Guest posting over at Ezra Klein’s place, Alyssa Rosenberg has a great post on the timeless allure of the Star Wars universe.
It wasn’t a surprise that the Star Wars universe is complete and complicated, but I’d forgotten the extent to which Lucas tosses us off the deep end without a guide, like Harry Potter, who is as new to the world we’re exploring as we are. More than literally any other work of art I’ve ever encountered, in Episode IV, Lucas isn’t afraid to not explain things, and to throw out a ton of cross-chatter that either only resolves later, or never gets resolved at all. We don’t learn who Jabba the Hutt actually is until the third movie, even though he influences almost all of Han’s decisions. In the original cut of A New Hope, we have no idea who Biggs Darklighter actually is, or what the extent of his relationship to Luke has been other than a brief reference to him on Tatooine (his reunion with Luke on Yavin is one of the additions in the new releases of the original movies that I actually enjoyed). My man Wedge Antilles shows up incredibly briefly. We learn next to nothing about C-3PO and R2′s previous adventures. My brother asked me during the movie’s final sequence as Han and Luke are gettin’ all spiffed up and being rewarded by Princess Leia, “So, are they becoming Jedi now?” and I realized Lucas doesn’t even explain how you tell if someone has potential in the Force or not! Pretty much every time since I first watched Star Wars, I sat down to rewatch the movies with a ton of knowledge I’d picked up somewhere else because I just HAD to figure out what was going on. Lucas did something completely addictive: he imagined an extremely wide-ranging world with coherent rules, hinted at it in his movies, and let fans run absolutely amok with it.
I feel like this may be something that popular fantasy and sci-fi may have lost. To use an example from the post, if you read the Harry Potter books, they basically tell you all the rules of the wizarding world – it feels like a place where there’s basically one big story, and you’re reading it. And that’s fine – but I love reading about worlds where it seems like there are a million different stories and a million different things going on in the background that are barely hinted at. That’s what the real world is like; it’s a complicated place, and it would be nice if stories about alternate worlds reflected that all the time.
Unfortunately, particularly in film, it seems like everything you need to know about the story’s world and its rules gets handed to the audience on a silver platter. There are a lot of exceptions – Children of Men had a million background details that give you a picture of a complete world without spelling it out to you – but Children of Men is a rare breed of film.
What modern alternate worlds are good at sucking people in and making them feel like they’re real? I’m a big fan of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, and the other books in that series. Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind takes place in a world that’s a little bit more familiar, but it’s also consistent and very well though out. Anyone got any other favorites?