Star Wars Goes Homeschool

Yes, I confess: I am a Star Wars fan. Although I did not have any interest in seeing the first film of the series when it debuted umpteen years ago, I was quickly converted by a trusted friend who took me to see The Empire Strikes Back and explained the vital parts that I had missed. I have since passed this legacy to my children, who are now bigger fanatics than I am — which brings me to the point of this article: Star Wars can be effectively incorporated into a homeschool curriculum.

If your family members are currently refreshing memories and storylines by re-viewing all the previous movies, and if your brooms and mops have broken handles from attempted light-saber duels in the backyard, you might as well accept the fact that Star Wars has already made its impact on your home. Star Wars can be studied as intensively as any other interest: find a bio on George Lucas or any of the actors; try drawing your own characters from another “galaxy”; study the military strategies of the various battles; build a model droid out of cardboard boxes.

Our homeschool co-op group held a Literature Fair a few months after Episode One debuted. The idea of a Literature Fair is similar to a Science Fair: students research a project and present a display on their chosen topic — a book, series of books, or an author, and the students were encouraged to come in a costume related to their display. My students were totally consumed at that time with the Star Wars phenomenon, since a new series of the films was being created especially for their generation, so, of course, it became their top choice for a presentation.

We purchased the book The Phantom Menace and my students each read it. Another family’s students joined forces with mine in this project who already owned multiple, well-read Star Wars novels. The table display included miniature pod racers built from K’nex, a wide assortment of Star Wars novels, and several books on the creation process behind the books and movies: character development, costuming, and the “science” behind how the weapons and starships are supposed to work. All together, it was an effective display showing the links between printed literature and motion pictures. Knowing that some members of our group would probably object to certain elements of the film, I urged my students to cover all their bases and “think big” — reasoning that a well-done project is hard to refute, regardless of its topic. My son and his friend (both age 13) had already begun a casual round of light-saber fighting, mimicking the “Duel of the Fates” finale, so we Moms encouraged them to choreograph their steps for precision and safety and perform their battle as part of their presentation.

Now we had to consider actual characters and costumes. My son volunteered to be the bad guy, Darth Maul, not fearing any consequences from assuming an evil persona for one night. Young Obi-Wan was a friendlier-looking character, especially when played by my son’s genial friend. My daughter (age 16) was nearly drooling at the chance to don any of Queen Amidala’s elaborate ensembles — which my sewing abilities forced me to scale waaaaay back.

On the night of the event, I did my son’s face paint at home (a scary transformation that caused even him to utter a brief whoa at first glance in the mirror), and we arrived extra-early at the venue so he could remain hidden while all the other families arrived and set up their displays. We announced that our students’ presentation included a short dramatic re-creation of one scene from their featured display, and asked any interested persons to take seats upstairs in the gymnasium in five minutes. My son’s appearance had still been concealed from public view up to this point, except for the young lady who accidentally bumped into him on a darkened back stairway. He was not expecting to meet anyone either, and they both gasped in surprise.

As the taped soundtrack began playing, Obi-Wan entered from a far door, twirling his blue light-saber (spray-painted metal conduit), and looking pensive. Suddenly, Darth Maul emerged threateningly from another door with his double-ended, red light-saber, and the gymnasium seemed to morph into a galaxy far, far away. The choreography had been rehearsed to near-perfection, the costumes were close enough to carry the mood, the harsh clashing from the weapons added authenticity, and the background music covered everything else. A few minutes later, my son lay on the floor in mock-death, while a young boy in the audience hooted and cheered and called my son by name, “Get up, Nathan! GET UP!” as if he needed to break the spell of the death scene. The boys performed their scene three times that night at half-hour intervals, as nearly everyone in attendance watched and cheered through all three performances.

Obi-Wan’s little sister (age 7 and dressed as handmaiden Padme) said she knew Darth Maul was really her brother’s friend, but she just could not bring herself to look at him. We had not anticipated the whole thing having such a realistic effect, so my son dropped his hood to expose his curly hair, knelt down, and talked gently to the smaller children who had been a bit fearful, showing his warm grin, and letting them hear his familiar voice and see that his face was just painted. Since Darth Maul does not smile in the movie, even a small smile was enough to break the effects of the character’s make-up.

We did not receive any verbal objections to the elaborate presentation (unless they were spoken behind our backs), but being the rebels that we are, we were ready with our defense: evil is portrayed as evil in the Star Wars saga; it is not sweetened up or cloaked in artificial goodness. As literature goes, Hamlet would not be the same story without the evil influence, nor would most other “classics.” Even the Bible, although truly more factual history than literature, has a truly evil villain.

The beauty of homeschooling is that we can shift our curriculum to meld with our students’ interests. If Star Wars is your family’s main interest right now, encourage them to investigate it more deeply, and use it to your advantage. It got my son’s nose into several books.

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