Star Wars
Not so long ago, not so far away

by Dan Rubey

from Jump Cut, no. 41, May 1997, pp. 2-12, 130
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1997, 2006

Read original essay, here reprinted from JUMP CUT 18, 1978, and followed by a current "Afterword."


The warmest thanks to my old friends Chuck Kleinhans and Julia Lesage and to JUMP CUT for reprinting my STAR WARS essay in conjunction with the re-release of George Lucas' STAR WARS Trilogy by Twentieth-Century Fox/ Lucasfilm. Along with Stephen Spielberg's JAWS (1975), Lucas' STAR WARS (1977) began a new wave of blockbuster films which reshaped Hollywood. The box office grosses of JAWS and STAR WARS showed the studios that they could make more money by using expensive special effects to create mega-hits and selling related promotional items than by spreading production dollars over a larger number of less expensive films. The 1978 essay was to some degree prescient in predicting that trend and analyzing its ideological currents.

JUMP CUT published the essay shortly after the release of what later became the first of the trilogy. STAR WARS was followed by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in 1980 and RETURN OF THE JEDI in 1983, both sequels using Lucas' screenplays but directed by Richard Marquand. I overlapped slightly with the editors as graduate students at Indian University in the mid-1970s when they began publishing JUMP CUT. I remember very well the general feeling of excitement about the journal's socialist and feminist perspectives and about the application of those critical lenses to Hollywood films as well as independents, a project which gained momentum with Charlie Eckert's "Shirley Temple and the House of Rockefeller" in the second number.

I was writing a dissertation on medieval romance, analyzing fantasy and desire in Lacanian terms and social structure and historical context in terms of the work of Lucien Goldmann and Pierre Macherey. An analysis of STAR WARS, which consciously used elements of romance and fairy tales, seemed a useful parallel undertaking to teach me how popular culture actually functioned. I still remember with pleasure and appreciation the careful reading the essay received from the JUMP CUT staff, and the many requests for clarification and amplification which I incorporated.

JUMP CUT was not widely available in those days, and the essay had a brief samizdat career in xerox reproduction. It was reprinted in Peter Steven's JUMP CUT: Hollywood, Politics and Counter Cinema (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1985). That anthology, drawn from JUMP CUT's first 10 years, was never widely distributed and quickly went out of print. Twenty years later, the two STAR WARS sequels have spelled out the narrative's Oedipal subtext more clearly, identifying Darth Vader as Luke's father and Leia as his sister, and bringing Luke's Bildungsroman to final closure of the patriarchal circle with all three of his fathers and teachers smiling down from the eternal bosom of the Force. And, of course, the techniques for the kind of cultural analysis we were attempting then have become smarter and more sophisticated. Despite those later developments, the 1978 essay seems to hold up well. I haven't tried to rewrite it here beyond correcting typos and a sentence or two which no longer seemed clear. I've restored a couple of passages omitted in the anthologized version, but I've kept the book's subheadings and new paragraph breaks, all of which helped to make the original version more readable.

For me, at least, the important thing is to remember that moment in JUMP CUT's early history when what we were doing seemed so new and exciting and full of possibility. I'm very pleased that this reprinting will introduce the essay to a new generation of readers and also make it available through the new technological medium of the Internet. In cyberspace, the JUMP CUT homepage can be as accessible as the STAR WARS website, and this essay and others like it will be far more widely available than any of us could have imagined twenty years ago.