Thursday, February 5, 2015

Star Wars Across More Than Just Galaxies

Over the last few decades, millions all around the world have been captivated by the epic tale that spans out over 6 movies (so far) and 40 years. At the heart of the Star Wars story, the notion of childhood as a dark, difficult, and confusing time can be found initiating the battle between good an evil. Beginning with one child, Anakin, who leaves his mother to become a defender of the galaxy, the child perspective in this story reveals the sacrifices one might have to make in order to grow up and create a new and independent identity. Whether fans began in their own childhood with the first movies that popularized the story or whether fans are the children of these original fans, it can be said that even a third generation of Star Wars fanatics are being born.
The Star Wars world is captured beyond just the movies these days. When the second three part series of the movies were released in 1999, a large variety of children and young adult literature was published continuing the Star Wars story into a new generation. Well-known YA authors, Todd Strasser and Jude Watson, wrote for Scholastic’s Star Wars Journal series through which they were able to expose the story in a new light to younger readers. The Journal series enhanced the Star War story and main characters themselves by including short novels told from the perspective of the main character. Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars: Episode 1: Journal #1 published in 1999) was intended to touch on the childhood emotions of the young character. Anakin tells his perspective of what life was like as a slave and the reader gets to see into what he felt when choosing to leave his mother and home behind. The child tone narrating life before and after Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, and Padmé came into the picture grants a new sympathetic appeal to a man who becomes the galaxy's terrifying bad guy. Since children are often excused for wrong or rude behavior, the ability to see this bad guy character at an age identified with innocence gives a new spin to the whole story. The child perspective for Anakin's character appeals to young readers and fans because it is a scenario that is bound to one day happen; it shares the hardship and decision of leaving parents behind to become the adult they want to be.
Queen Amidala or Padmé was given another book from the Journal series that tells the story from a fourteen-year-old girl who is faced with the responsibility of caring for her home planet after its invasion. The feminine touch here adds an appeal to young girls because Padmé is a strong young woman who demonstrates agency in her position that can be more often associated with men. This grants authority, capability and desire for young teen girls trying to find their own voice. Her young character also demonstrates a more unisex political perspective that can broaden the scope of who can become a politician in the real world, while at the same time highlighting the sort of hardships and complications that may arise. Such an example would be the invasion of the Trade Federation and their assumption that Naboo would be an easy conquer solely because of her position as young teen queen. Her book from the Journal series captures her conflicting desires to stay strong and with her people, while at the same time the importance of her escape in order to save them ultimately showing the difficult decision she must use her own agency to make.  
These first person perspective books from some of the most famous child characters also exposed the beginning of the Empire's greatest love story. The first person narratives allow a close reading of their friendship blossoming while still needing to grow into their own adult identities. Also, the reactions of their first encounter together captures the hearts of young readers because it grants a look into the emotions these characters consciously work to understand. What is seen here then is how the story of Star Wars is one that begins as a child’s and young adult adventure to save worlds and bring peace to the galaxy. The child voice through this particular book series and others like it, expands upon child agency as the children are left to make their own choices and mistakes. Allowing childhood agency then to demonstrate a justification of why Darth Vader became who he is, makes the story about a man trying to save the women he loves, a once teenage queen who lived with him through the hardest decision of his life. The expression of fear and sadness Anakin faces leaving home to create his grown identity as a Jedi suggests that the child voice is something that was always crucial to the story and Darth Vader as a character.
Today the Star Wars story continues to be told in books meant for a younger audience. Author Jeffrey Brown created a series titled Jedi Academy also from Scholastic Inc., which follows the current children's book trend of graphic novel with a childish tone and silly images, a similar style to the popular Captain Underpants series. Chewbacca (known as Kitmum) is the P.E. instructor who offers advice to his student, but because he speaks in growls, his advice must be translated through the main character Roan Novachez. To convey the world of Star Wars, the child character Roan explains he wanted to be a pilot before being drafted into the Jedi Academy. Even though set in a science fiction world, the struggles he faces with teachers and friends as a child starting his journey into adulthood is still found. This series is told from Roan's perspective and still works to establish the familiar images of Star Wars but coming through a childish and captivating perspective. C-3P0 becomes T-P30 and R2-D2’s name is changed to RW-22 who still has to have his beeps translated by his faithful robot friend, bringing the classic Star Wars vibe back into the hearts of young readers.
Since Disney has announced the release of the first of the last three Star Wars movies later this year, it seems appropriate to stop and remember where it all started. Perhaps Star Wars captured so many hearts because of its childhood elements that construct the story it ultimately became. If this is the case, then it may prove that fantasy and sci-fi with a little child or young adult spark can increase its depth within our own memories of childhood. Or maybe what captures fans is that the evil that transforms Anakin from a sweet child into the ruthless leader might have not happened without the dysfunctional family he was miraculously born into or the one he creates. Regardless, this story’s journey from childhood in a futuristic world still captures the terrifying identity crisis of owning one’s agency in childhood and being left with the decisions made innocently that could be the cultivators of good or evil within the adult.


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