Every Wednesday afternoon in a classroom far, far at the top of Brock Hall…
Dr. Ralph Covino, assistant professor of history, leads a lively discussion of topics that might include the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, the fall of the Great Roman Empire, and the destruction of the original Death Star by Luke Skywalker.
A self-professed aficionado of all things Star Wars, Covino has combined his personal passion for the galactic myth adventure and his professional discipline of history to create “Star Wars and the Roman Empire,” one of the most popular offerings in UTC’s freshman seminars.
“When a student knows the Star Wars universe inside and out, there’s practically nothing in ancient history that I can’t teach them because they get the concepts,” said Covino. “They can understand the politics that led to the fall of the Roman Empire because they saw the same types of conflicts played out in Episodes I through III. They understand the political structure of the Roman Empire, because they’ve seen in Star Wars how you divide an empire into sectors with imperials governors.”
Covino says students can draw direct connections between ancient historical events and characters and situations in the Star Wars universe, such as the ancient Greek and Roman chariot races and the Tatooine pod races from “The Phantom Menace.”
With the Walt Disney Company’s recent announcement of its purchase of LucasFilm Ltd., which includes the Star Wars franchise, and the promise of new movies, Covino and his students could potentially have a whole new set of characters and stories to study.
“These stories just connect to the imagination. That’s why people love them so much,” said Jack Reneau, a UTC freshman majoring in English. “Star Wars is not just one story; it’s an entire universe. It shows how much you can do and how far you can go with just your imagination. The whole Star Wars universe is just a huge creative playground that you can do anything with.”
But they caution Disney not to stray too far from familiar ground.
“We are programmed through almost all of our literature to recognize when certain elements occur, you have an excellent story. When there is a call to adventure, the passing of the first trial when you go into the belly of the beast. We end up thinking, ‘This is a great story.’ It’s the same plot device that gets you through ‘Avatar,’ through Harry Potter, through Lord of the Rings, and through ‘Star Wars.’ When you know what the elements are, you can sit back and say, ‘Okay, they are working us. They want us to make this a blockbuster,’” said Covino. “George Lucas studied and learned these myths and legends in his attempt to provide a new mythology for a generation that was growing up without one. He borrowed heavily from these stories to create a movie that would be able to transmit this struggle between good and evil. The new movies will certainly reflect these same ideas.”
Disney has announced plans to release “Star Wars Episode VII” in 2015, with subsequent movies to follow every few years. The previous Star Wars films have earned more than $4.4 billion worldwide, and the movies, books, games, comics, and other merchandise form an expanded universe that covers 20,000 years and contains more than 17,000 named characters. That gives room for lots of inspiration.
Of those 17,000 characters, who’s the real star of Star Wars? Covino and some of his students weigh in.
Jacob Farmer—“My favorite character is Anakin from the sequels, not Anakin as Darth Vader. My dad took me to see “The Phantom Menace” when I was five and I still remember seeing it in the theater. As a kid, I just got lost in these stories. When my brothers and I went out and played, we would play Jedi and fight bad buys.”
Brittany Loftis—“Han Solo is my favorite character, period. Han Solo is the adventurous rogue. He’s the bad boy, but he’s good at the same time.”
Jack Reneau—“Harrison Ford playing Han Solo is my favorite—the roguish character who acts like he just doesn’t care for anything but himself.
Dylan Neveau—“I like the original series more than the new one. Lucas made such great films with the little that he had. My favorite character is Darth Vader. He’s just that cool looking dude with the black mask and helmet. He’s just amazing.”
Ralph Covino—“Of course Han Solo is my favorite. He’s got dark hair.”