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20 things to love about the ‘Star Wars’ universe

20 things to love about the ‘Star Wars’ universe

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Film-Fall Preview-JJ Abrams

This photo provided by Disney shows stormtroopers in a scene from the new film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." The movie releases in the U.S. on Dec. 18, 2015. (Film Frame/Copyright Lucasfilm 2015 via AP)

What do we mean when we talk about “Star Wars” now? ✴ Do we still mean the movies? Or do we mean the culture that sprouted up around it almost 40 years ago and refuses to go away? Are we talking about planets and monsters from the imagination of George Lucas? ✴ Or the ancillary empire that sprung from those first blockbusters — bedsheets and video games and TV series and amusement park rides? With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opening Dec. 18, these questions are about to get even more complicated. The new films, and the films after that — set to arrive annually, until the earth is extinguished by the sun — are post-Lucas enterprises, akin to Disneyland continuing on after Disney. Quite literally: Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 and does not plan to put the franchise into carbonite. So it seems we need to recognize that, when we talk about liking “Star Wars” now, we are talking about a massive subculture within pop culture itself. ✴ Here are the 20 best things about “Star Wars,” culture-wide.

By Christopher Borrelli / Chicago Tribune

Han Solo: Scoundrel, wise-cracker, audience surrogate. Everything that first captured the audience is contained in the unhurried, borderline uninvested performance of Harrison Ford, who, like the character itself, regards everything going on around him as sometimes silly, sometimes serious, but generally kind of fun.

“The Empire Strikes Back”: A franchise gains gravitas, all of the good guys get their butts kicked endlessly and a series that had been as fizzy as a matinee serial turned compelling. “Dr. Zhivago” in space.

“Star Wars” bedsheets: Of all the “Star Wars” merchandise in the universe, maybe the most personal. Regardless if you were tucked under a “Phantom Menace” comforter or rested your head on “Return of the Jedi” painterly designs, repeated wallpaper-style across a plush canvas, they remain a dream, for your dreams.

“Star Wars” parodies: A vein so delightful it is its own genre. Mel Brooks (“Spaceballs”), MAD magazine, “Friends,” “South Park,” “Family Guy,” “Robot Chicken,” even Woody Allen (“Deconstructing Harry”) mined the innate silliness of the material. As Mark Hamill once sang on “The Simpsons”: “Luke be a Jedi tonight.”

Darth Vader: Tall, dark and intimidating, the Dark Lord of the Sith, aka Anakin, reset the bar for villainy. The franchise itself is actually his story. One caveat: Without his helmet, did he have to look like Uncle Fester?

Chewbacca’s growl: The indelible work of sound designer Ben Burtt, who recorded bears, badgers, lions, sea lions, camels and walruses, mixing the vocal performance of each animal with an ear for pain, anger or joy.

The brass blast of John Williams’ main theme: An invigorating trumpet fanfare that segues into a surge of London Symphony Orchestra strings and, in roughly two seconds, creates a shorthand for the series.

The 501st Legion: You know those intensely detailed, Stormtrooper-suited devotees who attend every “Star Wars” movie opening (and toy release, and flank “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert)? That’s an 18-year-old service organization, with several thousands of members worldwide, whose charity work has become legend.

Carrie Fisher: The cinnamon-bun hair provides the iconography, but the actress herself, on screen and off, with a strong sense of irony, remains a study in how to play a smart, tough woman in a largely male galaxy.

10 The concept paintings of Ralph McQuarrie: Commissioned by Lucas in the mid-’70s to give some flesh to his conceptually questionable script, McQuarrie, a former tech illustrator for Boeing originally from Gary, Ind., gave the universe a shape, and deserves a lot of credit for the design of Darth Vader, C-3PO, etc.

11 “Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga”: Best “Star Wars” video game ever? Certainly the most sardonic, a Lego reworking of iconic moments that doesn’t insult the puzzle-solving skills of kids or adults, and plays almost like a piece of found art, a radical interpretation of one pop-culture material by another.

12 “Star Wars” pet costumes: Created by venerable New York costume company Rubie’s. Cleverly disguised any Irish setter as an Imperial Walker or any corgi as an Ewok.

13 John Barry’s sets in the original trilogy: From the cool hallways of the Death Star to the cavernous hangars to the griminess of the Millennium Falcon, his vision was a mixture of the cobbled-together and the crassly sleek, telegraphing a sense of social order to the universe.

14 General Grievous: The prequel trilogy was not entirely the creative bust that conventional wisdom assumes. Grievous, a kind of cyborg praying mantis with a touch of Snidely Whiplash, was inspired fun.

15 The packaging design for Kenner’s “Star Wars” toy line: For a handful of years, those simple stark black backgrounds and silver racing lines became so ubiquitous — and remain so, in retro form, in many a toy store — the aesthetic can still be found online as a meme, with a transporting, madeleine-like impact.

16 The Han Solo freezing scene in “Empire”: Princess Leia says: “I love you.” Han says: “I know.”

17 “Star Wars Rebels” on Disney XD: Arguably the most enjoyable, underrated “Star Wars” series since the original trilogy. It’s feather-light fluff that recaptures the sense of humor, and casual zippiness, of the 1970s.

18 Star Destroyers: The Empire’s flying-V battleships, elegantly imposing.

19 Ewan McGregor’s lightsaber sounds: While shooting “The Phantom Menace,” the actor was so thrilled to slip into his childhood dreams he habitually made the familiar lightsaber hum while swinging his prop around on set (sounds that had to be replaced later with the actual sound effect). A fan’s enthusiasm turns meta.

