Star Wars - A Galaxy Here and Now

Teacher:  Ray Mathews

Ages:  11-15

Mat Fees:  $30

Class Fees:  $240 or $230 if taking 2 or more classes per quarter


The first Star Wars film in 1977 started a cultural phenomenon unlike anything else in living memory. The characters, the music, and the iconic lines are almost universally recognizable around the globe, and the course of film history has been forever changed. But what is it about Star Wars that has made it resonate so strongly with so many people?


This course will explore that question through analysis of film and literature as well as studies of history, politics, philosophy, and more. The goal is to look at Star Wars with fresh eyes and through a complex critical lens, and in doing so develop the skills needed for critical analysis of any cultural work in a fun and accessible way. To understand Star Wars is to understand the culture that creates Star Wars, and the culture that Star Wars creates.


The three eras of Star Wars films represent three distinct periods of American history and politics, and as a result the series illuminates major cultural shifts over the past 40 years. Therefore, while following as many cultural threads as possible, each quarter will focus on a specific period of history, and we will explore the ways in which each set of Star Wars films belongs to its historical moment.

  • In the Fall Quarter we will consider the original trilogy of 1977-1983 as media of the Cold War era, and explore the ways in which the shifting political landscape of Cold-War America affects a fictional world largely driven by its sense of morality.

  • In the Winter Quarter, along with the major themes continued from the first quarter we will examine the relationships between Bush-era America and the prequel trilogy’s depiction of the Republic.

  • In the Spring Quarter we will discuss how the latest Star Wars films and the phenomena surrounding them reflect the unique cultural landscape of our own time.

NoteThis is NOT a politics class, so we will not be debating the whether each administration was addressing the complexities of the times appropriately.  Rather, we will be analyzing the movies and stories themselves, and how they related to each period of our history.


Along the way we will analyze not only the movies themselves but also the novels released alongside each film, texts from the Star Wars “expanded universe,” comics, cartoons, commercials, fan films, and more. Since a vital part of the course is watching the films with a critical eye, I will ask students to watch at least a few specific scenes of each movie (or, in other weeks, complete the assigned reading) before we discuss it in class, and write short paragraphs connecting those scenes to the themes we have been discussing. This means that students who are not already intimately familiar with the Star Wars universe are welcome!


Since we will be dipping into a variety of academic fields throughout the year, term projects will enable each student to choose an area of study they enjoy and pursue it in depth. Our final group project for exhibition will be a short film informed by the year’s discussions and projects.