Harvard Law Prof. Cass Sunstein on “The World According to Star Wars”

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Cass Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, and the author of The New York Times best-selling book, The World According to Star Wars. He shares what drew him to this topic, and why, after 45 years, these movies have become a $70 billion multimedia franchise and continue to have such wide intergenerational appeal. They review some of the classic myths and legends that influenced George Lucas, the brilliant creator of the films. Prof. Sunstein explains some of the larger civic educational lessons found in the space epic, including the war between the democratic Republic and the autocratic Empire, in which the Jedi Knights rebel against imperial tyranny. They also discuss the story of Anakin Skywalker, and his turn to the Dark Side; and the supernatural “Force,” that imbues a series classified as science fiction with a transcendent quality.

Stories of the Week: In England, university and student groups are opposing government plans to set minimum eligibility requirements for student loans. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams is seeking an extension of mayoral control of the school district, which for the past 20 years has meant important oversight authority over the schools chancellor and most of the governing panel.


Cass Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard, where he is founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy. He is the most cited law professor in the United States and likely internationally. He has served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and as a member of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. He is the winner of the 2018 Holberg Prize. His many books include the bestseller Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler), Simpler: The Future of Government#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, and The New York Times bestseller, The World According to Star Wars. He is a frequent adviser to governments all over the world.

The next episode will air on Weds., May 18th, with Nicholas Lemann, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism; Dean Emeritus; Director, Columbia World Projects at Columbia University; and author of the books The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America and The Big Test – The Origin, Design, and Purpose of the SAT.

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Mayor Adams headed to Albany to push for mayoral control


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[00:00:00] Cara: Well, hello everybody. And welcome to another week of The Learning Curve. This is Cara Candal coming to you from Boston, Massachusetts home of Pioneer Institute, which produces this amazing podcast, this venue for which I get to spend, an hour each week with my friend, Gerard Robinson, GR how are you doing?

[00:00:40] Gerard: I’m doing well. And I still have not watched Star Wars.

[00:00:43] Cara: Uh, huh? Uh huh. Well maybe today’s guests will be able to take you to task on that. Somebody will watch Star Wars and we will talk about it on the show and you’ll think what have I been missing all of these years? What have I been missing out on this point in my life?

[00:00:59] I’ll be [00:01:00] waiting for that. Gerard. I have a question for you. I want to know Gerard, do you consider yourself to be a good standardized test?

[00:01:09] GR: No. Ooh, do tell I still to this date have one of the lowest scores in the history of the sat. Even when I took other standardized tests, I did not do well.

[00:01:22] I’m not a great standardized test taker. I’ve noted that for years so. I’m a new.

[00:01:27] Cara: Get you are a very successful person in life, right? I think you are, I think you’re wildly successful. I’m

[00:01:33] GR: asking Kimberly. Well, it depends upon the day. Kimberly will say yes or no, but. overcame this just so we

[00:01:40] Cara: all know that Kimberly’s always right.

[00:01:42] But the thing is that I too, I was a terrible standardized test taker, like infamously. I was always the kid who like missed one of the rows of bubbles and was always one answer on. And then didn’t realize it until the end of the test and then we’ll panic, but I’m asking you this because my darling twelve-year-old [00:02:00] daughter is right now taking the ERB tests, , given by her private school, the educational record bureau tests.

[00:02:05] And, um, and she just pulled the mom and she came home pretty upset. Telling me that she miss bubbled something. I’m thinking, first of all, why are these not online, but also, trying to give her hope that this, in fact, at this point in her life is really not as important as it might seem to her.

[00:02:23] I do want her to get the skill though. Test taking is a skill. It takes practice. It takes time. And to the extent that it will continue to dictate some of our lives. And I think you and I both think that testing has its place and we all got to do it. I’m just gathering proof from people who I think are really smart and accomplished to tell her that it’s not going to be the great determinant.

[00:02:42] Exactly.

[00:02:44] Cara: Exactly. All right, Gerard, I’ve got a story this week out of jolly old England, which I know you do quite a great British accent. Me, not so much. but this one piqued my interest because it is about. University students. And it’s about a [00:03:00] new proposal from the government to limit certain types of students.

[00:03:05] Very specifically those who don’t score well on the, GSEC, I believe they’re called, this is the sort of secondary school exam that is administrative it’s like a high school exit examination. Hmm. The government is saying that for students who don’t score well on, on this exam, many of those students often end up getting into institutions of higher learning, where they’re getting sort of what we might call low value credentials.

