My story with Star Wars is, I would assume, common: I liked the films as a child, went into obsession after the special editions released in 1997, read the Expanded Universe books, had a collection of action figures, swung a fake lightsaber whenever I could, dreamed of being a Jedi.
I do not need to explain what Star Wars is, or how it came into my life. It’s one of the biggest pop culture franchises to ever exist. I want, instead, to explain what it is to me.
Or… I was going to do that, and then Leslye Headland, showrunner of the upcoming Star Wars series The Acolyte, said it better than I ever could when interviewed at Star Wars Celebration a few weeks ago:
“Star Wars saved my life… the reality is that Star Wars in and of itself is not just a vast universe full of many different characters, many different eras, but it is always, always, always about the spiritual journey of what it is to become who you are.”
Star Wars borrows heavily from the Hero’s Journey, but that’s one of a dozen or so big ideas that are at the forefront of every Star Wars story: the balance of good and evil, the use of power, authority and rebellion, hope and fear, dogma versus choice, fear versus hope. These conflicts might play out most obviously in the saga of the Jedi and the Sith (literally the light side vs the dark side), but every character finds themselves at crossroads, eventually, where they choose to become the truest version of themselves.
Combine this with a truly remarkably built world with its own distinctive look at feel, set in a galaxy with limitless possibilities, and you have a fictional universe that invites the audience to live there, to play, to imagine what their path might be. Star Wars does this better than any other science fiction or fantasy universe.
The classic rival of Star Wars is Star Trek, but in this century I believe that the closest comparison is to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: J.K. Rowling’s magical world also beckons for readers to imagine themselves there, with their own house, wand, patronus, etc. Rowling’s writing is different from George Lucas’s space opera in two significant ways: first, it does not have a spiritual focus at its center like the Force, and second: Rowling did not allow other creators to expand her world beyond the limits of her own imagination.
The best decision George Lucas made for Star Wars was to let others drive its story. True, there would still be rules to follow to keep the universe cohesive, but sharing the sandbox not only made for some fantastic storytelling, it also stretched the galaxy wide enough to meet the interests of any fan. Star Wars could be medieval fantasy or military drama or sci-fi saga or spiritual quest and still be Star Wars.
The “spirituality” of Star Wars is, as many have pointed out before, a simplified version of Buddhism: that all living things are connected to each other. Though Star Wars extends the Force to also give Jedi and Sith superpowers, it also reinforces that all things are connected, and those who find connection in their journey will be rewarded, while those who embrace isolation will fail. Take, for example, the juxtaposition of the ragtag found family of the Rebel Alliance versus the Galactic Empire: a faceless organization of expendable individuals who only serve the needs of one Emperor.
None of this is unique to Star Wars, and that’s kind of the point: it’s not meant to be its own story, set apart from anything else we know. Its strength comes from how easily it incorporates the familiar with the fantastic to tell a fable of good and evil, to invite us all on an adventure.
It is that adventure, more than any other, that I’ve been coming back to time and again throughout my life. It helped me understand my values and allowed me to wonder and imagine. It is not perfect, but it is where I like to be.
And so, instead of sharing every step in my journey of loving Star Wars, I’ll share my favorite Star Wars media, if you ever feel like going to a galaxy far, far away.
Return of the Jedi
A New Hope might be a perfectly structured film, The Empire Strikes Back might be the de-facto best of the bunch, but my favorite original trilogy entry is its last. The opening sequence at Jabba’s Palace is excellent sci-fi pulp and does an amazing job of catching you up with the characters without delivering any exposition. This is the first film that hints at the flaws in the Jedi, making Luke Skywalker not just a man who must save his father and the galaxy, but begin the long journey to restore the order itself. And yes, I like the Ewoks — in fact, I love the Ewoks, and the lush setting of Endor as the antithesis to the cold, bleak interior of the Death Star.
The Last Jedi
This film is the ultimate example of “there are two types of Star Wars fans” — where one side saw a betrayal of the character of Luke Skywalker that ignored everything that came before it in service of “woke” ideas, the other saw an evolution of Star Wars’s original ideas and characters, moving the story forward instead of retreading old tropes, a la The Force Awakens. The story introduces necessary complexity to the galaxy, whether by showing characters outside the hero-villain spectrum in Canto Bight, or dragging the flaws of the Jedi into the daylight for us to examine. These changes do not, as some have argued, deny the morals of Star Wars. Instead they challenge them: what use is the fight for good against evil when abuse and cruelty happen everywhere? How can Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, pass on his learnings when all they have brought him is grief, when all that remains is the echoes of failure? Why fight for light when darkness will always rise to meet it?
