There are two things you don’t buy at Costco: movies and books. They aren’t discounted like everything else and you pretty much pay the cover price. But the way they’re laid out on long tables in deep piles still triggers the bargain-hunter reflex. You can’t help but look at them. And on our most recent trip, as we push our two brimming shopping carts past the stacks on our way to the cashiers, I see this:
Golden Books as movie franchise tie-ins are nothing new, friends. But this is my first exposure to this particular volume, and something strikes me about it that I don’t immediately put my finger on. The deconstruction of my childhood narrative framework for corporate profit is only fleeting, however true. The Disneyfication of Star Wars is fleeting as well, already played out with the Force Awakens (don’t get me started, friends). No, it’s something else.
As we push our carts onward and the book leaves my eye, it hits me.
But let me back up.
Besides Star Wars (which always reigned supreme) I was raised on several action franchises, including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, and He-man, all in their original (and greatest) after-school incarnations. They all share something in common: physical battles between good and evil, with both sides equally cool but clearly delineated.
But here’s what they don’t share in common, folks: people die in Star Wars. In your average 30 minute episode of GI Joe, nobody dies. Even when planes are shot down, you always see the pilot eject and drift away with a white parachute. But Star Wars? At least 70 on-screen kills.
Remember, friends, we’re talking about a Golden Book.
No, you won’t see 70 kills in those 24 pages. In fact, you might not even see any. I don’t know. I never looked. But that’s not the point. The point, and the thing that finally strikes me as we push our shopping carts onward toward the goal of a well-stocked pantry, is that I have just seen a Golden Book with characters on the cover who shoot to kill.
True, there’s very little blood in Star Wars. Kills are painless, instantaneous, and laser cauterized. In fact, the majority of those killed are faceless minions in head-to-toe body armor. The suggested age-range for Golden Books is two to five years, and no one wants young kids seeing blood and gore, no matter what we believe about violence. So that’s something.
I’d like to conduct a thought experiment, friends. What if all our favorite characters on the cover of that Golden Book aren’t holding laser guns? What if the story is completely unchanged, except our heroes hold modern handguns and assault rifles, with muzzles flashing? Regardless of what you believe about violence, turning the other cheek, and the examples set for us by Jesus and the Apostles, I don’t think anyone wants their three-year-olds reading about Luke Skywalker gunning down soldiers with an AK-47, shell casings bouncing around his feet. I don’t think we want them seeing Han Solo slap a fresh clip into a Glock .38 before returning fire. And we certainly don’t want them seeing stormtroopers go down with red holes in their shirts.
I’m glad we’re agreed on that.
But, friends. Here’s the final point I want to make: Why is it okay for our three-year-olds to watch people die only so long as the kills are fast and antiseptic? Why would Star Wars suddenly NOT be okay if the weapons changed? Why can we take the exact same Golden Book cover, replace the “blasters” with Colts and Kalashnikovs, and be appalled?
Lest anyone be confused, I’m not arguing that handguns and assault rifles are okay for Golden Books. I’m arguing that NO guns are okay for Golden Books, laser or otherwise. Because if they are okay, there’s another action movie franchise from my childhood about a well-armed underdog entering a fortress to rescue people from large-scale evil that would make a great Golden Book: