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A Long Time Ago: Fran Wilde on Star Wars’ Scope and Scale

 

When I was eight, certain things were obvious about the movies.

Obviously, they came with popcorn and enough melted butter to get all the way to the bottom of the bucket without one dry kernel, whether you were at home or in a theater. (At least, I thought that was butter, at the time. Hey, it was the early 80s.)

Obviously, characters would run back and forth on the screen, much like they did on television, taking up most of the available space whether they were fighting or – yechhh – kissing. (I liked the fighting.)

Obviously, a long shot of the ocean or a desert or a boat was a good time to take a potty break.

Star Wars, especially A New Hope (re-cinematized in 1981 before Empire Strikes Back came out) changed all that.

That first time the point of that imperial star destroyer’s triangular wedge emerged from somewhere over my head and followed a path into the horizon that had just been carved by the trail of yellow crawl text, I was stunned. This was obviously something completely different. This was enormous scale – the kind that turned every adult tiny. The kind that rendered space more than a background. Space became a character.

When the landscape shifted to Tatooine, I couldn’t take my eyes off the horizon. I obviously wasn’t getting a potty break any time soon. And I did not care.

I remember being amazed by Tatooine’s second sun. How was such a thing possible?

And after that first sense of awe, more questions followed: What made the desert livable? Why was this farm boy – who got to play with robots – whining so much?

But then I turned back to the landscape — the stars spinning and streaking past the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, the enormous height of the rebel base as compared the people walking below.

When the space opera scenery bit me, it didn’t let go. I was in for the scale and the scope — for the larger-than-life stuff, for the two-where-there-should-be-one stuff, for the why-is-thats. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but the sheer massive scale ratio settled in my mind and waited there, until it was time for me to start writing my own books.

The battles were astounding, yes. The idea that a princess could have a raygun too? Even better. But it was the sheer scale of Star Wars that shocked me out of the obvious and into the epic.

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