For a couple of weeks we’ve been wondering whether Oliver, at 4¾ years old, is old enough to watch the Star Wars series. He watches older (e.g., 1968) superhero episodes all the time, and as much as these contain less extreme violence than their contemporary versions, they are still about good guys waging war with bad, scary guys. This is really the crux of Star Wars, too, though geeks might faint at my reducing it to such simplistic terms. So we decided to try it out and rented Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope over the holidays.
It was a momentous occasion. Popcorn was popped, and unlike the usual chaos we tolerate when it’s family movie time, Oliver was directed to sit quietly between us on the couch to best absorb the phenomenon to come. Even Georgia, at 2, sensed our seriousness and threw her toys around less forcefully.
Craig and I brought our own memories to the proceeding, of course. Star Wars, released in 1977, was to each of us a formative event, as it must be for any parent of our generation. For Craig, it must have been happy reassurance that his inherent geekiness was ok (I should ask him one day); he was more than ready to refresh himself on the millions of details and sub-plots that make up the storyline, but I’m quite sure he remembered many of them without trouble. Not me.
The only memories I have of Star Wars—the trilogy—are these:
- Han Solo slices open some form of camel (a Tauntaun I have since learned) and shoves Luke Skywalker inside it to save his life. My reaction: horror for the Tauntaun (enhanced by my suspicion that he was not really dead). Secondarily: gagging for Luke because of the smell.
- Princes Leia is a goddess, despite the worst hairstyle ever to don a woman. Of course I thought her hair was to die for at the time, though I could never accomplish the same with my own locks. To my delight, I found the most fabulous blog post explaining why it is impossible in real life to pull off Princess Leia hair. The writer is fantastically (and funnily) thorough in her argument, covering every setting and hairdo scenario, starting as she says, with the obvious: the buns.
- Lightsabers must be why Star Wars was invented. They are beyond cool, and I love how hard they are to master. Lightsabers are what blew my mind in the seventies, when really nothing had ever approximated the special effects of Star Wars.
- Han Solo is my kind of man. The damaged man, the one you want to change, the one with the easy sarcasm but the heart of gold. Luke was lovely if orange, and way too good and simple for me even at the age of seven.
- Star Wars happened in a galaxy far, far away. I mention this last but not least. The movie was the first time I really got it that there was more to life than the one on our planet. The universe literally exploded when I watched Star Wars back in 1977.
There you have it, the sum of my memories going into Star Wars for the second time in 2013. Despite their laughable sparseness, they were nevertheless potent as I sat next to Oliver anticipating his reaction. I knew he would be spellbound, though I knew also that he would love different parts of the story than I had, mostly I figured, because he is a boy.
As the “far, far away” text rolled out in that slanted way it does at the start of the movie, I read it aloud and shivered—some bodily recognition of what the words had done to me so long ago. And then we sat and watched for an hour or so. As every minute passed, I grew ever more anxious about my reaction, which was much the same as O’s: bored. So many characters. So little action. So much confusion. So little sense of what the story meant. “Where are the lightsabers?” Oliver asked from time to time. “They’re coming, they’re coming,” we’d say, but of course they wouldn’t for a while. “Where’s Anakin?” “I don’t know,” I’d say (thinking, who’s Anakin?), though Craig would give him more—“He doesn’t appear really until another movie—in this movie you get to know Darth Vader.”
Oliver was respectful throughout but clearly suppressing numerous urges to ask us to turn on a Superfriends. This is a boy born in the age of hyper-paced action, of special effects so sophisticated they can pass for real, of instant gratification. He is not used to waiting, and he is not used to nuance. I am no longer a seven-year-old watching one of my first films ever—and if I think about it, I may now be as accustomed as Oliver is to not having to wait for what I want.
I’m sure we’ll give it more gos, possibly when O is older, but for now it seems that Star Wars was of its time. Magically of its time, forever-in-us of its time, but still of its time. It was hard to watch again, perhaps a little like when you go to a country you once lived in and loved after many years and nothing is the same. I do hope that Oliver will have a movie—as Craig and I did—that changes everything for him. Not in any expressible way, perhaps, but in a way that reveals the largeness of the universe and the depths of his self. One that sticks around in dreams, nighttime and otherwise, for a whole lifetime; one that he can claim as a watershed with the rest of his generation.
As I thought about this post and played around on Google to bring at least some contours to my vague recollections, I came across a really beautiful blog, Star Wars Memories, by Adam Rakunas, that testifies to the enduring power of Star Wars for a certain generation. Here’s the first entry:
"It's 1977. I'm three years old, and my family has moved out of the city and into the suburbs. Me and the neighborhood kids are in our pajamas; we're all piled into the back of Dad's giant yellow Ford truck. The sun is setting as we pull into the drive-in on Beach; Brian's mom has given us a giant bag of popcorn from Fedco.
I remember curling under blankets as the sky finally grew dark. I remember Mom and Dad monkeying with the speakers in the car. And I remember that thundering music as the main titles flashed and the sound of blasters as Princess Leia's ship was captured by Darth Vader.
We all fell asleep somewhere after Luke left Tatooine. Mom carried me to bed, which had Star Wars sheets, naturally."
As Rakunas says in the intro to the blog, “I wish I could nail it in specific terms …. And I still can’t wrap my mind around it.” Me neither. And it doesn’t matter. It just is.
For your viewing pleasure, the Tauntaun atrocity:
And a montage of lightsaber awesomeness: