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Why Star Wars Matters

'Heroes come in all sizes'

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It turns out The Force was always with us: virtue, purity, truth, you name it. Humankind's pursuit of goodness is nearly a birthright. And when producer/screenwriter/director George Lucas crafted a new space opera in 1977, it was imbued with a moral magnet—The Force—that would be mythical yet attainable.

"I put The Force into Star Wars in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more of a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system," Lucas told Time magazine in 1999. "I think it's important to have a belief system and to have faith."

For millions, May 25, 1977 was a day they will never forget. I still recall the line outside the cinema as if it were yesterday, the row I sat in with my dad (15th from the screen) and the otherworldly blast from John Williams' orchestral score transporting the audience to "a galaxy far, far away." It felt as if my generation had graduated from Disneyesque fairy tales into a fantasy world with more complex parables. But goodness still reigned supreme in this brave new world though our journey could be fraught with doubt or peril.

"There is the lesson of friendship and symbiotic relationships, of your obligations to your fellow man and to other people that are around you," Lucas told Time. "But you still have control over your destiny."

Audiences will no doubt be swept away once more Friday, Dec. 18 when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens to historic box office numbers. And its rebooted story of destiny still appeals to new generations as evidenced by kids ages 5-12 participating in the downtown Treasure Valley YMCA "Jedi Camp."

"When we first tried Jedi Camp, honestly we weren't sure if today's kids would be a Star Wars generation," said Steve Galka, youth and teen coordinator and 21-year veteran of the Treasure Valley Y. "But it has been huge. When the kids first put on their Jedi cloaks, begin learning their Jedi skills and, of course, get their own lightsabers, it's pretty amazing."

Galka says he was 7 years old when the original Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977.

"There really wasn't anything like it, right? No other movie even came close to that feeling," he said, eyes wide and smiling broadly. "The Force? That really stuck with me as a kid. It's all about doing the right thing."

Galka is indeed the "Jedi Master" during the Y's special three-day camp.

"During Jedi Camp, we learn to do what's right and even stand up to bullies. And that takes bravery and courage," said Galka. "We talk about seeing a kid at school with no friends and how important it is to go up to that kid and include him in your activities. We also talk a bit about listening to good people—our teachers and parents—as role models."

Bullies and role models aside, Jedi Camp is also about kids just letting go with some Star Wars-inspired fun.

"We play dodgeball, but the balls are asteroids," said Galka. "All the kids get to make their own lightsaber, and one of our most popular activities is when the kids make 'space snot.'" (Don't worry moms and dads, it's basically flour, water and a lot of food dye.

As the most recent class of Jedi's-in-the-making filled the Treasure Valley Y's camp, Galka put them through their paces by having them recite the Jedi code.

"There is no ignorance," said Galka to a line-up of cloaked kids.

"There is knowledge!" they shouted in unison.

"There is no chaos," said Galka.

"There is harmony! responded the class, a few giggling at the formality of the exercise.

"There is no death," said Galka grimly.

"There is The Force!" the kids shouted.

"Believe it or not, most of the kids memorize it and repeat all year long," said Galka.

Many of the campers that Galka has instructed over his two decades at the Y have since become counselors and volunteers, helping shape the next generation of attendees.

"It's all about the passion," said Galka. "Whether somebody has passion for Star Wars, kids or life itself, that's the person that we want to help us with the next generation. They have that special something. They have the...(Galka paused for moment). You know what? They have The Force. That's exactly what they have."

The enthusiasm for the Y's Jedi Camp, Galka reminded us, came before the new Star Wars movie hits theaters in December.

"And after that movie opens, the Jedi Camps will probably explode," said Galka. "We'll have another Jedi session at the West Boise Y during the Christmas break and we'll have about five more separate sessions next summer and during school breaks next fall. It will just keep going as long as there's interest."

Galka said he's surrounded by amazing colleagues at the Y, but insists on still being the guy in charge of Jedi Camp. But he's quick to add the real heroes-in-the-making are the kids.

"And heroes come in all sizes," George Lucas said in 1999. "Good manners, caring about other people—these are heroic acts. Everybody has the choice of being a hero."


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