Often in science fiction film, the story is set in our future. That is, the future here on planet Earth (or in the future of Earthlings who have traveled to space). At the time of production, efforts of varying degree (and success) are made to make the film look “futuristic”, with the sets, technology, costumes, hair, and makeup being the principle tools used to convey the idea of what the future is like.
The problem is this: As real-life progresses, seldom does our society take the same path that of the film took. So, technology that once seemed very futuristic (take Star Trek’s communicator, for example) eventually seems primitive and not futuristic at all – My “communicator” made by Samsung is more advanced than the communicator they had in Star Trek. Not only does the technology become dated, so does the fashion and architecture represented in the film. For example, in “2010: The Year We Make Contact” there are several scenes in which we see the mission control center. Featured prominently are large, CRT (picture tube) based computer monitors. Yet in real life, by 2010 we had already widely adopted flat-panel LCD monitors. So now, the film appears dated due in part to that fact. Quite often, costume design also dates a film. Even if the story takes place in another galaxy or on another planet, the viewer can easily identify what decade the film was produced in because of the costumes. Take “Logan’s Run” as an example – the costume design and color choices are obivously 1970s.
While there are some elements of Star Wars that date the film (the actors’ hair in Episode IV as an example) here’s the brilliant thing about Star Wars: George Lucas chose to set his film “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. This buys some freedom from many of these issues, because it isn’t suppose to follow Earth history. In other words, the technology in Star Wars will never be dated by technological advances in real life, because it isn’t suppose to be our future. Future audiences will be able to easily accept the technology in the Star Wars universe as “fact” in that universe for decades to come. In fact, I’d wager until we actually develop real laser pistols, lightsabers, and inter-stellar travel. Costume design in Star Wars avoids a great deal of the dating by borrowing from history: Japanese culture, the old west, and Nazi Germany all play a role in the costume design of Star Wars. So instead of trying to make the clothes look futuristic, the costume designers for Star Wars tried to make the clothes look used, classic, foreign yet familiar.
A final ingredient in the mix is the music. As I’ve already mentioned, John Williams’ score is another of my reasons I love Star Wars. But compare to many other science fiction films, and you’ll see that many films use a more “contemporary” soundtrack, or something that tries to sound futuristic – such as the synthesizer-heavy soundtracks of 80s Sci-fi films such as “Bladerunner” and “Tron”. The unfortunate effect of doing so is that music becomes dated very quickly, and so it’s now very easy to identify many films because the score sounds so specifically like the music of the decade the film was produced in. By utilizing a symphonic score with classical influences, Star Wars completely avoids this issue.
Beyond the “dating” factor, the story and characters are timeless, and span generations. Just this past weekend, my wife and I were in Walmart. As we walked past the area where posters are displayed and sold, we heard a young boy of about 9 exclaiming “Boba Fett! Boba Fett! He’s my favorite! Boba Fett is awesome!”. This young man was very, very excited about a poster of a character from a film that’s 26 years older than he is. We’re now on the 3rd (and nearing a 4th) generation of Star Wars fan. “The Force Awakens” will provide kids who have never seen a Star Wars film in the theater the opportunity to do so. It will also allow parents who are fans to share their love of Star Wars with their kids. I remember when I took my kids to Episode I in the theater. They were 3 and 6 at the time, and I remember how excited they were, and how much they loved it. I remember them having an imaginary lightsaber duel in the aisle while Obi-Wan, Darth Maul, and Qui-Gon duked it out on screen. If you’re one of those who don’t like the prequels (and I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of them myself) watch a child watch them, and you’ll see that same sparkle in their eye that you had in yours when you saw the original trilogy.
“Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” have also introduced (and hooked) the next generation of fan.
Overall, Star Wars carries with it the timeless nature of the characters. Everyone can relate to Luke Skywalker for example – a young man who yearns for more than he has, who wants to leave home and find his own path. The overall theme itself is timeless: Good vs. Evil. The little guy vs. the bully. The oppressed vs. the oppressor. The ability to appeal to a broad audience will continue to make Star Wars one of the most widely-loved film series of all time.