I was not aware of this, but apparently, Disney has been celebrating STAR WARS Reads all October. It’s surprising that I didn’t know, because anyone who knows me can attest that I am a huge STAR WARS nerd, especially for the Expanded (Legends) Universe novels.

So a whole month celebrating the literary side of STAR WARS? How did I miss that one? Amid all the events, posters, tie-ins, and whatnot that’s been happening, however, is a fascinating read: Unbound World’s “A Long Time Ago” essay series.

7 Best Stories In From A Certain Point of View

“A Long Time Ago” is a series of essays written by science fiction/fantasy authors on the impact STAR WARS had on them. It’s incredible to read these essays and see how universal STAR WARS is and what a fantastic place it has in pop culture.

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away…

The title of the series, of course, takes its cue from the famous opening scrawl, which informs viewers that STAR WARS takes place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away….” It can also, however, be read as a reflection of the history of STAR WARS. 2017 is the 40th anniversary of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE. It’s been a long time since STAR WARS came around, and a lot of these writers focus on the lasting legacy of the films, novels, and even toys the franchise put out.

A Long Time Ago
A new generation’s STAR WARS toys.

One of the interesting things about this essay series is that most of the authors are old enough to remember when the original STAR WARS came out in theaters. They’re writing from the perspective of one who lived a long time ago (though, obviously, not actually all that long ago…). These are people who lived through STAR WARS coming out and making waves. They remember the importance of the first movies and the impact the franchise had on pop culture as a whole.

As a young person, I did find that a bit hard to relate to. Almost all of the writers mention seeing STAR WARS (or at least RETURN OF THE JEDI) in theaters and the formative impact of that viewing. My experience of STAR WARS is entirely different. Even RETURN OF THE JEDI happened a good bit before my time. I don’t remember a time without STAR WARS; it merely has always been there. In that regard, I couldn’t identify with a lot of the stories. But the wonder and awe, the general love of STAR WARS, that I could relate to. (One author, Lara Elena Donnelly, does identify herself as a millennial, but more on her later).

Princesses, People of Color, and Pew-Pew Noises

Several of these essays focus on the inherent diversity in STAR WARS. One of the things that popped up, again and again, was the diversity of alien species we saw. Even in the cantina scene, there are countless alien species on screen for a split second and never mentioned again. This showed a breadth of world-building not common before STAR WARS. Nothing against STAR TREK, but honestly most of its aliens are humans with weird foreheads. To have so many different aliens made STAR WARS richer and more interesting.

A Long Time Ago
One of the coolest sci-fi badasses — of any gender.

Of course, many of these writers focus in on the female characters in STAR WARS. Notably, there is Princess Leia. To these children, growing up in the 60s and 70s, there weren’t many badass female heroines to look up to. Then Leia came along, lied under duress, helped save herself and Luke and Han, and inspired an army — and a generation. Leia inspired these authors too. Over the years, STAR WARS has added many other awesome lady characters to look up to — Padme Amidala, Ahsoka Tano, Jyn Erso, Rey, and more.

40 Years of STAR WARS: Ahsoka Tano and Her Role in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

On the flip side, diversity hasn’t always been STAR WARS’ highest point. A general lack of people of color haunts the original movies, though to some degree this is a product of its time. Since then, however, people of color have been more frequently represented: from the badass Jedi Mace Windu to our new hero Finn, STAR WARS is finally embracing diversity. This is something these authors also celebrate; Donnelly, the millennial writer, focuses on how the new trilogy gives us things “that felt wholly new and wholly right,” like women pilots and people of color filling all sorts of roles, not just one or two.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

One author describes how STAR WARS stood on the shoulders of giants. However, I would argue that it’s the opposite. Sure, STAR WARS does owe a lot to its sci-fi precursors. But many of these authors point out how STAR WARS was an entirely new beast. STAR WARS is the giant upon which future sci-fi/fantasy stands. This is a common refrain in “A Long Time Ago.”

 

A Long Time Ago
A snippet from Blake Crouch’s STAR WARS fanfiction.

These essays are all written by published sci-fi/fantasy authors. Some are long-established, prolific writers. Some are newer to the game. But they almost all describe how they were inspired to write by their early experiences with STAR WARS. Blake Crouch shares an early fan-fiction draft he wrote back in 1990 and how this was one of his first experiences writing. Julie E. Czerneda relates how she outed herself as a writer by comparing STAR WARS to one of her early drafts. According to Czerneda, the experience of watching STAR WARS inspired her to finish her “Story X” and become a published author.

It’s incredible to read these stories and think about how much of our current sci-fi we owe to STAR WARS. Or even how much pop culture, in general, we owe to STAR WARS. This series was a landmark moment in film history. STAR WARS has shaped the past 40 years in numerous tiny ways. Seeing all these authors openly admit that they likely wouldn’t have gotten to where they are now without STAR WARS brings this point home.

My STAR WARS Isn’t the Only STAR WARS

What most struck me in reading these essays was the strange duality of STAR WARS. STAR WARS is universal, yet at the same time, STAR WARS is individual and unique for each person. STAR WARS is a shared cultural property and a personal experience for everyone. How is that possible?

A Long Time Ago
My STAR WARS.

Regarding universality, it’s pretty straightforward. STAR WARS is an icon of pop culture. Everyone knows STAR WARS. Peter Clines remarks on how STAR WARS is cultural currency. He even jokes that there’s something not right about people who haven’t seen STAR WARS (which, you know, he’s not wrong). Gini Koch explains how her character Kitty can bond with just about anyone due to a shared love of STAR WARS. STAR WARS is a cultural constant that brings people together.

At the same time, each person’s experience of STAR WARS is unique. That comes home in these essays. Although there are similar refrains — seeing the movies for the first time, the impact STAR WARS had on their writing — these stories are of course unique. If everyone had the same experience of STAR WARS, there would be no point in reading these almost two dozen essays. And despite the similarity between these authors’ stories and mine, my experience of STAR WARS is wholly my own.

40 Years Of STAR WARS: Why Did Lucasfilm Scrap The Expanded Universe?

My STAR WARS is based as much off the Expanded Universe novels as it is the movies. I know way too much background information about background characters, and this informs my fandom. But that doesn’t mean this is the only way to appreciate STAR WARS. If you read the EU, you’re awesome, no doubt; but, not reading the EU doesn’t make you less of a fan. It just means that your STAR WARS is different than mine — and if I’ve learned anything from “A Long Time Ago,” it’s that that is not only okay but awesome.

Moving Forward

As we inch (slowly) closer and closer to THE LAST JEDI, STAR WARS looms big in discussions of pop culture. “A Long Time Ago,” asks readers to look beyond the anticipation of the future to remember our shared past. But at the same time, these authors are celebrating the future of STAR WARS.

THE LAST JEDI Trailer Breakdown: GET HYPE!

They appreciate increased diversity in the new movies. They anticipate future stories and new merch. These authors are a reflection of how much of an impact STAR WARS had on a generation — yet they are also looking forward to the impact STAR WARS has for new generations. Just as Donnelly stands out as the lone millennial in a sea of STAR WARS veterans, so too do future generations have the right to create their own STAR WARS experience.

Moving forward, I will keep these essays in mind. It will be interesting to see how STAR WARS’ continued prominence influences future writers. Who knows? Maybe you’re out there right now. Maybe you just need a little push, and you too could publish new stories in sci-fi/fantasy. If you’re hesitant, let me encourage you now — read “A Long Time Ago.” There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to love, in these essays.

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