The film answers these questions with a resounding note of hope. Even when all is lost, it is worth it to do the right thing because it is the right thing. To save what you love, to learn from the past, to move forward, to choose the light. It’s possible that The Rise of Skywalker, the final of the sequel trilogy, was meant to appease those who hated The Last Jedi, though I personally think that JJ Abrams is just a different kind of storyteller. Regardless, since the release of the sequel trilogy, the best Star Wars stories have been those that embrace the challenges of The Last Jedi.
If we can make it to the ground, we’ll take the next chance. And the next. On and on, until we win, or the chances are spent.
There was a joke before this movie came out: why would we want to watch a movie where we know what will happen in the end? Star Wars begins with the Death Star plans already on Leia’s ship, why would we need to see how they got there?
Rogue One is a risk taken; until now we had only watched a few named characters die in the films, usually quickly and bloodlessly. Though Star Wars was always about war (it’s right there in the name), it was easy to feel detached from the conflicts; as action-figure scuffles that would be more exciting than they were nerve-wracking. Thousands, if not millions, of people die in Star Wars, but nobody ever really died in Star Wars, until Rogue One. It’s a grim story, but one that, I think, shines among the best that the franchise has to offer. It’s about resilience and hope and doing everything you can, as Jyn Erso said above, for as long as you are able. That, too, is hope.
The Bad Batch, Season 2
Most folks don’t get into Star Wars animation because it’s “for kids”, but honestly, I avoided it for so long because it just looks rough. The original Clone Wars series is so unappealing to watch that I, a known completist, have only seen a handful of episodes. Slightly better is its successor, Rebels, especially in its last two seasons, which delve into the spiritual and weird aspects of the Force — even so, I can only watch so much before my heart yearns for either the artistry of drawn animation or the texture of real life.
So it was with some hesitation that I watched The Bad Batch, a series that follows a troop of elite clones navigating the galactic transition from Republic to Empire at the end of the Clone Wars. And though I wasn’t sold on the story at first (like many in the Filoni-era shows, a precocious child is the center of attention for too much of the story), the animation is lovely enough to keep watching; the 3D animation flourished with painterly textures, revealing the smoke and grit of war in a way that feels comparable to hand-drawn masterpieces like Mulan.
Though many episodes are straightforward space adventure stories (and several reference Indiana Jones), the second season of The Bad Batch is a veterans story; about soldiers created for war suddenly having to find their way in a peaceful galaxy. For a story that has hardly anything to do with Jedi, The Bad Batch is one of the best new explorations of Star Wars themes about choice, family, and purpose.
It’s easy for the dead to tell you to fight, and maybe it’s true, maybe fighting is useless. Perhaps it’s too late. But I’ll tell you this: if I could do it again, I’d wake up early and be fighting those bastards from the start.
What is there to say? It’s Andor — the Star Wars show that people who hate Star Wars love.
Much hay has been made of Andor’s unique vibe: it’s not like other Star Wars shows! It’s smart and grown up and deep. All this is true, and yet, it’s still a Star Wars show: to paraphrase Headland again, it’s the journey of how Cassian Andor became who he was meant to be. Andor’s greatest contribution to Star Wars canon is its insistence on showing the Empire in all its banality-of-evil fascistic truth. Where other Star Wars media seems to only use fascism as an aesthetic, Andor gives us a galaxy beset by fear, pettiness, and greed. Packed with incredible performances and lush real-world settings, Andor showed that Star Wars could fit perfectly into the more somber expectations of prestige drama.
There are few actors that can bring charm to their roles with the consistency of Ewan McGregor, who has been doing so for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for nearly a quarter century. There were always rumors of his return to the role in live action, and when it finally happened, reviews were…mixed.
I loved Obi-Wan Kenobi, even when it was slow, even when it veered into non-sequitors. It told the right story: a once-great man in self-imposed exile, unable to forgive himself for his failure, to move on from trauma. Unbalanced and alone, dragged into an adventure he did not want — it’s a hero’s story, except that instead of the plucky and inexperienced Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan is a reluctant veteran who does not know how far he’s gone from himself. Watching him let go of his past to live in the present and embrace optimism bridges the gap between McGregor’s warrior and Alec Guinness’s sage. Along with Andor and The Bad Batch, Obi-Wan Kenobi offers another view into the dark times of the Empire and those who still sought the light.
