In 1978, when Bill Murray sang the lyric in my title for an episode of SNL, he was playing the part of a lounge-singer making up lame lyrics to please an audience of barflies. The main focus of the schtick was to make fun of the way commercial performers tended to latch onto items of popular culture in order to sell themselves. In a different era, Murray might've constructed the same idea around, say, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.
And yet, though the comedian couldn't have known that the original 1977 film would be anything more than a flash in the pan, he could well have been aware that STAR WARS had garnered an adult audience far beyond anything seen in past SF-successes. I find it unlikely that the same schtick, done in 1968, could've sold the idea that a lounge-singer would've tried to appeal to a bunch of adult drinkers with insider references to any other fantasy-film, even a popular one like PLANET OF THE APES.
There had been a handful of fantasy-works in various media that somewhat escaped the "fantasy is for kids" cultural judgment. DUNE and THE LORD OF THE RINGS attracted an audience outside the world of hardcore SF-readers. The James Bond book-series and its attendant movie-adaptations trafficked in sci-fi gimmickery and villains that resembled the freakish fiends of the DICK TRACY comic strip. The fifties generated a handful of SF-films that enjoyed some qualified support from adult audiences, such as Howard Hawks' THE THING, and the late sixties mirrored that development with the first of the APES films (though later ones became more kiddified) and Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Comic books remained a marginal medium despite adults' brief flirtation with the irony-drenched world of the 1966 BATMAN teleseries. Yet Marvel Comics changed up the game by introducing the formula of "heroes with problems," and while Marvel's penetration of "the real world" was minimal during its strongest creative era, its long-term influence on American culture would make possible the current hegemony of "superhero movies for all ages."
Yet, for all of these influences, the eventual validation of metaphenomenal entertainment for adults all comes down to "nothing but STAR WARS." In my review of the original film, I wrote:
...the religion of the Force works well in the first film because it's become the underdog in the galactic empire. Whenever the materialistic minions of the Empire mention the Jedi, it's only to sneer at the absurdities of their beliefs. To them Darth Vader's continued existence is little more than an indicator of the foolishness of having faith in anything but machines-- and the fact that Vader himself had taken on the semblance of a machine is merely a further confirmation of their world-view.
Luke Skywalker's existence defies the Empire's passion for "technological terrors," and whether or not Lucas meant him to be Vader's son at the time hardly matters. By inheriting Obi-Wan's mantle as the new embodiment of Jedi spirituality, he supplants Vader in the cosmos as Jacob supplanted Esau. This is the unlikely turnabout that Lucas teaches his audience to hunger for, and it plays as much a role in the franchise's success as the aforementioned love of pulpish extravagance. Indeed, without Lucas having crossbred the magic of fairy tales with the machines of SF, the furor over STAR WARS might have petered out over time like many other fannish enthusiasms, no matter how hard big corporations labored to keep them stoked.
George Lucas's scattershot research into fairy tales, archaic shamanism, and mythology clearly touched a cord in the American psyche, not mention the psyches of a great many other world cultures. And its popularity with adults was reflected in one of America's earliest instances of "political correctness," on which I reflected in my essay TRIBAL IN PARADISE:
STAR WARS was the test-case for racial representation. Not long after the film came out, I recall hearing a black comedian say something like, "Tell the truth, white people; you like STAR WARS because it means ya'll gonna leave alla us behind!" There may be more truth than humor in that statement, and Lucasfilms was quick to remedy the lack of POC in the SW universe by introducing Lando Calrissian in the second movie.
This wasn't pure tokenism, though. The Lucasverse as we now know it recapitulated a number of political attitudes, not least Lucas's favored trope of "lots of little good guys can beat a big bad guy." This is best illustrated in the first film in the Rebels' triumph over the Death Star. In addition, an early draft for STAR WARS would've also included a primitive tribe of Wookies beating a contingent of Storm Troopers, even though the story-idea didn't show up on celluloid until Lucas reworked the Wookies into RETURN OF THE JEDI's Ewoks. Reportedly Lucas was not entirely pleased that the only well-known black actor in the cast was "off-camera" in the form of Darth Vader's voice, but the appeal of James Earl Jones' baritone overcame those reservations. Thus I would surmise that Lucas probably didn't engineer the role of Lando Calrissian merely to profit from tokenism. He probably sincerely believed in a judicious forms of racial representation, much like that similarly-liberal toiler-in-fantasy-fields Gene Roddenberry. However, Lucas he didn't virtue-signal quite enough to head off his critics in 1999, when the buffoonish Jar Jar Binks was assailed for being a modern reincarnation of Stepin Fetchit.
