Even in Star Wars, we need dark places on the map.
One particular moment in the original Star Wars trilogy has always connected with me more than all others.
It’s that moment in the first act of A New Hope when Luke walks out behind his aunt’s and uncle’s farmhouse and watches the twin suns setting over the desert. That haunting minor-key theme swells in the background, and you see Luke as you won’t ever see him again: as a regular dude just like you and me, looking off into the infinite without the slightest real idea of what’s out there, thinking: “Bring me that horizon.”
At that moment, the universe feels bigger than it ever will again.
When Luke walks into that bar in Mos Eisley and gapes at all the space travelers like a racist yokel, we’re awestruck right along with him — but now we’re starting to see the shape of the universe we’re entering. Ah, OK, it’s going to look like this. And it looks cool, no question. But the clearer we see it, the smaller it feels.
Doubt me? Then explain why the concept of midi-chlorians infuriated so many Star Wars fans. This universe wasn’t supposed to be made of microbes; it was supposed to be made of ineffable power that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. None of us asked to see the Force’s guts hanging out.
Well, what’s done is done. We crotchety old-guard fans now live in a universe with midi-chlorians, and with Little Anakin and Jar-Jar and LEGO Vader and all the rest, and most of us have accepted that these kids on our lawns are here to stay. A lot of those kids have grown up while our backs were turned, and it’s hard to remember how the neighborhood looked when we first moved in.
Let’s try, though, just for a moment.
The main thing I remember is that I felt small and the universe felt big. The first time I watched those twin suns set over Tatooine’s horizon, I fully believed that this universe was about to show me things I’d never dreamed of.
And it did. It showed me Death Stars and rebel bases and the snowy wastes of Hoth; bounty hunters and a Cloud City and an alien crime syndicate with its own sarlacc pit. I wanted to know everything there was to know about all of it. I collected trading cards and subscribed to magazines and read the backs of action figure boxes. I filled bookshelves with hardcover alien bestiaries and star destroyer schematics.
The more I learned about this universe, the cozier it started to feel. Names and faces rang bells. Times and distances clicked into place.
But I wanted that primal sense of mystery back — that feeling of unexplored dark continents dead ahead — so I started looking into things like exotic creatures from fringe planets.
Someone had written out all the answers already. Remember that mysterious trash pit monster from the Death Star? It’s called a dianoga. It looks like this. It is an egg-laying invertebrate.
I felt very weird knowing this.
Remember that scene in the final Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Jack and Barbossa find the Kraken’s corpse washed up on the beach? One of the comic-relief pirates climbs atop its tentacle and comments, “It’s a cephalopod.”
No, it’s not “a cephalopod,” it was the goddamn Kraken. Just like the dianoga wasn’t “a dianoga,” it was the mysterious Death Star trash pit monster. That was the whole point. We Star Wars fans begged for backstories and explanations of everything, until finally we dragged the trash pit monster out of the trash pit and pointed at it in its nakedness and said, “Look, Billy, that’s a dianoga.”
As Jack Sparrow sighs as he stares at the Kraken’s corpse, “The world’s still the same. There’s just less in it.”
J.J. Abrams, however, is trying to put our Kraken back in the water.
When I sat down to watch The Force Awakens, I told myself that if this film can make me feel even a glimmer of what I felt when I watched those twin suns set with Luke, I’d call it a faithful tribute. And I did feel that. I felt it in the desert, beneath the ruins of the star destroyer. I felt it when Han said, “Yeah, I knew Luke.” I felt it at the very end, when Luke rolled back the hood of his robe.
I feel small in the Star Wars universe again, and I love it. The trash pit monster is back in its pit, and I’ve forgotten its name. The swamps of Dagobah are filled again with luminescent beasts of unknown shape. A leviathan rises beneath the waves, and we should know better than to ask its genus this time.
When Luke and Rey take off from that monastic island, I believe they’ll take me places I haven’t imagined, and show me things I don’t have names for. I’ve waited for that feeling for a very long time. Whether it turns out to be true or not is beside the point. That feeling alone has been worth the wait.