Path of Deceit
It was impossible to pick one book from the extremely good High Republic series, which has seen the release of over 30 books and comics in the last few years. The story takes place hundreds of years before the prequels, where the Jedi were at their ideal — and they seem almost unrecognizable to the order that we meet with Anakin Skywalker. These Jedi are allowed to be individuals; to embrace their emotions and form bonds with others outside their order. Here the Jedi law forbidding attachment that eventually destroys Anakin is not meant as a limitation, but as a way to understand love, compassion, and relationships.
Path of Deceit is just one of the great stories told here, but I remember it being the most compelling to read: a Romeo and Juliet story where Romeo is a Jedi padawan and Juliet an acolyte for a cult that belies that the Jedi are “abusers” of the Force. The two learn from each other, share what it means to connect with the force, all while being surrounded by a story that is in even parts terrifying and heartening, one that ends with a devastating cliffhanger that made me hungry for the rest of the saga.
Years before Andor, Claudia Gray brought the inner workings of galactic politics to life in Bloodline, set 25 years after Return of the Jedi. Leia Organa is a senator in the New Republic, an unwieldily government torn into factions and infiltrated by agents who will soon create the First Order.
One excellent choice that Star Wars storytelling makes is in showing the failures inherent in governments and systems that try to do good: the Jedi fall due to their own arrogance and dogma, the New Republic falls because its rulers cannot humble themselves enough to be helpful. Meanwhile Leia finds herself unhappy with her station; realizing that being a leader in wartime does not make for a leader in peace. More interesting is the character Ransolm Casterfo, a victim of the Empire’s oppression who still seeks the strength of imperialism, his office filled with relics of stormtroopers and insignia.
Beyond the Jedi and the Sith, beyond the Empire and the Rebellion, Star Wars has a stunning abundance of scoundrels. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian may be the best known, with animation giving us Hondo Ohnaka and Phee Geona, but my favorite is one of the newest additions to the cast: archeologist Chelli Lona Aphra. Introduced in the Darth Vader comic series, Aphra is part scientist and part gun for hire, spending her adventures flying from side to side during the galactic conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Aphra is cocky, reckless, and extremely gay, Indiana Jones if he were both a woman of color and kind of selfish, though Aphra does tend to come through on the right side of history. I love many of the stories on this list because they dwell on the complex side of Star Wars mythology, but Doctor Aphra is pure, pulpy fun; injected with the weirdness and worldbuilding that made the Legends material so compelling and strange.
The High Republic: Trail of Shadows
A noir detective story set in the High Republic era is a recipe for entertainment, and writer Daniel José Older (with art by David Wachter and Giada Marchisio) delivers. In this miniseries, a Jedi and a Corsuscanti private investigator search for the weapon that is, somehow, turning Jedi into dust — a fate that is even more terrifying than it sounds. I love this story as a part of the High Republic and as a great page-turner, but the Nameless terror stalking the Jedi, a threat that weaves through the shadows of nearly all the High Republic books, comes to a crescendo in Trail of Shadows, a thing of eldritch terror.
- The Clone Wars, season 7, episodes 5–10
- Rebels, season 2, episodes 21–22
- The Mandalorian, Chapter 13: The Jedi
- Star Wars: Visions — The Ninth Jedi, The Village Bride, T0-B1, Lop and Ochō
- The Thrawn Trilogy (Legends)
- Dooku: Jedi Lost
- Shadow of the Sith
- Everything from The High Republic
- Dark Disciple
There are things about Star Wars that I would change, if it were to all happen again — I would start with a diverse galaxy, rather than eventually creating one. I would make the prequel stories easier to follow and undo The Rise of Skywalker completely. I would spend more time questioning the violence of the films, especially where a possibly anti-war message might have gone missing in the fray.
But I would not change how Star Wars feels: a galaxy far far away, full of possibilities and stories, of good and evil and scoundrels, all of it held stogether by a spiritual truth. Star Wars will change as the society around it does, and it won’t always please everyone, nor will its core messages remain clear. Luckily, a galaxy is a pretty big thing, and there’s room for everyone to explore, to find the path that fits themself.