[00:03:32] And those same students are the. Borrowing from the government to put themselves through programs, maybe in college, maybe, a skilled trade where they’re earning degrees or earning certificates or earning credentials that might not actually earn them a lot of money in the long run.

[00:03:49] So government’s answer is to cap the students, to cap the number of students who can actually. Get into these programs and take out loans to things there. [00:04:00] This is really interesting for a number of reasons. Number one. The national student’s union and the universities are pushing back hard against this saying it’s only going to deepen inequities in access and access to higher education in that the people who would be most effected most impacted by this law are already those who can’t afford the cost of higher education.

[00:04:22] That’s number one, but number two, they’re saying that. It’s not just about this inherent disadvantage they’re creating, but that folks should be able to go on and sort of choose the pathway that they want. Now, Jared, I just came today from, a webinar on teacher apprenticeships, a program that we’ve talked about that’s happening in Tennessee and another places.

[00:04:42] And it got me thinking about the really good work that’s going on in the areas of college and career pathways. And it seems to me that. Both parties are in England here, probably. Right. Like government’s probably right to be worried that people are taking on debt, taking out loans, and then using that money to go [00:05:00] on, to receive credentials that might not be high value and might not bring them any return on investment.

[00:05:06] And then they’re saddled with debt. But at the same time, should we really be saying to people like, no, you have low test scores. Like me maybe, therefore, , find another path. You, we’re not going to facilitate you looking at higher education. Now that’s a pretty black and white way of putting it.

[00:05:25] But it seems to me that the more interesting conversation here is really around how countries or in our case states figure out what credentials. Our high value. And I have to say, I have some friends, at Excel and ed and lots of other places who are doing great work on this, how you figure out what credentials are high value and how you align those high value credentials with the needs of the labor market, so that people can actually go out and get jobs.

[00:05:49] And then you help people understand. Here are the credentials that are actually going to help you earn this kind of money. Here are the credentials that are going to help you meet this goal in your life. And those might [00:06:00] not even be terminal. But micro-credentials or others. So, I really liked this article Gerard, because I think it points to a problem that we’re certainly grappling with here in the U S and in some states, but we’re going to be grappling with increasingly.

[00:06:15] And it also just was very interesting to me that this proposal to cap the number of students who could take on debt or apply to receive some of these credentials, seems like just a very bureaucrat. Answer to a problem where we could get really creative help people instead of systems. So that’s my story the week.

[00:06:35] I’m sure you have some thoughts about that. My friend, what do you think?

[00:06:38] GR: A few things come to mind? Matthew Chingos. , we had him on our show. , he, was coauthor of a book called game of loans. He’s also written a number of paper on loans. so we’re looking at what I believe now. 1.6 trillion. sitting on the books in terms of loan debt, , that’s more loan debt combined than credit cards and [00:07:00] auto loans.

[00:07:01] When you look at the number of low-income first-generation college students who enroll in non-credit bearing courses cold for remediation. So you go to a state school or a private school and you spend 1, 2, 3 semesters pain photo. And finding yourself possibly leaving and year that year, but semester three or four.

[00:07:26] And guess what, like you said, you now have loans, you got to pay the loans back, you left without a credential, a license or a degree. one way to address this is to tell students to seriously consider community college or junior college. The name will change depending upon what state you’re in. I was not a great standardized test taker, as I acknowledged that.

[00:07:48] I spent three years at the community college. I took the requisite courses I needed including a year and a half of remediation given how horrible I was in high school and then later [00:08:00] matriculated to where I am today. So I think that’s one thing we have to do in our reform space. We are so. focused on to, and through college, which I support, but we often think too college means four year only that it can include a career.

[00:08:20] Or a technical college for a particular trade. I think that’s something we should look at. Yes, there’ll be the loan dynamic, but you will come out of school faster. number two, we are telling too many students to go directly to college. When in fact they can finish high school, take 1, 2, 3 years off, get a job, save money, get practical experience.

[00:08:41] And guess what? Maybe your employer will decide to send you to college. Even if it’s part-time or pay for you to go online. Lastly, the English idea of putting a cap on how many students can take out loans, I think is interesting, our free market system [00:09:00] and choice and competition models of the U S may make that difficult.

[00:09:03] But I think that’s something worth looking at. So. I just think we’ve got to have a gut check with our children and with our colleges and just admit the fact we’re sending too many students to college for you prepare, we are lying to taxpayers. We’re lying to high school students who walk away with the high school diploma that we said was college and career ready.

