A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #28: Star Wars & American Culture 101

hamsterYou see them everywhere—small furry animals with lightsabers.

You hear it in conversations between friends: “Well, she gave me this Deathstar look that just about took my head off.”

Parents and kids: “Do or do not; there is no try.”

It’s on buttons and T-shirts: “Darth Vader school of human resource management” is my personal favorite.

It has entered politics, with a certain vice president who shall not be named being likened to Darth Vader. Countries and software manufacturers are referred to as “the Evil Empire.” Darth Vader’s theme is played in AT&T Park when (World Series Champions) Giant’s closer Brian Wilson takes the mound.

If someone has just done something spectacular, or is very skilled, we exclaim, “Wow, you’re a Jedi Master!” (Conversely, we inform wannabes “You are not a Jedi yet.”) It’s not just Star Wars, of course. If we think someone is a bit vague mentally, we say “he’s a real  space cadet” or “yeah, she’s from a galaxy far, far away,” or whistle the five note scale from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  If someone doesn’t get our point, we sigh and say, “You don’t grok this, do you?” (Look it up :))

In ways both insidious and overt, Star Wars (and, indeed, Star Trek and science fiction in general) has become part of our shared folklore. I think I first realized this some years ago when I heard my boss—who flunked American Culture 101 and had never seen a Star Wars movie or a single episode of Star Trek—talk about something moving at warp speed. He had no idea where he got the phrase.

Sure, those of us who were bitten early by the science fiction bug lace our conversations with exclamations of “Yoda!” “You scruffy nerf-herder!” and “Laugh it up, furball!” But now, these fannish phrases have entered the “mundane” vernacular to the point that people who have never seen a single episode of any SF standard talk about phasers, droids, carbonite, Jedi masters, padawans, bantha fodder, laser pistols, Deathstars, starships, and going over to the dark side.

When my husband brought me my first Macintosh laptop, he was proud as could be.

“Wow,” a friend said, “you converted her from a PC, huh?”

“Yes,” my husband said, “she’s come over from the Dark Side.”

Okay, so here’s a challenge for our readers—keep your ears open and see if you catch any SF-isms in conversations you overhear. If you’re up for it, come back and tell us what you’ve heard. Did your uncle Ernie say “Danger, Will Robinson!” when he saw your gerbil rolling his ball toward the swimming pool? Did your school teacher roll his eyes when you answered a classroom question and intone, “Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life down here?” When you puffed out your chest and told that really big bouncer you weren’t afraid of him, did he peer at you sidewise and say, “Oh, you will be. You will be.” To which you, dauntless (and perhaps suicidal) replied, “Judge me by my size, do you?”

Another realm in which Star Wars has had an impact is music. Especially parody music. And in this realm, I’m not only a listener, I’m a perpetrator.

Next time: Let there be music: Weird Al and not-so-guilty secrets.

Go to Maya’s bookshelf.

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