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Star Wars for Newbies: What's the deal with these movies and why do fans care?




The BB-8 droid from
The BB-8 droid from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at D23 Expo 2015.
Mike Roe/KPCC

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She's no dummy, but our Take Two editor, Joanne Griffith is feeling a little at sea among all the Star Wars hoopla. Let's just say she's not "invested" in the space saga, and admits to trying to watch one of the films and not making it all the way through.

So, Jo has some questions, and we've got an answer man in our digital producer, Mike Roe, who is a serious student of popular culture in general, and Star Wars in particular.

He takes Jo through the main characters, basic plot lines, and explains what he sees as the basis for the wide and lasting appeal of the Star Wars mythology. Listen for his interaction with Jo, or read his explanations below.

Big picture: What is Star Wars about?

The original Star Wars trilogy — that's the movies "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" — is the story of Luke Skywalker going from a farm boy to being a hero. He gets recruited to be part of the Rebel Alliance, fighting against the Empire, destroying not one but two giant space stations that the Empire builds — known as Death Stars — and leading an uprising. He's a space freedom fighter.

The heroes

The original movie throws you some curveballs, because it starts out by following two robots: the prim and proper protocol bot C-3PO and his short friend R2-D2. C-3PO speaks English, while R2-D2 — R2 to his friends — speaks in a series of beeps and whistles. They're like a space Laurel and Hardy, providing comic relief and serving as sidekicks to the main characters.

R2-D2 sound effects

Then there's our female protagonist, Princess Leia. She could be a damsel-in-distress, but instead, she's fighting and firing a blaster throughout the films, subverting what you expect from a princess. She also sets the story in motion by giving a message to R2 to deliver.

The last member of the trio that makes up the stars is Han Solo, a breakout role for Harrison Ford, playing a space smuggler who's an interstellar bad boy. He provides transportation for the heroes in the Millennium Falcon, a beat-up spaceship. Han has a giant sidekick named Chewbacca — or "Chewie" as our heroes call him — who's the muscle of the team, with a trademark growl.

And while Leia flirts with both Luke and Han, including kissing Luke, she ends up with Han. One of the iconic moments in the Star Wars films is when Leia kisses Han and finally confesses her feelings, saying "I love you," and Han gives the perfect roguish bad boy response: "I know."

I love you. I know.

Luke's story

Luke gets recruited to join the Rebels by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who's an old jedi — which are basically the knights of the round table. Obi-Wan gives Luke the iconic Star Wars weapon, the lightsaber — a laser sword — and trains him to use "The Force," a type of space mysticism that also gives you access to special powers.

Luke also trains with Yoda to take his Jedi skills up to another level — Yoda is a small green alien with giant ears who talks in flipped-around grammar and serves as a wise mystic teacher.

Darth Vader

Luke trains in these skills so he can take on Darth Vader, the main bad guy we see in all three films. Vader is an enforcer for the Emperor, who runs the Empire that the Rebels are trying to take down. He also has foot soldiers he works with to carry out his and the Emperor's bidding, known as stormtroopers. Vader tries to turn Luke from being on the Light side of the Force, using the Force for good, to the dark side of the Force on Team Darth.

One of the all-time classic twists in film, right up there with Citizen Kane and Rosebud, is the big reveal at the end of the second movie of the Star Wars trilogy, "The Empire Strikes Back." While trying to turn him over to the Dark Side, Darth Vader tells Luke that he is Luke Skywalker's real dad.

Then he cuts off Luke's hand with a lightsaber! Meanwhile, Han has been taken captive, giving "Empire" a dark ending for our heroes. The other big reveal in "Return of the Jedi "is that Luke and Leia are long lost brother and sister — and that's when audiences try not to think back to when they were flirting and kissing.

While Darth has been trying to turn Luke to the Dark Side, Luke ends up flipping the script on Darth, turning him against the Emperor in the final showdown and ultimately redeeming the character, while Darth sacrifices himself for his son.

The prequels

They were Darth Vader's origin story, showing how he went from being a hero to being the scarred man hidden behind Darth Vader's mask, but those movies were so focused on cute characters and CGI that the parts that resonated with Star Wars fans in the past got a little lost, with some extremely clunky lines and performances.

Sand

Still, there are some thrilling moments in there and great fight scenes, but they are definitely not essential. Sorry about that, Jar Jar Binks.

Why people care

There's Jabba the Hutt, Ewoks, Midi-chlorians and so much more, but ultimately none of these details really matter. The reason why people care about Star Wars is that it's classic storytelling, no matter what the genre is. It's wrapped in science fiction, but George Lucas studied the story structure used in mythology and created a modern mythology (you can read about what he learned from Joseph Campbell and his Hero's Journey philosophy on the official Star Wars website). Star Wars looks like a myth that we're going to keep talk about for several more generations, and it means a lot to a lot of people — that's why me and my wife used the music from the end of the first movie for our recessional.

Star Wars throne room music