[00:09:25] And then I’ll bet it’s not. we’ve overlooked. And unfortunately downplay the importance of community , colleges, and trade schools. Because even when I was in school, but definitely my mom and dad were in school that was cold for that, for those people. And you can put whoever you want into those people, but those people who have tried.

[00:09:44] Wait until your air conditioning goes out in the summer. Wait until your refrigerator breaks down, wait till your car deed servicing. These are well-paid jobs. They require a head and heart. So

[00:09:55] Cass: I

[00:09:55] Cara: have to say Gerard, we had a huge pipe that just burst in our newly finished [00:10:00] basement. And I’m with you.

[00:10:02] there was a moment yesterday when I got the price where I was thinking, boy, I shouldn’t have been a policy walk, but there you go.

[00:10:11] GR: Oh, and in fact, one thing I will end with, there are organizations that are working in partnerships with schools to identify exactly what. Workforce wants a one example, at least in Virginia, is it Virginia business, higher education console?

[00:10:25] It’s a collaboration of university presidents, Virginia chamber of commerce employers and others. And they’ve worked with their colleges to say, this is what we’re looking for is support internships. So I know in Virginia that’s one organization that people in their state should look for. And if it doesn’t exist, create one.

[00:10:43] All right. Well, my story is of course also education related, but a little different. So we’re going to talk about the big apple New York city. It not only is the largest city in terms of population in the United States. It has the largest school population in [00:11:00] the country. Over 1 million students are enrolled in New York public schools and they have a new mayor.

[00:11:07] The new mayor. Pretty clear, Eric Adams, that is someone who benefited from public schools in New York city, but who had to be bused to another part of town to get a better education? He’s pretty clear. I like charter schools. He’s pretty

[00:11:21] Cass: clear that he likes public choice.

[00:11:23] GR: He’s pretty clear that education matters.

[00:11:25] Well, we talk about New York and one of the things we often don’t know about, or if we do, we don’t talk about is that New York city is under a mayoral control model. And when we talk about state takeovers, in fact, we’ve spoke, I guess the last two or three shows about Boston and the wonderful, paper you put together on.

[00:11:44] Receivership is a model as you know, where the state will come in and take control over different aspects of the school. When you look at 1989 and fast forward to today, the 60 plus takeovers that have taken place in the country have primarily [00:12:00] been state-driven takeover. Whether it’s in New Jersey, which Jersey city or Newark, but a smaller model is the mayoral control model.

[00:12:10] New York’s one of them. So in 2002, the legislature said, we’re going to put together a group. We’re going to get this passed. And guess what? You’re going to have the opportunity to do three things prior to mayoral control, New York was governed by get this 32 bulls. And they said we’re going to get rid of the boards.

[00:12:30] 32 boards. Yes. Is it, Hey, we’ll get rid of the 32 boards. We’re going to put together. What is in place now? A 15 member education policy. nine are appointed by the mayor, each borough president, he or she gets to appoint one member and then the, , local cops will get subpoint another. So that’s how you get your 15 members and through all of this plus with the mayor, you also choose a chancellor.

[00:12:55] So that’s, it’s been in place since 2002, but this June, [00:13:00] the 10 o’clock lock is going to run out for mural control. So, but let’s fit. Just got to do something. New York governor says, Hey, she wants to extend it. , , mayor Eric Adams said, guess what? Not only do I want to extend it, but I also want to go to Albany to lobby for it.

[00:13:15] , it’s been mixed in terms of the impact that mural control has had over your achievement. Have there been achievement gains? 2002. Absolutely. Have there been questions about equity that continue to grow? Absolutely. The charter schools in the city. That’s where you have a ton of growth, a ton of achievement who are working with low income, poor students, many of them, black and brown.

[00:13:36] So there are still some mixed feelings about the important, but here to takeaways. I think our listeners at least consider number one. You have mural control prior to that you had 32 school boards running the city. You go back to the late 1960s, early 1970s, you had the community control movement in New York city.

[00:13:55] Big, very controversial, way of trying to basically [00:14:00] families, going up against teacher unions, mostly the AMT. And at that time saying we want more control of our school. More control of our curriculum. Arts are the things we’ve heard here. There were planes that the push was moving toward black power.

[00:14:13] There were claims that it was being antisemitic and everything. Metal, but Diane Ravitch wrote a book on the New York school city wars, which even goes back further. So for the listeners, just something to ponder is New York city as a system, simply ungovernable, no matter what model you have, if student achievement and equity are the two criteria you use to determine success and failure.

