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Monday, October 26, 2015

My Daughters and Star Wars



My daughters are 5 and 7. My wife loves Star Wars so they've seen the movie before. They kinda know what happens in it, they know who the characters are, but they don't quite know how they glue together. Now imagine that you're the Dad, who can't open one web page without stepping into a full analysis of why Wicket is the best/worst Ewok.

The result is the five-year-old can't stop asking questions and the seven-year-old gets emotionally distraught because Darth Vader (who is her favorite character for reasons I can't fathom) dies at the end.

You get a frustrated daddy. That's what.



I've got to read all of Jabba the Hutt's subtitles, and then explain why some of his dialogue is subtitled and some of it isn't. How do you clarify director's decisions like that? I don't know, kid -- some of it was self-explanatory, some of it wasn't. Except to you, where EVERYTHING needs explanation.  No, I don't know why he didn't make it consistent. I can't read George Lucas's mind. I wouldn't want to.

And then there's the stupid stuff, like what a trap door is. Or what's in the Sarlaac Pit. And who Jabba the Hutt is ("is he a king?") Explain organized crime to a five-year-old, I dare you.

But while it's a frustrated daddy, it's also a happy daddy. Because while they might not know why they're asking the questions, I know all the answers. I know why the guy is crying over the rancor. I know why Yoda and Obi-Wan disappear instead of leaving a corpse. I know why all the stormtroopers are the same.

And they are INVESTED. I laugh at the melodramatic way that "many Bothans died to bring us this information". They want to raise a flag at half-mast.


The hardest part is character motivations. Thankfully, they've had this question before in the context of Frozen, and I could use that as an example. It's even in the song. People make bad decisions when they're hurt or scared or angry. I never thought I'd be thankful for the prequels and all the crap they pulled. But at least they gave tangibility to Anakin's motivations. It's hard for kids to understand the complicated human experience. I tried to explain Luke's actions by "what if Daddy left and decided to take over the world because he was afraid of you dying?" They didn't get it.

Listen, I've got to confess, I haven't seen Return of the Jedi in years. Maybe the last time I watched it was before college. But it's my favorite of the movies. Maybe because it concludes. Maybe because it's got the most muppets and dynamic set pieces. Maybe I like the Ewoks (my five-year-old certainly does. And why wouldn't she? They're big walking teddy bears.) These are all just ways to introduce young children to Star Wars, but they work. It's got something for everyone.


Watching it again, I get excited about Star Wars. What makes it magical are all the little touches. The cut-aways to Jabba's cackling gremlin pet. The fact that that gremlin has a name, and that name sounds like an Esperanto door-to-door salesman. Or taking just a few seconds from the Battle of Endor to focus on this Ewok mourning his dead friend. How the Ewok's conquer with their low tech versus high tech, the lessons we didn't learn from Vietnam. These days, that wouldn't fly -- in what world can a trunk of oak hold against a laser rifle?

The best part is, I get to tell them that there is a next movie. Maybe we'll even get to take them to it. When I was a kid, the idea of another movie was unthinkable. Seventeen years passed with nothing but crappy Ewok specials -- who would have thought they'd make a sequel after that. Then when I was a teen, the prequels were unexpected and unwanted. They diluted the brand, glorifying the flaws of the old movies. And, like all prequels, were pointless because we already knew what happens. 

Now it is an honor that I can share Star Wars with my kids. I'm not sure about the five-year-old, but the seven-year-old, I hope Episode VII answers her question: "What happens next?" And these are the greatest words a writer can hear.

Of course, now I have a conundrum of how long I can go with the original trilogy. How long I can keep the prequels hidden?

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