This day has been a long time coming.
We all have landmarks by which we measure our lives and our accomplishments, goals you've set for yourself that you've either accomplished or not, and I'm certainly someone who holds film experiences very dear. The moment I knew I'd spend the rest of my life somehow involved in movies took place in a dark movie theater when I was seven years old, and it was one of those lightning bolt occasions. I felt pinned to the back of my chair as I watched a tiny blockade runner fleeing from a seemingly endless Star Destroyer that just kept coming out and over, more real than anything I had ever seen, and I've never wavered in my determination to be involved in storytelling somewhere, somehow.
Because of the relevance of "Star Wars" in my development as a fan of storytelling in general, reaching the moment of sharing these films with my kids has been one of my primary goals since I've been writing about the entire experience of sharing narrative with my children. I know people who start screening the films for their kids as soon as they are old enough to open their eyes, and I respect that. Of course I know other people who don't think it's of any particular importance, and I respect that as well. For me, "Star Wars" is special, and I wanted to wait until they were old enough to process them as stories, so they're not just wallpaper, images without context.
Up till now, I've only shown them episodes of "The Clone Wars" computer animated series. They know the characters from that show, like Captain Rex and some of the other clones, and they know Anakin and Obi-Wan and Yoda as they are in the series, heroes running around fighting bad guys. They know very little about Luke or Han or Princess Leia aside from a few photos they've seen in books in the house and they know Darth Vader simply as an image that they find really interesting and exciting. That's more than I knew in 1977 when I walked into that theater, but it's not so much that I feel like anything was ruined for them ahead of time.
With the release of "Star Wars: The Complete Saga" on Blu-ray, I felt like this was the moment. They're both in school now. They're media savvy in a way I wasn't at their age, and I think they're ready in terms of emotional ability to handle material. I've seen them react to films in very visceral ways, and I know that they adapt what they watch into their inner fantasy lives. I was chipping away at "Mass Effect 2" one weekend recently, and the boys know they aren't allowed to participate in or watch any of dad's video games yet. It's a particular kind of media choice we've made, and it's made for an easy conversation when it comes up. It's just part of their world at this point. That doesn't mean they aren't interested, though, and they spent their day trying to get in to see what I was doing, coming up with excuses to walk past my door or to come in for a moment. And when that didn't work, they asked me if they could see the cover for what I was playing, and based exclusively on that cover, they then ran around the house and "played" their own version of "Mass Effect 2" that was hilarious and charming and completely little-kid insane. They love to fold in new things to that shared imaginary world they build together as they run around the house, swords or action figures or squirt guns in hand, and I remember from my own childhood exposure just how big a piece of real estate in my own imagination was taken up by "Star Wars."
Any time I've brought the subject up around adult fans of the series, I get stern lectures about how I need to brace myself for the idea that my kids might actually like the Prequels. I don't need to be told that, though, because I'm fairly sure they will like them. They're big and colorful and they're filled with aliens and other planets and action and stormtroopers and all sorts of things they'll dig. And they already have a fondness for the "Clone Wars" animated show, as I mentioned. I suspect that the Prequels will play just fine with them. And I view the Prequels as having a particular place in the line-up of the films, and I'm curious to watch them again after all this time with that in mind. In the six years since "Revenge Of The Sith" came out, I haven't seen it once. I haven't rewatched "Attack Of The Clones" since 2003, and I haven't seen "The Phantom Menace" since about the same time. I did not even own copies of the films until the box set of the Blu-rays showed up at my house last week. I have many different versions of the original trilogy in my collection, including DVD burns of the laserdiscs I bought of the pre-Special Edition versions. And I love all of those editions. Even so, and even with my own complicated feelings about what Lucas has done to his own work over the years, I feel like starting with the new transfers is the best way to kick things off for the boys. The sound alone on the Blu-rays is so incredible that I feel like it's going to help turn this into the overwhelming sensory experience for them that it was for me.
