It finally happened, as I knew it would, and I am very happy.
My daughter, a couple of weeks before her 6th birthday, expressed a desire to see the Star Wars movies.
I saw it coming, as soon as I figured out that she had a kindergarten classmate who was always talking about Darth Vader, Princess Leia and the gang. On the drive back from a summer Zoo camp, I kept them both giggling by doing my best Obi-Wan, “These aren’t the droids your looking for”, while waving my hand mysteriously. I had no idea this was going to be such a big hit among the Munchkin set, but as any parent of a kid this age knows, you ride what works until it stops working, especially if it leads your kids in a good direction.
So after a very brief discussion with Mom (anything like this needs to be a cooperative decision), I invited Maile to watch Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope with me. Of course we would watch it together, for a number of reasons. She’s a pretty mature kid, with a good head on her shoulders, so I wasn’t worried so much about the “mature” content, but I also think the whole saga can be a bit confusing on the first viewing. Also, I really wanted to share in an actual first exposure to something that really has become one of the major myths of contemporary western culture.
It took us around a month to get through all six movies, and I have to say, the experience of watching the whole saga this way with my daughter actually did change some of the opinions and ideas that I have had about Star Wars for, in some cases, over 30 years (wow!).
A Brief History of Star Wars:
First off, those of my generation will recall that when Star Wars first came out, way back in 1977, there was one option, and one option only to see it: Get in the car and get driven to the theater (The Westgate, for those in my neck of the woods, famous for having the longest continuous run of the original Star Wars movie, 70 weeks!). There was no on-demand, no Netflix streaming, no DVD. It would be another 6 years or so before my family would be able to drop $600.00 on our first Beta VCR, and even then it would be several more years before Star Wars made it to the small screen. So we would go to the theater, over and over. In my case, I made the trek no less than 14 times. In my crowd, it was an early way of tracking ones’ fan “cred”, and keeping score with the other future geeks.
Then the waiting began.
It was three full years after Star Wars before we could once again bug our parents to pile into the Datsun and make the pilgrimage to the sacred site in Beaverton and see The Empire Strikes Back. Three years is a long time to digest and deconstruct an important cultural happening, and that’s largely what we did. Of course, being little kids, we also made up several hundred hours of additional story line, as well as absorbing the early trickle of novels that started being released (The first time I stayed up so late that I saw the sun come up, I was just finishing George Lucas’ novelization of Star Wars, and thinking about how much more story was packed into the book than made it into the movie). Unfortunately, there was precious little new visual media, and that was largely made up of the Star Wars Holiday Special…
So when Empire came out, we were ready for it, and boy were we surprised at some of the plot twists! It now appeared that the Star Wars saga was getting quite a bit more involved and intricate, so the next three year wait seemed even longer. What was going to happen? The flow of additional novels and stories increased from a trickle to a torrent, so we had plenty to think about when Return of the Jedi was finally released.
Okay, now we had the Whole Story… Right?
Well, yes and no. By the time Jedi was released, home video rentals were becoming more common, and so it would soon be possible to watch the entire saga in one sitting. Or so we thought…
It had been widely circulated among the nerd rumor community that the Star Wars that we had come to know and love represented just a small portion of the entire story as George Lucas had originally conceived it. At the time, I had no reason to doubt that this was the case, especially since the crawls at the beginning of Empire and Jedi each clearly identified the respective films as episodes V and VI (later versions of the original Star Wars added the line “Episode IV, A New Hope” to the crawl).
There were a couple of re-releases of the first two films in the early 80’s, and by the late 90’s, the trilogy was in regular rotation on cable networks like TBS, but for the most part, there was a lot more waiting. Then, suddenly, in 1997, to mark the 20th anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope, there was something new on the Star Wars horizon: Each of the original three films was re-released as a Special Edition, with a lot of 1970’s era special effects replaced with new, state of the art versions. There were a few character changes, but the majority of the differences were cosmetic. It was nice to see the old films again, like meeting up with an old friend who looks suspiciously well-preserved.
Then some more waiting happened… Babies who were born the day Return of the Jedi premiered could drive themselves to the opening of the next Star Wars film; Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This film was different, not just because it was a prequel, but because special effects technology had caught up with George Lucas’ vision. Two more films came out, on the same three-year cycle that the first trilogy followed.
So, for those keeping score, those of us who experienced Star Wars in “real time”, it took from 1997 to 2005 to experience the entire saga. That’s 28 YEARS in which to carefully digest, deconstruct, and otherwise create a detailed worldview of the Star Wars universe.