20 Anticipation: Like Christmas morning, the wait for a new “Star Wars” movie — the long, teasing promise of greatness — has become as fun as the gift itself (the most recent trailer for “The Force Awakens” has nearly 70 million views on YouTube). Will we say the same when there’s a new movie every year?

The quiz is loading

Warning: Sounds accompany each answer. You may want to adjust the volume if you are at work.

1. Princess Leia hid the secret plans for the Death Star in which of these droids?
Wrong.Right. R2-D2 was operated by the actor Kenny Baker. His distinctive, child-like "beep-boop" voice was created by sound editor Ben Burtt.
2. What is the name of Princess Leia's ship, seen in the opening sequence of "Star Wars"?
Wrong.Right. The sequence of the Tantive IV moving across the screen followed immediately by the far more massive imperial Star Destroyer wowed millions of moviegoers in 1977.
3. By what name does Luke Skywalker know Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine?
Wrong.Right. Ben is "just a crazy old wizard," according to Luke's Uncle Owen. Owen also claims Obi-Wan Kenobi died "about the same time as your father."
4. Which movie duo was George Lucas' inspiration for his droid duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO?
Wrong.Right. The influence of Akira Kurosawa's 1958 film "The Hidden Fortress" can be seen throughout "Star Wars" from its focus on peasants, to the horizontal wipes used to transition between scenes.
5. Luke and Obi-Wan try to charter a ship to take them to Alderaan. What was smuggler Han Solo's original asking price?
Wrong.Right. Kenobi then makes a counter-offer, which Solo accepts: "We can pay you 2,000 now, plus 15 when we reach Alderaan."
6. Which of the following did NOT happen in the 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special"?
Wrong.Right. It was actually Jefferson Starship. And, yes, the other stuff really happened. Songwriter Craig Chaquico later said of the much-maligned TV special: "I was like tripping on it myself, man."
7. True or false: Legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson was the puppeteer and voice performer who brought Jedi master Yoda to life in "The Empire Strikes Back."
Wrong.Right. Frank Oz, well-known for his work as Miss Piggy, Grover, and Cookie Monster, performed Yoda in "Empire" and all the subsequent Star Wars films.
8. What mistake does Chewbacca make when he reassembles C-3PO in "The Empire Strikes Back"?
Wrong.Right. The C-3PO / Chewbacca dynamic is established in "Star Wars" when Han Solo advises the droid that Wookiees are known to pull people's arms out of their sockets when they lose a game.
9. Why does Darth Vader freeze Han Solo in carbonite in "The Empire Strikes Back"?
Wrong.Right. Vader explains that the test is necessary because he doesn't "want the Emperor's prize damaged."
10. To keep Vader's paternity of Luke a secret during the filming of "Empire", actor David Prowse was given a fake line to say during the climactic scene. According to actor Mark Hamill, what was this fake line?
Wrong.Right. Hamill told Home Theater Magazine that he was one of a handful entrusted with the secret. But "Empire" director Irvin Kirshner warned him not to divulge it to his castmates because "we know who knows."
11. Darth Vader had a thing for strangling incompetent imperial officers. Which officer managed to avoid being force-choked?
Wrong.Right. Piett fears for his life when the Millennium Falcon escapes at the end of "Empire," but Vader just walks away without killing him.
12. What color is the blade of Luke's lightsaber in "Return of the Jedi"?
Wrong.Right. Luke uses his father's blue-bladed lightsaber in the first two Star Wars films. He constructs his own green-bladed saber for "Return of the Jedi."
13. Which alien creatures help the Rebels win the Battle of Endor in "Return of the Jedi"?
Wrong.Right. The Ewoks proved so popular that they spawned two TV movies ("The Ewok Adventure" and "Ewoks: The Battle for Endor") and an animated TV series over the next several years.
14. In "Return of the Jedi," Luke Skywalker reveals what secret to Princess Leia?
Wrong.Right. The existence of a second force-sensitive Skywalker child was foreshadowed in "Empire" when Yoda reminded ghost Obi-Wan that "there is another."
15. Family is an important Star Wars theme in both the original trilogy and the prequels. Who was Anakin Skywalker's father?
Wrong.Right. In "The Phantom Menace," Anakin's mother Shmi tells Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn: "There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can't explain what happened."
16. What is the name of the Sith lord played by Christopher Lee in "Attack of the Clones"?
Wrong.Right. Count Dooku was one of many memorable villains Christopher Lee portrayed during his nearly 70-year acting career. Lee died this summer.
17. In "Attack of the Clones", Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala fall in love. Which of the following lines did Anakin say to Padme?
Wrong.Right. The "poison" line comes from "North West Mounted Police" (1940); the "princess" line from "The Ten Commandments" (1956); and the "fire" line from "Sin City" (2005).
18. At the beginning of "Revenge of the Sith," what secret is Anakin Skywalker keeping from Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the Jedi Council?
Wrong.Right. Anakin's love for Padme is ultimately his undoing. Some fans would argue the romantic scenes in the prequels were George Lucas' undoing.
19. True or false: After turning Anakin Skywalker to the dark side in "Revenge of the Sith," Emperor Palpatine tells his clone commanders to execute "Order 666"?
Wrong.Right. Palpatine's "Order 66" caused clone troopers across the galaxy to kill off Jedi Knights. George Lucas was alluding to the biblical "number of the beast."
20. Which character spoke the last line of dialogue in the prequel trilogy, and the first line in the original trilogy?
Wrong.Right. C-3PO says "Oh, no!" at the end of "Sith" and "Did you hear that? They've shut down the main reactor" at the beginning of "Star Wars." Who will speak first in J.J. Abrams' new trilogy?
QUIZ BY: Josh Renaud
SOURCES:, Wikipedia, Wookieepedia,,,, Associated Press, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, A.V. Club
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