May the Identity Be With You: How Nature vs. Nuture Plays Out In Star Wars

by Elizabeth Howell

“This is the prime minister’s plane,” my father said to me. I peered up the steep stairs into the empty Challenger business jet, calculating how I would get my short legs up the slope. “Go ahead inside.”

Decades later, I look back on my childhood and wonder how much my father’s profession – aviation – had to do with my decision to be a full-time space and science journalist today.

Much of our identity comes from the people we grow up with. We also have, however, innate talents that we cultivate and use as we get older. The debate rages among psychologists: Nature vs. nuture. Family vs. friends. Which influences us more?

Last summer, I explored these questions in Star Wars: Identities. It’s a travelling exhibit (then in Montreal, now in Edmonton) that follows the paths of Luke Skywalker and his father, Anakin – better known to science fiction geeks as Darth Vader.

While reading more about the different families and friends these people encountered when they were growing up, visitors to the exhibit can create their own character, choose the influences upon them and see how their creations turn out.

The first stop asked me what I wanted to be. The choice was easy for a kid who grew up flying in Douglas DC-3 cockpits and the grownup who watched shuttle launches from the Kennedy Space Center: a Jedi Knight. I wanted the fast jets, the electrified lightsabers, the ability to move objects with my mind.


That was the easy part, but as I walked through the exhibit everything became harder. Which planet did I want to live on? Who should I hang out with? What skills did I want to develop? Did I want the Force to be strong with me, or weaker to allow other influences to play upon my development?

It was hard to design my own hero, or villain, as the case may be. And all the while, I knew I was going to have to face a strong foe at the end of the journey, using whatever skills and friends I picked up along the way.

The exhibit did a decent job at mixing in the current science concerning the influences people receive as they grow up, and portraying the stages of childhood. I would have preferred more uncertainty about the findings, however, as this field of psychology is always evolving.

Identities includes a large bonus for Star Wars aficionados: original sketches, costumes and models from all six movies. Seeing Yoda, I admit, gave me a lump in my throat.

The exhibit will surely drum up interest ahead of the new Star Wars movies announced after the recent Disney acquisition of the franchise.

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