We started my son on Star Wars to save our sanity.
The Deputy just turned three, and he was sick monthly with ear infections. His daycare decreed that he had to stay home until 24 hours after his fever broke. While I minded him, I telecommuted or made my comic books at the kitchen counter. The background noise would be his favorite shows – Thomas the Tank Engine, Chuggington, Max and Ruby, Bob the Builder, etc.
These are fine shows with fine messages. They are tolerable in small doses, but when that exposure fills days of fevers and drugs, you start to recreate Jack Nicholson’s novel from The Shining. When my wife, The Countess, was home over the summer from teaching, she shared the torture, and we began to conspire. This way lies madness. What else can we get him to watch? What can we watch numerous times without lunging desperately toward the liquor cabinet? (Of course we have a liquor cabinet. I said she’s a teacher).
Oh hey, Star Wars.
We both grew up on it, from the initial theatrical releases to the rare network airings. If I remember right, CBS had Star Wars, and NBC had Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This was in our pre-cable days. This is back when CBS split Gone With the Wind over two nights and aired Wizard of Oz annually. We knew the Lucas films as well as we knew the alphabet. We later saw them repeatedly on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray.
But how do you transition a toddler from talking locomotives who cause confusion and delay to fathers amputating their sons’ hands and whole planets going kablooey? The vehicles.
The Deputy loves motors. If it has gears, he’s all over it. He pointed excitedly to the planes all about the Asheville airport during our commute. It seemed like the spaceships could lure him in. We showed him the first film’s attack on the Death Star. He would watch for a few minutes and get bored. We tried it again the next day, pointing out engines and trajectories. “Airplanes in space, dude!” He still didn’t latch on.
About a week after, he started asking for the rockets. We put in the Blu-Ray, started up that scene again, and sat with him on the couch. It caught. He watched the whole last act and asked to see it again. We moved to different scenes. Then we started at the beginning. That was followed with the same method for Empire and Episode One. He still hasn’t seen the first third of Return; the Rancor and Sarlacc would spook him. He also hasn’t seen Episode Three. He knows Anakin becomes Vader. Still, the depiction of his corruption and transformation are too much for a four-year-old. Our beloved Obi-Wan fucks him up and leaves him to die. Padme dies. The end. Who’s ready for a graham cracker?
But he’s a full-on Lucas fan now. He dressed as a jedi for that Halloween, and he loves his toys, half of which were mine way back when. He can see those movies and others in their entirety as his attention span developed. We’ve tried to teach him to speak quietly if he just couldn’t stay silent, but that struggle will probably go for years. He treats movies as picture books, narrating and foretelling as we go along. As his ability to sit and watch grew, I wondered about taking him to a theatre.
Now. I am something of a perfectionist when it comes to the movie experience. I want to see all the previews. I want the right seats. I don’t want talk unless it’s an emergency. And before you say “and I bet you hate kids in movies,” sit you down.
I have far more problems with older people in the audience. I don’t blame kids for acting like kids. That’s their job. It’s everyone else who should know better and act a fool. I’m closer to fifty than thirty, and I contend that it’s those older than me who make the worst movie neighbors. It’s not the teens who answer their phones and hold entire conversations. It’s not the teens who make vocal moral judgments about the trailers. The younger set, in my experience, are fine.
Of course, I won’t permit my guy to act like a caffeinated chimpanzee during a film. I expect him to act as he does at home when he commandeer the couch. But he would need a movie he could handle, something similar to what he likes to watch for hours at home. Something Star Wars-y. Space. Rockets. Aliens.
Oh hey, Guardians of the Galaxy.
I saw it myself a month ago. Most of my friends are comic fans, and we’ve heard about this film for years. I was skeptical. I figured Marvel’s string of success had to stumble eventually, and this movie seemed like the best candidate. Who would want to see this? I thought the same about Avatar. I’m not bright.
Nothing in the film seemed too objectionable for my guy to handle, and I started prepping him. A week before we went, I set the stage: the screen size, the sound system, the popcorn bucket he could sit in. I described the movie in exaggerated terms, even imitating Groot the talking tree lest it spook him (Spoiler alert: It kinda did.). I told him about spaceships and kablooeys and Thanos, whom he would recognize from the end of Avengers. The Deputy loves the last half-hour of that film, especially Hulk. I’m a proud papa.
Off we went. I picked as early, and likely empty, a viewing as possible on a weekday. As luck would have it, his daycare was closed so I had to be off work anyway. (His infections are long gone, thanks to a second round of ear tubes and a tonsillectomy.) I explained that the theatre would darken as the previews began, but we would be fine sitting next to each other. And remember, dude, if you have to talk, whisper. "Not In Love” by 10cc cranked up, and we sat back.
He did pretty well. After nine pounds of popcorn and Sprite, he had to go to the bathroom. I expected this. We snuck out quickly. But we left primarily because the movie clobbered him with one-two punch of bad news for our heroes, and it overwhelmed him. He didn’t know how to say it, but I can read him. We flushed and washed and went on our way (thank you, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood), and I talked him through what we saw.
He wanted to go home. I told him we were almost done with the movie, and he would want to know the heroes were OK. I asked him who his favorite character was so far. I expected Groot and Rocket.
“Well, she’s gonna have a big fight with the other lady. (Spoiler alert: She has a big fight with the other lady.) And it’s gonna be cool.” (Spoiler alert: ‘Tis.) And if we can make it for the whole movie, I’ll take you to the toy store.”
Now look. The whole point of this was not to make him a convert to Guardians. I wanted him to be a good audience member, able to stick with the movie as much as possible, to the end hopefully. If we’re gonna make the effort to leave our one-screen county and drive to the nearest multiplex to watch a film, we’re gonna watch the whole film. Unless it sucks out loud, of course. If he and The Countess decided to see a show, I didn’t want him crapping out on her either. Movies are special. It’s an event. We want to make the most of it.
The bribe worked, and we were back in just in time for “Cherry Bomb” to wallop us as we opened the door. We saw the rest of the film. Well, not the post-credit scene. That would mean nothing to him. I saw it already, and I laughed. But, again, I’m old.
He retold the movie all the way to the toy store, and true to form, he walked right past the Guardians figures and asked for a Star Wars toy. Ok. That’s fine.
That was a few weeks back. He’s talked about the movie every day since. I asked him yesterday if he wants to go back this weekend.
The new Avengers and Star Wars movies come out next year. He’ll definitely be ready.