Tag Archives: geek

Revenge of the Jedi

May the Fourth be with you, Dear Reader! (Yes, I know that was five days ago. This one ended up taking a long time to write, okay?)

This seems like an appropriate day to relate to you the tale of showing my kids Return of the Jedi, the last of the Star Wars films (as far as they need to know, for now). I had waited a year between showing them A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but after RU’s reaction to Empire, I decided they should go ahead and watch the concluding chapter.

So, a few weeks later I took the DVD with us on a weekend visit to Coach and Nana’s house. It did not go as well as I had hoped.

We started the movie late one rainy afternoon. The girls were not in the mood for it, wanting to sit in Coach’s lap and watch YouTube videos of people making Disney characters out of Play-Doh. (“But kids, Jabba the Hutt is a Disney character now and he’s made of Play-Doh!”) They dutifully gave it a try, but weren’t fully paying attention most of the time.

By the time the Jabba’s Palace sequence was over it was clear we needed to just call it quits and try again another time. The girls did pay enough attention, however, to be turned off by the opening of the film. Yeah, I’d kinda forgotten that Return of the Jedi actually starts off with all of our main characters being caught one by one by a vile gangster. Jabba is mean and frightening and gross. The droids, our point-of-view characters, are enslaved and abused. An erotic dancer gets fed to a monster. The usually confident and jovial Han Solo is as blind and weak as a shivering newborn puppy. There’s nothing to lighten the mood until a little bit of gallows humor just before the action breaks out. The entire sequence at the beginning of Return of the Jedi can be unpleasant for a kid to watch.

Which is where we left it for the rest of the visit.

At home a few days later, we tried again. As I’ve pointed out before, the Star Wars movies are long (especially Return of the Jedi), so you have to be prepared to have an intermission or two. We started in the early afternoon so we could break for dinner halfway through and end without keeping the kids up too late.

The Dad: “Okay, kids, do you remember what happened in Star Wars so far?”

MeToo: “Star Wars is funny! When Darth Vader told him he was his father, I thought that was funny.”

RU: “Well I didn’t!”

The girls only protested a little that we started back at the beginning and that the upcoming scenes were a little scary. They hadn’t paid much attention before, though, so it was still pretty new to them. This time around, I was able to explain more about what was going on as it happened. Talking about why Lando might be there, for example, or pointing out that “Shoebacca” had been brought in as a prisoner by Princess Leia so that must be part of the plan seemed to help.

As I had dreaded, RU did ask about why Jabba made Leia wear the slave-girl outfit. That one is really hard to explain to a five-year-old. Jabba is obviously sadistic and enjoys going the extra mile to humiliate people. He keeps Han up as a trophy, he makes his slave girls wear skimpy, objectifying clothing, he and his whole court watch behind a curtain while Leia frees Han from carbonite just so they could laugh at her failed rescue attempt. Carrie Fisher has a good take on it, but I just settled on, “Because he’s mean.” By then, Luke had shown up and RU wasn’t interested in a deeper exploration of the subject.

Perhaps the dark ending of Empire and the brutish opener of Jedi damped their enthusiasm, but RU and MeToo didn’t seem quite as into this one. I say that because they didn’t ask quite as many questions or get visibly excited to the same degree — but, on the other hand, maybe that was because they were too absorbed in what was going on. I dunno.

I was very surprised that they did not immediately fall in love with the Ewoks. While MeToo did get a kick out of the baby Ewok you can catch a few glimpses of in their village, the girls were wary of the cute little fuzzballs. Then I remembered that I didn’t warm up to them, either, when I first saw the movie myself. After all, they do capture our heroes (apparently intending to eat them!) and although they look cute, they aren’t played cute. (Yes, that makes them even cuter. “Awwww! They act like they think they’re people!”)

