The Force Turns Forty


Hi, I’m Mrs. Han Solo, and I’m an alcoholic. I’m an alcoholic because George Lucas ruined my life. I mean that in the nicest possible way . . . George is a sadist. But, like any abused child wearing a metal bikini chained to a giant slug about to die, I keep coming back for more.

Carrie Fisher, roasting George Lucas at the 2005 American Film Institute ceremony where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award

Star Wars turns forty this week, the first movie in the saga premiering in three dozen market-testing cinemas on May 25, 1977. One of the venues was on Hollywood Boulevard, and as the crowds gathered for the matinee screening, Lucas happened to be across the street in a restaurant, having lunch with his wife. He had been up all night and morning trying to finish the soundtrack before the movie’s general release; as described in Brian Jay Jones’s recent biography George Lucas, the director was oblivious to the launch of his own intergalactic fame:

“It was like a mob scene,” Lucas recalled. “One lane of traffic was blocked off. There were police there . . . There were lines, eight or nine people wide, going both ways around the block.” He and Marcia finished their lunch, then stepped out into the street to see what all the fuss was about. “I thought someone must be premiering a movie,” Lucas said later.

Someone was. Emblazoned in huge letters on the marquee on both sides of the entrance above the loud, teeming crowd were two words: STAR WARS

Carrie Fisher’s memoirs, written in her trademark mix of stand-up comedy and breakdown pathos, tell their own prequel-sequel saga of how she felt inextricably chained to Star Wars throughout her “Leia-laden life.” Wishful Drinking closes with a description of the Leia’s save-the-Empire hologram message in the movie — (“This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi — you’re my only hope”) as a George Lucas “poem” that drove her into dependency: “I can’t forget that stupid, fucking hologram speech! That’s why I did dope!” In The Princess Diarist Fisher describes other life-imitating-art moments, such as the day she landed, at age nineteen, the Princess role and the double-bun look to which she became wedded: “My life had started all right. Here I was crossing its threshold in a long white virginal robe with the hair of a seventeenth-century Dutch school matron.”

In How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, Chris Taylor traces the evolution of a $35 billion franchise industry (one so exacting, joked Fisher in her AFI roast of Lucas, “that every time I look in the mirror I have to send you a check for a couple of bucks”). In The World According to Star Wars, Cass R. Sunstein explores how we engage with the saga on multiple levels — religious, political, Oedipal, technological, and more — and how Lucas’s worldview is especially concerned with the issue of free choice. Sunstein is an eminent legal scholar with an interest in behavioral economics; he is also co-author of the bestseller Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. That book is also about free choice: by nudging individuals toward their best possible options, private and public sector “choice architects” can “influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves.” The Star Wars universe is driven, says Sunstein, by nudging, whether towards Jedi or Sith behavior:

Here’s Leia, speaking of Han’s apparent desertion of the rebellion in A New Hope: “A man must follow his own path. No one can choose it for him.” Here’s Obi-Wan to Luke, again in A New Hope: “Then you must do what you think is right, of course.” Here are Lucas’s own words: “Life sends you down funny paths. And you get many opportunities to keep your eyes open.” He was talking about his own life, but he might as well have been talking about Star Wars and the characters who populate it.

Fisher’s memoirs sometimes convey that she felt as if her life had been over-nudged, sometimes that she herself had failed to keep her eyes open to her best path choices. In the last months of her life she became a nudger herself, writing an advice column for The Guardian newspaper. Her encouragement to “Alex,” who had asked about coping with the same sort of mental problems that afflicted Fisher, has an Obi-Wan ring to it: “Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.”

The Barnes & Noble Review

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