star wars countdown

Exploring the Real-Life Curriculum You Can Build Using Star Wars–Themed Lessons

You may have heard that the Force woke up on December 18. To provide an outlet for our excitement, we’ve assembled another Vulture Advent Calendar — in this case, 25 Star Wars–themed stories, one per day until Christmas. None of them will involve midi-chlorians.

There isn’t much time for education in the Star Wars universe. If you’re one of those lucky few with the right lineage, you might get shipped off to the Jedi Academy, where you’ll learn how to wield a lightsaber and not have emotions. If you’re a clone, you could be stuck in the permanent study hall that is Kamino’s research facility. But if you’re unfortunate enough to live past the era of the Jedi, or you’re stuck on an Outer Rim planet without hope that Liam Neeson and Yoda will wander by, you’ll have to teach yourself.

We may not live in the Star Wars universe, but we do live in a universe where Star Wars is ubiquitous — even when it comes to educational materials. With an array of textbooks, cookbooks, life guides, and so much more, kids could spend their entire childhoods studying Star Wars material and probably arrive at adulthood in decent standing. This is not an endorsement of that course of study, but if you’re so inclined, here’s a summary of the best Star Wars lesson books. It’s the Galactic Common Core, basically.

Pre-K and Elementary School:
Forget Mozart — start with John Williams in the womb. Then, once the baby develops basic verbal and hand-eye skills, move on to pre-K lessons. Pick up a handful of Star Wars Workbooks, which cover preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade. They’ll teach a little tot everything from basic shapes and colors to phonics and spelling. Thankfully in English, and not Yoda-speak, the lessons are.

As your child gets older, turn to the Star Wars: Jedi Academy books, which follow a young Jedi named Roan as he navigates middle school. According to one book’s blurb Roan learns “how to make a baking soda volcano, fence with a lightsaber, slow dance with a girl, and lift boulders with the Force.” To be fair, most middle-schoolers turn out fine without doing those last three things. Better safe than sorry, I guess.

After mastering basic operations with Workbooks, it’s time to move on to word problems. There are plenty of these online. Sure, the jump from long division to calculating the velocity of TIE fighters might be a big one, but every preteen Padawan has to start somewhere.

The physics of the Star Wars universe are a tad wobbly, so our education focuses on the practical sciences. Jump into The Science of Star Wars for lessons on astrophysics, robotics, and quantum theory. For further study, move on to The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons, which focuses on that galaxy far, far away. Need a detailed explanation about the climate on the forest moon of Endor? It’s in there.

For scientific practice, consult the Star Wars Science Fair Book. While all the other kids make boring dioramas, you’ll cream the competition by annihilating the planet of Alderaan. (Note: The destruction of Alderaan is not listed in the Science Fair Book, but an Empire sympathizer can dream.)

We start with basic reading lessons, from level one (World of Reading: Star Wars AT-AT Attack!) to levels three (Star Wars: I Want to Be a Jedi) and four (Star Wars: Beware the Dark Side). By that point, it’s time to jump into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, which chronicles everything that happens outside the film saga.

As of April 2014, however, the Expanded Universe is no longer part of the Star Wars canon, which means that all of our reading materials are fictional accounts within a fictional universe. This provides an essential lesson for starry-eyed Star Wars students about the meaning of fiction, truth, and the forces that dictate a literary canon — look, we’re already in a college lit class! And remember: It’s okay if you don’t understand the reading, so long as you’re good at pretending you do. Aim for a Natalie Portman look, not a Hayden Christensen one.

For those who want a study much more planned,
One author most inspired wrote a tome
Star Wars writ as if by Shakespeare’s hand
Through which th’intrepid mind can freely roam.
The writing here will give a good review
Of many kinds of verse, from strict to free.
To quote the line first said by cute Artoo:
“Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!”

