Late Saturday night, a few hours after we finished watching "Revenge Of The Sith," about an hour after both of the boys had fallen asleep, I was sitting in my office when the door opened and a sleepy-eyed Allen walked in.
"Dad, I think it's sad that Anakin's a bad guy."
"Did you just wake up to tell me that?"
"Yeah. I hope he gets better."
I picked him up, carried him back down the hallway to his bedroom, and he was asleep again by the time I tucked him in surrounded by his stuffed animals. That one thought was weighing on him enough that he needed to get up and come tell me. And as I sat back down, I realized what showing the films in this particular has done narratively that is underlined in a very different way now. More than ever, the notion of having to stand against one's father to punish him and, maybe, to redeem him is written in GIANT GLOWING LETTERS now. The last thing they saw was the birth of Luke and Leia.
Which blew their minds, by the way.
Like, off the charts, oh my god, running in circles. Blew. Their. Minds.
And that wasn't the biggest moment of the night.
Let me back up to the start. Oddly, there's been next to no "Star Wars" talk this week. We've all been busy, and when we've been together, there's been reading (we've started the Lemony Snicket series for Toshi at bedtime) and sports and running around and we saw "Puss In Boots" together and it's been nice. But very little of this week's energy was devoted to a warm-up for the next movie, except for once on Wednesday when Toshi was doing his homework and I was in the kitchen, and he said, alarmed, as if suddenly realizing something, "Dad, we're watching 'Star Wars' on Saturday, right? 'Rejenthe of the Sith,' right?" He can't say "Revenge" at all, even if he sounds it out first. It's like Allen, who insists on calling the film they saw on Friday "Puss In Cats." I assured Toshi that we were still set to see the next movie.
"This is the one where Anakin has to fight Darth Vader, right?"
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do."
"I'm not telling you."
"But you know." He's made sure to tell Allen this, as well. He considers it almost unconscionable that I know everything about "Star Wars" but haven't answered the big questions for them.
We had an early start Saturday with flag football for Toshi, and then we went home for lunch, and finally, as we sat there eating, Toshi couldn't take it anymore.
"So after we eat… we can watch 'Star Wars' right now, right?"
"No. You guys are going to a birthday party at Skateland."
"Can we watch some of it?"
"You don't want to watch part of the movie."
"Yes I do." He got his brother to chime in as well, and they both said that they'd be willing to watch part of it now and part after the party.
I thought about the structure of "Sith" and realized there was a fairly natural breaking point that I could stop at, and we could do that section of the film in the time they had before they had to get ready to leave.
"Okay. Fine." There was much rejoicing and singing of my praises as lunch was inhaled at twice the normal speed by both of them, and then we adjourned to my office. By now, Toshi's claimed my office couch as his own and Allen insists on sitting on me for the whole film. He likes to lounge, too.
Both of them together sing the 20th Century Fox fanfare when it plays each time. Then Toshi loudly reads "LUCASFILM LIMITED". And then they both say it together as the blue words appear.
"A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY…"
I was startled by how participatory it was this time. They've internalized the way the movies start now. And then Toshi reads the opening crawl for his little brother. And Allen is poised on Toshi's very dramatic reading of the entire thing, intent, and as soon as Toshi finishes reading, he explains it to Allen again. "So Anakin and Obi Wan are going to fight with General Grievous from the cartoon and he kidnapped the nice old man who is Anakin's friend."
That's who Palpatine is to them.
One of the many questions that Toshi and Allen asked me right after we watched "Attack Of The Clones" last week was about the identity of Darth Sidious. I told them that he was in the movies without his face covered up, but they didn't know who it was. And they were shocked at the mere suggestion. Toshi hasn't puzzled it out, and as much as I can't imagine not knowing, they don't know. They have no idea what's coming in this movie we're about to watch, and I realize that it's going to be a genuine jolt when it happens.
They also wanted to know why Ashoka from the "Clone Wars" isn't in the movie, and I didn't have an answer for them. I can only assume some awful moment lies in her future on the animated series, and that it will be yet another bitter pill for them to swallow since they like her a lot.
