Star Wars: Evolution of a Child-Snatching Fan Franchise

A little girl poses for a photo with Star Wars fans during the annual Star Wars Day in Taipei on May 4, 2016.  SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
A little girl poses for a photo with Star Wars fans during the annual Star Wars Day in Taipei on May 4, 2016. SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

My wife and I hadn't introduced our four-year-old son to the world of "Star Wars" yet. His obsession has always been animals, and we figured there'd be time enough for light sabers and blasters later on. But that didn't stop him from seeing Luke and company on a schoolmate's t-shirt -- and then on a lunch box he simply had to have.

I'm fairly positive I'd seen the original "Star Wars" by the time I was his age, but I know he's not quite ready yet. He doesn’t care for the darker elements in "Zootopia" or "Labyrinth," so I'm not about to force light saber dismemberment on him -- and I say that as a dad who still geeks out over light saber kills. But he kept probing me about it, so I agreed to show him the original trailer for 1977's "Star Wars."

Afterwards, he asked me "Are there any Star Wars for kids?"

Granted, that original trailer is a bit underwhelming, but I think he realized it wasn't quite in keeping with the PBS kids shows he loves -- yet it still sucked him in, like some finely calibrated trap that children cannot help but succumb to. It got me wondering: Are entertainment franchises evolving? Like some virus honed by generations of natural selection, does each succeeding generation of children encounter an ever more irresistible form of marketing glitz?

Now granted, the evolution of a species takes place over longer periods of time, with successive generations of mutation feeling life's way through the demands of environment and competition -- till a mantis resembles an orchid, or a fish glides through the air. Star Wars hasn't been around the block for 10 million years, but nearly four decades have seen wave after wave of kids pass through its gates, all while the universe and toy offerings expanded into ever varying forms. The less-successful mutations (such as " The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour") died out while others grew and expanded, goaded on by corporate A/B testing, focus groups and an industry of creative minds.

Without even factoring in the parent-focused tractor beam of nostalgia, is the current gravitational pull of a franchise like "Star Wars" simply too massive to escape? Is the franchise something of continually evolving mimetic virus, highly evolved to infect young minds? And if so, what form may it eventually take? Mythological potency? Hyper-real religion? God?

I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just saying there might be no escape. And I think I know what I'm going to start him off with:

Robert Lamb is a senior writer and host at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind. An avid science enthusiast, he boasts a deep love for monsters and a hankering for electronic music.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.