Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Harry Potter vs Star Wars, where I finally decide which one of these franchise is better.
Now a year or so ago James Daniel Walsh wrote this infamous statement: â€œStar Wars is the cultural mythos of our generationâ€, to which I argued that while it was true for his generation, my generation’s cultural mythos was Harry Potter. Now, a year of putting it off, I’m finally going to sit down and analyse both of these franchise. So without further ado…
Let us look at that phrase that started this whole thing off: â€œStar Wars is the cultural mythos of our generation.â€ Now I argued that James’ generation had passed and the kids these days were all into Harry Potter. But lets actually unpack what we’re saying when we say ‘cultural mythos’, and whether James or my statement is more valid. So without any more ado…
So, cultural mythos. What do we mean when we actually say â€œcultural mythosâ€. Well culture, as I’ve defined before in other blogs, is â€œa collection of people who share the same beliefs that also produce art.â€. So the culture we’re talking about is the Western culture, primarily surrounding English-speaking countries that have origins relating to the British Empire. America, Australia, New Zealand, all Western countries settled by the British. Likewise England is included in this list since, you know, it was their empire. So when we talk about Western culture, we’re primarily talking about the shared culture of a few English-speaking and historically British societies. Now I could go into how each of these cultures differs from the other, but on the broad scale this works. So the Western culture share the same beliefs and also produce art. Well the same beliefs part is a bit tricky, but there are a few things that are tent-poles for the societies. The first is Christianity. It’s subtle, but Western society is often influenced by the work and concepts found with the Christian lore. The second comes from the concept of freedom. Now before anyone snarks about how of course America is all about freedom, it’s in a more generalized sense. Compared to how societies are structured in other parts of the world (for example, a bigger emphasis on honour and family in the East, more traditional views in the Middle East etc.), the West is much ‘freer’ in that sense. The third is Capitalism, the opposing force to Communism. Again, this is a bit of an odd thing, but capitalism really does influence a lot of our beliefs. So these three things (Christianity, Capitalism, and Freedom) are the beliefs that most Western countries share. So what about the art? Well, lets just point to Hollywood and the BBC and leave it at that, shall we? These are the two big things that make art that tend to reflect these beliefs, as well as help define what Western culture actually is. So we now have a working definition for what Western culture is. What about mythology?
Now there are two definitions I can use here. The first is the traditional â€œa body of myths, as that of a particular people or that relating to a particular person: i.e. Greek mythologyâ€. The second is the more varied â€œa set of stories, traditions, or beliefs associated with a particular group or the history of an event, arising naturally or deliberately fostered: i.e. the Fascist mythology of the inter-war years.â€ Now this is where things get interesting. Lets very quickly apply Star Wars to both of these definitions to see what fits. Firstly, as a body of myths by a group of people. This is sort of true, since many people have contributed to Star Wars to expand it universe. And there are consistent rules within its universe. But the problem with the term ‘mythology’ is that it implies worship. The Ancient Greeks believed in Zeus, Hercules, Hades etc. They thought it to be true, whereas no one really thinks Star Wars is real. We acknowledge that it’s fiction. So what about that second definition? Well we have a set of stories, they’re the films. We have the traditions in the likes of all the phrases that have popped up around the film (Use the Force etc.). As for beliefs, well, we’ll skip that one for the moment. But the second half of the definition is useful. These stories and traditions are associated with a particular event, and they both arose naturally and were deliberately fostered. I mentioned yesterday how George Lucas shopped Star Wars around more than Jabba the Hutt did with Leia. So the â€œdeliberately fosteredâ€ part of that sentence is true. But what about the â€œarising naturallyâ€ part? Well Star Wars was parodied in all the sketch shows, but it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to make the movie better. It was just jumping on the pop culture item of the day and profiting off of it. But the mythology of Star Wars did arise naturally, so it fits in here. So we can use the second definition of mythology to have it apply to Star Wars.
So this should be a short blog, right? I’ve proven that Star Wars is the â€œcultural mythosâ€ of the time. At the very least I’ve shown what Western culture is and, via my blog on the narrative of Star Wars, linked it in with Christianity (with the freedom and capitalism ideas being too obvious to justify talking about). I’ve shown what mythology is and how Star Wars is linked to that. So there must be no debate, right?
But here’s where we get to third part of James statement: â€œOf our generationâ€. And this is where the problem rears its ugly head. Because my generation, quite simply, does not care for Star Wars as much as we do Harry Potter. Now I did a survey of one hundred friends from all over the world, asking which of the two franchises had a bigger impact on both their lives and their generation. An over-whelming majority said that Harry Potter was the answer. Now I can already hear the complaints: â€œOh how can you claim a survey size of one hundred works when there are seven billion people in the world.â€ And, admittedly, yes, it’s not a proper scientific survey. To do it properly I’d need a much larger sample size. But it does prove my hunch: My generation care more about Harry Potter than it does Star Wars. Even those above my generation admitted that Harry Potter had more of an impact on my generation than Star Wars did, even if they were impacted more by Star Wars. The general consensus was that Harry Potter was the bigger of the two franchises, at least when it comes to influencing my generation. But why though? Why is it we care more for the story of Harry Potter than of Luke Skywalker, despite them being nearly identical? Well, funnily enough, I’ve already provided one of the answers to this question in an earlier paragraph.
