a role as well.  As the book points out, Bob Dylan's classic songs of the 1960s would seem out of place in another decade. Too abrasive and cynical in the 1950s, but out of touch in the 1980s.  

If Star Wars had come out in the 1960s it would've looked goofy and militaristic, while in the 90s it would be too corny.  Timing is a factor.

Sunstein argues that at its heart, Star Wars is about parents and children.  He points out how George Lucas's father ran a stationary store in Modesto, California and expected his son to follow in his footsteps.  Lucas refused after an acrimonious argument, taking a more risky path into film school.  In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke defies his father by not going to the dark side.  Yet in Return of the Jedi, Luke tries to redeem his father and at the moment of truth Darth Vader cannot bear to see his son suffer and saves his life. Even though children will challenge and defy their parents, they also know they will never abandon them.  

Written for fans and non-fans alike, a valuable edition to Star Wars literature.