Seeing Return of the Jedi through my kids’ eyes also helped me to remember that, teddybear-like though they are, the Ewoks are depicted with a bit more realism and depth we give them credit for. (They’re far easier to watch than the annoying, one-note Gungans.) Yes, they are there to provide humor. But for all of us (myself included) who have rolled our eyes at the idea of an army of stuffed animals defeating an Imperial garrison, note that the Ewoks get slaughtered up until they start smashing Scout Walkers with tree trunks at the very end of the attack. They get blown up, blastered, and I’m pretty sure one gets stepped on by an AT-ST. The one in the goofy, stone-age hang glider manages to a single stormtrooper, then immediately gets shot down (and I bet the trooper just stood right back up). We see two of the short, furry treehouse dwellers go flying from an explosion; one picks himself up but discovers his buddy wasn’t so lucky, then proceeds to collapse and mourn for his fallen friend right there. The Ewoks may be hokey, but the movie gives them a real story arc and gives you real reasons to root for them (even in spite of yourself).

Okay, enough about the stone-age trash pandas. What did the kids think of the ending?

They had a lot of questions, mostly about what was going on during the scenes between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. RU was not drawn into the battle scenes as much as she was during the Hoth sequence (though Jedi cuts between three different battles and the context for what’s happening is a lot harder for a young child to grasp). By the end, I think they were a bit fatigued but they continued to show interest. There was no, “Yay! The good guys won!” moment. Then again, I can recall that the way the final confrontation between Luke and Vader turned out really threw me for a loop, too, when I was a kid.

In the final analysis, I think the sequels exhausted my girls’ enthusiasm for watching Star Wars for a while. I think they enjoyed the films — I know they liked the A New Hope a great deal — but they are just a bit too young to be fully engaged, especially with the darker, more complex stuff that develops in Episodes V and VI.

Which is fine. The girls should be ready to enjoy the Star Wars movies again by the time Z and Sprout see them for the first time.

The Empire Strikes RU

Big news: the family sat down and watched The Empire Strikes Back the other day.

Yes, long-time readers of this blog will know that this is, indeed, big news. I am someone who has geeky (or is it nerdy?) interests and one of the joys of parenthood has been getting to share them with my children.

I was born in 1977, the year of A New Hope (is there a symbolic connection there?), and like many nerds (or geeks) my age Star Wars had an gargantuan influence on my imagination throughout childhood. I don’t remember my first viewing of The Empire Strikes Back (which came out the same year my little brother was born —which was absolutely an omen, I assure you) but I was alive when it came out and rocked everyone’s world. I can recall anticipating the release of Return of the Jedi quite vividly, although actually seeing the movie in the theater is a little hazy.

The experience of Star Wars that I want to share with my children isn’t just the movies themselves, but also that sense of waiting for and wondering about the next chapter. As I’ve written about in more detail before, my yardstick for how and when to expose them to the various films all boils down to their experience of a single scene. I’ll consider this venture a success if the moment in The Empire Strikes Back when [SPOILER] Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke Skywalker’s father comes as a real shock and surprise to my kids.

I first showed RU and MeToo Star Wars* about a year ago. That experience made me rethink my initial plans for spacing the movies a year apart. They were clearly too young to really get what was going on. I was probably being too hasty. No need to expose them to any of the sequels or prequels until they were older. The girls were a little more into it when we rewatched Episode IV about six months later, but it only confirmed for me that we should stick to just that film for at least a couple of years.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, the Wife said, “Hey, let’s watch Empire Strikes Back.

To which I replied, “Um, I don’t know if… Okay!”

I couldn’t help it. The Force has awoken and excitement about the Star Wars franchise surrounds us and penetrates us — it binds the galaxy together…

Er, sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes! We went ahead and watched Episode V. The best of the bunch.

Before starting the film, we had a quick review.

Do you remember who Darth Vader is? Yes, he dresses in black and captured Princess Leia. His friends are the stormtroopers. They wear white and are very bad.

And who’s Luke Skywalker? I don’t know. Oh, he wears white clothes and helped rescue Princess Leia.

Who’s Han Solo and Chewbacca? They help Luke rescue the Princess with their spaceship. (MeToo: “I not afraid of Chewbacca! I like Chewbacca!”)

