Instead of being a harmless space fantasy for children, Star Wars is actually a massive horror movie franchise.
Most people think of Star Wars as an epic space fantasy, full of adventure and lighthearted humor. Terror, though? Not so much. George Lucas himself believed he was creating a new fairy tale for children to give them hope.
But therein lies the rub. Have you ever read some of the old fairy tales? Hansel and Gretel and the witch hellbent on fattening them up to satisfy her hunger for human flesh. Little Red Riding Hood’s dear sweet grandmother getting devoured by a bloodthirsty wolf. The Little Mermaid (the original version) turning into sea foam at the end, tragically sacrificing herself for a man who will never even know she exists. For many children, fairy tales contain some truly terrifying elements, and Star Wars is no exception.
Mike Myers, Jason Vorhees, and Darth Vader
This is why Star Wars could properly be classified as a horror film. The opening scene of A New Hope sets the stage for the onslaught of terror that awaits viewers. The rebel crew of the ship Tantive IV stare at a door, fearful of what’s on the other side. The tension of the moment is thick in the air and rising with every moment. Hearts racing, they wait. And wait for the inevitable, knowing the opportunity to run has passed. Like Mike Myers stalking an ill-fated babysitter or Jason Vorhees marching a trail of death through the teens partying at Camp Crystal Lake, something violent and superhuman awaits on the other side of this door. Their only hope now is to fight, and as the viewers, we hope they’ll be able to make their way out of this alive.
An explosion, and the door is no more. Stormtroopers rush in, faceless spectres drifting in and taking out their unwitting victims one by one. But these aren’t the real scare. In contrast to the white of the stormtroopers’ armor, a dark menacing presence walks in, bathed in black and emitting a ghostly breathing. This monster known as Darth Vader can choke you without laying a hand on you. And yet he grabs a man by the throat and squeezes until the life flows out of him, then casts the corpse aside.
The threat of death that runs through Star Wars
Star Wars relies heavily on the suspense that is characteristic of horror movies as well as jump scares. When Luke and his friends find themselves trapped in the trash compactor, Luke is suddenly pulled under the murky water by a creature straight from a monster movie. Just when it seems like the friends are safe after Luke gets away from the creature, the walls begin to close in on them, threatening to smash them to a gruesome death. In a race against time, C-3PO urges R2-D2 to turn the trash compactor off, and he’s mortified when he hears what he believes to be the agonizing screams of his friends over his comm unit. Of course, he and we soon learn that they were actually cries of joy at being saved, but Lucas was clearly trying to create a scary moment for viewers.
Star Wars’ horrifying visual images
Perhaps the one moment in A New Hope that clinches it as a horror movie is the moment that Luke returns to his home to find his aunt and uncle’s bodies burned to a crisp on the ground. It’s a nauseating sight that would terrify any child watching it. This is soon followed by a scene in which Obi-Wan Kenobi slices off a man’s arm in the Mos Eisley cantina, complete with a graphic visual of the arm lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Lucas didn’t hold back on the horror style visuals, even after the first film. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke slices off the arm of a wampa and Han Solo slices open a Tauntaun, pulling out its guts to create a warm place for the frozen Luke to survive.
The horror laced through all Star Wars films
It doesn’t end there. From the frightening appearance of Darth Maul to the demonic facial features of Emperor Palpatine to the nightmarish visions plaguing Rey in The Force Awakens, Star Wars is filled with scary moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. Star Wars movies are driven by the intensity, suspense, and visual terror you’d find in films like The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street, making them firmly at home in the horror movie camp.
Is Star Wars too spooky for you, or are you brave enough to stomach this terrifying franchise? Let us know in the comments!