Call this my twist on Star Wars in the Classroom for I write about my experience as a student, not an educator. The official group is one I admire and respect, a band of teachers who are dedicated to their profession and to using Star Wars as a tool to enhance their students’ learning. I’ve learned a lot from Star Wars, and I can’t think of a better way to relate certain concepts and ideas to the sponge-like minds of children of all ages. Last year, I was such a “child.”
Though I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh this past April, a year ago I was still a college senior, albeit a very non-traditional one. Well past the age of your typical student, I was in the third year of my quest to complete the degree I’d started over thirty years prior, a Humanities degree with emphases in Writing, Literature, and Religious Studies. It’s quite a Star Wars friendly cocktail of fields of study if ever one existed.
The first assignment for my Senior Seminar in Fiction Writing class last fall was an oral presentation about myself. Sounds like a strange task for such a class. The idea was to not only break the ice, a common theme during the first week of any college semester, but also to give the professor a snapshot of who we are as people. This, she decided, was the best way to begin her assessment of our writing abilities, to hear our stories from our own mouths.
A ham at heart, I love a good presentation, love to tell tales, so this assignment was right up my alley. As I stood in the middle of a circle of my 30-years-younger classmates, I began with a tune familiar to anyone reading this: The Imperial March. I allowed the class to take in its grandeur for a few moments, proceeded with, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…,” and then detailed the events that eventually propelled me back into academia. The release of each of the Star Wars films roughly coincided with significant occasions in my life. In the summer of 1977, I took a trip to Europe without my family as part of the American Youth Chorus, the youngest of the 150 plus members of the group. I grew up on that trip, or started to, just as in A New Hope, Darth Vader touched a part of me who began to look inward for the truth in who I would become, who I am now. I graduated high school in May of 1980, one week after The Empire Strikes Back’s release, and in 1983 I got married the same summer of Return of the Jedi. I mark those two occasions along with episodes V and VI. By the time the prequel trilogy burst onto the scene with The Phantom Menace, I was pregnant with my fifth child. I dragged my husband and four children to the theater to see the film, and they acquiesced to my request. Child number four, my only son, accompanied me to the premiere of Attack of the Clones in 2002, and we bonded over Count Dooku’s evil and the “really cool clones.” It was also at that time that I discovered the then-fledgling Hyperspace on starwars.com. By May of 2005 and Revenge of the Sith, my heart had been broken just weeks before with the loss of my lifelong best friend to a tragic car accident. I was ready to dive into Star Wars more deeply and desperately needed to explore my connection to it. I needed to write.
For me Star Wars has always been personal, a touchstone, a framework within which I can see myself and discover who I am and the person into whom I continue to evolve. As a student of Star Wars, I have learned much. As soon as the prequel trilogy allowed us beneath the black mask and into the heart of Anakin Skywalker, I found that I could relate to the saga’s characters on a much deeper level and that I was able to connect what dazzled me in the theater to the sometimes exciting, sometimes tumultuous and horrific events occurring in my own life. Though I’d been keeping a journal since age nine, I discovered that I can write my heart in a way that others could relate to and even enjoy. I get Anakin. I know him. I’ve been him. I’ll never commit the atrocities he did, but I have a Dark side. I know what it’s like to be the outsider. I can empathize with that uneasy feeling of sometimes wanting more and knowing I shouldn’t.
And I can write about it.
When I finally started blogging on Hyperspace, the writing I’d kept pent up inside me for most of my life, through marriage and five children, through birth and death, love and loss, exploded with a zeal I’d never before been able to express. With the misunderstood and troubled heart of Anakin as my inspiration, my writing was prolific if not necessarily masterful. Through the encouragement I received as amidalooine, I not only found lifelong friends and true acceptance, I also found the strength and the guts to apply to and go back to school. The diploma I gaze at as I type, is the direct result of my writing about the saga I love. A direct result of Star Wars. The friends I’ve made through my writing and through my college years…are a gift.
I ended my Senior Seminar in Fiction presentation with, “May the Force be with you.” I echo that familiar sentiment now.
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