So RU had retained a lot more than I’d thought. Great!

The opening crawl was mercifully easy to follow from their perspective. They knew who Vader and Luke were, they could tell the good guys from the bad guys, and there wasn’t anything in the setup that was beyond their grasp. RU immediately understood that the Rebellion was hiding and the Empire was trying to find them. She even surmised that whenever they were found, the good guys would go hide somewhere else before the bad guys could get to them.

The very beginning is actually quite slow compared to pretty much any action-oriented movie I’ve seen in the past decade or two. Any moments of violence that might take up an entire action sequence in a modern movie, like the bits with the Wampa (the abominable snow-monster) or the probe droid, are incredibly brief. Most of what comes before the Battle of Hoth builds tension (oddly enough, by having the main characters ask questions that we know the answers to — “Where’s Luke?” “What’s this strange signal we’re picking up? Is it transmitting an Imperial code?”). The girls stayed with it, though; they were fresh out of nap time and fully committed.

Which was nice, because it meant that RU at least could follow what’s actually going on in the Battle of Hoth sequence beyond just watching all the action unfold. She was definitely into it, asking questions and saying “Uh-oh!” with each telegraphed danger. (The rebel officer looks through his space-binoculars and sees something out there, but only part of it. He scans upwards and — “Uh-oh!” RU says — reveals a titanic dinosaur-like machine with guns in its face! “What’s that?” “An AT-AT Walker.”) Watching the battle through her eyes, especially after pointing out how the good guys were just fighting to delay the bad guys long enough for most of them to get away, the desperation and dread of the Rebels really came through for me in a way it hadn’t in a very long time. The sequence masterfully punctuates the overall downbeat of a fighting retreat with momentary triumphs.

“YES!!!!” (RU, after the first Imperial Walker is finally taken down and blown up.)

“Whew! They made it.” (RU, as the Millennium Falcon finally gets off the ground and flies away just as Darth Vader enters the hangar.)

Dagobah was scary — there are a lot of scenes in Empire that have a sense of menace, even during calm parts of the story — and Yoda initially creeped the kids out. That surprised me. I had expected the girls to already know who he is just through osmosis. Z has Yoda pajamas, after all. Still, I remember that when I was young it took me a long time to really warm up to the diminutive Jedi master, too.

About this time, MeToo turned to me with a wait a second, let me get this straight look and said, “We have two Star Wars?”

We stopped for dinner about halfway through, taking a much needed break. Even though our girls can sit through eight episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood without blinking, an intermission was vital for helping them through a two-hour long plot intended for people with longer attention spans.

By the time we started back up again (with the Millennium Falcon arriving at Cloud City), however, MeToo was getting restless. She was still watching the show but was wriggly and talkative. (“Chewbacca can’t talk. He just says, ‘ARR! ARR!’”) A lot of what she said, though, was, “Why are they being mean to each other?” She said it when Han decks Lando, when Chewie attacks some stormtroopers, when Han yells at Chewie to calm down, when Chewie tries to strangle Lando, and any time the stormtroopers shove anyone around. I didn’t want to ignore her questions, but without seriously interrupting the movie I didn’t have an answer better than, “They don’t like each other” (or “Chewbacca’s angry”). Besides, answers based on the plot would have little meaning for a two-and-a-half year-old. Maybe that explains why she wasn’t particularly focused on the movie at that point.

Then, something happened. Luke had arrived at Cloud City to save his friends (just as Vader planned). His friends, however, escaped on their own and took off (after having failed to rescue Han — even on my umpteenth viewing, my reaction to seeing Boba Fett just fly away is “Whaaat? Did that just happen?”). Luke is now wandering Cloud City on his own. The place should be full of Imperial troops but it now seems deserted. He walks into the chamber where Han got frozen in carbonite and… Everyone gets completely silent. Even MeToo. Even Baby Z. Something about that moment before Darth Vader steps into frame and the lead-in to it clearly signals stuff’s about to go down.

Luke and Vader square off, they fight, they separate, they fight, and then there’s the scene. I’ve been anticipating my kids’ reaction to this moment for years. In a way, I’ve been thinking about it even before I had children. Getting this right — making sure they are old enough, invested in the story enough, and paying attention enough to understand both this scene and the larger context for it — is the reason I’ve spent so much mental energy pondering the experience of the Star Wars series  and not, say, health insurance plans or anniversary gifts.

When Darth Vader finally corners a maimed, defeated Luke and says, [SPOILER] “Luke, I am your father,” I’m watching RU. Her eyes are riveted to the screen but her face is drawn downwards in that look that usually means she’s about to cry. She doesn’t get any tears, but it looks like she’s watching someone take a family member off life support. This is not what I had expected. You can find videos online people took of their children watching this scene for the first time. They’re always full of gasps or expressions of disbelief. I’ve never seen one where the kid nearly starts bawling out of sympathy for Luke’s pain in that moment.

I should’ve considered it, though. It’s easy to say that The Empire Strikes Back ends without closure on an emotional down-beat and is the darkest of the original trilogy. However, it’s easy to forget what that experience was really like the first time around. If you don’t know it’s coming, it’s a big blow that comes at the end of a wrenching sequence. Because aside from the big reveal (which RU absolutely got), the whole light saber duel is like a nightmare. Darth Vader is scary. He’s powerful, implacable, and has that whole unhurried/unstoppable vibe that can carry an entire horror movie franchise. Luke can’t beat him, or even hold his own. The duel is just like the Battle of Hoth, but more intense. The whole sequence is a long defeat for Luke, who barely manages to save himself from moment to moment.

It’s not just that Vader is more powerful; the particulars of the fight are like something from a bad dream. Luke, weaponless, hanging from cables just inches above Vader’s swinging light saber. Vader using the force to pull the room apart and throw it at Luke. Luke getting blown out of a window — for a heartbeat, you just know he’s got to be dead. As RU pointed out, Luke can’t even escape: “Why is it that whenever Luke goes somewhere, Darth Vader is already there?” By the time of Vader’s revelation, our hero has been stalked, trapped, and beaten in one scene after another. I had forgotten how hard that is to watch when you’re a young kid who has been sucked into the narrative and doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. (Plus, my girls are rather tender-hearted and aren’t used to seeing people get dismembered, despite the fact that one of their favorite shows is about a tiger.)

I squeezed RU closer and made sure she was okay. When it was over, I made sure to tell her that there is another Star Wars movie after this one where the good guys save the day. After the movie, she and MeToo both said that they enjoyed it, although it had a lot of scary parts. “Now let’s watch the other Star Wars,” MeToo urged.

MeToo meant “the other Star Wars movie we’ve seen before,” which was A New Hope, but I’m wondering if we shouldn’t show them Return of the Jedi soon, despite my edict that we would try to wait a year between showing them each film. Until now, I had been thinking about all this from the perspective of an adult who loves the original trilogy but saw it at such a young age that I can’t really remember what it was like. I’ve been wanting to craft this experience for RU, MeToo, and Z so that they can not only enjoy these films but have a clear memory of falling in love with them. I’ve kicked myself for being so impatient and starting them off too early. That’s absolutely the case with MeToo — she may enjoy the movies but she’s too young to really understand much about them. RU, however, may be too young to get everything that’s going on but she was clearly catching a lot. The last act of Empire shook her a bit, and the best cure for that is to finish the story rather than leave her hanging in the middle.

When she’s thirty, RU may not remember the first time she saw Empire Strikes Back. But that memory is fresh today and won’t fade (if it does) for several years. After this, she’s going to need the closure and happy ending that Return of the Jedi can give. Heck, maybe the key to making her a life-long fan like yours truly is to get her into the franchise when she’s young, when it’s enhanced by the rosy glow of bonding with her mom and dad. You know, before she’s a jaded 8-year-old who’s had everything spoiled for her and ruined by derivative sci-fi/fantasy series trying to capture what Star Wars had.

