‘Star Wars is for children,’ a critic claims. But are they correct? In this blog post, I will argue that the popular franchise has multi-generational appeal, but has recently been geared towards kids. I will trace the development and history of Star Wars from its conception to the present, Disney days.
What Does It Mean To ‘Appeal To Children’? & The Original Trilogy
Throughout the history of literature, there is a variety of media that is designed to appeal to children. From classic stories such as ‘101 Dalmations‘ to blockbusters such as Frozen, there is plenty of money to be made in appealing to children.
There is also the teenager market, often referred to as ‘young adult.’ Think about The Hunger Games, for example. A more complex example would be the Harry Potter universe. That started off as a middle-grade series, then became more adult as the series progressed.
Media that is often geared towards children tends to simplify complex concepts such as morality, science, religion and culture. As children’s brains are still developing, they do not possess the ability to fully understand intricate concepts. Therefore, children’s media can seem simplistic. This is dispute the fact it can be quite clever and unique.
However, we should understand that a series can appeal to both children and adults. Star Wars is a great example of that. Characters such as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are well loved by kids. On the other hand, adults love Alec Guiness’ Ben Kenobi, and may be interested in the moral philosophy that Yoda discusses.
That isn’t to say that only children’s media has simplistic morality. Also, just because a movie series appeals to children doesn’t make it for children. This distinction is important to make.
Star Wars is well known for its many toys. Whether it’s lightsabers, puzzles, video games or Lego, this has furthered the presumption that Star Wars is for children.
However, toys and merchandise are part of the marketing strategy of the movie. They may not represent the content of the movie. Also, toys can exist for a small portion of the fanbase. James Bond comes to mind, which is mostly an adult franchise. Honestly, the argument that Star Wars is for children because of merchandise is rather weak, but it is a rather common argument used.
Blending The Definitions & The Prequels
The Star Wars franchise is defined by its mass-market appeal. However, this was stiffled by the prequels. As divisive as those films were, they told the tragic downfall of Anakin Skywalker. Most notably, the prequel films got darker as they progressed.
The most ‘child-like’ of the prequels is arguably, The Phantom Menace. From the podracing scenes to the exaggerated Jar Jar Binks, Lucas has not forgotten the power of the children dollar. However, alot of the movie is defined by adult concepts, such as politics.
Whilst it’s certainly normal for children to have an interest in the world around them, I doubt you’d find one passionate about the economics of the Trade Federation. Lucas presents political science in a difficult and almost dry way. This gives flavour to the interpretation that the prequels were developed with an adult audience in mind.
Of course, the climax of this is Revenge of the Sith. Not only is that film insanely dark, and almost poetic in a Shakespearan tragedy sense, but there is a brutal and metaphorical scene of Darth Vader killing the younglings. It’s difficult to imagine that appealing to kids. ROTS is tainted with a melodramatic flair and style that is atypical of children’s media.
Of course, you could argue that children’s media has the potential to be dark. And that’s true! However, we should appeal to practicality. Very few companies and artists are going to make excessively dark stories for young children. Although I know plenty of young children that love ROTS, it’s not a movie ‘for kids.’
To conclude this point, the prequels exist to appeal to a niche subsect of SW fans. Simplistic definitions do not cut it. It is certainly valid for adult SW fans to believe that they are part of the target audience.
Disney, The Game Changer
Of course, when Disney bought the rights to Star Wars, things changed. The movies, particularly TLJ and TFA, weren’t dark like the prequels. In fact, they seemed to be like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. New additions, such as Porgs and BB-8, were designed to appeal to kids.
Because of that, I am arguing that the first six Star Wars films aren’t ‘for kids.’ However, the Disney era is. This makes some sense. Disney prides itself on ‘family-friendliness’ (whether it is, however, is another discussion). Also, it’s easy to believe that people at Disney believed that Star Wars was always a franchise for children. We can see that belief changing how Star Wars functions.
It’s interesting to see Star Wars fans, who have loved the franchise for decades, no longer be included as part of the target market. This is particularly offensive when you consider that SW fans have spent alot of money on toys, merchandise, books, etc.
It’s rather corporate and depressing: Star Wars is now ‘for kids, unless we can cash in on that nostalgia.’ This is because it furthers a damaging misconception that the first six Star Wars movies were also. It’s also used in a rather dismissive way, as if adults criticism towards SW does not matter. Because of that, ‘Star Wars is for children’ seems more like an excuse, than a statement of fact.
Before I wrap this post up, a disclaimer. Children’s media is not inferior to literature for adults. However, it is certainly stylized, developed and marketed in a different way. Because of that, I’d argue that such artistic and economic choices do not suit Star Wars.
I also did not consider the Extended Universe in this post, because of my lack of knowledge. However, the vast and intricate themes that exist within the games and books are easy for me to appreciate. I hope to do further research into Star Wars lore. This is despite Disney saying it’s no longer canon.
As Disney continues to alienate its fanbase, maybe it could benefit from understanding what made Star Wars great to begin with. Hint: it has little to do with toys and merchandise, and more to do with story and characterisation.
Until then, I’m waiting for a dark horse Star Wars film to rival Revenge of the Sith.
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