Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace

A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Away...

 Anakin doesn’t have a father. A young child, he lives in poverty (actually, in slavery) – but he’s got his friends, he tinkers with race cars, dreams about space travel, idolizes space rangers called Jedi, and loves his mother. And then he meets the Jedi. The two men invite him to travel the galaxy with them and promise that he will learn much along the way. He leaves with the men, after receiving a tentative blessing from his mother, and he promises to come back later to free her.
How is This Relevant to Adoption? 
Anakin is separated from his mother voluntarily, but (in a future movie) loses her against his will. She dies, and he believes that this loss is due to his absence. Some separations of child and mother are the result of voluntarily-made choices,  and some separations are involuntary. In the real world, these choices are made either by a pregnant woman (and maybe her partner) or by a department of social services. Although the choices are almost never made by the children, children often feel a strong sense of loss which can be expressed in anger and an unjustified sense of guilt. Anakin did make the choice to leave his mother. Although his choice was made with her blessing, he eventually feels anger and guilt for her loss.

In a way, Anakin is adopted by the Jedi. The two men who take him, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, are members of a larger group of Jedi. This larger group becomes Anakin’s family; they accept him to varying degrees, care about him, discipline him, and hope for his growth.

Strong Points
This movie captures Anakin’s conflicted feelings. He leaves his mother to pursue his dreams, but fully intends to return and to make her life better. As he prepares to leave, he echoes the heart of many children, “I don’t want things to change.” His mother affirms, “but you can’t stop the change.”

This movie shows that everyone can be special, powerful, and important regardless of the circumstances of their life. Anakin lived in slavery, but had the potential to save the galaxy.


Anakin’s separation from his mother is voluntary, but unlike many real-life stories, Anakin is the one making the choice. His mother gives him permission to leave, “This path has been placed before you. The choice is yours alone.” 

We also learn that his leaving was predestined by Star Wars’ version of God, but Anakin still made the choice. This film could be used to explore children’s understandings of how they ended up in their new family.

Anakin was conceived when an ethereal force impregnated his mother. He has no father. Some young adoptees and children in foster care develop fantasies about their birth parents to fill in missing data, and the concept of actually having had no father could be confusing for them.

Yoda offers generally good counsel: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” His advice is proved true in Anakin’s life, and can encourage children to confront their fears. But the advice isn’t perfect in all contexts. Many children – maybe all children – have fear. That’s going to be especially true of children who experienced abuse or neglect. While children can’t live healthy lives if they’re controlled by fear, Yoda’s advice could inspire children to feel bad for being afraid. 
The movie hopefully suggests, “your focus determines your reality.” If children can be allowed and encouraged to embrace all their feelings, these pieces of advice can be used to help them choose to shape their own worldview. A positive worldview can impact the course of their lives.

Weak Points
Although the Jedi become Anakin’s de-facto extended family, they do not fully accept him. The rift between Anakin and the Jedi grows to catastrophic proportions in later films.

A sword battle results in the death of one of Anakin’s first two Jedi friends.


Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is intended to be friendly to younger viewers. Anakin is an early-grade-school age protagonist, and some of the supporting characters (like Jar Jar Binks) seem aimed at youngsters. There are some scenes that could be frightening to younger kids, but not too many, and they’re mostly sci-fi laser violence – not particularly realistic. This movie lends itself to discussions about fear, anger, and how a person ends up with a new family. It seems best for kids from ages seven to thirteen, although those ages might expand upward indefinitely because of the popularity of the rest of the series.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

Just like Anakin, you live with a new family. How did you end up with your new family?

What do you miss (or what do you wish you knew) about your life before you came here?

Who made the choices that led to you coming here? (probably adults from both families, but not the child)   How do you feel about that?

Why didn’t some of the Jedi accept Anakin?   Do you think they were right to not accept him?

What are you afraid of? What do you do when you are afraid? How do you feel better? [share what you were afraid of as a child, and how you overcame that fear.]

Qui-Gon said, “your focus determines your reality.” What he meant was, the way you think about the world makes a big difference in whether you like your life or not. He thinks that you can choose to have a good life. What do you think? Is it your choice, or is it not up to you?

This is the first of a six-part series! I'll be posting a new Star Wars review each week. Ending, geekily enough, on Saturday, May 4. You know... May the fourth be with you...?

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You might also like these Adoption Movie Guides:

Meet the Robinsons

Batman Begins



  1. I have to say this is really well done.
    The only nit I would pick is that it seems to suggest Anakin is not accepted because he is adopted. All the Jedi are adopted, so Anakin is treated differently either because he is older than the norm (its own adoption issue) or because he is more powerful than the norm.

    1. Hi Jason! I'm really glad you commented. Anakin's age is definitely an adoption issue. His high level of power earns him different treatment. I think Anakin's sense of fear - especially (perhaps) fear related to loss is a big red flag for Yoda - and fear of loss is certainly relevant to some adoptees.

      Another connection that comes to mind is that Anakin was thought to be the one who would bring balance to the force - and then when he started acting out, people believed that they were wrong. But by the end of the six movies -- turns out, he did bring balance to the force after all.


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