And once the girls get these movies watched, I can put them away for a while and try my original plan with Z in a few years.

*To people of my generation “Star Wars” is sometimes also referred to as “the first movie” or “you know, the original one.” Less often, it may be called “Episode IV” or “A New Hope.”

Shoebaca

Friday morning was overcast and gloomy but still humid enough to be yucky out. It just seemed like a “blah” day, and so I decided to let them indulge in some TV while I got dressed and fixed breakfast downstairs. I started to put on a Daniel Tiger but changed my mind.

“Do you girls want to watch Star Wars?”

RU exclaimed, “Yeah!”

“No,” MeToo grumbled.

“Hey, MeToo,” I said in that upbeat, falsely-enthusiastic tone of voice parents use to get a kid excited about eating green vegetables or visiting the dentist, “you wanna watch Star Wars?”

“Yeah! Yay, Star Wars!”

It’s been about six months since the girls watched Star Wars. The last time around, even RU had trouble focusing on what was going on. They seemed more involved and, I think, got more enjoyment out of it now. Being more mature by half a year certainly helped, as did watching the movie first thing in the morning rather than late at night.

A word of caution, though: even movies you fondly remember from your youth may be too intense for younger viewers, especially the first time or two they watch something. For a movie as mild as Star Wars, I’ve found that just sitting with or holding the kids through troublesome scenes is sufficient to get them through and maintain their interest.

As a guide, my girls used the word “scary” during the following scenes:

When R2-D2 is captured by the Jawas, from the time they begin watching him until he is reunited with C3PO.

The whole trash compactor scene was particularly scary.

Darth Vader is scary, especially at first. I think they got used to him a bit and by the time the heroes were running around on the Death Star, he was just menacing.

When the Tusken Raider pops up behind Luke and does an Arsenio Hall impersonation before beating him unconscious may have been scary but I had forgotten that moment was coming up and was downstairs at the time.

I had to juggle watching the film with my girls with making our food (nothing says “movie morning” like li’l smokies and coffee cake for breakfast) but I did manage to record some of the girls’ commentary. What follows is a brief transcript.

MeToo (every three minutes): “Where’s Shoebaca?”

MeToo (watching the Imperial Star Destroyer spin away in the distance as the droids’ escape pod falls to Tatooine): “Shoebaca gonna steal those people.”

The Dad: “What? Chewbacca will steal the people away from the bad guys?”

MeToo: “Yeah. Shoebaca gonna take his sword and knock that airplane away.”

(I went downstairs to get breakfast started. When I left, Luke had just met Obi-Wan, his aunt and uncle were still alive, and the word “Jedi” had not yet been spoken. I came back upstairs to find the characters standing in front of a blasted sand crawler, throwing Jawa corpses onto a pyre. Luke is saying he wants to learn to be a Jedi, like his father.)

The Dad: “Did I miss anything important?”

RU: “No, nothing really happened.”

MeToo (during the Cantina scene): “There’s Shoebaca!” (Then, anytime the film cuts to any other character) “Where’s Shoebaca go?”

RU (upon Han Solo’s first appearance):  “Why is Chewbacca’s friend here?”

Once the action left Tatooine, they were either more fully absorbed by the story or getting bored; either way, their questions and exclamations died down. When I came up with the food, though, MeToo came running and met me at the stairs.

“Daddy, daddy! You miss it!”

“What happened? What’d I miss?”

“Shoebaca!”

Get ‘Em Hooked Young

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a great big, geeky nerd with a nerd’s hobbies. Getting to share those hobbies and interests with my children has been something I’ve looked forward to for… well, for a lot longer than I’ve had kids. Now that I do have a few offspring it can sometimes be hard to wait for them to be old enough to engage in (or be engaged with) my geeky pursuits.

One of those pursuits is role-playing games, the kind where you have to use a pencil and paper and roll lots of oddly-shaped dice. Actually, my favorite RPG just uses regular six-siders, but I do have the minimum amount of polyhedrals needed to play good, ol’ fashioned D&D. A few days ago, I dug those dice out when RU kept wanting to do more school after I’d exhausted the couple of lessons I’d prepared.

