Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Parenting Dilemma: When and How Do I Introduce My Children to Star Wars?
Sometime in the next month, my wife will be giving birth to twin girls. This event has forced us to consider all kinds of questions, from where we want to settle down to what kind of food we feed them. Last evening my wife and I discussed a less pressing, but very difficult question: when and how will we introduce them to Star Wars?
I must say that I am amazed at the staying power of Star Wars amongst children born decades after its initial release. I lived much of my early childhood totally immersed in the Star Wars universe, playing with the toys and acting out scenarios with my friends for hours on end. Once we got a VCR in 1985 and they started showing the films on television, I managed to tape and watch them over and over again. One of my sisters always recounted her favorite dream ever, which involved Han Solo landing the Millennium Falcon in our backyard and whisking her away with him. I spent much of the summer of 1983 wearing two t-shirts: a black one that read "Beat It!" in large red letters, and a kind of powdery blue shirt with Luke Skywalker wielding a lightsaber. The next year I gladly choked down the vile concoction that was C-3PO breakfast serial and jumped for joy when I got the Ewok village toy set for Christmas.
I never would have thought that Star Wars toys would be just as common a quarter of a century later. This weekend my in-laws had a backyard party at their house, and I was amazed to see one little tyke wearing shoes with C-3PO and R2-D2 on them, and another with a t-shirt depicting Yoda wearing sunglasses. These boys seemed to love Star Wars just as much as I did when I was younger. I once worried that my kids would think of the things I love as outdated or lame, but it looks like Star Wars is something that we could share together. However, I am not sure how to bring it into their lives.
The question of when and how to introduce Star Wars came up after we watched Revenge of the Sith (the third prequel, for the uninitiated) last night, which my wife hadn't ever seen, despite (or perhaps because) her love of the original trilogy. It seems she stopped watching Attack of the Clones after about fifteen minutes, thinking it to be a steaming pile of crap (can't say I disagree) and gave up on the prequels. Conversely, both she and I like Revenge of the Sith, which I consider to be at least the equal of Return of the Jedi (perhaps that is damning with faint praise.) I asked her whether we would introduce the prequels to our twin daughters, start with the original trilogy, or simply pretend that the prequels never existed.
From a chronological, story-arc perspective, it makes sense to start with prequel number one, The Phantom Menace. It's not just the well-documented lameness of this flick that bugs me; however, but the knowledge that kids love Jar Jar. I am so afraid that if I start with this film, my girls will think Jar Jar is the coolest and funniest, with his slapstick antics and muppet-like voice. If that happens I just might have to put myself in exile in Dagobah.
My wife and I have agreed to start them with the original Star Wars (I refuse on general principle to call it A New Hope.) It's an obvious choice, considering it's the first made, etc., but we are also especially keen on starting here because Princess Leia is such a badass in this flick. I am already having to contend with the fact that social norms are molding my daughters into objectified beauty objects, at least based on the fact that we've been gifted all kinds of frilly pink baby clothes. They'll need some role models, and in this movie Leia will provide a good example. It is she who leads the rebel forces and manages to keep the Death Star plans safe. She manages to withstand torture without betraying her people. She refuses to play the damsel in distress, shooting storm troopers and repeatedly telling off her would be captors. ("Into the garbage shoot flyboy," "Will someone please get this walking carpet out of my way," and "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" are particular favorite lines in this regard.) You can easily contrast Leia's toughness with the simpering antics of Padme/Amidalla from the prequels. In the third installment she seems to spend most of her time doing her hair.
At this point I figure I will introduce Star Wars around age four (I really can't wait for this moment), and pretend the prequels don't exist until they ask questions or their friends say something about it. I like the third enough to maybe make an exception. The other thing to consider, of course, is which version of the original trilogy to show my daughters. I only have the "special editions" version on DVD (I've got the remastered originals from the 1990s on VHS), so I should probably go out and get the non-gussied up versions on DVD, which you have to buy separately, at a premium, and which come with the special edition discs that I already had to pay for. I rented the DVD version of the unaltered Star Wars a couple of years ago, and was blown away at how much it looked like the mid-budget 1970s film that it was. It was liberating and glorious, and it made what Lucas accomplished in 1977 with mostly unknown actors and little studio support that much more of a creative triumph. Of course, my daughters probably will find the CGI Jabba the Hutt more interesting. But damn it, there are sacred things in this world, and my daughters should not live in a world where Greedo shot first.
Children are unpredictable, and my two girls might not care about the differences between the originals and special editions, or even have any interest in watching Star Wars at all. I'll be happiest if they can explore their own interests, whether or not I share them. That said, I will feel a little secret sorrow if they don't like Star Wars, akin to the anguish I felt when I first saw Han Solo frozen in carbonate as a five year old. After all, I first saw Attack of the Clones with my pops, and it was a great emotional moment for us to return to very same theater where he'd taken me to see The Empire Strikes Back those many years ago. The new film might've been shitty, but walking out of the theater with such warm memories rekindled, I don't think we really cared.