It often happens in preschool, or maybe early elementary. Your kid comes home from school talking about “lightsavers” and “Dark Vader,” and you're not sure what they're talking about, or what to do with their apparent newfound love. Welcome, Mom and Dad, to Star Wars.
This post is Star Wars basics for the parent who isn’t already a fan, aa 101 level class if you will. I you don't know what I mean when I say “midichlorians” and you don't know that the correct response to “I love you” is “I know,” this is for you. Read this post to get an overview of the Star Wars universe, and to learn more about what’s out there for your child and your family.
When talking about “Star Wars” it’s a series of eight movies (Episode IX is due in 2019) and a variety of books and TV shows. The movies are the origin of the universe, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on here.
Star Wars Movies
All of the movies, with their theatrical release dates, are as follows:
- Episode IV: A New Hope (AKA “Star Wars”) 1977
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back 1980
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi 1983
- Episode I: The Phantom Menace 1999
- Episode II: Attack of the Clones 2002
- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith 2005
- Episode VII: The Force Awakens 2015
- Episode VIII: The Last Jedi 2017
- Episode IX: *Title TBA* 2019
Movies that take place in the same universe, but are not part of the original saga:
There are differing opinions on the “right” order in which to watch the Star Wars movies, but here’s what we did for Max (and so it’s what I recommend)
When he was about four, we showed him “Star Wars.” It was just another movie to him at the time, the magic didn’t really click until a few months later, when we went to Disneyland and he went on Star Tours for the first time. There’s been no looking back since that moment.
From the start, our plan was simple: Get him hooked on the trilogy first (original theatrical releases please) before introducing the prequels and additional movies. (Jamie said that it was so he would “love the originals and have the correct opinions of the prequels” but I just think that the trilogy is enough for an intro, and it could be overwhelming if presented as the full collection right away.
The entire Star Wars story can be distilled down pretty simply: It’s the saga of the Skywalker family. Through three generations, the Skywalkers make their way through the world and battle the forces of good and evil (and sometimes both).
Many parents are concerned about violence in a movie with “wars” right in the title, but we have always been comfortable with how it's portrayed in the Star Wars movies. The weapons are blasters and lightsabers, so the injuries are generally bloodless or close to it. The fights and explosions that do happen are in space, and are not graphically portrayed.
You can find more in depth information about each movie over at CommonSense Media, but only you know your kids and can make decisions for your family.
This list is only the highest level folks that you need to be aware of; there are many additional characters that show up, to varying degrees, but this is the simplest listing of them and their role.
Luke Skywalker: When we first meet him, Luke is just a farm boy on the desert planet Tatooine. He goes on to learn the ways of the Force from Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, and is an important character all the way through Episode IIV, even when he isn’t onscreen. Famous one-liner: “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
(Princess) Leia Organa: A leader in the Rebel Alliance, from Alderaan, and she ends up being tied closer into the story than you might imagine. Famous one-liner: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”
Han Solo: Everyone’s favorite scoundrel and the pilot/owner of the Millennium Falcon. Han eventually becomes a valuable leader in the Rebel Alliance, and he’s besties with Chewbacca. Famous one-liner: “Never tell me the odds.”
Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi: Luke’s mentor in the first movie, who trains him in the ways of the Force. Famous one-liner: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Darth Vader: Very obviously The Bad Guy, a sort of bionic human hybrid. Once a heroic Jedi Knight, Darth Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force, became a Sith Lord, and led the Empire's eradication of the Jedi Order. Famous one-liner: “The Force is strong with this one.”
Chewbacca: Also known as Chewie, Han Solo’s BFF and co-pilot on the Millennium Falcon. Chewie is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. Famous one-liner: “RRWWWWGG.”
Yoda: Small and green. A powerful Jedi master of unknown origin, who is now as known for his mixed up syntax when speaking as his Jedi powers. Famous one-liner: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
C-3PO: A shiny gold protocol droid with a very proper British accent. Famous one-liner: “I suggest a new strategy, Artoo: Let the Wookiee win.”
R2-D2: An astromech droid and C-3PO’s buddy. Leia uses Artoo to get stolen plans for the Death Star to members of the rebellion, setting in motion the events of the whole trilogy. Famous one-liner: “Bleep bloop booop beep.”
Millenium Falcon: Han’s ship, which he won from Lando Calrissian in a card game.
The Death Star: A moon-sized, spherical space station capable of destroying planets with a concentrated laser blast. Used to destroy Alderaan in the first movie, as a demonstration of its force. Famous one-liner: It’s more the strong silent type.
Whenever you're in a universe that encompasses various planets and eras and species, you're bound to run into unfamiliar words. Here are some that pop up in the Star Wars universe. (Not all are in the original trilogy, but they're useful to know)
The Force: “Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”―Obi-Wan Kenobi
Mind Trick: When a Jedi-trained person is able to affect the actions of a weaker-minded person.
Lightsaber: The Jedi weapon of choice, characters have specific colors. Vader's is red, and Luke Skywalker's is originally blue, and is replaced with green later.
Jedi Order: A mystical knightly order in the Star Wars films, they're trained to guard peace and justice in the universe, using the Force.
Padawan: An adolescent Jedi trainee.
Sith: The dark side of the Force; Jedi = light, Sith = dark
Stormtrooper: The Empire's Army (bad guys) Dressed in white armor, they're masses of faceless fighters who happen to have terrible aim. Their uniforms change throughout the series, slight redesigns and updates, and there are later specialized Stormtroopers in black or even chrome, and the different uniforms and colors have different jobs. See also: Stormtrooper Variants
TIE fighter, X-Wing, Y-Wing: Assorted fleet vehicles
Force Ghost: When a Jedi Knight has died, he can still come back as a Force Ghost, seen several times in the series.
There have been documentaries made about the merchandise that's been made around the Star Wars franchise, so you'll have a plethora of things to choose from if you're tasked with buying a Star Wars-inspired gift for a kid in your life. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Light Sabers: They're available in many versions and at many price points, from a <$10 green Luke Skywalker saber to a $300 Obi-Wen Kenobi replica, there's bound to be one to fit your budget. Color is important; each character has their own color, so don't think that you can grab a red lightsaber to go with your child's Luke Skywalker costume! Later movies (post original trilogy) sent more into design, with Darth Maul's double-ended one, and Kylo Ren's crosshilted model.
Star Wars LEGO sets: Again, a huge range at every price point, starting as low as around $10, for the excellent Microfighters series, to the high-end Ultimate Collectors Edition Millennium Falcon, which rings in at just under a grand.
Books: There are many Star Wars books available, but some of our favorites (Max recommended) are the Jedi Academy series, the Wookiee Cookies cookbook, the Visual Encyclopedia, Star Wars Galactic Maps, and Absolutely Everything You Need to Know about Star Wars.
Shirts: Thankfully, as the universe has become more inclusive, the options for clothes has expaned dramatically. You can find lots of sweet dresses, frilly pink Chewbacca shirts and more for the twirly-skirt lovers in your life, or you can go for the more traditional styles, the standard red, black and blue and boxy-cut tees.
Like I said above, only you can make decisions about what's best for your family. You could easily only watch the original trilogy and that could be enough… even now, six years after first seeing Star Wars, Max's favorite of all of them is The Empire Strikes Back, and he doesn't really care for the prequels. The TV shows are fantastic, and absolutely worth checking out. The Star Wars universe is gigantic and diverse, and wonderful, and we're so glad that you've decided to dip your toes in. May the force be with you!