Were you shoved in a locker? Did you sit at the weird table during lunch? Did you anxiously look at the “nerd” next to you in gym class and hope to God you got picked before that loser did? Were you that loser? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then odds are you like Star Wars, and not in an explosions-are-cool sort of way, but you really get it, on “deeper” levels. Right now, in fact, you are reading a Star Wars blog. So I’m probably right.
I don’t bring this up to give you a dry mouth and clammy palms thinking about high school, but rather to illustrate that you were likely an underdog. I am too. Regardless of whether you had such cliche experiences in high school or not, you probably have and still do place yourself in that underdog role. As an adult, I find myself in that situation. I’ve vowed many times to never walk into a Walmart again and only give my money to the local store. I’ve battled with my cell phone or cable T.V. providers over stupid or erroneous charges. I swear someday I will clean up in the morning after the kids and the room will remain clean by bedtime. Someday, I will win, but for now I’m just fighting the good fight. And long before all that, the underdog mentality was there as a child. I was the youngest of five boys, so, yeah, I never had the upper hand. Ever. I had to be sneaky. I had to be nimble. I had to be on the side of righteousness (I was, wasn’t I?). I had to cobble together whatever plan I could and hope for the best because I had nothing left to lose. I had to rebel. I didn’t understand all that, of course, I was just trying to not get beat up or mentally tortured by older brothers with nothing better to do. But I’m grateful for it because it gave me an instant connection to Star Wars.
See, Star Wars, especially the OT era, will always be connected with the story of the underdog. The opening shot of A New Hope sets the stage. Could Lucas have made the crux of this adventure more obvious? What a brilliant and iconic bit of visual storytelling. Then the shift to the hallway, with the chinstrapped-soldiers looking nervous as the sounds of the smaller ship being swallowed by the star destroyer echo throughout. You can see it in their faces. Then a few moments later, my favorite line: “You’re a part of the Rebel Alliance… and a traitor. Take her away!” This little “princess” boldly faces down the very symbol of the oppressor. How can you not root for this pitiful little band! ? Luke even pleads with the skeptics, “Why don’t you take a look around? You know what’s about to happen, what they’re up against.” Those familiar with the roots of the movie know Lucas was purposefully playing up the underdog story. It was serving as his loose analog to the Vietnam War, with America as the technologically advanced evil Empire. Later he would reinforce this with the primitive, yet culturally rich half wookies beating the Empire with sticks, rocks and a can-do attitude. And it works. Why? That’s when we are at our best. When the odds are against us. Han Solo survived by being the underdog. The Rebel Alliance restored freedom to the galaxy when little hope remained. I wrote my best papers in college at two in the morning the day they were due. Star Wars teaches us to procrastinate. No, wrong lesson. Star Wars teaches us that there is always hope. That talent, strength of will, character and the certainty of a clear purpose will propel you to success. It is so simple yet so irresistible.
You, like me, lacked real power at certain points in your life. Maybe you were smarter, more creative, and way more clever, but what the hell did that matter back then? Being cool had currency and you had nothing to spend, at least in the eyes of those that were selling. So your tastes gravitated to stories where people like you not only mattered, but triumphed. Like Star Wars, or a litany of 80’s movies about the underdog: Revenge of the Nerds, Karate Kid, One Crazy Summer, and Hoosiers. Oh, and The Last Starfighter, The Never Ending Story and Dark Crystal too. Might as well throw Lord of the Rings in there for fun, though neither the book nor the movie were form the 80’s. You sought out, as I did, those things that showed you what was possible. The stories that taught you to bide your time, sharpen your sword and trust in the Force. The simplicity of Star Wars is what makes it an enduring story 40 years later. It’s what allowed it to thrive. And with your rebel alliance, your friends, you carved out a way of life were you belonged and could challenge the power structure that held you back and limited your self-expression. You now had the power to defeat the Empire, or your Scut Farkus, or simply the weight of self-doubt or insecurity.
Now, with the return of season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, the underdog theme promises to return in full force. Star Wars story master Dave Filoni recently said in an interview with Geek Girl Diva:
So I think you find, with that formalized feeling of a rebellion, the characters … get challenged … this is becoming real. And what does that mean for each of them? What are their roles in this rebellion? It means very different things for each of them, especially based on their experiences in the past two seasons.
I’m brimming with excitement and anticipation. We’ve seen the small rebel cell grow and mature over the course of the past two seasons and now we get to see more of the larger alliance take shape as we inch closer the the events of A New Hope. And as we see each underdog, or rebel, go through the struggle to battle tyranny, temptation and repression we will see the lessons that Star Wars has taught us applied to the animated characters that we have grown to connect with, and how each of these small parts work together to form a larger, more powerful machine. I just hope it features a musical montage of the rebels fixing up their new hidden base.