Star Wars

by Keith R. Underhill

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.......

Queen Amidala, Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn, have this summer, joined the ranks of the ‘Star Wars’ greats; as George Lucas continues to weave his mythical, magical spell, with the release of Episode 1 of the Star Wars saga, ‘The Phantom Menace’.

‘Star Wars’ mania is again at its height. Whilst not ‘religious’ the ‘Star Wars’ films do have an underlying ‘spiritual’ element which can be used as a connection or link, into the whole area of Religious Education. ‘The Phantom Menace’ for example, has issues around a virgin birth and the long held anticipation of the promised one.

Last October as part of my Sabbatical I went into Fullwood Primary School to do some work with year 5 on how faith stories compare with modern day stories and myths. My theory which I wanted to put to the test, was quite simple. Could well told faith stories stand up to the likes of ‘Star Wars’?

After spending some time talking about myths in general and what kind of things you would expect them to contain; hero figures, a journey or quest etc, we watched ‘Star Wars’ episode IV, ‘A New Hope’. A questionnaire was then completed by the children. This asked for their comments on the film using 5 key questions, which were on a sliding scale of 1 - 10, 1 being the lowest score possible. How much did you enjoy this film? Do you think this film was well made? Did this film hold your attention & keep you interested? Given a chance would you like to see this again? Has seeing this made you want to find out more about the story?

They were also asked to identify their favourite and least favourite characters and give reasons why.

As a class, we then looked at three other videos. These were the faith stories which were going to be put to the test. Tony Robinson telling the story of David & Goliath; Joseph from the ‘Testament’ animated series; and Caught at the Crossroads from the ‘Story Keepers’ series were used.

After each video the same questions as for ‘Star Wars’ were answered out by each child. Class discussion followed the viewing of ‘Star Wars’ and each of the other three videos.

It was very obvious from the class discussions that the children were able to make the necessary links between ‘A New Hope’ and the other three videos, showing their understanding of the issues raised in these stories. They were able to reflect on these faith stories, making the necessary links between then and now, the story and its implications. In many instances their comments were profound and perceptive.

Seeing Joseph and Han Solo as being similar. ‘First of all Joseph didn’t like his brothers and they didn’t like him and then you could say the same about Luke Skywalker and Han Solo - but after it Han Solo came and saved Luke Skywalker and Joseph came and saved his brothers’

How Samuel and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi had similar tasks. ‘Both Ben and Samuel call their reluctant heroes to the task that lies ahead of them’ and that Ben and Samuel taught the young men all that they knew’

The reasons for their favourite and least favourite characters were also very interesting:- When talking about Darth Vader being their least favourite character, ‘he never shows his real face’. When explaining why Benjamin in the story of Joseph was their favourite; ‘he always missed his mum though he never met her’.

The final part of the project was to get the children to write their own story or myth. Many of the characters used in the film and videos were used as well as new ones created by the children. These stories showed how much the children had not only understood but had also enjoyed this work.

As for the results? The three faith stories used scored very highly in the questionnaires. In most instances only being a point or two behind ‘Star Wars’ and on one particular occasion, actually outscoring George Lucas’ film!

My experience with year 5 from Fullwood Primary School, has supported my theory and proved that well told faith stories can indeed survive into the new millennium and beyond. Faith stories can stand on their own feet and go forward with confidence.

For no matter how sophisticated, or technologically advanced we are or become, there will always be a place within our beings that needs the ‘story’. For stories can move, challenge, excite and transform us. They can take us from the ordinary, humdrum existence of life and lift us to the very gates of eternity itself.

We must never underestimate the power and force of the story. For ‘Religion begins with the sense of wonder and awe and the attempt to tell stories that will connect us to God’ (1)

Keith R. Underhill
Methodist Minister
9th September 1999

If any other school would like to put this to the test, I’d be only too happy to come along and repeat the exercise with them!

(1) Bill Moyers, 'The Power of Myth', Doubleday, 1988 p.141

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