How to play Star Wars

December 21st, 2015

The Force Awakens has a message for you, and it’s about toys. Now, that sounds cynical, but believe me: it’s really kind of wonderful.

The Force Awakens - Kylo Ren, Poe Dameran, Finn, and Rey figurines standing in tableau.

Playing with Star Wars: are you doing it right?

More specifically the message is about how you choose, and how you encourage your kids, to play with toys. And believe me, the movie has opinions about it. Since the very early days of the franchise, Star Wars has had a deeply enmeshed relationship with the little plastic figurines that accompanied it into the world. Sure, they were a major source of income for LucasFilm, but in an entirely unexpected way they also became the primary medium in which Star Wars was experienced.

I was seven years old when The Empire Strikes Back was released, too young for A New Hope on release. Back then there was no way to access the movies on any kind of demand. You had to wait for the networks to screen them on television. And at that age, with commercial breaks included, those films always ended way past my bedtime. So I had never seen the original movie back in 1980. But by the time I went into the packed cinema with my best friend and his parents to watch the second film, I had been immersed in that universe for many years. I cherish clear memories of scuffing friend’s borrowed Star Wars toys around in the dust against the back fence of my pre-school yard, enacting battles with their un-bendable arms, and losing forever their tiny black phasers. I had never seen a frame of the first film, but when I sat down to watch Empire,  I knew ever one of them. I had fought countless battles alongside Han and Leia, flown X-wings with Like and R2, and watched C3PO battle fiercely with Darth Vader. (My understanding of the exact events of the story might have been a little confused. But it was a golden robot fighting a black robot – it was pretty clear who was the good guy.)

In a very real sense, the figurines have become the single largest screen on which Star Wars is seen by its audience. And even with the advent of the VHS, the DVD, and Streaming on Demand, that remains the case. Kids will play for hours on end, dancing through galaxies far, far away with the villains and heroes of their imagination, far in excess of any hours they could possibly spend watching them on screens. This will be true for the new films, as well.

The Force Awakens wears its heart well and truly on its sleeve. Everything part of it is a love letter to the original trilogy, and J.J. Abrams makes no bones about it. And at this point, the obligatory warning: Here be Possible Spoilers. (Although seriously, if you didn’t get out and see it on opening weekend, then don’t get too upset. The Statute of Limitations on this is rapidly expiring.)

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No seriously, the guy is shameless.

After playing with today’s Google Doodle, I found myself inevitably drawn to Youtube, to find a good quality version of the full piece of his most famous work, the 9th in D Minor. I slipped my headphones on, settled in with a design task I had to spend a good hour and a half on, and let it start washing over me.

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