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Why ‘Star Wars’ Endures From Generation to Generation

In a world of drop-offs, pickups, and competing tastes, 'Star Wars' still keeps my family from getting too far, far away.

When our two sons were younger, one promise I made to myself as their dad was that I was going to try my hardest not to influence their tastes. They were going to like what they wanted to like and I wasn’t going to force something on them just because I was a fan. That didn’t mean that there weren’t the occasional nudges in one direction or another. A suggestion of The Hobbit as a bedtime story, or slipping a copy of 2112 into the CD player on a long road trip. But for the most part, I really worked hard to try and let the boys become who they wanted to be in their own time and on their own terms. Then, when my older son was five, we were shopping at the market one afternoon. As we strolled up one of the aisles, he pointed to a box of fruit snacks emblazoned with an image of Yoda and asked, “Who’s that?”

“Well,” I told myself, “he did ask.”

Since then, as it probably is in a lot of homes, Star Wars has always been a cultural touchstone for our family, especially when my kids were younger. Catchphrases from “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” to the ubiquitous “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” were dropped into regular conversation; when the time came to dig deep, whether it was in homework or sports, the shorthand was often “Use the Force!” Even when they were sitting down somewhere and reaching for something just out of their grasp, the boys would often hold their hand out just a little longer, hoping maybe this time, the object would leap across the room into their waiting palms like Luke’s lightsaber. Part of me thinks they really believed it. Part of me believed it too.

But, as so often happens, times change and we all get pulled in different directions. Our kids are older now, with various activities, from academic to extracurricular to social, that keep them out of the house longer than we’d like. And they’re different people as well. Our younger son is an avid sports fan, our older son is not. Our older son is a rabid moviegoer, our younger son is not. But Star Wars remains the point on the “X” where their lives can still converge.

Case in point: last week, the Vikings and Bears met on Monday Night Football, with the promise that, at halftime, the new trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi would be unveiled. That meant that, for the first time all season, both of our kids were in the same room watching football together. It was unthinkable! One son watching football! The other excited for a movie trailer!

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Our younger son is an avid sports fan, our older son is not. Our older son is a rabid moviegoer, our younger son is not. But Star Wars remains the point on the “X” where their lives can still converge.

Immediately afterwards, we jumped online and purchased our tickets for the first show on Saturday morning, a yearly tradition that began two years ago with The Force Awakens and, with the planned release of new films annually, will likely continue with their kids and their kids’ kids long after I’ve become one with the Force. I think our younger son said it best when commenting on this rare merging of interests: “Star Wars is different.”

He’s right, Star Wars is different. How else to explain how a franchise that began when I was four (my mother covering my eyes when Obi-Wan lopped off Walrus Man’s arm in the cantina is one of my earliest memories) can still captivate a generation of kids who weren’t born even when the first prequel film arrived in theaters? The themes in Star Wars are primal and universal. Destiny, hope, dreams of something more and the confidence that, if you believe hard enough, you can accomplish greatness.

father and son in star wars attire

Perhaps more than any other film series, the concepts and ideas of Star Wars can be grafted onto our own lives and the lives of our kids. We can’t all be Dom Toretto driving a burning car backward across the finish line in a Havana street race, or Tony Stark screaming through the skies in an artificially intelligent exoskeleton. But at one time or another, we, like Luke, have looked into that distant sunset, real or metaphorical, and wondered what might be waiting for us beyond it.

There’s the key term in all this: growing up. Because, at its core, that’s what Star Wars is about. Leaving home, facing your destiny, making the right choices.

It’s unlikely that any of us will have superpowers conferred upon us, but we’ve all felt the conflict of Kylo Ren, wanting to forge our own identity and escape from the shadow of our parents (although, hopefully, we’ve all handled it a little more delicately than he did). Even the last line of the latest (and truly magnificent) trailer for The Last Jedi, reinforces this idea. Speaking (presumably) to Kylo Ren, Rey says, “I need someone to show me my place in all this.” Is there a better metaphor for growing up in today’s turbulent and increasingly uncertain time? Or any time for that matter?

There’s the key term in all this: growing up. Because, at its core, that’s what Star Wars is about. Leaving home, facing your destiny, making the right choices. Our sons are on the verge of that transition now, and I’m sure my wife and I will have a few more “Do or do nots” to throw at them before they walk out of our door for the last time. But I like to think that, as far away as they may travel, however much time might pass between calls or visits home, they’ll still make the trip back for that Saturday morning show.

kid playing with lightsaber

Just recently, our older son was talking about packing up for college and the inevitable downsizing of his belongings that would go along with that. As we talked about what could stay and what could go, he looked at me very seriously and said, “Just make sure you box up and save all of my old Star Wars stuff.”

“Of course,” I promised. “Why?”

Another look, this one incredulous.

“For my kids, of course.”

I smiled. The Force will be with us. Always.