Foreign Languages:
Though many students start out with Galactic Basic (a.k.a. English), they’ll soon need to get started on a few others. Here, you’ll have to rely on a phrase books and firsthand exposure to native speakers — which means watching the films and hanging around message boards. There are also guides for young learners, such as How to Speak Wookiee and How to Speak Droid, which may come in handy after the rise of the machines. (Or Wookies?)

Those who don’t study the lessons of the prequels are doomed to repeat them. Such is the basis for Star Wars in the Classroom, which offers  interdisciplinary insights into the ways Emperor Palpatine’s rise to power mirrors the early days of Nazi Germany. George Lucas has also argued that the series could be an allegory for both the Vietnam War and the Iraq War — it’s a very loose allegory — so we might as well include lessons in those conflicts, too. Hegel aficionados should turn to Star Wars and History, a collection of essays that compares the Star Wars universe to real-world events. Sample chapter titles include: “I, Sidious: Historical Dictators and Senator Palpatine’s Rise to Power” and “Excuse Me, Sir, But That Artoo Unit Is in Prime Condition: Economy and Society in a Galaxy Long, Long Ago.” They’re like TED Talks, but you don’t have to pretend to be interested.

Philosophy and Religion:
If you spend enough time in a fictional universe structured by unforgiving moral codes, you’ll probably want to create a few of your own. Start off with Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine, then drill into more specific schools of religion with The Gospel According to Star Wars, The Dharma of Star Wars, and The Tao of Yoda. The last of these features a translation of the Tao Te Ching with “Force” substituted for every instance of “Tao” (or way) and “Jedi” for “holy-man” or “sage.” It’s like how the prequels replaced every instance of “humor” with “Jar Jar Binks.”

For a broader approach to mythology, go back to Star Wars in the Classroom to learn about Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth. Campbell and Lucas knew each other well, which leads to epistemological questions about the creation of art itself: Who has the final say in a fictional universe? What does it mean to take control of another person’s story? (CC: J.J. Abrams.) Is it fiction if it doesn’t reflect the truth of our own world?

No textbook has the answers to these questions. Life is the textbook, man. [Stares off into space, pondering the infinite.]

The Star Wars education is more than a liberal-arts degree. There are practical skills, too. Learn to cook with The Star Wars Cook Book: Wookiee and Other Galactic Recipes (the Wookiee cookies are … chewy) and its sequel, Darth Malt and More Galactic Recipes. Serve up dessert with Wookiee Pies, Clone Scones, and Other Galactic Goodies, which comes with your very own Darth Vader and R2-D2 cookie cutters. And no event is complete without The Star Wars Party Book: Recipes and Ideas for Galactic Occasions, which offers six suggestions for theme parties, including “Kamino Camp-Out” and “Jabba’s Movie Marathon.” Here’s a tip: Beach parties are a no-go.

Arts and Crafts:
The ideal Star Wars education offers all the perks of Naboo’s finest finishing schools, which means it also features lessons in the craftier arts. (Though sadly, Changing Roles With Keira Knightley 101 is no longer on the curriculum.) The reading list includes The Star Wars Craft Book, Star Wars Mania, Star Wars Crochet, and Star Wars Origami. And proving that even devout Star Wars fans can keep up with the latest trends: Recharge from the stresses of life in the Milky Way with Star Wars Art Therapy.

Physical Education:
For self-defense: Sword Fighting in the Star Wars Universe: Historical Origins, Style and Philosophy. For plotting revenge when that fails: Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare. For lessons on team sports and the outdoors, look elsewhere.

Perhaps most essential to the Star Wars curriculum is the meta-study of economics: how supply and demand shape the market, and how the structure of capitalism imprints itself on cultural products. For an immersive study of these questions, read National Geographic Angry Birds Star Wars: The Science Behind the Saga, which explains the planetary science of Star Wars through the National Geographic brand with the Star Wars edition of Angry Birds. Why? Because capitalism. Why? Because someone played a game of corporate Mad Libs. Why? Because it’s licensing deals all the way down — and that’s the truest lesson of all.

Everything You Can Learn From Star Wars