I consider myself a fairly tame member of the geek world. I’ve never attended Comic-con. I don’t dress up. Many video games and TV shows have passed me by without my time or concern. Yet I can still hold my own in conversations about those worlds and fantasies that marked my life experience and shaped my love for story. As a child of the seventies and eighties, Star Wars tops the list. And without effort I have maintained a strangely encyclopedic memory of the characters and events a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
But now I’m facing the dilemma of Geek parents everywhere; introducing my young son to Star Wars and the other fantastic stories I enjoyed at his age and still enjoy today.
There are articles and debates out there about how to introduce your child to Star Wars. I’m geeky enough to have read a few of them. Discussions rage about the new vs. old trilogy first and ways to maintain the surprise of Darth Vader’s origin. You know… the real life lessons that every parent should concern themselves with. I’ve thought about this knowing more Star Wars films are coming and there’s a chance I could get the boy up to speed in this world and we could go see the films together.
Unfortunately, I never expected how Star Wars would filter into our little guy’s brain. And truth be told, it’s my own fault. For anyone worried about screwing up a Star Wars introduction… take heed.
Since he likes the iPad we filled it with various kid games and I decided to introduce Angry Birds when the Star Wars version came out. I admit it was a bit of a selfish decision as I figured the Angry Bird phenomenon would be a bit more tolerable in Star Wars guise. Along the way I imagined this as an easy introduction to the Star Wars Universe. I was wrong.
While it did succeed in introducing the boy to the iconic musical themes, the scrolling intro text, and various characters, he didn’t have the perspective to understand that the game is a reference to something else. As a result, Angry Birds invented the scrolling text. The music comes from the Angry Birds game. All the storm troopers look like Pigs, and worst of all, Darth Vader earned the description “pig in a dress”.
So now we’re watching Star Wars, and without fail, at the first horn blast of the theme when the title appears and scrolls away he’ll say: “Look Dada, it’s like Angry Birds…”
And with my head hung low I try and explain “No son… Angry Birds is like this. The movie did it first. Angry Birds is copying this.”
To which he responds: “This is like Angry Birds.”
In spite of this I hold out hope that he will connect with the adventure at some point and see these characters as icons instead of riffs on an iPad game. Darth Vader (or “Dartha Vadah” as he calls him) has at least progressed from “pig in a dress” to “the bad guy”. The trench-run sequence does get him excited about spaceships so at least that is working as intended.
Now I’m in damage control mode, and that’s not going well either. After one especially spirited viewing of the trench run he was grabbing random objects and pretending to fly them around the room. This brought me to the rather shocking realization that my son has no spaceships in his vast toy collection. I believed this to be redemption and we ventured to a local store to find some small Star Wars themed ships.
Cut to me standing in the toy aisle and realizing the cheapest Star Wars ships are all lego kits way above the budget of this little excursion. But now he really wants spaceships, and who could blame him as I’ve talked up this idea. So we settle on a small kit with four stylized Storm Troopers and one little run-about ship. I keep eyeing the Millenium Falcon and getting knocked back to my senses by the price. This adventure for multiple little ships ends with one.
Luckily for the boy, I have a long history with Lego and could quickly fashion an additional space ship from the parts of one of his other kits. So now we’re chasing each other around the house flying little lego men in daring dog-fight chase-scenes. Things seem to be improving. But just when I think I’ve got this introduction steered correctly, something unexpected happens.
Obviously no one wants to scare their children and give them nightmares. So, I’ve tried to gauge his readiness for certain scenes and characters. The problem is the things I expect to scare him really don’t. Meanwhile, some things I don’t expect to strike a cord, end up creeping him out.
First off are the Sand people and the Jawas. I expected the Sandpeople to scare him, as everything about their look, actions, and even the editorial style makes them out as frightening. However, the boy was unfazed by their Luke-attacking actions and fascinated by their Banthas… probably because they look like Elephants in a Chinese dragon costume. Meanwhile, Jawas, the little hooded guys with gold eyes who he could probably drop-kick, scare the hell out of him. To his credit, I don’t think they should be trusted.
Most strange, however, was the boy’s discovery of the Rancor. We had just finished a spirited session of space-chase and he was flipping through the lego instruction booklet when he suddenly looked at me with the widest most intrigued eyes I’ve ever seen.
“Dada! What’s that!?”
I looked and discovered a picture of the Lego-fied Rancor monster from Jabba the Hutt’s Palace.
“That’s a Rancor, son. He’s a big scary pet in one of the Star Wars Movies”.
“The Rancor!? That’s soo coooll? That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Yes, he actually said that.
Personally I always thought the Rancor was a marginally animated disgusting creature, but to each his own.
His excitement was quite contagious, and I saw an opportunity to introduce him to the original Star Wars source of something instead of some licensed riff.
“Do you want to see the Rancor, buddy?” I asked as my wife leaned her head into the room and cocked an eye-brow.
“You sure that’s a good idea?” my wife said quietly as I loaded the Blu-ray, but I was determined to make this work.
We sat side by side on the couch as I scrolled through Jabba’s Palace scenes. We talked about each creature we were seeing (and if you haven’t watched this part in a while there are a horde of potentially scary creatures in Jabba’s Palace!) and worked our way to the Rancor.
With my arm around him and lots of explanation we watched Luke battle the Rancor and win. There wasn’t a moment of fear in the boy anywhere. He was completely enraptured. At his request we watched the scene three times. I
was very proud.
What I didn’t anticipate is how much this creature had made an impression. The hour or so before bedtime became a constant barrage of questions and discussion about the Rancor. Imaginary conversations were had with the Rancor. We even wished the creature good-night.
Unfortunately he didn’t sleep well. These weren’t bad dreams, mind you, just a little boy’s brain obsessed and unable to shut off. Every few hours found one of us in his room answering some inane ponderance about the Rancor. My wife was not pleased.
My favorite: “Dada, do Rancor’s have eyebrows?”
Think on that for a moment. Do you know?
In response I found myself saying a sentence I could never have imagined:
“No, son, Rancor’s don’t have eyebrows.”
So now you know.
Hopefully we’re headed toward actually sitting down and watching these movies all the way through. And his current interest in Darth Vader has me hopeful things are improving. He runs around the house using the lightsaber app on my phone.
He’s even decided to be Darth Vader for Halloween. However, his first choice was to be the Rancor. Alas no one makes a Rancor costume. Especially not for children under 5. I can’t imagine why.
Going forward I must take better care that he discovers great stories and worlds in their original form instead of the post-modern merchandised off-shoots. I suspect this will remain very difficult and the things he’ll connect with will continue to surprise me.
Ideally we’ll have some fun out of it and both gain memories of shared discovery. Who knows what strange peripheral character will be the next to inspire Rancor-like obsession.
It won’t be the Jawas, though. You can’t trust those little bastards. I think it’s the glowing eyes that bother him.
And they also don’t have eyebrows.