Star Wars is not just a favorite past time of me, but in wide parts of the world it is a narrative which has produced characters that have become household names and one-liners that are sometimes so common people don’t even realize where they came from. With a new film coming up in this franchise and the expectation of a significant (positive or negative) hype around its release in December 2015 there is every reason, for those who enjoy doing so, to take a closer look at the stories in, the stories about and the stories behind the cultural phenomenon Star Wars.
As a result of that I will be “teaching” a zero-credit and totally optional Star Wars class this fall at University College London. Although only local students are actually able to register and enroll, people who are geographically near are welcome to contact me about dates, times and the availability of spaces if they want to attend. We are at the moment arranging for classes to be recorded so that I could make them available on YouTube for those who would like to engage but are unable to. To give you an idea of what we are going to look at, please have a look at the preliminary weekly programme below. I expect classes to start in the week of October the 1st with hopefully the online availability of the edited videos within a week of each class itself.
I am trying/hoping to create a possibility for a more interactive online engagement with this course. If you would be interested in that then please leave a message of your interest in the comment section and I will get in touch with you. If you have any other comments, or would like to contribute then also please contact me.
In this week I will first give you an overview of this ‘module’ as well as the informal ‘certificate’ that you get upon completion of it. But then we will explore in which way the 6 Star Wars films to date have reflected, and were influenced by, the times in which they were made. In that exploration we will also spend significant time discussing the history behind these films, the fact they were truly ‘independent movies’ as well as the publicity (backlash) they have received over the years.
2. The Narrative Structure & The Ring Theory
In this week we will focus on the Star Wars story as displayed in the first 6 films as well as in The Clone Wars animation series. We will discuss the extent to which this is an a-literary narrative, what ‘visual story-telling’ is and which role it plays. Finally we will come to explore a recent proposal regarding the way we should look at the Star Wars narrative, the so-called Ring Theory put forward by Mike Klimo.
What restrictions and difficulties would interstellar travel impose on economic activity? Does Einstein’s theory of relativity have any implications for Economics? We will start off with contemplating some real-world problems that a society faces if its economy expands unto a galactic scale. Then we will turn to the descriptions of the economic agents and institutions that we are given in Star Wars and ask ourselves whether they make sense. Do they merely ‘serve the narrative’ or are they actual solutions to practical problems?
4. Power in the Galaxy: Republic, Empire and the Underworld
The Star Wars stories display many different forms of government ranging from the creative diversity of the Republic through the existence of a vast ‘Underworld’ and ‘Outer Rim’ to the mono-ethnic hierarchy of the Empire. We look at the ways in which beings in the Star Wars galaxy organize themselves, probe what the point of view the story takes on this and ask ourselves which choices these beings have in organizing themselves on such a vast scale.
5. Justice & Peace: Peacekeepers, Death Stars, Pirates and Bounty hunters
Almost every character of influence in Star Wars claims to serve the goal of distributing Peace and Justice throughout the galaxy. We can follow the attempts to achieve these noble goals by methods ranging from giving this task to a small band of religiously motivated volunteers to appointing technocratic managers of ‘order’ with weapons of mass-destruction at their disposal. We also look at those who operate on the fringes of the law: the pirates and the bounty hunters.
6. Identity & Individualism: Clones, Stormtroopers and Slavery.
The ‘good guys’ utilize an army of Clones bred for war, the bad guys put up with an army of droids and finally the very bad guys draw regular conscripts into their forces. At the core of debate about these are issues of identity, individuality and freedom. We will go through a wealth of material from especially the Clone Wars series in which these matters are addressed head-on.
For many Star Wars, and most of the similarly looking franchises, are just flat good v.s. evil stories. The first thing we study this week are how the notions of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ are used in the Star Wars narrative and how they do not fully overlap with out traditional notions of good versus evil. In particular we will seek to illustrate and debate this on the basis of exploring a few subtle and complicated key characters: Obi Wan Kenobi, Assajj Ventress, General Grievous and Luke Skywalker before we turn to the Jedi v.s. Sith contrast as exemplified by Master Yoda and Darth Sidious.
At crucial points in the Star Wars saga a theme is picked up which is also present in, for example, the Lord of the Rings, that of the tension between Nature and Technology. It is one of the defining themes in the 20th and 21st centuries and it will be interesting to see what such stories tell us about how people view this theme. We will look at the roles of peoples, such as the Ewoks and the Gungans in the story, their perception and reception by the broad public but also at individuals from those peoples such as Wicket and Jar Jar Binks.
In our penultimate meeting of this term we wil focus on the key character of the entire 6-film saga so far. By this point in time I expect trailers and teasers will also have revealed a lot more about this characters impact on the upcoming films as well. We follows Anakin’s path of choices from his early childhood to his death and ask ourselves which ‘games’ have been played with him. We will pick out several crucial choices he has made and ask ourselves whether he has been operating as a ‘rational agent’ or whether ‘animal spirits’ have been at work here.
10. What’s next: The Force Awakens
By the time we get to this class the premiere is probably just a few days or hours away. So time to speculate on the basis of all we have covered in the past 10 weeks about two main topics: (1) Is the continuation of the Star Wars series going to have an impact comparable to the previous two trilogies and (2) what on Earth are 7, 8 and 9 going to be about.
There will be a little bit of preparation to do prior to every meeting/class (some video-watching & reading) and there will be a little bit of assessment & homework. Those who have the stamina and interest in doing that properly will be awarded a certificate of completion and a grade.