When I was 4, living the not-so-interesting life of an Army brat in Fort Polk, Louisiana, there was this movie that came out called “The Empire Strikes Back.” You may have heard of it.
I was a “Star Wars” kid. I played with the toys. I wore the Boba Fett Underoos. In fact, my parents took me to see the first film when I was 1, in 1977, at some theater near the much nicer Tripler Army facility in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was born. Unfortunately, I don’t have any cogent memories of that experience.
But when “Empire” came out, it seemed like every night, my father would come home from base, and then he and I would excitedly head out to the local theater, dodging armadillos and soybean tumbleweeds to go see the movie again. Every viewing ended the same: I’d cry when Han Solo got frozen or Luke Skywalker lost his hand, then fall asleep in the theater. Granted, not a whole lot happens after that, but I don’t think I ever actually saw the full film in one sitting until high school. Turns out, it’s pretty good. I saw “Return of the Jedi” numerous times in the theater, and had a VHS copy of “A New Hope” that was used more than a McDonald’s bathroom on an interstate exit.
I was excited when the films were re-released, then, naturally, somewhat disappointed by the changes that were made. I was very enthused when the prequel films were announced, never even considering that they might be plagued with too much CGI, wooden acting, bad writing and plots that made C-SPAN seem exciting.
But I never took it personally the way some did. None of that dulled my love of the original films or the broader “Star Wars” universe. And I think a lot of that goes back to the strong association between those movies, childhood friends and, of course, my dad.
So I was thrilled when, last year, my son finally wanted to watch some of the “Star Wars” films. He’s always been more preoccupied with super heroes, and who wouldn’t be in this day and age?
With “Star Wars,” there just wasn’t anything else like that when I was a kid. It’s a completely different cinematic landscape now. My son dipped his toe in the water, found it to his liking, but quickly went back to being more concerned about Spider-Man and the Avengers, which was fine. I like that stuff, too.
Then along came Disney+, releasing every “Star Wars” film and series, and a new series, at the same time the final film in the current trilogy was released in theaters. I saw it with my dad and my son. Disney knows what they’re doing, and the little guy is now a full-blown believer in the ways of the Force.
Wonderful, right? Well, not exactly. Turns out, he loves the prequels. And it makes sense. They follow the exploits of a child — a child who becomes a mass-murdering psychopath absolved through a hasty death-bed repentance, but a child nonetheless.
And the prequels are geared much more toward children. You could tell in the late ’90s and early 2000s that George Lucas wasn’t interested in the gritty, Spaghetti Western/samurai-in-space thing anymore. It was about shiny things and pratfall humor. And that’s fine. A lot of people loved it.
But, when someone in your house wants to watch it night after night, it gets a little more difficult to bear. Especially when I say “the first movie” and he thinks I’m talking about “The Phantom Menace.” Ugh.
“So what?” you might say. “Just don’t watch it.” Nuh-uh. He’s 6. We’re not getting him his own TV or letting him spend two hours on an iPad just so I don’t have to hear Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen argue about who has the high ground and who is underestimating whose power every night. Plus, he’s still at the age where he wants his mother and me to watch these things with him. We’ve probably only got about two more years of that, three at max.
All things considered, it’s hardly the worst thing he could be into, and I want to enjoy some of those things with him. I can’t imagine how shattering it would’ve been if, halfway through our sixth viewing of “Empire,” my father turned to me and said “You know, this really sucks. I’m not sure how you’re able to live with yourself. Oh, stop crying. Save it for the freezing scene.”
As a postscript, right as I was finishing this column, the kid walked into my office with his mother and gave me a drawing he did of Darth Vader to hang up. That little guy sure knows a sucker when he sees one.