Star Wars and the Land of Might-Have-Been

In the extended entry I explore the reasons why this last Star Wars film means so much to my generation.

It’s probably hard for many people to understand just how much of an influence Star Wars has had in the lives of people around my age. When the first Star Wars film came out, I was just six years old; old enough to absorb the details and nuances of a grown-up film, but also young enough to be completely enthralled, entranced and enraptured in this wonderful world of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It was for me, a faerytale, and I was still at the age of being read faerytales. I still believed in Santa Claus. I dreamt of princesses and far off kingdoms. So the world of Star Wars was as much a part of my childhood and my vision of the Land of Might-Have-Been as any other morality play, or bedtime story.

But unlike the Grimm faerytales and the bible stories that children were read, there was light and colour and sound in which to be utterly immersed. It’s so hard to explain to people only a few years younger than myself how revolutionary that film was for its time. The special effects were absolutely the best we had ever seen. The sound was almost beyond belief. The fact that it shook the seats and the floor of the cinema was something we had never before experienced. The colours, the costumes and the ideas were not so completely alien as to leave us out of our depth, but still we all felt we were part of something extraordinary.

As the years past, and the second film was released, The Empire Strikes Back, all the familiar faces were there, but yet there was still something new: this time, our hearts were torn from us, and we had more questions than answers. We were left with a film that was as thrilling as the first, but which taught us that uncomplicated happy endings can never be assumed. As an impressionable then nine year old, Empire left its mark in my life as a “coming of age” story, dealing out both victory and defeat at once.

Finally, as a girl of twelve, on the cusp of my teenage years, Return of the Jedi was released, and my faerytale was brought to life again in a way that resolved the issues of the second film, but also dealt sympathetically with the issue of falling from grace. Generally the faith of our generation was restored in the “way of things”, but we were more aware that the difference between good and evil was perhaps not so clear as we had been led to believe. Rather than being a simple matter of discerning black from white, it was more likely that the search for truth and peace would be through fields of grey.

I believe this progression from faerytale to adult tale of loss and gain is part of the reason why my generation feel so very close to Star Wars. When you think of how it shaped and echoed our own personal development, you can see just how important it became to our culture. That’s why there was such a revolt when the first of the prequels (The Phantom Menace) failed to deliver anything that would impact on our lives in so profound a fashion. That’s why as adults we looked on the love story of Anakin and Padme (in Attack of the Clones) with a deep sense of cynicism and lost hope. We left the theatre glad to have more of the story, but without the almost religious experience of reflecting on our own lives.

Revenge of the Sith opens at midnight on Wednesday night and I will be there, holding on to the hope that this last of the six films will fulfil the expectations of my generation. We are a deeply cynical lot, and we feel the need to be exposed to the best and the worst of ourselves. Rather than turning from the dark side, we seek to gaze into the abyss, to face our weaknesses and even to give in to them. Because it’s only through understanding the depth of our own darkness that we can find something good in ourselves. It’s only when we absorb the obscure political, philosophical and emotional factors impacting upon our lives that we can truly begin to see a path for our own redemption.

Ivor Novello once wrote a most magnificent ballad about losing hope, and then gaining it again. I’ve included the entire ballad below, because I think it articulates so well the cynicism followed by the dawn of hope that pervades both the psyche of our generation, and premise of the Star Wars universe.

Somewhere there’s another land
Different from this world below.
Far more mercifully planned
Than the cruel place we know.
Innocence and peace are there.
All is good that is desired.
Faces there are always fair.
Love grows never old nor tired.

We shall never find that lovely land of Might-Have-Been.
I shall never be your king nor you shall be my queen.
Days may pass and years may pass and seas lie in between.
We shall never find that lovely land of Might-Have-Been.

Sometimes on the rarest nights
Comes the vision calm and clear,
Gleaming with unearthly lights
On my path of doubt and fear.
Winds from that far land are blown,
Whispering with secret breath.
Hope that plays her tune alone.
Love that conquers pain and death.

Shall we ever find that lovely land of Might-Have-Been?
Will I ever be your king or you at last my queen?
Days may pass or years may pass, the seas may lie between.
Shall we ever find our lovely land of Might-Have-Been?

I’m hopeful this last of the Star Wars sextet will provide that opportunity to find hope in ourselves, so that our generation can go back to the original films of our childhood, and believe again in the Land of Might-Have-Been.

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