Saturday, December 23, 2017

Star Wars. Finally.

I didn't get to a second viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi this week, but I did get to a tenth? eleventh? viewing of Star Wars, the one they now call A New Hope for the sake of clarity. It was nice to reacquaint myself with the original incarnation of characters who are now, in some cases, being taken in directions I don't totally like.

But this viewing was far more important than that, and driven by something else entirely.

After being on this planet for seven years, three months and 28 days, my older son has now, finally, seen Star Wars.

It was a full year-and-a-half ago that I wrote this post, in which I offered him what had previously been a forbidden fruit: the chance to watch this movie that all of his friends had been talking about. He declined the offer on the grounds that it might be "too scary."

Since then he has never fully demanded a viewing, as I am led to believe kids usually do in these situations, but he did start talking about hearing about the recent Star Wars movies "with Kylo Ren," and in that conversation indicated he was ready to get started. We decided to spring it on him for the last day of the school year, which fell yesterday, as we are now on summer break here in Australia.

That also meant that his younger brother was going to get to watch it at a much more "appropriate" age. And by that I don't mean that he was better suited to the themes or violence or anything like that. By "appropriate" I mean that I was just about the same age he is now, maybe just a bit younger, when I saw the movie in 1977. He turns four next week.

So we engaged in a bit of "special occasion behavior" and ate our dinners in front of the TV, to get an earlier start on the movie. We followed dinner with popcorn, an ice cream the kids had each picked out at the store, and one additional sweet treat I had relented and given them as part of the path of least resistance.

This was when my nerves kicked in.

A lot is riding on a child's first viewing of Star Wars. I had been told that many kids think the first Star Wars is "boring" -- even that some adults who came of age a generation later than I did think it's boring. And your first exposure to something dictates whether an addiction to it will take hold. I felt there was a lot riding on my kids becoming addicted to Star Wars. Though you can't expect your kids to follow in your own footsteps in every way or even in most ways, there are certain dreams you just don't want to give up on.

We had long ago decided against starting with a "less boring" Star Wars movie. One of the big debates people have about exposing their kids to Star Wars, though I think most people believe there is one far better choice, is whether to start with Episode IV or to start with Episode I. In fact, we had to have a whole conversation during the movie last night explaining why this was episode four and promising him that he had not missed three other movies.

The only real argument for starting with The Phantom Menace, as I see it, is that it is a far more visually stimulating film. It has all the lights and colors and swirly things that a child demands. And sure, it also has its slow stretches, but children are less likely to get bored by a bad story than by a deliberately paced one. What I always remind myself of every time I watch Star Wars is how long it spends on Tatooine before "getting to the good stuff," if that's your perspective on it. The Phantom Menace, of course, also spends a long time on that planet, but it has a pod race, an appearance by Darth Maul, and a number of other stimulating elements.

Indeed, the kids did squirm during this part. In fact, the term I used was that they were "flopping." They floundered about on the couch like fish out of water, frequently banging into me and turning themselves upside down. Their treats, which we had been hoping to save for the second half of the movie, were being regularly demanded. To make matters worse, this was when our BluRay from the library was also at its most technically challenged. Even after we removed it to wipe off smudges, it still had a moment or two when it stuttered, then jumped ahead by as many as 15 seconds.

My wife, who is less precious about these things than I am, was giving me "that look," the one that says "This isn't working." She asked my older son if he was just too tired to watch this right now. I didn't want that question to be aired, but once it was, we couldn't put it back in the box. We'd have to go with whatever his response was.

"No," he said in that way that indicates no uncertainty, and perhaps some bemusement that the question was even being asked. It seemed pretty clear to us and the viewing continued. The younger one even managed to settle down as well. A bit.

They indicated their engagement in age relevant ways -- my younger one pointing out characters and vehicles he was already familiar with, the older one not vocalizing as that was the way he becomes engrossed in something. With relief, I could tell at this point we would make it through the whole thing.

The second half of the movie does, of course, have a lot more of the elements that traditionally entertain a child, and our two kids were no exception. There was a dip in their attention between the part where the Millennium Falcon escapes the Death Star and the X-wings start to attack it, but it didn't last. And though my younger one was flopping about again and regularly dropping these flat plastic Christmas ornaments on the ground in a way I found incredibly distracting, I had long since given up trying to govern his behavior. He'd take in Star Wars in the way he saw fit. And just because my attention span was much better at that age -- or maybe it was the fact that I was a captive audience in a movie theater -- or maybe it was that this was the only thing available that would stimulate me in quite this way -- it doesn't mean I could really blame him for it.

When it was over, the older one told me it was "the worst." However, this was just him trying out his Daddy's sense of humor. He had a big grin on his face and eventually gave his real answer. "It's my favorite movie," he said.

When I incredulously asked for clarification on his answer, hoping for something like this but never daring to expect it, he said "So far."

The only real drawback to the experience was something I had feared and something I also aired on this blog back in February of 2016. My kids had received a gift of Star Wars storybooks that told the story of the six older movies, and my big concern at the time was "What about spoilers?" I vainly hoped that the "I am your father" moment, for example, could be as much a surprise for them as it was for me. But knew that Star Wars had become legend, and that all the essential story elements would likely reach them before they had a chance to see the movies.

So indeed, as we may have read the storybook based on Episode IV a good ten times, the older one was regularly saying "Oh this is the part when." And then "Yup, I knew it." The good thing is, I didn't get the sense this was detracting from his enjoyment. I mean, adults will still watch Shakespeare even though they already know Hamlet is going to die, and how. Perhaps Star Wars is now the kid equivalent of that. They don't watch a Star Wars movie to see what's going to happen -- they watch it to see how it will happen.

And how it happened was pretty darn great for my kids.

My wife wants to make it a Christmas tradition and see "the next one next year." I can't imagine waiting a whole year to show them The Empire Strikes Back, and part of that is for selfish reasons -- my last Empire viewing was sub-par, and I am eager to revisit it so I can decide if that was a one-off reaction or if, in fact, I don't really like the movie as much as I have always said I liked it. Besides, the BluRay set we've borrowed from the library contains all three of the original trilogy.

Part of how soon we watch it may be determined by whether they a) realize we have the other movies in the house, and then b) demand the viewing. And something happened this morning may give me a preview of at least the b) part of that equation.

As I started writing this post, they started watching Star Wars again. I was only too glad to accommodate the request. However, after less then 20 minutes I heard silence coming from that room. I found that my older son had shut it off and gone back into his room.

"What happened?" I asked. "Bored?"

"Yeah," he said. "I just needed a break."

Whether it'll be a year break, or just a couple of days, The Empire Strikes Back will be next.

And I think, indeed, an addiction has been born. Maybe not the type that needs to be fed by immediate or regular or complete viewings, but one that develops into a life-long Star Wars fandom.

Of course, some of that is dependent on how good the next 15 Star Wars movies are. And that's the biggest reason to watch Empire soon. We need to get them ready to see the final of the nine movies, Episode IX, in cinemas in late 2019.

Before then, there will be lot of Star Wars goodness, some not-so-goodness, and potentially a bunch more "favorite movies ... so far."

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