On Star Wars & Making Choices

Few things are more satisfying to geeky parents than watching Star Wars with their child(ren) for the first time and noticing which character they take to.

I was 5 years old when I saw it, my first movie. It wasn’t just a movie. It was a drive-in movie. It wasn’t just a drive-in movie. It was Star Wars.

It was arguably one of my first, true, character-building moments.

Back at kindergarten, my pals called out “I’m Luke!”, “I’m Vader” or “I’m Chewbacca!” or “I’m Han” or “I’m Leia!” or whatever during play sessions. I was drawn to R2-D2. I didn’t just want to be R2, I wanted to BE R2. Something about his character, his spirit and loyalty to his pals, his utility and his outright usefulness in so many contexts appealed to me. R2 was also the original hacker – remember how he shut down all the garbage compactors on the Death Star?

For the next several years, my room had models of R2 on the shelves, bedside table had an R2 alarm clock, windows were adorned with R2 curtains, PJs had R2 on them, and those infamous Underoos, I had no interest in anything other than ones with R2 on them. My watch was an homage to R2 and my birthday cakes were more than once shaped in his honor out of eggs, sugar, butter and flour.

The obsession continued. You might say it hasn’t ended. Back then I saw, and to this day continue to see, his influence everywhere, in the functionality of tools, vehicles, and other simple machines and in solid adaptive, resilient and integrated systems design.

Not to mention the most human characteristics on that little robot. There is no measure of R2’s dedication, enthusiasm, passion, muster, willingness, resilience and selflessness to adapt so readily, without fear or delay, to so many challenges on behalf of his pals that he seems to love with all of his “heart”.

I moved around a lot growing up. I was a kid who was constantly having to adapt to new environments, new geographic layouts, people, styles, vocabularies, dialects, postures, the whole thing. That isn’t easy. I often imagined what R2 would do, moving through situations as if I were him. Just the idea of him, imagining myself as an embodiment of him (a machine!) gave me confidence when I needed it and, I admit, continues to influence me to this day. Silly? Maybe. Choose your role model wisely.

Imagination makes children powerful. It makes all of us powerful. Especially children, though, since they are still so in touch with their imaginations. As children we imagine ourselves as someone else, someone more capable of accomplishing what we feel we cannot. Through personas many of us are able to make our first, significant achievements. Whether faced with the adversity of a spelling bee, school play, or playground rights of passage, we resort to the power of our imagination to envision ourselves accomplishing something seemingly beyond our reach.

When I think of the pair of them: C3PO and R2D2, one represents doubt while the other represents overcoming it. C3P0’s Eeyore to R2’s Pooh. One tempers the other. We wouldn’t want to be naive in our optimism but without any “can do” spirit we would wallow in a pit of fear and doubt.

After watching Star Wars with my own little boy for the first time recently, I’ll be curious to if one of those characters emerges for him as an ally in his life, a role model.

In any case, one thing is for certain: success seems to pivot on something simple: the will to believe. Believe you can? You will. Believe you can’t? You won’t.

It’s a choice.

And either way, you’re right.