Kids Still Need Star Wars, Here's Why
Star Wars is a relic from the 1970s yet to this day, it’s not only survived… It’s thrived. Solo, the 2018 prequel, blew the box office to bits and ushered in yet another generation of young fans. Kids don’t just love Star Wars, they need it. Because: heroes!
Of course, a child’s parents are his true heroes and biggest influences to when it comes to fundamental characteristics such as decision-making and problem-solving. But no parent – no matter how awesome you are – can be the one and only role model for all things. Your kiddo may look up to you, to grandparents, and athletes or celebrities, but there is something about the wide-open world of fantasy and science fiction that allows a child to really and truly dream big. In a galaxy far, far away, your child can escape into a wonderful world of pure imagination.
While plenty of grown-up folks geek-out on what used to be considered kid-flicks, the George Lucas franchise does appeal especially to youngsters. Why? What is it about Star Wars that makes it stay so interesting to newly-minted audiences, decade after decade?
“I think Star Wars is evergreen because it's a story we can all relate to,” says Jenna Busch, Editor-in-Chief of the Legion of Leia and contributing author of Star Wars Psychology. “Every one of us, kids and adults alike, has been Luke Skywalker, staring at the twin suns of Tattooine, wondering what our lives hold for us in the future, wishing to make a difference in the world, to be important. It shows us that anyone can be a hero.”
Star Wars, though featuring some pretty intense light-saber battles, political skullduggery and fierce uprisings, isn’t really about all that. As Allyson Gronowitz wrote in her think-piece titled Yes, Star Wars is for Kids – and That’s Why It’s Great (for Slash Film), “It’s about finding friendship in unlikely places, having courage in the face of unspeakable odds, and standing up for one’s beliefs. And yes, it’s about escaping to a world where the bad guys are literally dressed head-to-toe in black, where robots are our buddies, and where Ewoks, Porgs, and even Gungans stretch the whimsical limits of our imaginations.
“Children’s stories that are consumed by adults are often dismissed as works of escapism. This term is tossed around as a tried and true insult and is applied to something that ostensibly has no real value or worth. Escapist fiction, like all kinds of children’s entertainment (which included, until recent decades, comic books), is considered a drug-like substitute for stories that more directly reflect the world we live in… But escapism gets a bad rap. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ‘the real world’ can be pretty terrible – so, at worst, escapist fantasy brings people some much-needed happiness for a bit.”
More than any generation before, kids today are feeling jaded by never-ending news cycles, always-streaming content, and constant flow of apps, games, and social media. But there's something about the alchemy of Star Wars that makes young viewers feel anticipation and wonder. There may not be one reason in particular for that, but Busch posits that when a child (or a kid-at-heart) watches a new Star Wars film, “We are all Luke Skywalker, dreaming of how we can matter in the world. We are all Han sometimes, knowing we're being difficult, but ultimately choosing to do the right thing. We are all Princess Leia, taking control of our lives and hoping that what we do will change the world. There is such a purity to the story. It's good vs. evil. It's uncomplicated (well, the prequels aren't, but the original trilogy is) in its purity. The right thing to do is just, well, right. Everyone can be redeemed in the end. Even teddy bears can fight. (Okay, that one is pretty specific, but hey, Ewoks!)
“There are so many lessons kids can take from Star Wars. As I said, it shows us that anyone can be a hero, simply by doing the right thing and by caring about others. You can learn the true meaning of friendship. Like Han, even when it's hard, you do the right thing for your friends. It teaches us to never give up hope. For me, as a young girl in the 1970s, it taught me that I didn't have to wait to be rescued. I could rescue myself. Princess Leia – who has already been a Senator and a leader of a rebellion against tyranny – may have had some help getting off the Death Star, but she pretty much ran that rescue herself.”
With so many parents being Star Wars enthusiasts these days, one question that pops up often is: When do you introduce your little Lukes and Leias to the universe? Most fans are inducted at around seven or eight years old, but it really depends on the child’s own level of maturity and fear-threshold (let’s face it… Darth Vader is the stuff of nightmares!).
StarWars.com contributors Jamie Greene and Michael Moreci recently talked about what it was like introducing their own children to the films. Greene said she took her daughter to see A New Hope on the big screen at the age of three, and she liked it, but “what really made her a fan, what really brought her into the Star Wars universe was Star Wars Rebels. She was obsessed with it, she fell hard for Rebels, and we used that as a stepping off point for exploring the universe. After Rebels, we watched the movies, dug into the books, started The Clone Wars, and that’s when she really became a big fan.”
Moreci said his son also watched A New Hope first. “He was about four at the time. I knew there was some tough scenes in that movie that, as a parent, you have to cover a little one’s eyes, but nothing too bad. I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face when the crawl started to roll. He was there. It was something he’d never seen before. There was space and robots and aliens, and he didn’t know what it was, but he was in love. There were questions the day after, and more questions, then more and more. The curiosities that it sparked — ‘what does utinni mean?’ — were endless.
“There’s always the aspect of violence that I know most parents wrestle with but to be honest, it’s far tamer than so many other genre movies and shows. Personally, I always justify Star Wars and the violence and intensity with its strong, clear message of hopefulness, friendship, what the Force means, things like that. All those elements counterbalance what we, as parents, might be apprehensive about,” Moreci concluded.
In the StarWars.com piece, Greene brings up an excellent point in terms of the message the movies send to the developing minds of our sons and daughters: “Star Wars is universal and for everyone. As my kids are fond of saying: There’s no such thing as ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys.’ We can all play with all the toys. Why not? The same goes for stories, characters, and fandoms in general. We don’t see Luke as a ‘boy hero’ or Leia as a ‘girl hero.’ They’re heroes. Period.”
Whether it’s Superman or the Dora Milaje, Harry Potter or Pippi Longstocking, Katniss or Luke Skywalker, psychologists agree that inspiring archetypes (and their scary supervillain counterparts) are a rite of passage and a healthy way for kids to explore and grow from the safety of their own home.
“Heroes show us a way to overcome life challenges through the use of a variety of character strengths and virtues,” says Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD., and founder of Roots of Action. “Their stories also show us that we cannot accomplish great things unless we open ourselves to being helped by others.”
Have your kids seen a Star Wars film or TV show yet? Tell us in the comments below.
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