Things I never noticed:
Like any good cultural work, repeat viewings at different times revel different aspects of the work. For just about any work, Star Wars included, I highly recommend watching with a 6 year-old. They have a truly uncanny perspective on things. Here are, in no particular order, some things I discovered while watching all six movies in rapid succession with my daughter:
- Anikin and Luke are both serious whiners. Seriously. Watch the movies again, and tell me I’m wrong. Okay, in Phantom Menace Anikin is just a little kid, and actually acts a lot more maturely than he does in the next two films. Once Attack of the Clones starts, he basically just bitches about Obi-Wan to Padme, who somehow finds this behavior to be other than repulsive. He then keeps pushing himself on Padme, who keeps saying no. He doesn’t back off from her and then bitches about Obi-Wan some more. He’s pretty much an adolescent at the time. so I suppose it’s understandable, if not completely forgivable. It does make one wonder why he’s being left alone in the room with a pretty high-ranking senator and former elected queen.
As for Luke…
Really, if I have to explain this, then you haven’t seen the movies.
- Jar Jar isn’t actually all that bad…This one will be controversial, I’m sure. When Phantom Menace came out, I was right there on the wagon, holding my torch and pitchfork, ready to rip that guy’s ears off, and tell my kid that Jar Jar tried to kill her grandma. Now, the way the whole saga unfolds, Jar Jar is really just a momentary annoyance, kind of like a moth flying around the room for a couple hours. You know it’s not something you’re going to have to learn to live with, it’s going away soon. And really, if not Jar Jar, how does the story get driven into the second act?
- By far, the coolest, most badass character in the entire saga is the shortest…Yes, that’s right. After careful consideration, and after viewing the entire saga in rapid succession in the presence of a six year-old, I have determined that the coolest, awesomest, and baddest-assed character is none other than Yoda.
I mean just look at the light saber battle with Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones and Emperor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. Here’s a guy that’s got so much Force that he doesn’t even reach for his light saber, he just holds out his hand and lets The Force toss it to him. That’s just the beginning! He then jumps around the room, spinning and twisting, taking care of business with some of the finest digital wire-fighting ever seen on any size screen.
What the experience has meant to my daughter:
Maile has a summer birthday, and immediately upon finishing A New Hope, she decided she wanted a Star Wars themed birthday party. I have to admit that I hadn’t really done a lot of looking, but I also can’t say I was really surprised to discover that it is just as easy to throw a Star Wars party in 2011 as it was in 1977. A single trip to the party store secured thank you cards with Yoda on them, a special Star Wars version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, cups, napkins and a Darth Vader pinata (The new kind where you pull a ribbon instead of whacking it with a stick).
As is the tradition in our family, my mother in-law made a special Princess Leia cake for the occasion, and I was proud to see that she included my suggestion of using cinnamon rolls for Leia’s braids.
For the last few days, Maile has been very excited about playing with her new action figures, and it’s really made me happy that what she is really excited about is the both of us sitting on the floor in the living room reenacting A New Hope. It just doesn’t get any better than that…
Maile is most definitely a Girl. She loves things that are pink, and she’s gone from being into princesses to fairies, and is starting into Barbie, so I’m not terribly surprised that her favorite characters are Princess Leia and Queen (then Senator) Amidala. Compared to some of the other royalty that Maile has been into, I have no problem with this. Leia and Amidala are some pretty powerful women who I think make better role models than anything Disney or Mattel have offered. Neither of these women are even close to being damsels in distress, and are confident and comfortable in positions of bold leadership. There are certainly worse examples out there for young girls.
What Star Wars Means
While shopping for the Star Wars party, I noticed that there were a lot of other franchises that were at least as old as Star Wars that were also represented on cups and napkins. Barbie was there, Hello Kitty, the various Disney princesses, that kind of thing. What I also noticed, though, is that all of those other characters and worlds may have been something that present day parents enjoyed in their own childhood, but I didn’t see anything besides Star Wars that parents would generally enjoy watching or reading about if the kids weren’t around (actually, I guess I shouldn’t be too sure about Hello Kitty). Star Wars, on the other hand, is something that my contemporaries and I have probably bought at least two or three times: On VHS way back when, then on DVD, and soon on BluRay. I also defy anyone born after 1970 to try and claim that they don’t stop if they’re channel surfing and stumble across the Millenium Falcon.
It is important to keep in mind that the Star Wars saga really is contemporary mythology. It’s no secret, and no coincidence that George Lucas was an eager student of Joseph Campbell, whose Power of Myth really defined just why some stories have absolutely undeniable staying power. As long as there have been people, stories have been passed down from generation to generation. It is an important method of maintaining a cultural heritage, and for that matter, an actual culture. The Star Wars saga is just that kind of story. One that has great archetypal characters, illustrates the wonder of what might be, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. Throw in some great allegorical content, and you have yourself an honest to goodness myth.
I’ll tell you what, though, it sure is fun to see my little girl get so excited about something we can share!
(oh, and of course, I can’t forget this great YouTube video!)