By Jason Metcalfe, Research Associate
Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham
Star Wars resonated with a worldwide audience, and there is no doubt this was due to the array of moral and spiritual elements present throughout the films.
For those out of the loop, May 4th is Star Wars Day, selected as a pun on the famous phrase of the series: ‘May the Force Be With You’. The date is marked internationally by fans who recognise and celebrate the existence of the franchise. It is important to note, the reasons why Star Wars Day came into existence and how films, like Star Wars, could be a potential medium for the development of virtuous language and behaviour in young people today.
Star Wars was first shown in cinemas in 1977, becoming a worldwide sensation and leaving a profound effect on popular culture that still exists today. The original film not only featured ground breaking special effects from a relatively small budget, but was unique in that it was the first in the science fiction/space opera western genre and introduced us to an immersive universe packed with new technologies, worlds, and memorable characters. Since the original film came out, it has been expanded on with nine additional follow-on live action films (including the forthcoming SOLO: A Star Wars Story) so it is perhaps, not all that surprising Star Wars Day came into existence.
Star Wars resonated with a worldwide audience, and there is no doubt this was due to the array of moral and spiritual elements present throughout the films. The original trilogy (1977-1983) focuses on the story of Luke Skywalker, a teenager from a farm who takes a stand against an evil empire whilst resisting the lure to join his father in ruling the galaxy. The more divisive prequel trilogy (1999-2005) contains a similar theme, showing the audience how the fear, anger, and hate of Anakin Skywalker were his hamartia, leading him down the path to become Darth Vader. Both protagonists in each of the respective trilogies experience a series of moral and spiritual lessons and face difficult decisions, which ultimately shape their destiny to make them either the saviour or villain of the galaxy far, far away.
The use of stories is a central part of character education, and research at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues on the Knightly Virtues project has shown the positive effects of classical literature on pupils’ ability to apply virtue language and concepts in personal contexts. Many of the research participants in this project displayed improved virtuous behaviour as observed by parents, participants, and teachers. Although, there is plentiful research that shows reading and shared reading are beneficial for young people, there is a need to understand whether it is possible to utilise films as a medium to enhance the virtuous language and behaviour of young people. This necessity for exploration is more pressing when we consider the resonance that films such as Star Wars have on the minds of audiences which inspires them to create a dedicated day of celebration.