Catholic educator Dr. John Senior wrote, “I have found a large plurality of students who find, say, Treasure Island what they call ‘hard reading,’ which means too difficult to enjoy with anything approaching their delight in Star Wars.” As true as this is nowadays, it does not mean that entertainments like Star Wars cannot be delighted in at the right time and in the right measure. Though people should not remain forever young, youth must still run its course. The propensity children have towards spectacle and sensation is a force to reckon with, for it is something that can either be harnessed towards nobler ends or repulsed towards the possibility of rebellion. Winning the hearts of children involves allowing youth to be young, while at the same time raising them steadily above the frivolities they cherish as children.

When faced with the enthusiasms of children in their care, there is a tendency in culturally-protective and traditionally-minded parents and teachers to give things like Star Wars the indifference it ultimately deserves. Though a case may be made for demonstrating a mature attitude towards immature attractions, a case can also be made in favor of holding them in some favor. Parenting and teaching involves a loving rhetoric, a persuasion towards the good, and being dismissive is the furthest thing from being persuasive.

With diversions as innocent and intoxicating as Star Wars, parents and teachers have an often-overlooked opportunity to thrill the hearts of children by permitting fun, accepting their interests, and reinforcing friendship. The adult responsibility is to lead and influence children while understanding that they are children, which often means giving them the freedom and sanction to be childish—including when it comes to swashbuckling space operas in a galaxy far, far away. Adults who care about what makes children happy will win their trust and loyalty.

It is surprising how much a common pleasure over something flimsy can serve as the base to withstand the pressures of a corrupt culture. Of course, there are boundaries in the youthful interests that parents and teachers can condone and share. Many things that draw the young deserve no quarter as they are intrinsically perverse or morally ambiguous. But Star Wars and its ilk are not ranked among these. Though banal, it is at bottom benign, and its popularity is a powerful platform for a mutual joviality that can lead to that mutual affinity essential in rearing, whether at home or at school.

St. John Bosco, that winner of souls, had a simple answer to the complex question, “What is the secret of education?” “Love the things children love,” he answered. Furthermore, he wrote:

Affection cannot be shown without this friendly relationship, and unless affection is seen there can be no confidence. He who wants to be loved must first show his own love. Our Lord made himself little with the little ones and bore our infirmities. He is our Master in this matter of the friendly approach. A master who is seen in the master’s chair is just a master and nothing more, but if he goes into recreation with the boys he becomes their brother.

Whenever John Bosco approached a child on the street, his conversation was invariably based on soccer, sweets, and juvenile politics. Only once confidence and camaraderie were given and gained through such lesser subjects was the saint able to teach boys the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a safe bet that if Don Bosco were at work today in America, he would be ready, willing, and able to chat with enthusiasm about Star Wars.

It is through affection that young people recognize that their parents and teachers desire their happiness and their good, and sometimes it takes a little allowance before obedience is won. Parents and educators who show enjoyment in topics like Star Wars are including themselves in the lives of their children and students, which builds fellowship and rapport. Furthermore, those who cheerfully concern themselves with what their children think of the silly features of fantasy have a greater chance of finding, in later years, that their children will in turn concern themselves with what their guardians think of the serious features of reality.

It is a paradox that silliness can make seriousness more achievable, and even things as specious as spaceships can provide a bond for bigger and better things. As John Bosco would say, “Join in the fun.” Without giving and sharing some ground, new ground cannot be gained. Unless you love what your children love, they may find it difficult to love what you love someday.

  • Justin

    I gotta say, I don’t even understand the basic premise of this article. Nobody has listed any actual complaints against the Star Wars franchise. And why is it necessarily just Star Wars? Is this one movie any worse than any other family-friendly movies? I think many people seem to be taking themselves a bit too seriously here. Just a few weeks ago, this site posted an article advising people to get back to “classic literature”. That article talked about the need for fictional models of heroism and adventure in our society. Does Star Wars not provide these? And one of the complaints in the other comment posted here was that it is a movie manufactured by Hollywood. Not to mention that this is guilt by association, and bears the logical fallacies of a sweeping generalization and a red herring, it also should be noted that, perhaps what Hollywood needs is more movies that are not, by their very nature, morally corruptive. Star Wars is also rooted in multi-generational tradition. My parents as kids went to see the first trilogy, I went to see the second trilogy as a kid, and i now have friends who are taking their kids to the third trilogy. This is America’s culture. And through out history, has Christianity ever come to entirely replace a native culture? Not in any healthy example, at least. That is how Islam works. Christianity when introduced to a culture, trends to simply weed out any attachments to evil or sin, and turn all else from the culture into something more beautiful as it becomes a tool for Christ.

