Thursday, May 4, marked the annual Star Wars holiday for fanboys and film geeks (“May the Fourth be with you”). This is celebrated by cable outlets running the movie marathon all day and your social media feeds being stuffed with acquaintances using light sabers at work and donning Jedi hoods at home.
Sports usually has a loose connection to this event with teams creating Star Wars memes or minor league squads announcing Wookie jerseys. But it all got me thinking maybe there was something more concrete? Each film, for us fans, has a distinctly different personality. If these iconic movies had sports team equivalents, what would they be?
Each film is readily identifiable no matter how old (even the trash prequels), so these teams couldn’t be anonymous squads that simply went .500 and faded into the either. These teams would have to be memorable (good and bad) and reflect the impact of the films. As Yoda would say, “Clear your mind must be, if you are to find the villains behind this plot.”
A New Hope: 1974 Steelers. The start of Pittsburgh’s dynasty mirrors the film that launched one of the greatest franchises in cinematic history. A New Hope birthed an American institution, but in retrospect was a little rough around the edges. When Pittsburgh beat the Vikings to win its first Super Bowl no one could predict it was the start of one of the most successful runs in sports history. But a combination of a star central character (Terry Bradshaw as Luke Skywalker), MVP performance (Franco Harris as Han Solo), the elegance of another vital actor (Princess Leia as Lynn Swann) and a devastating, breakout performance that would become part of Americana (Steel Curtain as Darth Vader), it was the genesis for greatness. They both launched an iconic run of success.
Empire Strikes Back: 1996 Chicago Bulls. The perfect team reflects the perfect film. Widely held as the greatest Star Wars film, the ’96 Bulls were also the best of the Michael Jordan era. Empire was an impeccable blend of heroism, action, drama and a depth no sci-fi flick had ever matched. It had everything, just like the Bulls. Michael, Scottie, Rodman, Kukoc, Kerr, Harper. Somehow the ’96 Bulls were fueled to be even better than the previous three championship Bulls teams, exactly like how Empire elevated the franchise past even the wild success of New Hope. When looking back we note how perfect the 73 win Bulls were, the same way we marvel at the perfection of Empire.
Return of the Jedi: 1984 Celtics. The third Star Wars film was a box office smash, and is fondly recalled by all fans just like this Boston squad. But Jedi is graded down slightly in comparison to Empire (Ewoks will do that), just like the ’84 Celtics just weren’t as perfect as the ’86 team. This film actually was released only 13 months before the Celtics won the title, and has plenty of greatness baked in. Jabba’s sail barge is Bird, Han in carbonite and the Rancor Monster is McHale and Parish, the incredibly satisfying climax of blowing up the Death Star is like the Celtics knocking off the hated Lakers. They are two epic works, graded down slightly because of the excellence of others, but warmly remembered by fans.
Phantom Menace: 2008 Detroit Lions. The most embarrassing team of the modern era is the most embarrassing effort in Star Wars history. The 1976 Buccaneers and 1962 Mets may have had less talent, but both had excuses as expansion teams. Also, the Bucs and Mets were fondly remembered for being lousy, there is a romance about them. The ’08 Lions are disparaged, and had no alibi to be the only 0-16 team ever, just like this film had no reason to be this historically bad. George Lucas had a huge budget, the experience of the first three films, and far more sophisticated technology. Matt Millen had high draft picks, the experience of playing on Super Bowl teams, and every resource available. They are both seen as examples of power-drunk imbeciles out of touch, with disastrous results. Jar Jar Binks meet Dan Orlovsky.
Attack of the Clones: ’15-’16 Sixers. There is no redeeming factor to either of these efforts except for the fact they weren’t statistically the worst ever. They were the second worst. As awful as Clones is (more inexcusable Lucas garbage), it can’t top the pain of watching Menace. These Sixers were a modern disaster, but were still one game better than their ’73 brethren, the worst team in NBA history. The ’16 Sixers had some hope that brighter days were ahead, and Star Wars fans hoped that after the tough lessons Lucas was learning the third prequel would have to be an improvement. Both the film and the Sixers tested their fans patience and loyalty in big ways. Anakin and Padme discussing democracy in a field is like watching Jahlil Okafor threaten to fight fans in the street.
Revenge of the Sith: 1995 Braves. By virtue of not being the dumpster fire Menace and Clones were, Sith is widely held as the best of the prequels. But much like being Valedictorian of Summer School this is only best by comparison to other atrocities around it. The ’95 Braves were the sole team of that incredible run in Atlanta to actually win a title. In comparison to the pain of World Series heartaches in ’91, ’92, ’96 and ’99, the one that finally did it is lauded. But it was the lockout season so it didn’t feel entirely fulfilling in some ways, just like Hayden Christensen stomping around as a cartoon version of Vader is still uncomfortable. But hey, at least they won the championship. And hey, at least this wasn’t as bad as Menace and Clones.
Force Awakens: 2004 Detroit Pistons. The reboot of the franchise was a throwback flick, an old-school look with a true-to-its roots feel. That’s exactly what this Pistons team was. Detroit’s success was built on traditional tenets: team chemistry, suffocating defense, identifiable roles, great leadership. There were no egos, no super stars, no surefire Hall of Famers. The recipe was so airtight it knocked off one of the greatest teams of the era, the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Force had X-Wings, Millennium Falcon getaways, Han, Chewie and Leia, and a nobility in keeping with the original themes of the franchise. The Pistons did the same, taking their pages from the Bad Boys squads of yesteryear, and being a living, breathing throwback in an NBA era of glitz and glamour. At a time when superhero movies and action flicks looked like digitized comic books with cartoonish CGI, Force Awakens (using models, constructed sets and no green screens) felt retro.
Rogue One: 2013 Seahawks. A new look with huge success that even traditionalists had to respect. While Seattle carried itself with an attitude (Richard Sherman, Golden Tate, Michael Bennett), and had funky modern uniforms, it won with a tried and true formula: running the football and playing hellacious defense. Unorthodox in nature (Rogue One’s central protagonist was female, and for the first time explored a Star Wars environment of exotic beaches), the story of stealing the plans for the Death Star was a nod to its fore bearers. The delicious villany of a re-imagined Grand Moff Tarkin was akin to the iconoclast stylings of Marshawn Lynch, and when walking out of the theater or the Super Bowl you couldn’t help but feel like you unexpectedly just witnessed something time will smile on.
There it is, the official list of Star Wars films as sports teams throughout history. We do or do not, there is no try.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.