What Can Star Wars Teach Us about Story Telling? Celebrating the 40th Anniversary

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Since the dawn of time, man has sought to share his experience and make sense of the world around him through storytelling. Explore how that has changed over time and what the Star Wars epic can teach us about the way modern storytellers weave their webs of imagination.

Star Wars and the Art of the Story

With the 40th anniversary of Star Wars upon us, we explore the masterful storytelling behind the immortal blockbuster series and learn why audiences have been drawn again and again into the world that George Lucas created.

Worlds That Enthrall Us

Science fiction and fantasy writers have a tough job - they must create a world from scratch. For their creation to be successful, it must be believable, be entertaining, and satisfy our desire to suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves into the author's creation. Star Wars does that well by providing just enough descriptive detail to help us understand what's happening, but not so much that we're lost in the details and lose track of the story.

George Lucas relies heavily on setting rather than exposition to provide a foundation for his worlds, leaving off the junk we don't need and letting us hold onto the good stuff we do. He uses enough descriptive detail to allow us to visualize worlds like Alderaan, but he lets us fill in the rest with our imaginations, allowing us to feel as though we are part of the story.

Characters to Root For

The characters in the Star Wars universe - whether a principal personality like Han, Luke, or Leia, or part of the supporting cast like Luke's doomed Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen - are fully fleshed, complex characters who remind us of the people we know. They work hard, they succeed, and, sometimes, they fail, but always, we're pulling for them because we care about them.

Characters

These are people who matter to us. They have a depth and frailty that we can relate to, like Han who wants to run away from the conflict and continue his smuggling ways but is, instead, drawn to do the right thing. He is a hero in spite of himself. These are more than characters in a story. We want to know them. We find ourselves connected to them in a very real way and we are invested in what happens to them, which is the essence of good storytelling.

Complex Villains

Unlike the two-dimensional villains in many genres, Star Wars villains are as deep and complex as their heroic foils. Darth Vader isn't simply some evil guy set out to rule the universe - he's a dad whose heart was crushed by the loss of his wife and children. He becomes what he is because he has nothing left to hold the darkness at bay. We hate him, we want to see him fail, but in the end, we sympathize with him and cheer for him when he is, at last, redeemed. The villains in the Star Wars universe aren't black and white. They are a thousand shades of gray and, while we watch, they evolve to frighten, shock, and surprise us with their behavior.

Building Relationships with Readers

Because the Star Wars stories have been around for so many years, and have spanned books, movies, television too, and even have their own oral tradition, we have become intimately familiar with our favorite characters. We have learned about the rise and fall of the Jedi, explored new worlds with fantastic creatures, and delved into the meaning of family. We've had the time to create relationships with them that matter to us. And we want to see what happens next. Because of the size of the universe, we know there is a good chance that will happen.

LoveStory

The scope of the Star Wars universe and the many mediums it thrives on, including through digital storytelling, allow us the chance to come back again and again and fall in love anew with people and places both strange and familiar.

Plot Twist!

Star Wars keeps us guessing. In the heroic movies we all know and love, the good guys always win - it's an unwritten law. But in the Empire Strikes Back, the good guys lose. Badly. On top of that, we learn that Darth Vader is not only Luke's father, but he's Leia's father too.

What?

Not since O. Henry have audiences been caught so completely off-guard by a scene that would change everything we thought we knew about the story. By keeping us guessing and wondering what is coming next, Lucas builds suspense, keeping audiences enthralled from the beginning to the end. He also raises the stakes, turning our hated villain into the only hope we have for some measure of peace, and forcing him to choose between his pledge to destroy the Jedi order and saving his son whom Vader loves despite his own inner darkness.

We Never Want to Leave

Star Wars creates a place we want to live in, filled with ordinary people who stand up and do extraordinary things in trying times.

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This is the epic heroes journey, and we want to be a part of it. These tales turn us all into storytellers as we relive the excitement and speculate about what may be coming next. In short, we love these stories because they delve into the human condition and take us on an action-packed ride that keeps us coming back for more.

By Patricia Willis
December 2017
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