I mentioned that one of the tent-poles of Western culture was Christianity. Which is half-true. Christianity is one of the big influencing things of Western society… but at the same time it’s a unique version of Christianity. It’s the Pop Culture version of Christianity. The whole â€œlet my people goâ€ as cried by Charlton Heston, the crucified position to show the hero’s sacrifice, the apple being the forbidden fruit, the whole she-bang. Things like what Hell and the Devil looks like are all things created by artists based on the Bible, rather than things found within the Bible. Likewise seeing a hero spread their arms like they’ve been crucified is a good sign (as in short for signifier, aka something you can recognize without needing to be explicitly told what it is, the same way you know what a chair is because of your understanding the idea of chairs) for him being Jesus. These are the broad, pop culture views when it comes to Christianity. But is it the same as the Christianity that gets practised in your church every Sunday? You’d argue that there is a significant difference between these two things. One is sacred, important, meaningful. The other is just over-hyped fluff that doesn’t really have an impact on your life, even though it has a big impact on your society. And that is the view my generation has when it comes to Star Wars and Harry Potter. While we acknowledge that Star Wars exists, we have a much more emotional impact to Harry Potter. Is Star Wars is the pop culture’s bible, Harry Potter is the much more personal bible. But why is it this way?
Well one of the most obvious and thus most understated things about Star Wars is how memetic it is as an item. I don’t need to list how it’s become integrated into pop culture with the â€œuse the forceâ€ and the lightsabers and the like. I just need to flip the calendar to May the Fourth and go ‘that’. Star Wars is one of the staples of meme making, and would no doubt be loved by the Tumblr generation if it premiered today. There’d be so many funny pictures about it. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be. Giving how much Star Wars lives in popular culture, it hasn’t been picked up much by the Tumblr generation. Now part of it can be from a lack of originality. Every joke that could be made about Star Wars has been made at this point, so there’s very little reason to keep making the same joke. Another part could be from a lack of personal experience. After all, my generation saw Star Wars on VHS or on TV, where a lot of its impact is lacking. A third part may be from the fact that Star Wars just doesn’t hold up as well when compared to more modern films. Oh I don’t mean the effects are bad or anything, just that kids are less likely to be impressed given what they can see today. Or, on a much wilder speculation, maybe the Star Wars fans ruined Star Wars for us.
It’s rare to see anyone praise the Star Wars prequels as being good because, well, they’re kinda not. But I enjoyed them as a kid and found them passable enough entertainment, even if it wasn’t that emotionally invested in the movies. But since the general consensus is that the prequels are bad, subtle peer pressure leads people to agreeing that the prequels are bad. I can’t watch the prequels now without knowing the negative backlash the films have and, as such, being more aware of the flaws every time I see it. Now, granted, the films aren’t that good. But the reaction by the die-hard Star Wars fans made the films worse than it actually is. And this reaction lives on to this very day. My generation was denied Star Wars by the older generation subtly influencing our views on it. They didn’t do it on purpose, mind you, but it was there. It still is. So Star Wars was never big with my generation. What was big instead?
Now I can remember a time when the Harry Potter books weren’t that big. Shocking I know, but I remember the build-up for each of them being relatively slow. I should know, because I brought the first four as paperbacks. I remember waiting for them to come out on paperback and the announcement that they did. But I also remember the build-up for each book being slightly bigger than the last. The third book, for example, got a minor fluff piece at the end of the news, next to the water-skiing canary. The last book, however… I had no idea how the media reacted, since I was at the World Scout Jamboree when it came out. But I’m presuming it was pretty big. But that’s the outer reaction. What about the inner reaction?
Well, Harry Potter is good. There’s no bones about it, the books are good, and got an entire generation of children reading again. We became invested in the story of Harry Potter and his friends, wanting to find out what happened next. We felt the feels at the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore (well, other people did. I never cared for Sirius, so his death really didn’t mean much to me). We were hooked on the stories and loved the world it created. But more than that, the books grew up with us. As we became older, the books became more mature. I can’t really think of any series that grew with its audience, becoming steadily darker and more complex as the story went on. I mean the Original Trilogy kinda stayed the same across all three movies, neither advancing thematically, nor falling backwards (depending on how you feel about the Ewoks, that is). Harry Potter grew with its audience, and Harry Potter grew up with its audience. And, in turn, this lead to a reaction completely different to the reaction of Star Wars.