[00:14:39] And number two, are we saying that locally elected. School board members simply can’t govern. And therefore we have to move away from one principle of American democracy, which is elections or elected board or these elected body, and simply allow the appointed model to work because we saw something [00:15:00] similar in Chicago.

[00:15:01] We saw something. So we’ll learn in Washington DC. So just two questions to ponder. What are your thoughts?

[00:15:07] Cara: I think it’s really fascinating. And I think one of the things, I mean, I can remember if you would’ve asked me 15 years ago. I think I would’ve said of course mayoral control is the way to go and that’s what needs to happen.

[00:15:19] And, you know, sweet, we’ve seen so many examples of school boards asleep at the wheel for lack of a better way of putting it. But in the same token, both Merrill control and elected school boards. Even if the mayor, is appointed to be the person who is running the schools by the state legislature, suffer from the same, you’re constantly changing over.

[00:15:41] So, new elections mean new policies, mean somebody trying to make their mark mean will the new person coming in, carry out the old policies that might have a chance to work. If we sustain them over the longterm states suffer. Two at a state level, you know, when you don’t have long-term stable [00:16:00] state leadership, but it’s a really, really interesting question, Gerard, and it’s a troubling one, I mean, 32 school boards, something, something can’t be right about that.

[00:16:09] there’s a lot of competing interests, but I also think, it’s interesting to think about this notion of if the mayor is the person who’s overseeing the schools and we get this critique, then that the community has no say in what’s going on in the community has no power. I often wonder how much power we really.

[00:16:30] I think we have when we’re vesting our trust in a local school board, especially when it comes to chronically underperforming systems. And I think that’s really the key here. Like in some places, school boards work really well. And we don’t need to think about these other things, but it’s in places where you have a chronically underperforming system.

[00:16:52] Quite frankly, I don’t know if either thing is the answer and. That’s just a longer show altogether. So I [00:17:00] don’t, I don’t know my friend, but it’s a, really fascinating issue and something that, know we’re thinking about a lot here in Boston. Hence I wrote the paper that you referenced on receivership because we’ve been under mural control for quite some time.

[00:17:13] and at the end of the day, I’m not sure that the current mayor is going to do a darn thing about the, dismal state of BPS, for example, and that’s happening all over the county. All right, Gerard will coming up after this. We have got, a guest that I think is going to tell you a lot about why exactly you should be watching star wars, or I might be sorely mistaken.

[00:17:37] We’re going to be bringing on in just a moment. Professor Cass Sunstein. He is the Robert Wamsley university professor at Harvard law school and the author of the New York times bestselling book, the world, according to star wars. Get excited.

[00:17:52] We’ll be back in just a minute.[00:18:00] [00:19:00]

[00:19:05] Cara: Learning curve listeners, please help us welcome professor Cass Sunstein. He is the Robert Walmsley university professor at Harvard, where he is founder and director of the program on behavior economics and public health. He is the most cited law professor in the United States and likely internationally.

[00:19:22] He has served as administrator of the white house office of information and regulatory affairs. And as a member of the president’s review group on intelligence and communication technologies, he is the winner of the 2018 Hulbert prize. His many books include the best seller nudge, improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness book.

[00:19:41] Simpler the future of government, hashtag Republic divided democracy in the age of social media. Oh my goodness. And of course the New York times bestseller Gerard Robinson’s favorite the world, according to star wars, a frequent advisor to governments all over the world. Professor [00:20:00] Cass, Sunstein. Welcome to the learning.

[00:20:02] Cass: Thank you so much for having

[00:20:03] Cara: me. We’re really happy to have you. So quite a bio there and you are here locally at Harvard. We’re happy to have you. I, myself am recording from Massachusetts. your bio says it all. You are an internationally recognized legal scholar and have been advisor to presidents and other heads of states.

[00:20:22] we want to know about this recent bestseller, the world, according to star wars. Could you tell us about it and talk about why is it, I guess it has been 45 years. Wow. And I remembered them all because I was alive for all of those years. talk about how, why after 45 years these movies, why are. Still watching star wars after all this time.

[00:20:43] but your organisms, , we should say,

[00:20:44] Cass: well, that was actually the question that inspired me to do the book. What is it about star wars that resonates and has kept people interested in sometimes obsessed for all this time? I think there are a couple of things. One [00:21:00] is about freedom of choice. And so the great George Lucas’ trilogy, the original one was focused on the fact that.