The prequel series displeased a lot of viewers for a lot of reasons, but on the whole the series proved a success-- not just in terms of box office, but also in showing how thoroughly the viewing public had become enthralled with the Lucasverse cosmology. That said, even in the sixteen years between RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE PHANTOM MENACE, countless film producers sought to pursue the grail of the "Big Lucas Pay-Off," seeking to subject the once marginal genres of science fiction, magical fantasy and superheroes to the big-budget treatment. Television showed a similar transformation, though obviously Hollywood's Veblen-esque investment in conspicuous consumption didn't play so well on the small screen. Still, serials like XENA, HERCULES and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER demonstrated methods of bringing in big ratings on a small budget. For all anyone knows, the increasing profitability of sci-fi and superheroes may have played a role in encouraging George Lucas to return to his long-neglected franchise.
There's not much doubt that the "Rise of the Box-Office Profits" motivated Disney to purchase the Lucasverse, but here too, it's hard to say if pure profiteering explained the whole megilla. In my essay FREEDOM VS. FREEDOM PART 4, I called attention to the way Disney strategists re-wrote Lucas's "Clonetroopers" scenario from the prequels in order to start off the new series with an appeal to racial priorities. Thus the first promo for FORCE AWAKENS opens with the sight of a Storm Ttrooper unmasking and revealing the face of a black man (or at least, a face whose ethnicity is less ambiguous than that of actor Temeura Morrison, who played the mercenary from whose cells all Storm Troopers were supposedly derived).
Now, with the Disney trilogy is complete, it's possible to state categorically that the company's vaunted commitment to diversity did not extend to making Finn a halfway interesting character. In my review of FORCE AWAKENS, I pointed out that this revelation could be seen as a war to replay what I called "the African Diaspora," insofar as Disney's white-clad troopers were abducted from their worlds and forced to serve the Empire/First Order. However, even if the persons responsible for crafting the Finn character had some such intention-- and the idea is re-emphasized anew in RISE OF SKYWALKER-- the producers failed utterly at making Finn even as compelling as a Lucas toss-off like Boba Fett. That said, other new characters in the Disneyverse-- Poe, Rose Tiko, Holdo-- were no better characterized, so Finn certainly wasn't singled out for half-assed treatment. The one decent new character, Rey, got most of her mojo from being tied to one of Lucas's legacy characters in a literal sense, and with others in a more symbolic sense.
It may be a measure of Disney's perceptions about the adult audience's investment in the Lucasverse that the company chose to virtue-signal the company's commitment to diversity. However, it should be noted that, even if Lucas and his collaborators might have been influenced by tokenism in crafting Lando Calrissian, they still managed to make Lando an interesting character despite the creators' possibly-monetary motivations.
Even before SKYWALKER appeared in theaters, the first two films in the Disney trilogy were excoriated for their virtue signaling, though this criticism tended to focus less on people-of-color than on a perceived overemphasis of female characters. I feel that this criticism is partly justified in the cases of Holdo and Rose Tiko, who were such ciphers that I find them unlikely vessels of female empowerment. However, I will defend Rey against that charge. I don't think that Lucas's STAR WARS cosmos was ever directed exclusively to the male gender, and I think that Princess Leia stands as a major femme formidable, even if it's true that Carrie Fisher was less than entranced with her role. Rey has been accused by some critics of being a "Mary Sue" in terms of how easily she attains power and formidability. But while I might share some critics' concerns about the depiction of her path to power, I felt all three Disneyverse films succeeded in making her a vital character, one not defined by the gender wars. Thus, when Rey takes the name "Skywalker" at the end of SKYWALKER, I for one embraced that conceit. For me, the gesture demonstrated that, even when the new-verse was compromised by venal virtue-signaling, and dull diversity-concerns, it still was possible for people who weren't George Lucas to create at least one character that escaped such banal politicization.