We are a Star Wars family. We own the original trilogy and the prequels. My son’s room is filled with the Lego versions of an Imperial Star Destroyer, AT-AT Walker, Jabba’s Sail Barge, Rey’s Speeder, B-Wing Fighter, Poe’s X-Wing Fighter, and my personal favorite, the Millennium Falcon. I own action figures from my childhood and of new characters from The Force Awakens. My daughter has her own action figures and light saber. My husband owns the Sphero BB-8 droid that he controls remotely from his phone, and the remote control Millennium Falcon that really flies. We binge watch The Clone Wars and await each new episode of Star Wars Rebels. We are dedicated fans, and Disney has made a lot of money off of us. Of course, we have pre-ordered the digital and Blu-Ray copies of the movie (out today, April 1, and April 5, respectively).
We enjoy these movies as fun entertainment, but the movies and shows also offer Doug and I the opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about the world and how to live in it.
- Heroes are ordinary people who rise to the challenges of their time. This may seem to be a surprising lesson given that Luke Skywalker and other Star Wars heroes are blessed with a special power, e.g., to feel and harness a mystical energy called The Force. However, the Rebellion is composed of numerous people from all across the galaxy who contribute in some way to the cause: pilots, intelligence, military strategy, communications support, supply requisition. Han and Chewbacca were smugglers who initially had no interest in helping the Rebellion, yet were drawn in by the commitment and willingness to sacrifice demonstrated by Leia, Luke, and the others. In fact, the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, coming out in December 2016, is focused on the rebels who stole the design plans for the original Death Star that enabled the Rebels’ successful destruction of it at the Battle of Yavin. According to what we know thus far about the movie, none of the characters in Rogue One are Jedi or are Force-sensitive, yet their contribution was critical to the Rebel cause. (They’re also led by a women, played by Felicity Jones.)
- Giving in to anger, fear, and aggression leads to misery. We have our fair share of temper tantrums and meltdowns around here. Yoda’s warning to Luke that “anger, fear, and aggression” lead to the Dark Side of the Force is repeated in our household as a way to lighten the moment. We also talk in calmer times about how it’s okay to have these feelings and to express them, but that it is not healthy to dwell or wallow in them, but try to channel the feelings into something constructive. Otherwise, you inevitably worsen your situation. Conversely, Yoda’s praise of self-control and patience is repeated by us as a way to help our kids make good choices. If they find ways to take a breath, a break, or ask for a hug, they can avoid the spiral into a meltdown or tantrum that leads to additional bad choices.
- The galaxy is full of various sentient life forms, all of which are worthy of respect. In the Star Wars galaxy, Jedis and members of the Rebellion are members of not only different races, but different species. In contrast, while not explicitly stated in the movies, Star Wars literature frequently references Emperor Palpatine’s prejudice against anyone serving in the Imperial Fleet other than humans. The Force Awakens takes some additional steps in this area, with the three main heroes being a white female, black male, and Latino male. We use these themes from the Star Wars universe to discuss prejudice and discrimination in our own world with our children, and emphasize the need to love and respect the people and living things of our planet.
- Safeguarding our freedom is difficult in times of intense fear and instability. It is no coincidence that Revenge of the Sith, the 2005 movie released in the aftermath of September 11, highlights this truth. The Old Republic’s Senate, faced with a growing military threat from the Separatists, enthusiastically approves granting supreme executive authority to Chancellor Palpatine, who declares the beginning of the Galactic Empire. Senator Padme Amidala’s stunned response: “So this is how liberty dies…to thunderous applause.” Of course, Palpatine and the Empire proceed to enslave entire worlds and use a super-weapon to destroy Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan. As our own nation and others face fears of terrorism from within and abroad, we see the rise of candidates (ahem, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz) who promise stability and project authority in a calculated play on these fears. We speak with our children about the dangers of trusting too much in any leader to make any country great and repeat the lesson above about giving into our worst fears. We firmly believe that our country will rot from within if we allow our misunderstandings and fears to isolate and punish innocent people who can be our allies.
Finally, I will share how Star Wars has inspired me personally, dating myself in the process. My very first memory is of three-year-old me going to my hometown’s drive-in theater to watch the first release of Star Wars in 1977. My brother and I were in the backseat of my parents’ car and I remember waking up from a nap as Princess Leia drew her weapon to defend against Stormtroopers at the start of the movie. She has been my hero ever since. In a play world dominated by Barbies and baby dolls, she was a female role model for someone who used her gifts to fight for freedom for others and against evil, with bravery, diplomacy, political negotiation, and if necessary, military force. She was a confident leader who stood up for what she believed in. Her example stayed with me throughout my childhood and inspires me to this day. With the arrival of Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, I am thrilled that my daughter and son will have the opportunity to see a woman who is both powerful and loving, who has survived horrible circumstances yet is full of hope. And I can say that the most emotional part of watching The Force Awakens for me was not (spoiler alert) Han’s death at the hands of his son, but the moment when Rey successfully calls Anakin’s lightsaber to her and raises it to battle Kylo Ren. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched Rey’s face, full of fear but resolute in her determination to defeat him and save herself and her injured friend, Finn. A she, not a he, is the center of the hero’s journey in this new trilogy, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens in Episode VIII, due in theaters December 2018.