[00:21:08] All of us, whether we are Skywalkers or not, encounter times when we can do something. good or not, or kind of grave or not. And that connects with everybody. there’s also a theme about redemption that, even if we did something wrong, maybe really wrong, maybe a little bit wrong, we can do something, right.

[00:21:32] We might be able to make the wrong. Well, we might be able to do something that in our own life history makes us feel that some sort of balance was corrected a balance in the force. If the worst person in the galaxy that is antiquing by Walker at our theater, give or take an emperor. And in his closing moment, turn to good and repudiate his life’s horribleness and save [00:22:00] his son.

[00:22:00] Well, then the rest of us can maybe do something, not quite like that, but something positive. Also there’s a theme in the movie about parents and kids, whether you’re the kid or the parent, the parent will lay down his or her life for you in all probability. Even if the parent isn’t perfect and the kid will kind of do the same and that connects maybe with some of our group that’s, feelings and that’s kind of good.

[00:22:30] Also the movies are really fun and some of their giddiness is contagious. Even if the visitation really, forgive me. Mr. Lupus, occasionally.

[00:22:44] Cara: do have a favorite. What’s your favorite?

[00:22:49] Cass: The empire strikes back is the best.

[00:22:53] Cara: Oh, of course. It’s the best. I couldn’t agree more.

[00:22:56] Cass: That’s the best of the now 6,000 movies.

[00:22:59] [00:23:00] That’s probably the best movie ever made. It’s incredible. It’s ranked in the Shakespeare, maybe about Shakespeare. Okay. I’m exaggerating the empire. I think it’s really, really good. Well,

[00:23:10] Cara: unfortunately I think a lot of Americans might actually recognize lines from the empire strikes back, but not Shakespeare.

[00:23:16] So we will, take what we can get. I could ask you more questions such as who is your favorite character, but I think that we should probably, we should probably move on. So you talked about , the cultural reasons, the human reasons, maybe why we identify. Star wars, but can you talk a little bit about, I mean, this movie was really going to be a flop , people didn’t believe in 1977, that this was going to have, nobody could have predicted it would be the pop culture phenomenon that it continues to be.

[00:23:47] in 2020, the estimated value of the franchise was $70 billion. What is it about the cinematic force that is star wars? What is it about, I mean, if you compare. Viewing, for [00:24:00] example, the empire strikes back today, versus when we were children, it’s obviously a different cinematic experience. what was it at the beginning that grabbed us, even when we didn’t have the technology to make space look believable and what continues to grab us as the franchise grows.

[00:24:17] Cass: Okay. So it’s a fantastic question. So, in terms of the shocking success of star wars, let’s try. Three hypotheses about amazingness, and forgive me for venturing hypotheses, but let’s, go for that. Number one, is it fit with the times that in a time of turmoil and upheaval to have something so joyful , and was that was gonna work?

[00:24:44] that’s the one, the number two, is it. , really lucky and theme three was then it’s cinematically and otherwise, so incredible destined for success. okay. On the first fitting with the times, you get [00:25:00] to your question about the experience of star wars. Really soon, say box on that house, that that hypothesis could be ventured for anything that’s exceeded.

[00:25:11] Taylor swift Harry Potter, prob Joe Biden, everything there’s nothing. And, maybe, but, good luck proving it. in terms of amazingness, I think the movie, the original, what is now called the news. Wasn’t it. And so that’s definitely part of the picture, so to speak. And I remember I saw it in real time and just it’s visually, even now I think less so than at the time.

[00:25:41] so spectacular, nothing people had ever seen before. So in the first scenes you see ships and they look real. Knows what looking real would even be like the human eye thinks that looks real and the motion of the ship, the big shift going over the old ship just seems. [00:26:00] So people never seen anything like that before.

[00:26:03] And even the letters as the plot is, started. Uh, people hadn’t really seen that in this spectacular setting before. And so it was kind of the best imaginable overload that you could see. And then the characters were even early, really iconic. There’s Luke Skywalker, the kind of kid. at least boys, maybe girls also identify all like unaffected as kind of normal life.

[00:26:31] And then you’re called by something greater than you could imagine when you succeed. And princess Leia, who is the bravest and smartest of the wall. Feminist icon who never loses her wets. And, it’s the only one that really knows completely what she’s doing. And then there’s the near be well, non solo who, boys kind of aspired to be.