Now I mentioned last time about how the Star Wars franchise was massive and the Harry Potter franchise was relatively minor. But that didn’t take into account the fandom side of things. As it stands, Harry Potter is one of the most popular topics to write about on FanFiction.net, sitting at just under seven hundred thousand. For comparison, the next most popular topic under the book section is Twilight, at two hundred and seventeen thousand. Compare that to Star Wars, the most popular topic in the movies section, with a staggering… thirty three thousand fanfics. And to put this in perspective, this is how it breaks down:
Harry Potter: 699K
Hetalia â€“ Axis Powers: 108K
Kingdom Hearts: 71.9K
Doctor Who: 66K
Lord of the Rings: 52.3K
Fullmetal Alchemist: 45.6K
Dragonball Z: 43.7K
Gundam Wing/AC: 41.3K
Hunger Games: 40.8K
Sailor Moon: 40.4K
Final Fantasy VII: 38.9K
Avatar: The Last Airbender: 38.8K
Teen Titans: 37.3K
Fairly Tail: 37.0K
Death Note: 34.3K
Star Wars: 33K
Star Wars is currently the twenty-seventh most popular topic to write fanfiction about on fanfiction.net, only just above NCIS. Now I can already hear people rushing to the comments to argue that this proves nothing, so at least let me say this much before you do so:
Why is the cultural mythos of ‘our generation’ being given such little attention by the culture it supposedly defines?
There are roughly twenty-one times more fanfics about Harry Potter than there is Star Wars. So at the very least, this proves that more people want to create fanfiction about Harry Potter than they do Star Wars. You can’t argue with that statement, the proof is right there for you to see. Harry Potter is more appealing to fanfic writers than Star Wars… which is unusual, given how the Star Wars universe is much more open than the Harry Potter universe. I mean Star Wars has a galaxy, whereas Harry Potter only has a few choice locations within the United Kingdom. So straight off the bat it’s hard to argue that writers are interested in writing for Harry Potter because they’ve got so many locations to play around in. Especially when compared to Star Wars. So why are there so many fanfics based on the Harry Potter universe?
But before we start, we need to look at that list again. While I haven’t researched every anime, out of the rest of it, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they were all created after 1990. As for the anime I haven’t seen, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they got popular in the 90s or early 00s. So what’s the connection between all of these things? Well, what you’ve got there is essentially a look at everything my generation finds popular. In nice, perfectly clear terms, you can see what my generation thinks of as being ‘good’. The likes of Supernatural, Glee, Twilight, all things that got popular around the time my generation first learnt about fanfiction and the internet in general. Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who both had big boosts by releasing new content in the 00s, introducing these ideas to a brand new audience. And yet, so did Star Wars, didn’t it? The prequel trilogy came out much the same time as Pokemon, Digimon, Buffy, Lord of the Rings. If the logic that â€œthese older properties got written about because there was new content to talk aboutâ€ is true, why is Star Wars not included in this? Now, granted, it may be. It may also be that before the prequels even less people wanted to write about Star Wars, which would put it far lower on the list. Sadly I can’t say for certain whether the prequel or original trilogy is more popular, but at a very quick look it seems about half and half. So there could be only twenty-thousand fanfics written about the original Star Wars trilogy. Compare that to the near seven hundred thousand Harry Potter fanfics. But why do I bring all this up?
Because fanfiction is a great way at judging what my generation thinks is popular. Thanks to the birth of the internet we can explore and promote our ideals now more than ever. And the biggest idea appears to be Harry Potter. My generation seems to be attracted to that more than they are of Star Wars. We seem to be more willing to write about it at any rate. Now I know the argument coming up: â€œWell how do you know all the writers are from your generation. They might be from the older generationâ€. And this is possible, yes. But lets pull up a handy blog I found about the statistics:
Now, granted, this is four years old now. But a majority of those surveyed were between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. So those born between the years of 1997 and 1992, given when it was made. 80% of those writing fanfiction at this time were of that age. So in other words, my generation. So since my generation composes the over-whelming majority of the writers, and Harry Potter is more popular than the next three other topics combined, it’s safe to conclude that Harry Potter is something that my generation loves to write about, moreso than Star Wars. So that’s the proof of my claims. What does this actually mean?
Well lets finally go back to the statement that started this all: The cultural mythos of a generation. In this case, Harry Potter is clearly the cultural mythos of my generation. The same way Star Wars was popularized and mythologised back in the day, Harry Potter has done the same back in my day. My generation clearly has more of an emotional connection with Harry Potter than with Star Wars. But what about Star Wars impact on pop culture, I hear you ask. Surely that must matter. And sure, it does. Star Wars is a part of pop culture… but that doesn’t mean my generation particularly cares for it. Christianity is part of our culture, and yet more young people are becoming atheists. They can recognize the Christian iconography, but they don’t particularly care for it. The same can be said with Star Wars. We can recognize it, like it, hell even enjoy it. But Harry Potter had more of an impact on my generation than Star Wars. Harry Potter became what our generation’s childhood was structured around. It became our Star Wars, in a way. Star Wars had its time, and it will have its time again. But for generation… whichever I am, Harry Potter will always be our cultural milestone. And much like Star Wars will always be important to those older than me, and some other franchise will be important to those younger than me, Harry Potter will always be important to those the same age of me. Star Wars was the cultural mythos of a generation. Harry Potter is merely the cultural mythos of another.
Phew. That was a long one, which no doubt has gotten me a few nasty glances. Fortunately I have an ace up my sleeve for the next blog to get me out of danger scotfree. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.