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Summer SAVY Session 3, Day 5– Theory, Criticism, and The Force: An Academic Study of Star Wars

Posted by on Friday, June 30, 2023 in blog, SAVY.

Day 5:  Thank you, Students of Theory, Criticism, and The Force! Thank you for today’s session. Thank you for the week we’ve had. Thank you for expanding the greater study of Star Wars as a cultural artifact!

Today, we added several new lenses to our collection. We broke free of Structuralism and dove head-first into post-Structuralism, imagining the meaning of Star Wars from vantages varied and perhaps unexpected. We spent a good chunk of time on the practice of Historicism; by placing A New Hope in the cultural context of its release in 1977, we gained a new appreciation for the ways in which audiences of the time read the fantastical technologies, the diverse populations of the Galaxy, and the overall tone of a movie enjoyed by both young audiences and the young at heart.

We touched briefly on Cultural Studies and Gender Studies. It’s fairly stunning how few female characters are in the Original Trilogy, and still more stunning how seldom they speak! It’s interesting to examine how the text of a cultural artifact can seem to be at odds with its subtext, of how its form can defy its structures.

I am proud of the work students did during our section on Moral Philosophy as we applied both deontological and utilitarian solutions to a hypothetical concern. I know we all agree that bullying is a terrible thing and that it’s important to build spaces where people feel safe coming forward to protect their peers. Their solutions were ingenious, inventive, and – in many cases – ready for implementation!

We ended our week with a viewing of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Students’ final task was to consider this film through our various lenses and theories, including but not limited to:

  • Formalism
  • Structuralism, including:
    • Aristotle’s three-part structure
    • Joseph Campbell’s three-part structure
    • Blake Snyder’s three-part structure and Beat Sheet (the BS2)
  • Semiotics
  • Deontological Philosophy
  • Utilitarianist Philosophy
  • Post-Structuralist Theory
  • Historicism
  • Re-Historicism
  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies

Wow! Look at that list… Look at the number of concepts with which students grappled this week! I mean, we also got to enjoy a classic cinematic trilogy and a cultural touchstone, but let’s not overlook what they’ve achieved! And the really cool thing is: They can apply these lenses to any piece of content. Movies, books, games, plays, songs… They have a bevy of new skills, my friends.

As they talk with you about the work we did this week, some things you might consider asking:

  • The next time you’re watching a movie or a television show, see if you can break the story into one of our three-part models. Or see if you can break one of the stories within one of the stories!
  • Can you find some of Blake Snyder or Joseph Campbell’s most important structural beats in your favorite stories? How about the Call to Adventure / Catalyst? The Refusal of the Call / Debate? The Whiff of Death?
  • The next time you’re passing a mural, billboard, or a piece of public visual art, ask yourself what the Formalist would make of the artifact.
  • Similarly, ask yourself what the semiotic choices made by the creator of the artifact are meant to convey.
  • Imagine yourself ten or twenty years into the future. How do you think the world will be different? How will we relate to technology, politics, or one another? How will these different attitudes inform how we experience content and media?
  • Finally, there is the big question, the one we never did answer – though I don’t know that a unifying answer is to be found. And grappling with the question is the important part anyway: What does Star Wars mean?

One last thing, by request:

How to Play Pew! Pew! Pew! (condensed rules)

  • The game is played by a group of three or more, who stand in a circle.
  • Focus/energy is passed around the circle, using a combination of the following moves:
    • “Pew! Pew! Pew!”
      • You cannot Pew! Pew! Pew! whoever sent you the “Pew! Pew! Pew!”
    • You may use your lightsaber to deflect a “Pew! Pew! Pew!” with a “Schwong!”
      • You may not “Schwong!” a “Schwong!”
    • If a “Pew! Pew! Pew!” is sent to you by a person immediately to your left or right, you may respond with a Force Push. The Force Push sends the energy over your head and over the head of the next person in the circle (Person A). Play continues with the person next to Person A (Person B).
      • Person A may steal from Person B if they play a Vader (“I have you now!”).
    • A player immediately to the left or right of a person who receives a “Pew! Pew! Pew!” may steal with the Lando (“Hello, what have we here?”).
      • You may not Lando a Lando.
    • A player immediately to the left or right of a person who receives a “Pew! Pew! Pew!” may escape their place in the circle by playing Leia (“For luck!”) and swinging across the circle with the Active Player. Both players must sing the Force Theme as they swing.
    • A player may be put into carbonite with the Fett Maneuver (“Yer put into Carbonite!”). The frozen player remains frozen until they are freed with a Boushh.
      • Only one Fett Maneuver may be played within an Active Player’s turn.
      • A Fett Maneuver can be countermanded with an Obi-Wan – “That’s not the move you’re looking for.”
    • “Utinni!” is the Jawa Dance Party. All players must spin in a circle and sing the Cantina Band theme. Players in carbonite are released.
    • Game play ends with the Death Star.
    • Make the game your own. Have fun. And remember: It’s an infinite game, as so many of our games should be.

That is the way of things, my Padawan learners. Thank you for our time together. May the Force be with you, always.