  • Andrew (“Into the breach” in Phoenix)

    I am not a regular reader, and never a comment-leaver. I hope my response comes across as civil and thoughtful, and conducive of discussion; a reaction of ‘get your own dashed blog’ will probably be merited.

    I agree very much with the author’s general principles–that we must engage with our children (or our students) in the shared enjoyment of healthy enjoyments, recreation, and pleasures both benign and salutary. And I agree that a reactionary-sheltering Catholic parent’s response to “Star Wars” that would dismiss it as wicked, ‘un-Catholic’, or diabolical without really knowing what it is would be problematic, and that it could backfire (it depends on how comprehensive the ‘sheltering’ is).

    My suspicions are alerted, though, whenever I encounter a Catholic argument for embracing some enormously popular, multi-million-grossing, Hollywood-produced, pop-cultural phenomenon du jour. Arguments urging the faithful to go with the flow of the present worldly moment, even for evangelical reasons, ought to be scrutinized, I think–at least I want to look carefully at them; it doesn’t sound on the surface to me like “in the world but not of it”. If I’m going to err as a father, I think I prefer to err on the side of caution, and not on the side of just rolling with it, though the mean is golden, and my aim is to put my children on the path to sainthood over their whole lives, not to protect them from every possible sin right now.

    The key assertion in the essay is this one: “Star Wars and its ilk are not ranked among these (intrinsically perverse or morally ambiguous delights). Though banal, it is at bottom benign, and its popularity is a powerful platform for a mutual joviality that can lead to that mutual affinity essential in rearing, whether at home or at school.” It all hinges upon that judgment.

    Don Bosco’s examples of soccer and candy as innocent delights are of a slightly different kind than stories and swashbuckling sci-fi/fantasy epics. I don’t know what solid philosophical ground I can claim to stand on here, but I wonder if there is an inherent moral/ethical content to a film/fantasy story that makes it different from a Jolly Rancher: the latter gives a low, simple kind of delight, and its appeal is sensory and thus animal; the only badness in such delights comes in immoderation–enjoying them at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or in the wrong quantity. The soccer game occupies a somewhat higher position than the candy: its pleasures are in part physical-sensory, but they are also ethical–playing soccer requires the participation of our spirited, irascible part, and the love of sport and competition can turn into lust for victory and glory, and unrighteous anger at our competitors or teammates. There is nothing in the game itself that makes it a moral hazard, but if we play it with the wrong crowd–a bunch of foul-mouthed jerks, for example–playing soccer becomes morally hazardous.

    In apprehending a big, complex, exciting, swashbuckling story, it seems to me that our animal-sensory nature takes a smaller part in the experience than do our more humane faculties of imagination, sympathy, pity, fear, or vicarious delight (pardon my clumsy terminology–Aristotle has spoken much more clearly about what drama does to our souls than I possibly can.) The question about such a dramatic story or spectacle is not whether we enjoy it, but whether that enjoyment is ordinate and right; the key assumption here is that works of literature, drama, and art that depict human subjects always have an intrinsic ethical impact in addition to their ‘merely’ aesthetic qualities. Does the work portray noble characters and actions in a way that makes us take delight in them, or does it make goodness look unattractive? Does the work portray baseness in the right way, or does it make vice look appealing, exciting, harmless, or fun without qualification? If it does the latter, then it is in some way false, and its falseness means that it is failing aesthetically.

    (The author asserts that Star Wars’ only possible fault is that it is ‘banal’–I would ask whether highly stimulating and engrossing banality might be malignant rather than banal, for repeated immersion in banality deadens the soul, flattens the imagination, and dulls our love for higher things…)

    I believe that this fundamental principle, that works of art depicting human actions are never ethically ‘neutral’-is consistent with the classical-Catholic philosophy of art. If that principle is correct, then “Star Wars” must be judged, and not assumed or declared to be benign.

    Thanks for reading the comment to the end, if you did, and thanks to the author for a thought-provoking piece.

    (“Get your own dashed blog!”)