The ultimate dream of an educator is to find a way to marry high and pop culture, to make a dense and often arcane syllabus both accessible and exciting to students. In pursuit of that dream, an educator can lose sight of their true purpose – to teach the material they have been hired to teach. It is clear to me now that my Star Wars electives failed to meet the academic standards of the Northwestern University English department. Therefore, I am tendering my letter of resignation, effective immediately.
How naïve I was back in July, when I first concocted a Star Wars elective. “The monomyth,” I said to myself, “We can discuss Joesph Campbell, and how Star Wars is a re-telling of a tale as old as time. That's a great hook, Ronnie.” I sipped my cabernet sauvignon and “Star Wars: A Campbellian Narrative” was born.
It was a success: the class sold out. As a professor of 17th century British literature, I had never had a class sell out before. Instead of teaching to seven overachieving honors students, three of whom will drop out two weeks in, I was teaching in front of a packed lecture hall, two hundred and eighty students deep. The power I felt was like heroin, or to use a more apt metaphor, the Dark Side of the Force.
But where was I to get my next fix? I created another elective, “Princess Leia's Gold Bikini and The Troubling Male Gaze.” “Star Wars will lend itself to a discussion of feminism in literature at large,” I said to myself. But when I showed the gold bikini scene in class, I could tell the entire lecture hall was just there to watch Star Wars. Despite my instincts, I gave the students what they wanted and we watched all of Return of the Jedi. “We can talk about feminism next class,” I said. But as you can suspect, next class never came. We watched Return of The Jedi fourteen times. There was no final exam.
That would have been enough to lose my job. But like Anakin Skywalker, I would do anything to keep the thing I loved most from dying. “Midichlorians: The Science Of Faith” was an admittedly flimsy premise to discuss the philosophy of religion as it pertains to fiction. That semester, I didn't even show a Star Wars movie, only that one midicholrian scene from The Phantom Menace. You have to understand how long and hard everyone laughed the first time I played it. The only students who showed up past the third week were clearly high.
I had to get my mojo back. “Han Solo and the Loveable Rogue: A Study of Scoundrels, Ruffians, and Hookers with a Heart of Gold” had promise, but we ended up just watching A New Hope and Empire. The papers I got were all about other Harrison Ford characters. Worse, students called them Han Solo. Do you know how depressing it is to read about Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom when the student refers to Indiana Jones as Han Solo? Or a paper on Blade Runner where the first sentence is, “Can Han Solo pass the Voight-Kampff test?”
Next semester's “Obi-Wan Kenobi and Other Ghosts of Fiction,” was an unmitigated disaster. I don't even know what I was trying to do with that one. I guess I thought we could talk about Hamlet, but instead, I showed up to each class dressed as Alec Guinness and spoke only in Star Wars quotes. Again, you have to understand how hard people laughed the first time I did it. It was obvious the only students who kept showing up were there to witness a once-great professor of 17th century British literature self-destruct. “These aren't the droids you're looking for,” is mildly amusing the first time you say it; less so when you are repeating it to the English department chair who is observing your class due to a plethora of student complaints.
I am sorry to the Dean of Students, my fellow professors in the English department, and the parents, family, and friends of the student body. I sincerely hope you do a better job of enriching young minds than I did. I'd like to apologize specifically to my wife Kathleen, who canceled her freshman biology seminar to come and tell me the odds of these Star Wars classes succeeding were infinitesimal. You can probably guess my response, and you can probably guess how great the students' tepid chuckles made me feel.