Last fall after the first day of school my son told me some exciting news.
“My teacher loves Star Wars like you Mommy!”
I can’t remember how he knew she liked Star Wars (although I think it had something to do with Kylo Ren) but it certainly gave me the impression she was going to be a great 3rd-grade teacher for our family.
In March my son’s teacher (who I’ll call here Miss V) surprised me with a question. Would I come and chat with her class about writing and Star Wars on Star Wars Day? By this point Miss V and I had shared several Star Wars stories and she was aware of both my love of Star Wars and some of the writing I had been up to over the last year. Before saying yes I checked in with my 8-year-old. Did he think this was an OK idea? His eyes lit up and he gave me a big hug when I asked him. So of course I said yes.
A few weeks before my April 3rd date with the 3rd graders (May the 4th was a Saturday this year) I spoke on a panel at Star Wars Celebration called “Covering Star Wars.” I was nervous about being on that panel for many reasons. It was my first Celebration, I would be sitting next to people who cover Star Wars as their actual job, I was the only woman on the panel, etc. Rather than give into imposter syndrome however I coped with my doubts the only way I knew how and sent my ego in the complete opposite direction shortly before the panel began. I knew there were people in the audience who wanted me to succeed (including my tween daughter) so I grabbed the seat in the middle of the table when I saw it was open, dived into every topic, and never looked back.
You might think this experience speaking in front of a few hundred (mostly) strangers would have prepared me for talking to 20 or so 8 and 9-year-olds (many I have known for years) about Star Wars in a very familiar school setting. But I’ve been around enough 3rd graders to know that they are not a forgiving audience and aren’t very good at hiding their true feelings. Unlike the audience at Celebration, these kids didn’t choose to hear me talk about anything and may very well rather be doing a great many other things than listen to me ramble on about Star Wars. Was I overthinking this? Sure. But I would rather disappoint a room full of Star Wars fans than a room filled with my child’s friends any day.
I’ll share right now that the biggest mistake I made during this day was worrying about what I was going to talk to the kids about. I should have been focused on what I was going to ask the kids. If I get the chance to do this type of school talk again I’ll do much less talking and much more listening.
When I arrived in the classroom my son introduced me and told everyone I wrote about Star Wars for Star Wars (proud Mom moment already). I explained to the kids that I wrote articles and interviews for StarWars.com and had my own Star Wars website. I then asked them the million dollar question. “How many of you are Star Wars fans?”
Since my son isn’t a huge Star Wars fan (he prefers Marvel and Minecraft) I was quite curious what the answer to this question might be. What if only two kids raised their hands? What if I got eye rolls from kids whose parents can’t stop talking about the plot holes in The Last Jedi at the dinner table? But I was quickly delighted to see almost every child (both girls and boys) excitedly reach their hand up in the air.
I started the talk off by asking them if they knew what Choose Your Own Adventures books were (yes, absolutely). I showed them one of Cavan Scott’s Choose Your Own Adventures Star Wars books. I got a few “oohs” from kids who didn’t know these books existed. We chatted about how I interviewed the author after I researched all the different books he had written over the years and how he told me about all the notes he had to make to keep track of all the different directions this story might go.
I knew the kids had recently done their first big research project at school earlier that year. (I know more about moose than I ever have before) So I brought out a variety of Star Wars reference books to show them and pass around. Books aimed at young readers, visual dictionaries of individual films, and the real winner – the Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia. The encyclopedia really seemed to make an impression on the kids and was the book most of them wanted to page through. I told the kids about how I tracked which facts I got from each book while I was researching stories and joked that if I spelled anything wrong in my articles Star Wars fans would let me know very quickly I had made a mistake. Anyone who has ever written about Star Wars knows how true that last part is.
The kids really seemed to get a kick out of the fact that adults make books that treat the Star Wars universe as a real subject you might research. And seeing the kids excitedly look through different pages reminded me of the encyclopedia set I paged through for endless hours as a child. Students are doing more and more of their research online, even in elementary school, but I hope their access to physical reference books remains steady. Since the reality for most schools however is an underfunded school library, I will encourage everyone to buy kids more reference books (and not just about Star Wars).