We started with the pyramidal four-sided dice, letting her count the sides and roll them a few times. One by one, she examined them in ascending order: the familiar cube-shaped d6’s, the d8’s, the ten-sided dice that are confusingly numbered 0 through 9, the d12’s, and all the way up to the big round twenty-siders. RU was very interested in them, seemed excited to turn them over in her hands and count the sides.

Following that, we each grabbed a die of the same size and spent some time seeing who could roll higher. We went through all the dice that way, though RU insisted on pairing up the d4’s and d6’s, rolling both and adding their values together.

 

(Clatter, clatter) “Woo hoo!”

Finally, we got down to adding a narrative element. I brought in her LEGO elf and a LEGO soldier from the Castles line.

“Let’s do some pretending,” I said. “Which one do you want to be?”

RU picked the elf. No surprise there.

“What’s her name?”

“Ummm. Can I give her a name that’s somebody’s real name?”

“You can name her whatever you like.”

“Okay. Her name is Lizzy.”

One of the hardest parts of character creation was now out of the way! Time to figure out some stats for her. I wasn’t using any particular system, just making up some very basic stuff as I went along. ”Okay. So, what’s Lizzy like? What does she do?”
“She likes to play soccer,” RU suggested.
“How about this: is Lizzie strong, or quick, or smart?”
RU answered right away, “Lizzie is smart. She’s smarter than me.”

 

Meet Lizzie. She’s an Elf. She is smart, likes soccer, and drinks coffee.

 

“Well! She must be a very smart elf indeed, then! Does she have any magic? Or any powers?” RU and her little sister MeToo have gone from pretending to be Elsa and Ana with magic and ice powers to just pretending to have magic and ice powers in other identities and have recently branched out to pretending to have other kinds of powers as well. Between that and the way I already stereotype elves thanks to Tolkien and D&D, I had no doubt that Lizzie would be sorcerously-inclined.

But RU did the unexpected: “No. She doesn’t have magic. There are no bad guys where she lives so she doesn’t need magic.”

“So what would Lizzie do if one day a bad guy,” I picked up the LEGO spearman, “did come to the forest where she lives?”

“She would trick him,” RU replied. She didn’t even have to think about it; it was actually a little unnerving.

“Oh ho! She would trick him! Because that would be the smart thing to do, right? I like it. So, what would she do to trick him? How would she do that?”

“She would dress up like a bad guy.”

“I think that would do it. Very clever of her. I like how you came up with a solution that also avoided conflict.” That remark was over RU’s head, I’m sure, but I was quite impressed with her.

Okay, now I wanted to put that action in something like a typical fantasy RPG adventure scenario. One of those pencil finger grip things was lying nearby. I held it up.

“Let’s pretend this is some kind of magical treasure.” I sat it down on the table and placed the spearman next to it. My idea was that Lizzie would need to trick her way past him to reach the treasure. “This soldier is a bad guy who has come into the forest to find it.”

 

Behold: the MacGuffin Stone!

 

The role of “Bad Guy” will be played by this LEGO minifig

“But,” RU interrupted, “Lizzie knows where the treasure is. She put it in a box with a lock and she’s the only one who has the key.”

Ah. So it’s to be sort of a reverse dungeon crawl.

“Did she hide it somewhere?”

“Yes. She’s the only one who can find it. She has magic that can help her find it. She, ah, she has a magic shovel that she uses to find it.”

“So Lizzie doesn’t have magic powers herself, but she has magical things. Okay. Where did she hide the box with the treasure? In a cave or in the forest?”

RU established that the thing was in a cave in the forest, protected by magic so no one could find it. The soldier, I point out, has come into the forest in search of the treasure and he seems to have some way to locate it. He hasn’t found it yet, but he will if Lizzie doesn’t intervene. How, I ask RU, is he able to know where the treasure is?

