This week a new kid-friendly game show, Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge, made its debut on YouTube. The premise is simple: what if we make something like all those Nickelodeon game shows from the 80’s and 90’s where kids grew up, but with a high budget and Star Wars theme? To which I thought: yes please!
Decades ago, Nickelodeon owned the children’s game show space. the popularity of Double Dare (1986-1993) sired guts (1992-1995) and, a year later, my personal favorite, Legends of the hidden templewhich has more than a little in common with the Jedi Temple Challenge†
The similarities are not coincidental. The official Star Wars website describes itself Jedi Temple Challenge as “a tribute to the kids’ cable game shows that dominated the airwaves in the 1990s.”
Legends of the Hidden Jedi Temple
Really, I was too old for it Legends of the hidden temple when it premiered in 1993. All too easily I could see the patterns, feel the transparency of the construction, and feel that looking at them was something I shouldn’t admit out loud in the harsh social environment of high school.
And yet: oh how I sought to be the right age for it! By far too tall and heavy for those sets, with no sibling or cousin to work with, I still imagined swinging across the moat, dodging through the temple, and putting that damn silver monkey together (that’s the bottomhow can you not seeing it’s the—no, you know what, never mind) to come out victorious with whatever fancy toys and holiday prizes.
If I was too old for that show in the 90s, 27 years later I sure am good outside the intended audience for Jedi Temple Challenge† My opinion of it as such may not fully reflect the experience. How lucky I am to have a target audience member at home to watch the show with me.
My daughter is almost 7 and has just wrapped up her last week of first grade. She inherited a deep love for game shows from her father and a love for video games and geek media from both of us, including Star Wars† So I sat down with her on the couch to watch the first episode of Jedi Temple Challenge and told her she could help me tell other families if they should look into it too. At the end of the first episode, she announced “I want to watch the next one!” and promptly plucked the remote from my hand to press play.
“So that’s a ‘Yes’ to ‘Should other families watch it?'”
“Yes,” she agreed.
Strength, knowledge, courage
Jedi Temple Challenge has three teams of two children who each compete in three phases. At the end of each stage, one team is eliminated, leaving the last few participants to take on the challenge of the Jedi Temple itself.
Host Ahmed Best—yes, That Ahmed Best – introduces the contestants and guides them through the challenges while accompanied by a kid-friendly, slightly smart droid companion. Best is a capable host, just affable enough without feeling compelled, highlighting how badly he was served by the prequel movies.
Luckily, even though my daughter has seen the movies, she doesn’t relate to Jar-Jar and just says, “I like him, he seems nice,” before the show continues.
The first challenge is courage, and all three teams face the same obstacle course: a large set designed to appear outdoors in a wooded area similar to Endor. Each team must complete four tasks. The first two teams to do this advance and the last team is eliminated.
The obstacle course design creates a significant advantage for older, bigger children. The two episodes we watched each featured a team of two 10-year-old contestants who played against teams of children ages 12 to 14. In both episodes, the youngest couple struggled with the height-related sections of obstacle courses (although in one of the two, the youngest boy managed to push through).
Knowledge can be boring
After the obstacle course comes a knowledge section, in which the two remaining teams go to a spaceship set and must listen to a story being told to them. After hearing the story, they face a challenge that most adult viewers will view as a functional comprehension exercise straight out of elementary school and the standardized tests. But it’s considerably cooler because it is Star Wars†
From where I sat, the knowledge section seemed by far the hardest and also the slowest. The kids hear the story exactly once, without reading it themselves, and while some of the details they need to remember are quite simple, others are bits that you would easily miss. The knowledge section is also the most prone to drag, as it lacks the physicality of the other acts and can result in a state where no one knows the right answer, much like that deer-in-headlights Danger! moment when no participant is buzzing.
“Do you think the part of the story looks easy or difficult?” I asked my daughter.
“Calm down,” she informed me wickedly.
“Do you remember everything the story said?”
“Yes!” she insisted. (This was a blatant lie.)
Once a team has reached five correct answers, they may proceed to the titular Temple Challenge. In both episodes we watched, the order of challenges in the temple was identical.
The most interesting challenge comes about a third of the way through: a Keep talking and nobody explodes-style puzzle where the kids are separated and one can see the answer but the other can manipulate the pieces.
The marks on the pieces themselves are tricky to describe, and when children try under pressure, their attempts — “those like a rectangle of lines” — can be fuzzy. So while the kids frustrate each other, the Dark Side calls them — literally. By name. Each partner has access to a glowing red kiosk that calls them by name, challenges them, taunts them a bit and tries to undermine them the more they ignore it.
By touching the Dark Side crystal, the players can get around the puzzle – with the warning that yielding to the Dark Side can make later tasks more challenging. In one episode, the team persevered without giving in. In the other, one player made the strategic decision that they were spending too much time on one puzzle and had to work around it in an attempt to catch up with time later. Strategically, this seemed like the right decision, I mused aloud, and they probably should have done it sooner than they did.
My daughter, on the other hand, was quite rejected, as any good junior Jedi would be. She replied with an indignant, “NO!” when I asked if she had listened to the Dark Side.
But is it? pleasure?
You can’t beat the production values that Disney brings to its hand Star Wars programming, and Jedi Temple Challenge is no exception. But do all the costumes, technology, beautiful interactive sets and slick editing make the show entertaining for its actual target audience?
“Yes, yes, yes,” my daughter says. “I thought the temple looked interesting!
“I like the obstacle course the most,” she added, before trying to replicate the jumps on our new living room couch (“Please stop, honey.”). “But in the second episode it was boring that the purple team lost and every team lost.”
So what’s your verdict, kid?
“I would tell other kids it’s a great show.” And like all of us, she usually imagines herself in it. “If I went, who would I go with?”
“Not your brother,” I said, referring to our barely verbal toddler in diapers. “He’s too young.”
“But I want to be on that show! How old do you have to be?’
“Probably 10, it seems.”
“Boo-hoo,” she grumbled.
The first two episodes of Jedi Temple Challenge can currently be streamed for free on the Star Wars Kids YouTube channel. The eight remaining episodes of the first season are added weekly.