One of the many joys of family is the ritual of passing stories to the next generation. Everyone has stories. Maybe they’re cultural ones, like fairy tales or fables. Maybe they have religious significance like the Bible stories I heard as a child and that I share with my own kids. Maybe they’re just family stories that are fun because you know everyone involved.
But a newer phenomenon in the last century is sharing movies with the next generation. That’s perhaps the key place where our shared mythology resides now. I’ve been thinking about this lately, because just this week I watched the original Star Wars trilogy with my son, who is almost exactly four-and-a-half.
The Star Wars movies are even more like mythology than most, because of all the little differences between the theatrical and home video releases. For me the “real” version is the Special Edition from 1997. People complain about Greedo shooting first, but I can barely remember a time when he didn’t. Of course the prequel trilogy complicates and further divides the entire world of Star Wars. It’s like the old stories where everyone has their preferred version. I doubt that was George Lucas’s intention with all the changes, but it’s one of the effects.
I didn’t see Star Wars until I was about 12 or 13, so I didn’t have that childhood moment when I saw the trilogy for the first time. But from the moment I found out I was having a son, I wanted to share that first moment with him. When we moved to Dallas a few weeks ago, we stayed with friends whose sons (preteen age) were big fans of the movies. It rubbed off on my eldest, and since I’m not working right now I took advantage of the free time we have to watch them over the past few days, breaking them into two or three installments each.
He enjoyed them immensely, that much was clear. I’m not sure how much of the story he actually understood, but the broad stroakes of Rebels vs. Empire made enough sense to him. He knew who the good guys and the bad guys were, basically. I think what he enjoyed the most were the remarkable visuals, the X-wings, the AT-AT walkers, the hum and streak of the lightsabers.
One rather unexpected side effect was that I got to experience the movies anew, knowing how something would look to him. There were a few moments when he stopped bustling around and just stared in silence at the action on the screen, to absorbed in what was happening to chatter and move around while he watched. In Star Wars it was the medal ceremony at the end, when the elation and joy of victory makes the whole scene soar. In The Empire Strikes Back, it was when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, a moment where the bad guys actually look like they are winning. And in Return of the Jedi, it was Luke removed Vader’s mask. And in those moments, I felt myself overcome as well. I had never welled up during the Star Wars movies until now.
And of course, he got to discover the terrible secret at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. There are a lot of reasons why I didn’t start with the prequels, but one is that I wanted him to be truly surprised by the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. In fact, I have done my best to ensure that he never discovered this in all of the various Star Wars stuff he’s digested until now. When he heard the words “I am your father,” he looked at me and said, “What?”
No doubt we’ll get around to the prequels at some point. I’m sure he’ll love the visuals and generally more juvenile tone, though I doubt he’ll be able to follow the broad strokes of the rather murky plot very well. For right now I had a great opportunity to share one of my favorite stories with him, one that has meant a lot to me and maybe will for him too. Or maybe not, but it was still fun to share that moment with him.