I had a feeling this was going to be a special screening when I was still at the Toronto Film Festival and I got a call from Toshi. The "Star Wars" box set had arrived at the house and was sitting on my desk, still wrapped and sealed, and Toshi, who takes great delight in his newly honed ability to read, had figured out what it was.
"If we open it, we can watch one of them now. Just a little bit."
"No, honey. You need to wait for me to get home."
"How about you can listen on the phone and we can watch one. Just a little bit."
"I don't think so."
"But, daaaaaaaaad, you're not coming home until forever. You have to have your festival, and we want to see 'Star Wars' now."
"I don't think so, Toshi. I need to be there with you when we watch them."
"Can I just see Darth Vader?"
"When we watch the movie."
"CAN I JUST SEE SOME LIGHTSABERS?!?!"
So it's obvious the hooks are in. The only thing I was curious about is whether they would respond to and understand the actual story.
We ended up breaking the viewing into two halves. When you're trying to find time to sit down and watch a movie without outside distractions, it can be tough, even in my household. Our first attempt to watch the film was derailed when the boys got into an argument over some toy, and someone smacked someone else and things escalated and names were called and tears were spilled and that was pretty much the end of watching a movie that particular evening. The next day, Sunday, was filled with T-ball and other activities, but we managed to stake out an hour and a half where we'd be able to relax, and so I gathered the boys and we sat down to "Star Wars" in my office, volume cranked.
The greatest thing about watching it with them was seeing how intent they were on decoding what they were watching. The film's characters and dense vocabulary and barrage of vehicles and planets and aliens is a ton of information to process, and right away, it was obvious that they were determined to understand it all. Seeing Darth Vader in context, he went from being awesome to being genuinely scary to them. And seeing Chewbacca in context, he went from being scary to being genuinely awesome to them. They fell in love with R2-D2 and C-3PO as a team, and they each found their own things to latch onto as they were watching. Toshi was fascinated by all of the hardware, by the X-wings and the Y-wings and the TIE fighters and the Death Star and landspeeders and sandcrawlers. Allen, on the other hand, became intrigued by the aliens, the Jawas and the Tusken Raiders and the Dewbacks and the Wookie. On that first viewing, we watched up to the point where Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han Solo in the cantina, and we turned it off. The next day, as soon as we could after school ended, we started with Han Solo and watched to the end of the movie. Seeing it in two chunks allowed them to ask all the questions they had built up from the first half before we began the second half, and I think it actually helped them enjoy it because they weren't worried about things they didn't understand.
One thing they did understand upset them both greatly, and seeing their reactions makes me appreciate the way the films are set up even more. As I said, they've been watching "The Clone Wars" cartoons on and off, so when Obi-Wan started telling the story of Anakin and Darth Vader, the boys were excited. Then they heard that Anakin was murdered by Darth Vader, and they went ballistic. Toshi hates Darth Vader now, and he wants to see Luke "get him good," as he put it. The next day, he was still talking about how much he was upset by what he saw and heard, and when Darth Vader flew off after the explosion of the Death Star, unpunished, Toshi yelled, "Luke Skywalker's gonna get you next time!" at the TV.
Allen's favorite part of the movie was Obi-Wan's self-sacrifice during the lightsaber duel, and he recreated it for me five or six times the next day. It was the moment where Obi-Wan closes his eyes and simply stands still that affected him the most. Something about Obi-Wan's pose and the way he accepts what's happening really resonated for Allen, and he told me he that Obi-Wan is "the best fighter."
The real test is how much the film sticks with them, and so far, every conversation they've had since seeing it has somehow incorporated the movie. Toshi knew I was leaving for another film festival, and just before I left for the airport, we had familiar conversation.
"Dad, can we watch 'The Empire Strikes Back' while you're not here?"
"But, daaaaaaaaaaaad, Darth Vader got away."
"And we need to see how they found him."
"You just need to wait."
"It'll be worth the wait, big guy. Just hold on."
Now that they hate Vader for killing Anakin, I can't wait to see their reactions to "Empire." Right now, it feels like the grand experiment is off to a lovely start.
"Star Wars: The Complete Saga" is now available on Blu-Ray.
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