So we watched the entire opening sequence of the movie, up to the moment where Anakin and Padme are finally reunited, which led to a "ewwwww, they're kissing again" moment from both the boys. Perfect place to stop. That opening is absolutely monstrous in scale. It's bigger than most movies at any point, beginning, middle or ending. It's outrageous. They love R2-D2 as much as always, and each new power he demonstrates in the films is greeted by cheers from the boys. Allen loved watching R2 burn up some other robots, an almost Beavis-level of glee erupting from him. And Grievous was a big hit. They like him on the cartoon, but Toshi was excited to see "the real him."
When Anakin executed Count Dooku, that was shock number one for the boys. And I will stand by my initial statement in 2005 when I said that Ian McDiarmid in that scene ("Kill him") in particular and the movie as a whole is absolutely fantastic. It's one of my favorite performances in any "Star Wars" film including the original trilogy. He's a reptile. He's lip-smackingly awful. I love him. The execution upset both of them. Toshi said, "He's just fooling, right?" I had to point out where Dooku's head was and how unfortunately not-attached-to-his-body it had become, much to Toshi's dismay.
"Anakin sure likes to cut off heads," he told me after we watched the whole sequence. I think the excitement of the crash landing and the escape that follows distracted him some from his reaction, but in the moment, he looked at me, and he was upset by it. He likes to hold onto my arm even though he's sitting on the couch, and when he's really wrapped up in something, he can squeeze hard enough to bruise. He and Allen both left the house for the rollerskating party playing lightsaber battle, and I could see my wife steeling herself for a full day of it.
When they came back, they'd already eaten dinner, so they were ready to dive right back into the film. I happily agreed, and we sat down, starting with Anakin wrestling with his fear of Padme's death and the beginnings of Palpatine's big move. That's what the whole movie is about. He's making a move, paying off everything he's ever put into motion, and the endgame is that he's in power, it's an Empire instead of a Republic, and Anakin is his new Sith apprentice. That's the big plan, and it comes together… well, perfectly. This is a movie in which the bad guy, who has been hiding in plain sight, steps forward, unmasks himself, does exactly what he wants, and gets everything he wants while the good guys either die or run and hide.
Holy crap. I didn't think about that. It's never played that way for me as an adult before. But watching it with them, and watching them react to it, and talking to them in the hour or so between the end of the film and bedtime, I am blown away by the way the film's "secrets" played out for them.
When Palpatine reveals himself to be a Sith Lord, Toshi called a time out. He proceeded to stand and march back and forth in front of me, laying out this CRAZY THEORY that he had that JUST MAYBE this nice old man might actually be DARTH FREAKIN' SIDIOUS. He was like Clarence Darrow. He was flipping out that this old guy who has always seemed so sweet and good-hearted is actually PRETTY MUCH THE BIGGEST BAD GUY IN THE HISTORY OF BAD GUYS.
Allen didn't get it until Toshi explained it, but once he did, Allen yelled, outraged all of a sudden, "THAT NICE OLD MAN IS REALLY KIND OF BAD!"
When Anakin started talking about cheating death, Toshi told me, almost as if confiding in me, "That's not a good idea." Allen shushed him. There's a lot of that. Each of them feels they have the right to speak because they have something relevant to say and the other one is being rude for no reason. Toshi was really scrutinizing Anakin's behavior tonight, and when Anakin started pouting about not being made a master and having his bad dreams about the death of Padme, Toshi told me, "I think Anakin's not making good choices, right, Daddy?"
When Padme told Anakin about their baby, Toshi was glad to be ahead of the film for once. "That's Luke, right, Daddy?" I had to make sure not to tip the secret at all and just agreed with him. Both he and Allen were very invested in each step of the film, each new development, and I can honestly say I've never seen them more involved in every moment of a movie, more engrossed.
And as a result, I don't think anything's ever upset them the same way this film did. It wasn't even a single moment, either. It was an entire chunk of the film, starting in the moment where Anakin makes his choice while facing Mace Windu and Palpatine. Allen was on his feet, yelling "KILL THE OLD MAN!" and Toshi was on the couch, legs up, in a ball, watching with unblinking eyes. When Anakin made his choice and attacked Mace, leaving room for Palpatine to attack as well, killing Mace Windu, the boys both yelled "NOOOO!" at the screen, upset, furious. And when they realized that Anakin was willingly making a choice to follow Palpatine and become a Sith, they yelled again.