[00:26:53] Cause he was the coolest. And then there’s the best father you could imagine. It also turns out to be magical. [00:27:00] So the cinematic amazingness plus. Iconic figures who are based on, in some sense in Chris’s amazing unconscious, narratives that go back to the Bible and the Homer and the, he connected all of them with some of that.

[00:27:16] the law hypothesis, which is the most deflating I think has true. Not that it diminishes the amazingness of the visual and the amazingness of the characters and the largeness of the plots, or the fact that the themes about redemption and freedom of choice and the struggle between good and evil.

[00:27:38] These are, humanity’s biggest themes are in a package that you’re eating popcorn. In the midst of, and did that? that’s simple, but it did get the benefit of lock. That is, it got a lot of early popularity. It got some great, very public, , reviews. and, to say that it’s amazing, this was [00:28:00] enough to make it a comic.

[00:28:01] there are no that needed to act hit, some streets in a way. That kind of corresponds to what happened with Beatles. What happened with Taylor swift for app and Elvis Presley were happening to great. And all of the ones I just mentioned are fantastic. and choose your pickup, make it, make a pick about who’s the most fantastic, but there are plenty of fantastic things that you’ve never heard of because they didn’t get the benefit.

[00:28:25] And the book tries to tell the tale of the kind of serendipity that turns star wars from not merely an amazing achievement, but a , , culturally central financial.

[00:28:37] Cara: Yeah, never thought I would hear Taylor swift discussed in the same sentences with star wars, but I get it. , and I appreciate it.

[00:28:43] And I have to say, thinking about those scrolling words. , at the beginning I took my eight year old son that summer to see empire strikes back and a drive-thru movie. And he was mesmerized. He thought it, you know, it didn’t look. Nearly as technologically impressive to him as it did to me when I [00:29:00] was, seeing that movie as a kid, but Boyle boy, he thought that was pretty neat.

[00:29:04] And how many Halloweens did I dress up as princess Leia? I can’t even count. in your book, you talk about the gray. The Campbell, he’s author of the 1949 books, the hero with a thousand faces and he called George Lucas. Obviously the man behind star wars. He said that he was Campbell said that Lucas was his greatest student.

[00:29:26] Campbell tells us so much about myths and legends and adventures. What is it about star wars and the lessons about the hero’s journey? that Campbell talks about. can you help us understand that? Yeah.

[00:29:41] Cass: Link, this was greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell. So if you take, the hero in meth or religion or Marvel comics or DC comics, it often has exactly the same central narrative ingredients.

[00:29:57] So it might be in. [00:30:00] a simple version of what Campbell elaborates in detail, there’s someone, who is, having a normal life and is young, who is called to, action or ordeal. Achievement by someone who is a parental figure and that person is large and important. And the person initially says, no, I’m not going to do that.

[00:30:27] And haven’t we all at one point, let’s say between the age of 10 and 20. , maybe between the age of 10 and 70 said, no, I’m going to do that. so it really resonates. But then at some points there’s some loss or some event, which makes the person to the hero say, okay, I’m with you. I’m going to try.

[00:30:48] And then the person faces a terrible ordeal and is tested, might in the process, lose the elder sponsor. Let’s call it like Obi wan Kenobi or Mike in the process. Be [00:31:00] injured or hurt in some way, but faces tragedy and difficulty and maybe fails. Then the person in the midst of the ordeal and the trial, overcoming.

[00:31:12] And succeeds. And I’m thinking now kind of, of Jessica Jones, there was a great TV series about Jessica Jones, which is really tracking, , the hero of a thousand faces. And then, uh, becomes transfigured in some sense and enlarge and either returns home or returns to some, role, which partakes of home in some way, some piece of the place where hero resides is home.

[00:31:40] And these various steps are traced, in the air of a thousand faces by Joseph Campbell in great detail. And. the Star Wars films really track that. In fact, what makes it amazing is that they’re tracked both for Anaconda and for loop in their different ways. And the[00:32:00] underrated prequels, I say with, fear, uncertainty.

[00:32:04] I’m going to go for it. The underrated prequels have the hero’s journey for Anakin and. No, they’re not perfect. Movies in charge are banks, maybe not the best, but it really is the hero’s journey. And I can, ends up by the end of the second trilogy tracking something like what Joseph Campbell had in mind.