After the books had made their way around the carpet where the kids were sitting I showed them a copy of the middle-grade novel Cobalt Squadron. We talked about how writers sometimes make up new stories about characters from Star Wars films – in this case a Rose and Paige Tico story that took place before The Last Jedi. I encouraged them to write their own stories about characters from films and TV shows they love. Hopefully this will spark at least one or two of them to write a bit of fanfiction over the summer although I suspect many of them are already creating stories similar to this at home and at school.
At some point I also told them about my 365 Days of Star Wars Women project. I let them know how I learned so many interesting new things about women who worked behind the scenes of Star Wars projects even though I had been a Star Wars fan for over 40 years. (These kids may now think I’m really, really old).
We talked about what costume buyers do in a film (buy the pieces that make the costumes, not the finished costumes), how women were some of the people who sculpted models that became famous droids, and how even though Rio in Solo: A Star Wars Woman was voiced by Happy Hogan from the Marvel movies (news to many of them and a good attention grabber) that a woman who is a circus performer! played Rio on set. (Apologies to the parents whose kids came home asking to be circus performers.)
It soon became obvious from the increased wiggling and whispering that I had been doing too much talking and it was time for questions – which was of course ended up being the best part. The first question was a doozy “How do they get the lightsabers to work in the films?” Luckily I’ve watched enough behind the scenes videos to describe something that both made sense to the child and was overall fairly accurate.
The next question was the one I was really worried about being asked. Was it true that the man who played Chewbacca died yesterday? Not only was this a heart-wrenching question to be asked (Peter Mayhew had in fact died the day before) but several of the kids had not heard this news before this moment. I’m huge crier (Looking for Leia director Annalise Ophelian can confirm this as she has several minutes of me crying about Carrie Fisher’s death on tape) so when I heard a tiny gasp from one of the kids at this sad news I knew I might be in trouble.
All I could do was say that yes, this was true, how sad this news was, and how isn’t it true that everyone loves Chewbacca (which seems to be one thing literally everyone can agree on). Another child asked me about how Chewbacca made his noises (he had heard the actors couldn’t make that noise themselves) which prompted my son to share how Joonas Suotamo (the man who is currently playing Chewbacca) did a Chewie roar for him last year at a convention when we got his autograph.
I also let the kids know that the ABC news guy that does all the Star Wars reports (including one from the night before about Peter Mayhew their parents may have seen) lived in Denver – and wasn’t it fun that he lives so close by. So Clayton Sandell if you’re reading this you got an impromptu shoutout in my attempt to steer the chat away from something that was going to tear me up if I ever managed to stop talking.
I had several kids ask questions about who specific characters were in the books I brought (in one case the Praetorian Guards from The Last Jedi – understandable because they look so cool) or did I know they had this or that Star Wars book in their own house? Which I did not!
But my favorite question came from a girl sitting in the back of the group. Her question was more of a comment really (every Q&A has one of these of course) but hers was delightful. The girl told us all about how she loves Harry Potter and how everyone knows she loves Harry Potter and so everyone gives her gifts about Harry Potter every year. And recently someone gave her something Star Wars as a gift and “thank goodness!” because FINALLY she had something that was different than Harry Potter. At last!
Whether or not this girl even likes Star Wars is still a bit of a mystery to me but I loved her enthusiasm about not being boxed into one fictional universe by the adults in her life. As someone who has been gifted the same Death Star cutting board twice over the years I can also relate a bit. But I mostly loved how the fact that she was a girl who had been gifted something Star Wars was never mentioned. When I was her age that would most likely have not been the case. I honestly can’t imagine what it would have been like to have a female teacher who liked Star Wars when I was growing up as I struggled to find other girls to play Star Wars with on the playground and after school.
To close things out I handed the kids Rey 365 trading cards I had made to hand out at Celebration. While I wish I would have prepared my talk a bit more and asked the kids more questions it’s an easy win to off send your young audience with a freebie of some kind.
Before I knew it I was hugging my son goodbye. He told me I did a good job which felt particularly lovely since weeks earlier he had begged my husband to leave my Celebration panel shortly before it began because he was convinced it would be “very boring.” It’s hard to say what the kids took away from my visit for Star Wars Day but I do know I hope I have the chance to do this all again next year. And I wish that I could go back in time and tell 10-year-old me that someday I would know plenty of other girls who love Star Wars.