But when Anakin led the attack on the Jedi Temple while Order 66 was executed around the galaxy, cutting down one Jedi after another, they didn't yell. They didn't scream. They didn't clap. They just sat in silence, eyes wide, until it was all done. And when Toshi finally turned to look at me at the end of the sequence, eyes brimming with tears. "He killed the kids," he said, almost accusing me.
"Anakin's bad now. He's really bad."
"He is. He made that choice, and he did terrible things."
Allen hugged me has hard as he could, not saying anything, and I asked them if they were okay to keep watching. "You can't turn it off now!" Toshi said, and so we continued. I could see how they were still struggling with what they had witnessed even as Obi-Wan and Anakin both converged on Mustafar. They loved the fight between Yoda and Darth Sidious, but every time it cut from that to the fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan, they got quiet. There was no joy for them in that fight. They weren't even sure who to cheer for.
But when Anakin force-choked Padme, Toshi did bark out an angry "STOP IT!" at the TV, furious by Anakin's change. And when the lightsaber battle finally reached its crescendo and Obi-Wan struck Anakin down, leaving him struggling on the shore of the lava river, they both got up and got closer to the TV, determined to see exactly what happened. Anakin caught fire, and I saw Toshi cover his mouth with his hand, his tears finally spilling, not just welling up. And when Obi-Wan finally walked away, leaving his former student and friend laying there, burnt and suffering, mad from pain and sorrow, both the boys came to me, emotionally ruined by the sequence.
Even after the movie was over, we kept talking about why Anakin made the choices he made. As much as the boys thought they wanted to see Anakin finally put on the black armor and become Darth Vader, once they finally got to that place, they seemed crushed by it. It's one thing to be told that someone is a bad guy, but it's another thing to watch a character that they had come to love and enjoy slowly crumble and turn to evil. For the first time, they understand that evil is not just something you call yourself, but a direct reflection of the choices you make. They watched Anakin Skywalker go from a happy child to a confused young man to a hero and a husband, and then they watched him throw it all away and kill everyone who trusted him, attacking his own pregnant wife, and finally ending up burnt and broken and locked forever inside a suit of metal, and it hurt them. And for the first time, seeing the way it played for them, it genuinely hurt me. The tears I shed as we wrapped up our night and I put them both to bed were because they realize tonight that the world is a place where good people can make bad choices and end up in an awful place. The world is a darker place tonight for them than it was on Saturday morning, and it hurts to see a little piece of their innocence shut down. You can complain about "Star Wars" and problems you have with the films all day long, but this silly space opera has led to some of the most intense conversations with my kids that I've ever had.
More than ever, I'm glad I picked the order I did to show the films, because now they're ready for "Jedi" in a big way. They want to see the Emperor punished. They want to see Anakin redeemed. And I'm not really sure how i'm going to handle that last fight. This morning, as I was driving Toshi to his baseball game, he was still asking me questions, and his single question almost made me drive off the road. "Daddy… I just thought of something."
"What's that, buddy?"
"Luke Skywalker has to kill his daddy, doesn't he?"
"Looks that way."
"Daddy… can you promise me something?" I could hear the emotion in his voice, how close to tears he was, and I got worried.
"Of course. What's that?"
"Please don't be a bad guy."
One day when he's old enough, I'll tell him how hard I've worked on that exact thing every single day since he's been born. And when I do, I'll also tell him just how much the mere idea tears me apart.
One more movie and we're done. And it all comes down to this last movie. I hope you guys have enjoyed this ride so far, because it's been one of my favorite things since I started writing about movies online fifteen years ago. I don't want to delay this last piece, but I'm going to be on vacation starting Thursday, so I won't have the last article for you until November 3rd. Be patient. Bear with me. And I hope to make it worth your while.
"Star Wars: The Complete Saga" is now available on Blu-Ray.
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