[00:32:24] GR: So I’d like to shift us into a conversation about civics. So when the war between the democratic ideas of the galactic Republic, and then you have the autocratic dictatorship of the galactic empire. It frames a larger political narrative about star wars. In your book, you discuss Jedi Knights as Jeffersonian style guardians of the Republic, defenders of an ordered Liberty and rebels against Imperial tyranny.

[00:32:51] Could you explain how all of that falls into a larger, civic educational lesson that we today could learn from

[00:32:58] Cass: completely? [00:33:00] So take at the human level. As opposed to the political level, star wars to be about freedom of choice under conditions of uncertainty. And that’s, it’s theme for Luke and for Annika and for Leah and for obiwan.

[00:33:18] , and basically everybody. That we have freedom and difficult to see the future is, as Yoda says. so there Lucas plays brilliantly with the theme of destiny and, , pre-ordained stuff, but in the end, the movies reject that and it’s all about, you got to choose. And Lucas’s incredibly articulate and moving about this as are some of his collaborators where each of us, like today, we have a choice to make about whether to be kind or not whether to be, disrespectful or not, whether to be.[00:34:00]

[00:34:00] The hero a little bit in the eyes of at least someone or at least a frat and that’s everywhere. So that’s the micro level to your point at the political level. Lucas does exactly the same thing and the beating heart of democracy as he sees it is of freedom of choice. And self-government, by those who are.

[00:34:21] populating a nation or a galaxy or a planet that it can be us and our choice where we go, or we can basically, be cowed or recede and let, freedom die, to thunderous applause as the underrated prequels describe. And Lucas had very much in mind, especially in the prequels, but it’s also there.

[00:34:45] And the original trilogy, the rise of authoritarianism and he had a sense of its seductive appeal. both it’s in some ways erotic appeal. That’s one of the creepy, really good [00:35:00] features of the first six movies and also it’s, appeal to the human spirit. Some of which says, , you figure.

[00:35:09] Freedom is, it’s tough to bear. And also I’m kind of mad and I want you to punish maybe people who are my fellow citizens, but certainly to keep me safe. that play between the individual level freedom and the political level freedom is what makes , these movies, which seem really fun. also.

[00:35:31] GR: George Lucas has called star wars. The tragedy of Darth Vader. Would you talk about the rise, fall or redemption of Skywalker from gifted slave and Jedi Knight to a character whose fear pain and anger turned him into a dehumanized mechanism of evil before finally being saved by his son.

[00:35:52] Cass: Yeah, that’s fantastic.

[00:35:53] Thank you. So the fact that Lucas called it the tragedy of Darth Vader, I think that’s [00:36:00] very, actually very moving. And if you saw the original movie, that is, new hope who would have thought. But that’s what the whole thing would be about. So Darth Vader is mannequin Skywalker with a little boy. who’s taken care of by his beloved mother.

[00:36:18] he suffers, excruciating loss that is of his mother at the hands of evil. Thinks he’s going to suffer or it’s not for the loss of his beloved and it’s fear of loss as you say, that turns him and the emperor. I think in a way, the personification of something that hits all of us, in life at some point, which is a lack of control.

[00:36:44] And vulnerability to the loss of what mysterious to us and how do you respond to that? And you can respond to that by, , making common cause with others who are mortal and at risk and [00:37:00] accepting your own vulnerability. Or you can put on some kind of armor and try to. destroy others who are maybe, threatening people you care about, or just in the way.

[00:37:13] And so when Antigone Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, at the moment of choice, it’s the fear of loss that, pushes him and the emperor plays on that pushes him to evil. And any of us who’s felt rage or maybe has, actually. At some point almost hitched or actually hit someone or imagined it, maybe that’s starts the Darth Vader at us.

[00:37:39] So the idea that, that is in each of us as is good, is, not false and how we react to our deepest vulnerability is what makes for. the generality let’s call out of the tragedy of Darth Vader and what I may be loved most of all [00:38:00] about the star wars movies, the original six is that, the third of the prequels, the last scene.

[00:38:07] Play exactly the same as the third of the original trilogy, where in the third of the prequels and akin, isn’t exactly the same situation that we had previously seen Luke with the same person, the emperor. And in both cases, they are, as you say, struggling with the prospect of the loss of what they care about most , their own vulnerability and the vulnerability they care about.

[00:38:32] And. And a can chooses to go to the emperor and Luke chooses not to, partly because he trusts and loves his father and it can didn’t have that.

[00:38:44] GR: So this is the only person on this call who hasn’t seen star wars, even I’ve heard the term, the force, and we know it as a supernatural energy bonding to the galaxy, but it also.

