"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …" On May 25, 1977, these ten words introduced to the American public what would become a popular culture juggernaut. At least, so it would seem. However, the text of Star Wars began to spur the public imagination before the film hit theaters, as the first film's novelization was published in November 1976, trailers teased the story and its larger implications as early as the 1976 Holiday season, and Marvel issued Star Wars comics a few weeks before the film was eventually released (a decision that saved the now-iconic comics publisher from bankruptcy). For the current generation of movie enthusiasts, this merchandizing extravaganza may not appear unusual, maybe even somewhat tame, but in 1976/1977, this approach to the commodification of film (along with the chance 'discovery' of the summer blockbuster in 1975 when a particular shark movie set box office records) launched the Hollywood blockbuster phenomenon. Despite (or maybe 'because of') becoming one of the biggest success stories in entertainment history, Star Wars never lost its cultish roots, as fans have been latching on to the space saga.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Star Wars' original cinematic release, this undergraduate seminar will explore this gigantic transmedia empire. In the course of the semester, we will query the ways in which the little film called Star Wars not only caused shock waves in Hollywood, but also became the very thing it swore to destroy (well … maybe not quite, but which it definitely tried to undermine with its independent roots). On our journey, we will discuss topics such as the paratextual beginnings of texts, the politics of Star Wars, and fan culture.
By the end of the semester, you will understand the intricate interconnections between Star Wars, the mediascape surrounding the movie franchise, and American culture. In this seminar, you will fine-tune your ability to 'read' and understand movies and popular culture at large. In particular, you will become attuned to discourses on the contemporary mediascape, in which transmedia storytelling has become virtually omnipresent and the dividing lines between 'producers' and 'consumers' have practically disappeared.
The primary resource for this undergraduate seminar is this website. Please see the syllabus on UniGrazOnline for information as to how to use this site and access the files.
Most sources will be made available; however, we would ask you to acquire the following books:
- George Lucas, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (novel; 1976; aka A New Hope: Star Wars, Episode IV) *will be discussed on April 7*
- Timothy Zahn, Heir to the Empire (novel; 1991) *will be discussed on April 28*
In addition, we recommend you get copies of
- Chris Taylor, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise (2014)
- Michael Kaminski, The Secret History of Star Wars: The Art of Storytelling and the Making of a Modern Epic (2007)
- Will Brooker, Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans (2001)
- Will Brooker, Star Wars (2009), and
- Mika Elovaara (ed.), Fan Phenomena: Star Wars (2013).
In addition, you might want to play
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) and maybe also
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008).
(*SPOILER* The different endings will be central to our discussion; i.e., you may also simply watch them on YouTube; playing the games is recommended, however.)