Like many, I use STAR WARS to make some complex ideas seem more accessible to students--in my case, to sophomores. The core tenets of our 10th grade curriculum are mythology and composition, and as the units develop, STAR WARS becomes a tool by which I address a few key concepts and skill sets:
1) The use of a pre-existing framework to make an argument. After starting the semester off with discussion of Christopher Booker's THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS, I move to Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH 1,000 FACES and, for the main assessment for the unit, assign an essay to the students in which they argue that Luke Skywalker fulfills that framework.
2) Essay organization. As Campbell's framework contains 12 steps, the students cannot hope to write an essay in which all 12 steps are addressed thoroughly (though it's totally possible at a later time, once they're better writers). By forcing them to choose three of the twelve AFTER they generate their thesis statement, they learn quite a bit about making the hard decisions in being critical writers by leaving a lot of what they WANT to write about in any given essay out, and focusing on including what they NEED to include in their argument.
3) The Collective Subconscious. We talk a lot about shared experiences and inclusiveness in my classes, and by allowing them to connect STAR WARS through some super basic Jungian theory to all of the stories they like--whatever stories they are--we talk about the shared experience of narrative and the human impulse to remand all experiences into narrative through language. I throw some super SUPER basic Orwellian theory about language and perception in there and the students start to get excited about the freedom to appreciate everything in its own way.
4) Cultural responses. This really came up this year with THE FORCE AWAKENS on its way, as J.J. Abrams really hit the post-9/11 concerns with STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. Even though there aren't enough details on Episode VII to get into that too much, one of the more savvy classes asked me to address how STAR WARS operated in that same vein after the Vietnam War and the other political moments of the late 1960's and 1970's. I'm really looking forward to seeing if and how TFA will fit into this sort of discussion in the coming year!
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