Beatrice hatched the plan weeks ago. Upon learning that my wife would be going to Montreal on a business trip and leaving me alone with both kids for four nights, my little girl whispered in my ear, "Can we watch Star Wars when mum is away?" As Beatrice well knows, Stephanie has been the main obstacle to me showing her Star Wars. My wife worried the film was too violent for our five-and-a-half-year-old and would scare her. "I saw it when I was four," I told her. A raised eyebrow was Steph's only reply.
With mum out of the way, the next challenge was to find something to do with Zach. Even I had to admit that, at barely a week beyond his third birthday, Zach really was too young for Star Wars. So I arranged to have him spend the night with his cousin Rory--his first sleepover. We were all set.
So after a dinner of macaroni and smores (Beatrice's choices both), I put the blinds down, inserted my copy of the Star Wars Special Edition DVD (Greedo shoots first but Obi-Wan's Krayt dragon call is unchanged) and settled down on the couch with my excited little girl.
As Beatrice and I watched the film, I found myself half agreeing with my wife. Beatrice probably is too young for Star Wars--not because of the violence, which Beatrice compared at one point to the old Bugs Bunny cartoons I introduced her to over the summer ("Everyone has guns"), but because of the complexity of the story. Just like when I told her Star Wars as a bedtime story a couple years back (see the epilogue to A Long Time Ago), Bea kept confusing the characters. As late into the movie as the trench run, she had to ask me which one was Darth Vader. Han's habit of calling Leia "sister" also confused Bea, who exclaimed at one point, "She's his sister?" The irony...
Two scenes made a clear impression on Beatrice. Our first sight of Princess Leia caused her to gasp and exclaim, "Oh she's beautiful!" Later, when our heroes flee the detention block through the garbage shoot, Han's rebuke of Chewbacca--"I don't care what you smell!" followed by a kick in the bum--had her howling with pleasure. Beatrice repeated the line several times for the next 30 minutes, mostly with the addition, "mister!" at the end of it.
Watching Star Wars with a five-year-old got me thinking about what I must have taken from Star Wars--and, more to the point, what I missed--when I saw it so long ago. There is simply no way I could have understood the film except in the broadest of outlines. It's just not a kids' movie. Beatrice wanted to know why Han shot Greedo. How was I supposed to explain smuggling and indebtedness to a five-year-old?
When the film was over, I told Beatrice that there were two more Star Wars movies we could watch together. (I wasn't going to say five, was I?) She wants to see them, but so far there are no signs of obsession. She enjoyed the film, and the movie night with dad, and the smores for desert. Not necessarily in that order. Time will tell, but for the moment there are no signs of those "little star-shells of madness" that Alec Guinness once claimed to have seen in the eyes of a young Star Wars addict.
The main reason I wanted to show Beatrice Star Wars sooner rather than later was my fear that, if I didn't cram the whole original trilogy down her throat before she got to kindergarten, she would find out about the Vader/Skywalker thing on the playground, and The Empire Strikes Back would be spoiled for her. Having shown her Star Wars, I realize that fear is silly. Even if someone does spill the beans, I don't think she'll really get it. Not yet. I was seven when I saw Empire. Maybe Beatrice will be, too.
PS yes that is me in my Tarkin t-shirt. What else would I wear on such an occasion?