Star Wars Goes to School

The Star Wars franchise is a cultural juggernaut.

Tens of millions of people (of all ages) have spent months hyping its newest installment, “The Force Awakens.”

But did you know that Star Wars has gotten considerable attention from educators, too?

Frank Witte, an economics professor at University College London, has spent the past three months teaching a not-for-credit course on the two existing trilogies. His lectures examine both our universe and the one that George Lucas created in the 1970s: the movies’ cultural legacy, the series’ narrative structure (which he and others liken to ring composition — an organizational scheme used in ancient texts like the Iliad and the Bible), the economic principles of the Trade Federation and its real-world analogs, religious beliefs and practices (the light and dark sides of the Force, stoicism, prophecy), identity and parenthood, and technology.

Another one-off, zero-credit course — called Feel the Force: How to Train in the Jedi Way — was offered at Queens University Belfast. Its instructor, a psychology professor, aimed to cover the behavioral principles underlying the Jedi mind trick (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”) and belief in destiny. He noted in his announcement of the course, however, that lightsaber training would not be on the lesson plan.

Sure, these Star Wars classes sound fun, but none of them count for anything, right?

Wrong. Some students have been lucky enough to take college classes on Star Wars ... for credit!

At Adams State University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, for example, professors dissect Anakin Skywalker’s character through a psychoanalytic lens, discuss the mythological bases for the series’ symbols and conflicts, and ponder the ethics of building an army of clones.

Even if you’re not in college yet, you’re not out of luck.

Other Star Wars–savvy educators have created a website called Star Wars in the Classroom, which provides lesson ideas for using the series to teach K–12 subjects like social studies (learning the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship through an examination of the Galactic Senate and the Galactic Empire), language arts (identifying plot events, conflict, and other structural elements of the story), citizenship (discerning how to live selflessly and in harmony with the environment and with others — like a Jedi knight), and science (simulating gravity, space travel, robots, tractor beams, and articulable artificial limbs, to name just a few).

For students of all ages, the immortal words of Yoda can serve as a guide: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Wondering about what education was like in Star Wars? Check out The Star Wars Ministry of Education and Edutopia for further reading.

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