Darth Vader: Most Loved Villain
Kathia Ibacache, Youth Service Librarian, Simi Valley Public Library
It all begins with a reference question: “where are your Star Wars books?” Dozens of children have visited me at the Children’s Reference Desk with the same inquiry. I am very familiar with this question as my five-year-old son also likes these books. My husband and I shared our love for reading with both our children since infancy, but as parenting caution kicked in, we decided to base our storytimes on harmless, innocuous themes. As time passed, our son started to wonder about subjects such as death, prison, and villains. And naturally, the most loved subject of all, characters with super powers. This paper refers to the literary and educational value of Easy Reader Star Wars books.
Parenting literature states that developmentally healthy children have a thirst for knowledge even on subjects they have not experienced themselves or appear too abstract for their young age to comprehend. Also, children develop a bond with characters with special abilities like magical fairies, flying superheroes and, of course, Jedi knights. This bond is fostered by children’s powerful imagination.
As a librarian, I notice children’s fascination with super powerful characters. My young clients approach me looking for superhero books regularly, even when watchful parents might not be as eager to accept this type of literature. I hear parents saying: “these are not chapter books;” “they are too violent;” or “they do not have literary value.” While it is undeniable that the Star Wars stories have an element of violence, this saga as told by Easy Reader books are much more than that.
What is a chapter book?
Are all books divided in chapters considered chapter books? Many Easy Readers (ER) -including Star Wars books - are divided in small chapters. The understanding is that chapter books are those which are long enough to divide in chapters, but not so extensive as novels. Usually Chapters books have illustrations, however they are not as prominent as the ones in pictures books or the traditional Easy Reader books. Many ER books are chapter books in its basic form: structured with short chapters, a glossary and a table of contents. The short chapters are organized with illustrations that help the reader understand the story. As ER books’ prose progresses, vocabulary expands, and longer and more complex sentences appear. By the time the book reaches sixty to one hundred pages it has developed into a transitional chapter book.
Now the reader is ready to undertake transitional chapter books, and is able to read around 100 pages or more of text intertwined with illustrations. These illustrations will be scattered until taking the form of a traditional children’s novel.
Literary value: Lego Star Wars books and Read-Along Storybooks
Most ER’s Star Wars books I have read have good prose and appropriate use of language. As the reading level advances, so does the complexity of the stories. ER’s Star Wars books Level 1 introduce simple vocabulary and sentences to engage the young reader. As the levels grow, so does the storyline reinforcing reading comprehension and building confident readers.
Caregivers, familiar with the Star Wars saga acknowledge that some of the six episodes are darker and more violent than others. For instance, Episodes II and III, in my opinion, are the darkest and more prone to battles and violent narrative than the rest of the Episodes. In this sense, Lego Star Wars series for young readers uses a narrative that conveys these stories using age appropriate language. For instance, in DK Readers Lego Star Wars A New Hope, the author uses the word “defeats” to address Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death. In DK Readers Lego Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back, Emma Grange’s narrative respects the reader’s age by downplaying traumatic events such as Darth Vader cutting Luke’s hand by implying that Luke has been injured. 
Disney’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Read-Along Storybook for beginner readers follows a similar narrative approach as that of the Lego series. Writers summarize these lengthy stories ingeniously. Implied language replaces declared language of especially dramatic scenes. Although these storybooks quote the movies throughout, writers are careful to use appropriate language. Darth Vader’s final duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi refer to the latter’s demise as “…but suddenly he was gone.” 
Using themes as a learning tool for children’s curiosity on abstract subjects
Star Wars books are found in a number of formats: read along storybooks, easy readers, graphic novels, transitional fiction and novels. Most parents are familiar with the Star Wars saga, but as the story revolves around a constant struggle between good and evil - the Empire and the Rebels - it is the subjects covered in this saga that might provide parents with a learning opportunity for their children.
Thematic development of courage, death, poor and good choices, as well as redemption will offer caregivers an opportunity to teach children about subjects that are complex in definition, but that a good example might clarify. For instance, many children are interested in Darth Vader and look for him within the Star Wars books of the Library. However, this interest became more real to me when child after child asked me for coloring pages portraying this beloved villain. In conversations with my son, I realized that it was not his badness that made the Sith Lord special, but his super cool black body armor and the realization that he still could choose the good side of the Force and redeem himself.
Courage is another value portrayed in different characters such as Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke. If we consider Han Solo, he also had a change of heart, changing from a character seemingly preoccupied with money into a brave man, who would risk his life for the wellbeing of his friends. And if we consider poor choices, we have Lando Calrissian, who betrays his friend, Han Solo. Lando could be a good example of making things right even after we have made a mistake.
Finally, Easy Reader’s Star Wars books appeal to children’s interest in characters with super powers. The Jedi, the Force, the intergalactic battles of good and evil are subjects too powerful for children to ignore. ER’s Star Wars books present good prose, appropriate use of language and, as the levels progress, longer stories to reinforce reading comprehension and build confident readers. Caregivers might feel concern for the level of violence and literary value of this literature. However, caregivers might use the moral subjects covered in this saga as a teaching tool. If developing love of reading is relevant, we may need to consider children’s taste in stories. And when necessary we can infuse these stories with teaching elements that will enhance children’s reading experience.
 Grange, Emma. (2014). Lego Star Wars: A new hope. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 23.
 Grance, Emma. (2014). Lego Star Wars: The empire strikes back. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 26.
 Thornton, Randy. (2015). Star Wars Episode IV: A new hope. Glendale, California: Lucasfilm Press.
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