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“Use The Force" to Teach Communism: Drawing Connections Using Star Wars

written by: Sarah Degnan Moje • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 3/10/2014

If your students know history, they should easily be able to make connections between the film Star Wars and the rise of communism in Russia. Make history more interesting for your students by exploring the science-fiction film genre.

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    No unit on Science Fiction and Fantasy would be complete without a visit to that galaxy far, far away. However, what upper level students may soon recognize is that the far away galaxy ruled by an emperor and controlled by his army, where everyone is under the control of The Empire, is really not so far away after all. High schools students who have some previous knowledge of the Cold War and Communist Russia should be able to make connections between the struggle between the rebels and the Empire in the film Star Wars.

    star wars ver8 xlg Making Connections

    The shadowy Emperor, the robotic-faced Storm Troopers, the building of the Space Station, and even Darth Vader himself are all highly symbolic of aspects of what transpired between the United States and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War and the rise of Communism. Did we not worry that Russia would take to the stars before us, building massive space stations that could use missiles to destroy countries? And does the newly built Death Star in the film not blow up Leia’s entire country with one push of a button?

    The rebels, are they not motivated by the same sense of equality that motivated brave German people to climb over or under the Berlin wall, even at the cost of their lives? Han Solo, a reluctant member of the band of rebels, symbolizes countries who were against communism, but unwilling to get involved in actively stopping its spread. And what of Obi Wan and Darth themselves? Light and Dark. Good and Evil. Both using that mystical force to their advantage, each trying to outsmart the other and make sure that their way of life prevails. If the United States and the U.S.S.R. could be transported to that galaxy, far far away, then they would become the ultimate Obi Wan and Darth, each character representing the ideals of each country.

    The film is a classic sci-fi adventure, for anyone who loves the genre or who is just getting to know the genre. It is also an excellent way to have students visualize what happens when two different sets of ideals and government beliefs each try to circumvent the other. It is a stunning display of how small groups of people come together to fight oppressive regimes and how, at times, they succeed. Download the PowerPoint that explains the symbolism of “the Force", the PowerPoint that introduces the film, and then show the film and use the test as an assessment tool. The writing assignment within the PowerPoint will help you to assess each student. After this lesson, “the Force will be with them, always!"--and they will understand the rise of communism.

    Students can read a 1977 review of the movie on the NY Times website.

    Introduction to Star Wars PowerPoint (Google doc)

    Star Wars Film Facts PowerPoint (Google doc)

    Star Wars Test (Google doc)


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Film Genre Study: Sci-Fi / Fantasy

Teaching a class on film is not just a throw-away elective. Popular movies often make references to history or the state of the culture at the time. Use 'The Wizard of Oz' to teach about the Great Depression, or 'Star Wars' to teach about the rise of communism with this series.
  1. “Over The Rainbow To The Land Of Mordor!" The Escape Into Sci-Fi and Fantasy
  2. Heading “Over the Rainbow" to Escape the Depression with 'The Wizard of Oz'
  3. “Use The Force" to Teach Communism: Drawing Connections Using Star Wars
  4. Teaching Transcendentalism Through A “Field of Dreams"
  5. From the Shadow Filled Depths of Mordor Emerges a Love of Reading

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