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Tim Lucas, News Services, 919/515-3470, or

January 27, 1997

Award-Winning Sci-Fi Writer Examines the Appeal of ëStar Wars'


When the 20th anniversary edition of Star Wars opens in theaters on Jan. 31, a new generation of filmgoers will be introduced to one of the most popular and influential movies of all time.

But will Generation X, raised on the murky paranoia of The X-Files and state-of-the-art special effects of big-budget blockbusters like Independence Day, embrace a sweet-tempered film about a hero in white, a plucky princess and a mystical power called The Force?

It's a good bet they will, says Dr. John Kessel, an award-winning science fiction author and professor of English at North Carolina State University.

"Star Wars is a larger-than-life, quasi-medieval, Errol Flynn swashbuckler with non-stop action and special effects, and a core message that good always triumphs over evil. You couldn't ask for anything more," Kessel says.

Besides, he says, it's literally the stuff of legends. Star Wars director George Lucas "consciously peppered his plot with a lot of themes drawn from world mythology. These are powerful images that strike a deep chord with audiences," Kessel says. Among the most potent cultural archetypes used in the Star Wars trilogy is that of the dark father -- Darth Vader -- who betrays the forces of good and tries to lure the good son -- Luke Skywalker -- into following him.

"The ëdark father' theme has always resonated with audiences," Kessel says, whether they are ancient Greeks or alienated Generation Xers.

Lucas' plot also taps into the primal human fear of the future. "Star Wars is really not about the future. It's about going back to a simpler time, real or imaginary, when the difference between good and evil was clearly defined and the good guys always won."

This fear of the future, and the subsequent desire to embrace all things nostalgic, has intensified as we near the turn of the century, Kessel says. "We're mining the past obsessively. Star Wars gives us the security of the past in the trappings of the future."

All that's fine and good for moviemakers like Lucas -- who will release 20th anniversary editions of Star Wars' sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi later this winter, as well as an all-new "prequel" to the trilogy in coming years -- and for companies that sell movie tie-in merchandise like Luke Skywalker light sabers and Star Wars-inspired book series. But the hunger for simplistic nostalgia has a dark side, too.

"Star Wars-inspired books and movie spin-offs have become so popular they've crowded out other, more serious forms of science fiction in bookstores and video stores," says Kessel, Nebula Prize-winning author of Good News From Outer Space and the new, highly acclaimed social satire, Corrupting Dr. Nice (Tor Books). "Star Wars spin-offs are taking up space that otherwise might be given to new science fiction. It's like McDonalds; it's become a franchise."

-- lucas --

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