In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a grizzled Han Solo addresses those eager space-millennials Rey and Finn as they start going on and on about the Jedi and the Sith. Han turns to them, to us, with that 24fps hint of a smirk and says:
“It’s true. All of it.”
Han is talking about his adventures in the previous movies, of course, but it’s also a message from the older fans to the new. Hey kid, you know all those stories you heard about nerds being proud to wear 3/4-sleeve Star Wars shirts in public? Those stories about everyone in the civilized world all talking and getting excited about one movie? All that mumbo-jumbo? Not only was it true, but it is true. Again.
But there is something else to Han’s words. Something older. Deeper.
With Episode VIII here, it is a good time to be reminded of the one true fact of Star Wars. The story may have been far away and long ago and involve Wookies and Gundarks, but the saga has always insisted that “it happened.” That in some almost impossible way, as Han says, it’s true. It is not fixed in our nearby space, but it is fixed in our timeline:
Our inner ten-year-old selves already know that Star Wars is real, as we push apart Target doors with Force Push every time we need Fritos and Sprite. But what if there is another truth here that is older than 1977? Much, much older?
A long time ago, one of the earliest settlements in the new colony of Virginia was a place called Henrico. The area was first scouted by Captains Christopher Newton and John Smith, who had pushed across the terrible and mysterious sea to help colonize the New World. Sir Thomas Dale, a knight, founded the first actual town, one of the oldest in America. Henrico, completed in 1611, was made up of some low houses and fortifications. Its people led a hard life, but somehow miraculously survived that first year. By 1614, the new settlement was mostly at peace with the indigenous people they had forcibly displaced. But when the daughter of a chieftain supposedly saved John Smith’s life, she was later kidnapped for ransom by the English, eventually becoming part of the community and marrying a man who lived in the Henrico area. Though born of a native chieftain, this young girl, this princess, was raised by a family not her own. Her name was Pocahontas. She was often pictured with an exotic native hairstyle.
Many years later, on March 33, 1622, natives attacked Henrico, killing everyone.
They burned their houses to the ground. The ruins smoked in the sunrise. They came out of nowhere.
In 1634, the new county that lay over the site of the massacre was again christened Henrico. As people came over from England , one particular man named James Lucas, son of Edmund, decided to settle there. In 1724, he and his wife had a son named George. He married a woman named Elizabeth and they raised two sons. When George died in 1763, it was at the time that the American Revolution was beginning to take shape. A small band of rebels began plotting for ways to shake free of the British Empire.
The Lucas family would live in Henrico for generations. Isham Lucas served in the Virgina militia in the War of 1812 and came back with a bounty of land that he raised a family on. He was the patriarch of four daughters and two sons.
They were mostly farmers, these Lucases, though some specialized in shingling houses. Over the decades, the Lucas histories were recorded in church Bibles untouched by the Internet and lost in forgotten graveyards on green hills. Some lived long lives; some very short and sad ones. Their legal and land holdings were written down in books called Wills.
Then the dark times came. The issue of slavery cracked the young country in two, and not always in a straight line. In 1800, Henrico County was almost the site of the biggest slave revolt ever staged, organized by a slave named Gabriel, but it was stopped at the last moment. When the Civil War began, Henrico County became a bloody and contested site as Richmond itself was named the “Capital of the Confederacy.” The Battle of Oak Grove, The Battle of Seven Pines, and the Battle of Malvern Hill were all fought on Henrico ground.
It is difficult to know the political mindsets of the Lucases, even though they were Virginians. Virginia had some different slave laws than some of its more Southern cousins, but when I searched the census, most people I found had slaves. But the Lucases?
They had none. As the War escalated, some of the Lucases stayed in Henrico, but some moved to Crawford, Arkansas, deep in the South and away from the front lines of Virginia. One Lucas named Hamilton looked out on the Arkansas sun and knew he had to leave. He left for impossible California, out on the very rim of the continent. When Hamilton arrived on the west coast, he volunteered for the Union Army and was assigned to the 8th Regiment of California. Out that far, maybe he wouldn’t have to fight anyone he knew.
Hamilton’s son, William Fleming Lucas, stayed behind in Arkansas, in Crawford County, the muggy, swampy place that was also a part of the Cherokee Nation.
Crawford is near where the legendary Fouke Monster was first sighted, a tall creature with shaggy brown hair.
William’s son, Walton Hood Lucas, moved out to California, perhaps inspired by his grandfather, Hamilton. He went to work in the oil business. He was also known to tinker with automobiles. Other relatives down the line are worth at least a note here, like Mace Lucas, who moved out to Oregon with its tall green forests. There was another Lucas relative, named Leila, who stayed in the South.
When Walton Hood Lucas died, just shy of his fiftieth birthday in 1929, his wife Maud moved her family to the dry, sandy world of Modesto, California. There, she raised two daughters and a son, George Walton Lucas, Sr.
That George became a storyteller and filmmaker. He was awarded the 2015 Kennedy Center Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, the nation’s most prestigious arts prize. At the event, Lucas was called “a pioneer.”
There is still road in Henrico named after the Lucas family. The old farmlands are gone; Lucas Road is near a Kroger and a Chipotle.
The 501st cosplay group known as Garrison Tyranus is also in the Henrico area, though I don’t think they know how close they are to the old roots of all this.
One of the official taglines of the new Star Wars movies is that “Every generation has a story.” The story of the Lucas family, modeling the very history of the so-called New World, shows us why Star Wars is the white colonial ur-text of America. Just as it is our pop history, so too does it mirror our own historical one, forcing us to confront the good — and bad — of America’s past. But once we think about that past, we can interact with it, join with it, and even affect it as it moves forward. We, as fans, can change it. That is very powerful, especially considering the franchise is controlled by one of the biggest media companies in the world. Imagine if that fan power could reach out even further. For many, it already has. The political rise of D. Trump has caused a spike in Rebel Alliance imagery of the most permanent kind:
And for those fans upset with the new film’s portrayal of Luke (*not me), you can always watch him take down his shadowy political enemies in real life. More radical dissenters have even claimed to have used a bot army to inflate bad reviews of the new film. It’s not just a franchise anymore; it’s a cultural election. A war.
I have no idea whether or not George Lucas knows these old family stories himself, or if this is just sheer coincidence, but maybe it really doesn’t matter. Rebellion, oppression, slavery, civil war, and family — these are the themes that Americans, regardless of their lineage or background, battles or beliefs, struggle to reconcile. So wouldn’t it be something if Star Wars was indeed resonating on a deeper chord of historical legacy that repeats through time, reaching out from the past, to not only warn us, but to give us hope, from the truth of “A long time ago…”
Special thanks to Henrico historian Pam Greene for her invaluable help with this story.
Brad Ricca is the author of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes and Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – The Creators of Superman. He also writes the column “Luminous Beings Are We” for StarWars.com. Follow @BradJRicca.