Along with Spielberg’s Jaws, the entire concept of the summer blockbuster owes it’s existence to Star Wars. I can still remember the fun of cosplaying as Anakin Skywalker while my best friend went as Palpatine for the release of Revenge of the Sith and walking around our college campus in our costumes during finals. It was a nice little reprieve for the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. I even tried to use a Jedi Mind Trick to try and get the entire class out of one of our finals.
Thus, when it was first announced that The Force Awakens would deviate from the summer release, like many other fans, I was stunned. To me, Star Wars was as much a part of summer as a backyard barbecue, ice cream, fireworks, popsicles, and a warm sandy beach ( though in the interest of full disclosure I do share Anakin’s dislike of sand). How on Earth could Disney deviate from a time honored tradition! What’s next? Replacing an annual Fourth of July fireworks display with a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet?
What does Star Wars have to do with Christmas? Didn’t we learn anything from the bad, bad, insanely bad Holiday Special?
However, as we approach the release of Rogue One, I’m beginning to see that Star Wars actually fits in with a December release, and it’s not just because of the red and green lightsaber color scheme. It’s not even because of the fact that they have big epic land battles on ice planets. One of the first and most obvious reasons is that Star Wars, at its core is a fairy tale set in outerspace.
Think for a moment: how does each film begin? With the words “ A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”much like how a fairy tale will begin with “Once upon a time in a land far, far away…”More importantly, the characters are not that dissimilar form ones found in fairy tales as you find Luke: the farmboy, Anakin/Darth Vader: the knight, Leia: the princess, Padme: the queen, Han Solo: the pirate, Chewbacca: the pirate’s savage first mate, Lando Calrissian: the baron ( his title on Bespin was Baron Administrator), Obi-Wan Kenobi: the good wizard, Yoda: the elf, Ahsoka Tano: the knight’s squire, Qui-Gon Jinn and Mace Windu: the soothsayers, Palpatine: the evil warlock, Dooku: the evil count, Darth Maul: the devil, Jar-Jar: the fool, Kanan Jarrus and the crew of the Ghost: Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Threepio: the butler, and Artoo: the genie ( Luke even uncovers the message form Leia by rubbing the droid and in each film he saves the heroes a total of three times when they call upon him). Even newcomers Rey, Kylo Ren, and Maz Kanata stand in for the peasant girl ( like Cinderella or Belle), the spoiled prince, and the wise old crone respectively.
Now, look for a moment at your December release schedule. Apart from the Oscar bait, and holiday themed movies, most releases at this time of year tend to be big budget fantasy films. The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, half of the Harry Potter series, two of the Narnia films, and Disney movies such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Frozen have all see their release dates fall in close proximity to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even Marvel studios has favored releasing Thor: The Dark World, and Doctor Strange in November and December as opposed to summer. There is just something about magical fantasy adventures that fits so perfectly with Christmastime. It is after all a season of wonder, enchantment, and hope.
This sense of hope leads to the most important reason Star Wars why works so well with Christmas is because of one very important character in the saga:
I know what you’re thinking. What does Vader have to do with Christmas or hope? Well, ignoring my Darth Vader Christmas sweater that my best friend sent me as a gift , it certainly doesn’t seem like a lot. After all, Vader is the villain of the story. He’s a cold hearted man, consumed by pain, and angry at the world. He is a ruthless tyrant, often mistreating his own employees. A beloved relative of his dies early and while he’d like to think that he could never love again, he does find someone. However, that romance is cut short as he is so consumed by his other passion that snuffs out that bond. His dead mentor becomes a ghost, and the only person to try and reach out to him is one of his only living relatives.
Sounds like anyone else we know?
Maybe…Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol?
Now, I know what you are probably thinking. “Jonathon, you majored in English Literature! How in the world can you compare one of the greatest literary villains of all time, who was created by one of England’s most beloved writers, with a character who is, at his core, part of a films series that is nothing more than a big budget version of Saturday Matinee serial from the 30’s and 40s?”
And I get that. At a surface level, it doesn’t seem like Vader and Scrooge have that much in common aside from being referred to by a one word name, dressing all in black, and wearing a really awesome cape. But as I already listed above, the two have a lot of character traits in common. It goes beyond the loss of a relative, the broken romance, the unconditional love from another relative, the ghostly mentor, the cold temperament, and the mistreatment of employees are only the beginning.
The big thing that Vader has in common with Scrooge, and what in turn makes Star Wars such a perfect Christmas story, perhaps more so then Die Hard, is the fact that like Dickens’ beloved classic, is a story of redemption. Scrooge’s redemption comes through his journey through time by the aid of the ghosts. In the process he becomes not only more aware of the mistakes he made in the past and how his actions cost him his happiness, sees a possible future where people are actually happy he is dead, and learns of the world around him and learns he can make a change if he wants to avoid the bad future.
For Vader this journey begins when he discovers his son, Luke. At that point, Vader had already been responsible for the deaths of Mace Windu, Padme, Obi-Wan, and countless others in the galaxy. Even in Rebels when he meets Ahsoka Tano again, not even his onetime Padawan can bring him back from the brink as the pain of their bond is just too much. However, Luke is more than enough to remind him of the good man he was, and to show him he still brought some light into the universe.
Their respective turns from the dark path happen late in life. Let’s face it, considering mortality rates in 19th century England, and taking into account that most scholars and critics place Scrooge at 60 years old, he probably didn’t have more than five years left on him. Vader’s redemption is completed when he sacrifices his life for Luke, and in the process severely damaging the sensitive circuits in his giant walking life support system. Yet at the same time, there is something encouraging in seeing that even these two individuals who seem so lost and so set in their ways and so late in their can still find a second chance and in the process, find grace and forgiveness.
And look what happens to Vader and Scrooge after they find that second chance. Vader is not only reconciled with his son, but his mentors in the netherworld of the Force ( I’d like to imagine he also got to reconcile with Padmé, and given how little is actually detailed about the Star Wars after-life it’s certainly possible.) Scrooge not only forms a relationship with his nephew Fred, but practically becomes part of the Crachit family and becomes one of the most loved citizens in London.
That’s what Christmas is about. Whether it’s Scrooge, Vader, or even the Grinch deep down we all want reminders that we can have another chance. What Christmas is, above all a season of hope, that is perhaps the one thing over all else we yearn for in life. So, while I may still like the idea of Star Wars as a summer blockbuster, I can certainly see how it works for a Christmas release as well.
Now, I wonder who I have to talk to at Marvel Comics to see about writing a Star Wars comic based on a Christmas Carol where Vader’s ghosts of Marley, Past, Present, and Future are represented by Qui-Gon Jinn, Ahsoka Tano, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul.
Photo Credit: 1983 LucasFilm LTD, 1992 Muppet Studios/Walt Disney Entertainment.