[00:38:57] both good and evil characters, [00:39:00] it So an aspect of it that looks at spiritual strengths and extra ordinary deeds. Could you talk to us about the varied mythical, and philosophical origins of the forest and how star wars was able to bring that together? in a science fiction movie, that’s often better known for technology spaceships and

[00:39:18] Cass: Yeah, thanks for that. So, I’ll tell you a story. So the one person I was terrified of, reading my book was George Lucas. I knew him a tiny, tiny bed and never talked to him about the book and the writing. And after I wrote it, I saw him at a huge party. And he came up to me and I was hoping that behind me was Harrison Ford or someone that his movies, but sure enough, he was coming up to me and he said, he read my book and he actually liked it.

[00:39:53] And I got to spend a lot of time with him and he gave me a book. In which he signed it. May the force be [00:40:00] with you. And I can’t tell you how much I love that because George Lucas has no errors. There’s nothing fake about him. I’m sure he’s signed 10,000 books. May the force be with you? And he didn’t say, you know, Cass, I liked your book.

[00:40:15] You did a good job. He said, may the force we went here. I thought there was a beauty in the robustness of that, but also for the. 10,000 times he signed it. He meant it every time. I’m confident. , , the force, has deliberate mystery in it. As you say, it’s the opposite of technology. It’s old rather than new and it’s as the mythology of star wars described.

[00:40:40] It’s a force that connects all of us, and whatever your religious convictions may be. We can see that as in some sense, true. If you meet a stranger, there’s something that’s passing between you and that person. , what it is. No, one’s in one sentence it’s [00:41:00] wildly mysterious. And another sense it’s kind of very Monday night.

[00:41:04] they to understand the brain can explain it in either case it’s really cool. And that, that force, when you meet a stranger or someone, who’s a friend and there’s interaction that is warm and mutually supportive, and that is binding. but also if you meet a stranger or maybe a friend, there’s something in there, that’s a little edgy and maybe scared and that’s there.

[00:41:32] So, you can take it as a myth, but you can also take it as a play on what human life is actually like.

[00:41:40] Cara: Well, professor Cass, Sunstein, thank you so much for joining us today. it’s been a real pleasure, , thinking about star wars , and learning about exactly why, our society loves this franchise so much.

[00:41:52] And think that tomorrow, We’re going to get them to watch. we’re going to work on it. Thanks for your time today. And please take good

[00:41:58] Cass: care of, thank you [00:42:00] so much. It was a great pleasure for me and to you may the force, as they say with you, I was

[00:42:06] hoping you

[00:42:07] Cara: would say that may the force be with you too?

[00:42:09] Professor

[00:42:10] take care.[00:43:00] [00:44:00]

[00:44:29] Cara: As always, we’re going to end with our tweet of the week, this one from education week and the headline is students are behaving badly in class. Excessive screen time may be to blame. So after reading the article linked to this tweet, which points to consequences of certain types of screen time, I think it’s important to point out such as, , teachers reporting that students who have excessive screen time, especially those who are doing things like being on social media or doing non-educational [00:45:00] things on their tablets, computers, other than.

[00:45:03] I was showing an increased, inability to manage stress. obviously, anybody who ever takes their iPhone to bed knows that screen time can interfere with your sleep. , and in that students just generally, have a hard time paying attention. In fact, the article says that the research suggests that some students might be misidentified as having, for example, attention deficit disorder.

[00:45:24] When really, if they’d would just cut back on some of their screen time, especially unproductive screen time, it would be a benefit. Yeah. Sounded to find out that your average American eight to 12 year old is watching, I think between five and eight hours a day on their screens. And that does not include what they’re doing at school on screens, which really blew my mind.

[00:45:43] two things it made me simultaneously think. Thank goodness. I don’t think my kids are in their screens that often, but also maybe my kids should just not be on their. Outside of educational materials at all, except for the occasional Celtics game, which I feel like I cannot deprive [00:46:00] my children of so Gerard, we’re going to be back together again next week.

[00:46:06] And please listeners, don’t forget to join us next week. We are going to be talking to professor Nicholas Lemann, former Dean of Columbia university, school of journalism as always. It’ll be a great one Gerard until then. We’ll be waiting to hear if you watch star. And you have a good

[00:46:22] GR: one. May the force be with

[00:46:24] Cara: you always, may the force be with you?

[00:46:26] My friend.[00:47:00] [00:48:00]

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