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The fantastic force of Star Wars is back in our collective awareness in a really big way—like it or not. After Disney purchased the film rights from George Lucas in 2013—along with his legendary special FX company ILM—the house of mouse fast tracked new movies and various spin-offs. As genre fans now fully absorb the respected saga’s new characters and ramifications and try to embrace The Force Awakens, the newest chapter to the Lucas sci-fi universe, old questions and observations on the pop-culture saga emerge. Why is this multi-billion dollar global franchise so preoccupied with family dysfunction? Does Luke Skywalker have more in common with Luke from General Hospital? As Rogue One looms on the horizon, can we expect more of the same?
A Space Opera Or Soap Opera?
“The issue was, ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, 'We want to make something for the fans.' People don't actually realize it's (Star Wars) actually a soap opera and it's about family problems—it's not about spaceships. So they decided they didn't want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, 'Fine.... I'll go my way, and I let them go their way.'” —George Lucas on CBS This Morning
You're a Star Wars fan? According to its creator, you're also a soap opera fan. Say WHAT?! Deal! George Lucas is on record saying he conceived and structured Luke, Han, Leia, and Vader's world much like TV drama staples such as General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, or Days of Our Lives. Yoda, a green granddaddy, mentoring in a galactic telenovela? One only has to recall, "Luke, I am your father," to appreciate the veracity of Lucas' claims. Is knowing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi, along with The Phantom Menace, Attack of The Clones, and Revenge Of The Sith are all basically soap operas disturbing? Or, for the hardcore fan, does the revelation make things at least disappointing? Even embarrassing?
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, is it comforting to know Disney had director J. J. Abrams craft The Force Awakens with more of a space adventure or space opera feel? Ignoring box office receipts (adjusted for inflation) or critical reception of the original flicks when compared to the new era, did Disney make the right decision to eschew the narrative guidance of creator Lucas, in favor of the direction Abrams took?
Luke, I Am Your Darkside Lovin' Jedi Daddy
While the first chapter of Star Wars: A New Hope coming out way back in 1977 provides an inkling to just how broad a dramatic canvas Lucas was playing with, it isn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that we get a real taste of a sense of the soapiness of that fabled galaxy far, far away.
Before seeing key events transpire in Empire, all we really know about Darth Vader was he was one mean mofo—the black flowing cape, bowels of the dungeon voice, his bitchin' Halloween mask, you know. He’s definitely one bad ass Sith. Before it’s all over, we'll learn that not only his he Luke's dad, but he was also badly disfigured, and that whole cool costume of his is basically a medical unit to keep him alive.
Now the fact that a once proud and vibrant Jedi keeps himself together with body armor doubling as a respirator—and who knows what else—isn’t in and of itself purely soap opera fodder, but one has to admit that the disfigurement angle is one in which many sudsy dramas employ. For example: The heiress struck down in her prime by a tragic car accident only to be bandaged up—her identity hidden from her family and friends—only to be melodramatically revealed at the right moment to contest the will! The terminally ill, near death person is miraculously maintained or near resurrected by life support and manages to stave off death for one more day!
What of the whole "Luke, I am your father" trope, now so ingrained into our collective pop culture zeitgeist it’s a sin not to recognize the reference? Again, here’s a classic—or cliched—theme where a long lost family member returns (in disguise) only to be eventually unmasked as the baddest, coolest asshole around. Not only is Luke misled (lied to) into thinking Vader killed his Dad, but lo and behold, the dark side of the force wielding bastard turns out to be his old man. WTF? No wonder Luke Skywalker needs therapy! Dr. Phil! Paging, Dr. Phil!
Alas, Luke Skywalker never gets quality time on the old fusion powered therapy couch. What he gets is more Jedi training from Yoda. Speaking of Mr. Green Big Ears, how darn selfless is this little muppet—rambling around on soggy Dagobah awaiting another pupil to come along so he can play with his flashlight. Yoda is like Tony Robbins and The Karate Kid’s Mister Miyagi’s love child, but far more cuddly and useful when you want to telekinetically raise X-Wing Fighters out of the swamp.
From the earth shattering importance of Empire’s middle act revelations, we get the next film chapter, and splash down into a truly complex family web defining the last feature (real date release)—of the classic SW trilogy.
Luke & Leia Or Luke & Laura
Return Of The Jedi can be singled out and even criticized for birthing the most sickly sweet race in perhaps all of science fiction filmdom. Ewoks, with their trilling voice and extreme teddy build-a-bear cuteness, even eclipse those cute fur balls from Star Trek, tribbles. Of course, by the time we get to Phantom Menace and experience the surreal visual and verbal dopiness of Jar-Jar Binks, Ewoks begin to look simply cuddly playful and more than acceptable.
All the little past hints or downright dips into the sudsy pool of soap pales in comparison to the shampoo bombshell detonated for us in Jedi. After all the apparent romantic rivalry—or even love triangle—between Luke, Leia, and Han, we learn “there is another,” and the other whom Yoda speaks of is Princess Leia—Luke’s twin sister. Let’s forget the kiss Leia planted on her brother to make Han Solo jealous. Now, it’s all about the bass—a rumbling call of Jedi bass, two siblings now the last hopes of the valiant rebellion against dread daddy Darth and his dark side Empire.
Luke and Laura, a daytime TV soap opera power couple on General Hospital who ruled daytime buzz back in the day, may not have been sister and brother, but you could imagine Luke and Leia alongside them in one of the more sordid story lines.
Luke Skywalker, that’s your twin sister you just kissed! Is it any proper behavior for a young Jedi?
Han Solo steps into scene, "Good going, Luke—I couldn’t have wished for a more clear way ahead to my romantic goal!" Maybe Yoda, as the grand patriarch, warning his young clan of how the Rebel Alliance will gossip on such tawdry shenanigans. All we need now is to know who shot J. R.!
What's most ironic about George Lucas wishing Disney and J. J. Abrams well while they embark on fashioning a more space opera approach to SW, as opposed to his original soap opera vision and design, is just how much the plot in Force Awakens bubbles over with soapy goodness. It’s a safe bet that as more installments are filmed, the whole soap opera combined with a space opera foundation of Star Wars will be more than alive and well for future generations of fans.
Use The Soap, Luke!