Posted by PintofStout on 11th February 2016
I had the great joy recently of introducing my kids to the Star Wars universe. There were glimmers of the mythology lingering in my son’s t-shirt drawer, pajama drawer, and even toy box, but these glimmers were not grounded to the real story; they were simply toys or cartoons. There was some passing interest as my son turned five and started into kindergarten, while my daughter at three was going along to get along. So, just before Christmas, I held my breath and put in the DVD for Episode IV (the original theatrical release; we aren’t Philistines). I wasn’t sure if the film, not being animated or written particularly for such a young audience, would hold their attention, or if the vintage effects would register as something other than campy. I was afraid my kids would reject this world where their dad played and grew up for so much of my childhood.
This story does have a happy ending, but it took several sittings – mostly due to time constraints (this film is about an hour longer than most they are used to watching) – to get through each film. There were long stretches, too, that just held zero interest to the kids (most of “Empire”), but we did eventually complete the first trilogy. My son was hooked. He wanted to be a Jedi, he wanted a Wookie, and he definitely wanted to blow up some Death Stars, preferably with Darth Vader on board. He and I spoke the lingo in the car and at dinner, much to the enjoyment (and annoyance) of his mother. The part that made me most relieved, though, was that he was all in with the Rebels, which wasn’t a given in our current cultural climate.
The most iconic images and themes of the series always seemed to be the Empire. They had all the cool toys (compare an AT-AT with the lame-o egg-like Rebel transport ship), the shiny costumes, and seemingly the attention of our culture. Our culture was worshiping stormtroopers and empires and scorning rebellion of all sorts for decades now, so I guess it was a natural fit that Disney markets Star Wars in that way. I was (and still am) convinced our culture is mostly on the side of the Empire these days, and there was very little evidence to argue the other way. The Empire always mimicked the Nazis up close, but at a larger scale the Empire looks like empire, which looks like the dominant current global politics. So, imagine my relief when my son easily picks up on being the good guys (easy in the films, more difficult when it comes to roll play and toys).
Maybe the choice between the light side and the dark side is easier for kids (outside of the Jedi Mind Tricks of marketers) who see the world in black and white or good vs. bad. When adults start thinking and believing in the inevitability of rulers and the mucky grey of sort-of-good and not-so-bad, the calculations of pragmatism start piling up casualties. I have no doubt a supermajority of our country would continue voting for Palpatine and the Empire, gladly fellating the show of force and the sacrifice of the stormstroopers. The disconnect is strong in these lands, where we still believe in our own righteousness while enjoying our conformity with the comforting power of the Empire and its Dark Lords.