Brady and I have watched Donald Duck star in “Bee on the Beach” approximately twelve times in a row when inspiration strikes. Brady already loves rockets and spaceships. And love of The Force runs strong in my family. Wouldn’t we both enjoy watching Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO speeding through the galaxy in the Millennium Falcon?
I type “Star Wars 1977 Original Trailer” in the YouTube search box and click on one of the videos. This is going to be an Epic Auntie Moment!
Then I look over at Brady. Uh, oh.
Suddenly, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
“I don’t like it,” he says.
I feel a Disturbance in The Force so great that the Richter scale would have to go to 11 to capture its full magnitude.
As the trailer continues to run, I attempt to buy some time by employing the “Pretending Not To Hear” strategy. Brady frequently uses this tactic himself when bedtime is announced, although without much success.
I don’t fare any better. Brady speaks up again, louder this time:
“I DON’T LIKE IT.”
Sigh. We go back to watching Donald Duck.
And I ponder: why is this so important, anyway?
I saw the original Star Wars on my 10th birthday at the Fox Theater in Spokane, WA. (Back then, Episode IV was just referred to as Star Wars.) A family outing to the movies was a Big Deal, and as the birthday girl, I got to choose the film! I picked Star Wars over The Rescuers (my second choice), because I was expecting a movie version of “Battle of the Network Stars”. You know, with shirtless paramedics from “Emergency” and bikini-clad Charlie’s Angels engaged in an epic tug-of-war with the cast members of “Little House on the Prairie” and “Happy Days” on the other side of the mud pit.
So my faulty analytical skills actually led to a pretty darn good decision. (Unlike, say, the time I moved to Pittsburgh.)
I quickly fell in love with the story and the characters, even though my 10-year-old mind was blown (and not in a good way) by Darth Vader’s narrow escape at the end of the movie. My frame of reference for drama was hour-long TV shows that ended with the BAD GUYS in jail (or dead) and the GOOD GUYS sharing a hearty laugh over a lame joke as the credits started to roll. The escape of the BAD GUY at the end of the movie caused me considerable angst.
Oh, but I found a new definition of pain and suffering three years later with The Empire Strikes Back. I left the theater not only worrying about Han Solo’s fate, but perhaps even more distressing, wondering who had lied to Luke Skywalker about his parentage. (The deception had to come from Darth Vader, not Obi-Wan Kenobi, right? Because only the BAD GUYS tell lies, right?)
The saga was never far from my thoughts for the next three years. Yeah, some other stuff happened during that time. Let’s see, a giant volcano blew up and dumped ash all over my neighborhood, folks elected some actor guy to be the President, and something called the personal computer was invented. Whatever. Clearly, the most important milestone of the early 1980s was the release of Return of the Jedi. My dad picked up my sister and I from school on opening day so we could catch the matinee. We were so excited that we forgot to care about the potential social embarrassement from being spotted riding in the DadMobile. (There is some historical controversy over the make and model of said car, but I believe it was a red and white Ford Country Squire Station Wagon.)
The third installment brought blessed resolution – but also another Mount St. Helens-like shake-up of my GOOD GUY/BAD GUY worldview. For starters, we found out it was Obi-Wan Kenobi who had told Luke a big, fat, fib about his father. Then later, when Luke said of Darth Vader, “There is good in him; I’ve felt it”, I was pretty sure he’d consumed too many adult beverages at Ewok Happy Hour. And finally, when Luke declared to Vader, “I will not fight you,” I wanted to yell at the screen (as if that might help), “Finish him off, Sissy Jedi Boy! He killed Obi-Wan Kenobi! He whacked off your hand! He had Han Solo frozen in carbonite!” In my mind, A (someone has wronged you terribly) plus B (you have a Light Saber) should equal C (pulling out a can of Intergalactic Whoop Ass).
Although I was a pretty good math student, I guess I wasn’t ready to be a Jedi.
But despite the cliffhangers and the thorny moral issues – actually, probably because of them – the Star Wars saga took up permanent residence in my head in a way that your average episode of “Quincy, M.E.” or “The Rockford Files” could not.
The story and its characters became so tightly woven into the fabric of my childhood that just hearing a few notes from the Main Theme can send me speeding back to 1977 faster than Doc Brown’s DeLorian time machine. So part of the reason I was so keen to see Brady embrace The Force was to let him experience this joyride for himself – the suspense, the surprises, the laughs, and the lessons.
But there’s more at stake than sharing an engaging story or traveling down memory lane.
You see, Brady and I have regular “play dates” now. As I walk up the driveway to his house, I love seeing his little face in the window, giggling at my funny socks, goofy hat, or fake moustache. Our connection comes easily now. But I can’t take for granted that it will always be that way. A few years down the road, I hope we can share more than a “wassup” as he looks away for two nanoseconds from his Xbox Twelve or PlayStation 17.
