In this file photo, Darth Vader accepts the Ultimate Villain award from Star Wars creator George Lucas during the 2011 Scream Awards in Los Angeles. A decade after George Lucas said Star Wars was finished on the big screen, a new trilogy is destined for theaters after The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that it was buying Lucasfilm.
While you might not be able to major in Star Wars quite yet, you can take a course on it.
George Backen, 41, has seen the Star Wars films hundreds of times. An associate professor of philosophy at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo., he’s finally got a chance to study them critically. In 2011, he taught a “Star Wars & Philosophy” workshop, examining the six iconic films with 15 undergraduate students.
“You can either address the issues within Star Wars, or use it as a springboard for issues in our world,” Backen said. “… [We dealt with] broad, metaphysical issues.”
Backen tackled a variety of concepts in his course, ranging from the ethics of cloning to the relationship between religion and the Force. He’ll soon have more subject matter as well — three more films were announced this week, the first to be released in 2015. The films are tentatively being called Episodes VII, VIII and IX.
These new projects were unveiled in conjunction with the announcement that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm for $4 billion, USA TODAY reported. Previously owned entirely by Star Wars creator George Lucas, Lucasfilm holds the Star Wars intellectual property, which includes the popular films, Skywalker Sound, video-game developer LucasArts and special effects mogul Industrial Light and Magic. After the sale, Lucas will be retiring, but will serve as a creative consultant on the upcoming film.
The original Star Wars was released in 1977 and produced with a budget of $13 million. Forbes estimates that the first film alone grossed $1.17 billion, and the franchise as a whole more than $22 billion. While making those staggering figures, Backen said the franchise has achieved an incredible level of cultural saturation.
“It’s pretty embedded in culture,” he said. “People who haven’t seen Star Wars still know Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. They still know ‘May the Force be with you.’”
He also cited the upcoming release of Angry Birds: Star Wars as a example, due out Nov. 8.
Danny Lemus is a life-long fan of Star Wars, even going so far as to admit he sometimes wishes he was a Jedi. He agreed with Backen on how far the science fiction films have permeated pop culture.
“I have met a couple of people that haven’t seen Star Wars,” he said. “The funny thing is, they always reference it.”
A senior biology major at the University of Iowa, Lemus, 22, said his reaction to the announcement of three new films was mixed.
“At first I was really upset, because I thought they would make Star Wars more childlike,” Lemus said. “But then I realized that [Disney] has done well with the Marvel franchise, and made awesome movies that I love. So I think they’ll do alright with Star Wars.”
Disney purchased Marvel in August 2009 for $3.96 billion, according to USA TODAY. Recent Marvel features include the Iron Man films, summer blockbuster The Avengers and Thor.
Lemus mentioned that for him, and perhaps many others, the quality of the new Star Wars release might not matter since he’s already hooked.
“Honestly, if it has Star Wars in the title, I’ll go see it,” he laughed. “Every little boy wants to be a super hero, and I feel like being a Jedi is also up there.”
Backen first saw Star Wars at 6 years old. It got him through his parents’ divorce, he said. Now, he’s come full circle.
“Star Wars was a world to escape to,” he said. “Now what I’ve done is take this escape of mine and integrate it more into the work that I do.”
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