Woodland Middle School students study the original Star Wars trilogy to learn classic storytelling concepts

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Woodland Middle School students studied the original Star Wars trilogy to learn classic storytelling concepts including monomyth, archetypes, social justice, and more in Tyler Thralls' innovative extension class, "Star Wars: A Study in Monomyth, Archetypes, and Social Justice."

Woodland Middle School students studied Star Wars movies to learn classic storytelling concepts including monomyth and archetypes.
Woodland Middle School students studied Star Wars movies to learn classic storytelling concepts including monomyth and archetypes. 

Throughout the semester, students watched episodes 4-6 of the classic Star Wars franchise including "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back," and "The Jedi Returns," analyzing each of the films for a variety of storytelling concepts. Thralls used "A New Hope" to introduce the class to the theory of monomyth, the concept that there's a single mythology in the world which drives all excellent storytelling. In "A New Hope," students followed Luke Skywalker as he starts his progression from farm boy to Jedi Knight in a concept called "The Hero's Journey," an idea which suggests all great heroes follow a similar path as they develop from their starting point to their final outcome.

Students looked for evidence of the use of archetypes in "The Empire Strikes Back." Archetypes come from a theory developed by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist, who recognized that many myths across cultures include the same types of characters such as the hero, the mentor, and the trickster. Students selected archetypes to best represent themselves from Jung's list of 12 different archetypes, and created a pie chart to demonstrate the percentage of each archetype they selected they found in themselves along with evidence supporting their selections in the form of examples from their own lives.

After watching the third film, "The Jedi Returns," students connected the concepts and ideals they saw in the Star Wars trilogy to another text, historical event, or a philosophy of life. Students wrote essays answering a variety of questions including: "Can there be peace without war?" Students used evidence from both the films they watched in class along with real life events to support their thesis ideas.

Students studied different concepts throughout the semester and used real-world examples to support their ideas and essay theses.
Students studied different concepts throughout the semester and used real-world examples to support their ideas and essay theses. 

Thralls created the class with assistance from his mentor, a high school teacher in Longview School District, who provided a lot of materials to get him started. "With the release of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' setting a new all-time domestic record of $880 million, I wanted my students to learn what makes the storytelling in the Star Wars universe so great," said Thralls. "The concepts which make Star Wars such a successful film franchise are pervasive through all forms of entertainment media including film, television, and literature."

Thralls developed the class by aligning the assigned projects with Washington State's Common Core State Standards including analyzing how a modern work of fiction draws on themes; analyzing particular lines of dialogue or incidents; comparing and contrasting structure; writing arguments supporting claims with logical reasoning and evidence; and producing clear and coherent writing appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience.

Students selected archetypes to represent them and used examples from their own lives to support why they chose what they did.
Students selected archetypes to represent them and used examples from their own lives to support why they chose what they did. 

Students raved about the class with different perspectives about both the movies and the class. Some students hadn't seen the films before they took Thralls' class. "I didn't know if I would like the class because I'd never seen the movies before," said Jade Nosler, an eighth grader. "It was great watching the movies for the first time, and I really enjoyed learning about archetypes, especially the concepts of dark figures, heroes, and supporting characters, as knowing the archetypes gives a better understanding of the characters."

Alyssa Wallace, a seventh grader, also enjoyed learning about the concepts of archetypes, monomyth, and finding evidence of social justice in films. "We discussed racism and sexism, and whether they existed in the Star Wars movies," explained Wallace. "Mr. Thralls' has a unique teaching style, and by treating us like we're at a higher level, he expects more from us."

Even though some students had seen the movies before they took Thralls' class, they felt learning storytelling concepts changed their views on the films. "I knew a lot about Star Wars so I really looked forward to the class," said Caden Norton, a seventh grader. "Thinking about the Hero's Journey and archetypes helped me learn and understand more about the movies."

"My goal is to for my students to see how movies use time-tested storytelling methods to become accessible to the masses," said Thralls. "My students can then take the concepts they learn in class and apply them to other media like books, television shows, and other films they enjoy outside of class."