So I’d hoped that Brady’s first look at the Star Wars saga would ignite a shared interest that could endure as he starts to get older. Something that would allow us to maintain a lasting bond when I can no longer get an easy laugh by making his Dinosaur Chicken Nuggets fight each other. (Side note: Chicken Nugget Gladiators is frowned upon by the rest of the family, as it is considered “playing with your food”. To which I reply, “WHY did they make the Chicken Nuggets shaped like Dinosaurs, if you weren’t supposed to play with them?”)
Brady and I do share a love for Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang – but I suspect there is an Adolescent Boy Code that requires male children of a certain age to renounce kinder, gentler cartoons in favor of entertainment involving Superheroes or Fart Jokes. (Or both). And I fear that age is drawing closer and closer.
The Star Wars saga, though, lives in perpetual coolness. More than three decades after our Return of the Jedi outing, I pick up my Dad and my sister (in a MUCH more socially acceptable car) to see The Force Awakens on opening weekend. Now the circle is complete. Well, almost.
Many of our fellow moviegoers – some clad in costume – are too young to have seen the original trilogy on the big screen. Heck, some of them are too young to have seen the prequels on the big screen. But here we are, multiple generations gathered together, expectantly awaiting the continuation of this epic saga, set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Applause breaks out when the iconic orchestral fanfare of the Main Theme begins and when Han Solo makes his entrance. And we cheer again as the final credits start to roll.
But I’ve digressed. Back in YouTube Land, Brady and I are watching “Bee on the Beach” for the thirteenth time, hostilities rapidly escalating between the hapless Donald Duck and the clever Bee.
And then my Inner Yoda pipes up: “Patience, you must have, my not-so-young Padawan. Built in a day Cloud City was not.”
I know that patience is a virtue. It’s just not generally one of my virtues. But I wait.
I start “talking” to Brady in bleeps and boops – and tell him that it’s robot language. When I make home videos in iMovie, I put text in the “Star Wars Crawl” format, accompanied by the Main Theme.
I also start working on a back-up plan. I Google “Superheroes” to try and catch up. And also “Fart Jokes”.
And then one day, it clicks. Maybe because of my not-so-subtle nudges. Maybe because kids at school were talking about the movies. Or maybe because EVERY SINGLE STORE in the United States now sells cuddly plush Stormtroopers. (Let’s be honest – I’m not super thrilled with that particular aspect of the Disney marketing machine).
Suddenly, Brady takes an interest in not only Stormtroopers, but also R2-D2, “Dark Vader”, and “Yoga”. As his fifth birthday draws closer, he asks for a Star Wars-themed party.
A somewhat finicky eater, Brady promises his Mommy that if she buys the box of Star Wars Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Yoda on the package (sigh…really?), he will take at least three bites.
He asks to watch Star Wars DVDs at his Gra and Dadat’s house. (I do worry about the violence. But is this story really more disturbing than, say, the perennial holiday favorite “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”? The one where the hateful mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger outlaws toys and declares that anyone found possessing one will be locked up in a dungeon?) At first, Brady’s attention span only lasts a few minutes, but gets longer and longer with each viewing.
Brady’s Gra buys him some Star Wars Little Golden Books, one for each movie in the original trilogy. The plots are fairly accurate, although they tend to gloss over some of the finer points, such as the disturbing (in hindsight) brother-sister kiss from The Empire Strikes Back. It usually takes Brady a little while to warm up to new books. But he immediately wants to hear all three stories read back-to-back.
As Brady’s sense of wonder, enthusiasm, and curiosity unfolds, he has loads of questions about the story and the characters.
He asks when Darth Vader turns into a GOOD GUY. (I tell him.)
He wants to know if R2-D2 has one eye or two. (I make some stuff up.)
He asks what happens when Darth Vader takes his mask off. (Oh, holy crap. I make a lot of stuff up, as I can’t bear to tell him the truth. More lies from the GOOD GUYS).
During our next YouTube-a-thon, Brady wants to watch someone build an R2-D2 unit. We find a video of a gentleman using a 3-D printer to create individual pieces for an R2 frame. The work looks tedious, but Brady is fascinated.
“Is he in a garage?”
“Ummm…yes. Probably a garage. Or maybe an attic.”
“What does his Mommy think?”
“She…uh…thinks he is really smart to make his own R2-D2. So she is happy.”
Brady’s request for a 3-D printer is shot down. But after I leave, he makes his own R2-D2 out of a soda can, construction paper, and a Styrofoam ball. His Mommy is happy. She texts me a picture.
I look at the photograph and smile.
Now the circle is complete.