“He, he has a magic spear that tells him where it is. Not right where it is, but if he’s going the right way.”

Now, at this point, I thought to myself that I probably should have tried to bring her into role-playing games through this kind of back-and-forth story telling. Introduce dice later on. However, I’ve built this up as a thing we will use the dice for. She’s enjoyed playing with the dice, and the tactile pleasure of rolling them is part of the fun of this hobby. Plus, maybe it’s best for her to learn early that the dice don’t always go your way.

So I said, “Pick out two dice of the same size. I’ll take one and you take one.”

RU chose the twenty-sided ones.

“Now, how does Lizzie find the bad guy?”

“She sneaks up on him and watches him.”

“Okay, let’s see if she can sneak up on him. Roll your die for Lizzie and I’ll roll mine for the bad guy.”

The dice clattered on the table. She rolled higher, so Lizzie approached him unseen.

“If you want to, you can now roll to see if Lizzie can convince him she’s a bad guy, too, when she approaches him. And, um, because Lizzie is Smart I think I’ll give you a bonus to your roll.” Not that I had any idea what would be appropriate; mostly, I wanted to make sure she’d succeed at her shrewd plan.

“What’s a bonus?”

“It’s a number you’ll get to add to your roll. Because Lizzie is Smart, whenever she does something clever you can get a bonus added to your die roll.” That seemed like sound game mechanics. But d20’s are so swingy! I still hadn’t decided what a good value for the bonus would be.

RU came up with her own solution. She picked up a d10 and said, “I want to roll this as my bonus.”

“That sounds like a great idea! Whenever Lizzy is doing something Smart, you can roll that one, too, and add your numbers together.”

She rolled her d20 and the bonus d10, beating the result of my lone d20.

“Good job! The Bad Guy thinks Lizzy is on his side. Now that she’s done that, how can she keep him from finding the treasure?”

“She’ll cast a spell! She’s got magic now.”

“Okay, that’s fine. What does her spell do?”

“It takes the Bad Guy home. It makes him think that he’s following his spear to the treasure, but he goes all the way back home instead. And he won’t know it until he’s back at his house.”

I chuckle. “Let’s roll to see if she can make that happen. Just your twenty-sided die against mine when she uses her magic.”

RU rolled a 20. “Yay!”

“You got a twenty! Critical success! That means you rolled as high as you can roll on that die. The spell works perfectly and the Bad Guy wanders out of the forest. He walks all the way back home without realizing it. He just finds himself in his bedroom and says, ‘What? How in the world did I get here?’ Nice work.”

RU laughed. Then she wanted to play some more.

And so did I.

 

Take a bow, everybody

 (In case anyone cares about her further adventures, RU enlisted the LEGO spearman figure as a good guy named Roland. Roland and Lizzie got married (after having to overcome some obstacles on the way to the ceremony, which had to be performed that one day of the year — RU’s idea, I swear) and took in a pet spider. Something went wrong with the treasure and it began “leaking magic” which made scary illusions in the forest.

By the time MeToo woke up from her nap and came downstairs, the “leaking magic” had gotten the attention of a wizard who brought his bodyguard along into the woods. We wanted MeToo to join us and she picked out a princess (I’d broken out a few cardboard miniatures).

“Is she Strong, or Quick, or Smart,” I asked MeToo.

“She Strong like Sooperman.”

“What’s her name?”

“Ummm. I dunno.”

“Yeah, sometimes that’s the hardest part for me, too.”

This was the first actual combat we’d had. Lizzie and the Wizard faced off but he proved to be better at magic — getting to roll a bonus die when casting spells. Then it was MeToo’s turn.

“What does she do?” I pointed to MeToo’s princess figure.

MeToo picked up her princess and knocked the wizard’s bodyguard off the table with it. “She’s gonna smash the dragon!”

Yeah. I think my kids are born gamers. This is gonna be so much fun!)

A Long Time Ago, On A Yellow Brick Road Far, Far Away, Part 2: “Some People Without Brains Do An Awful Lot Of Talking, Don’t They?”

As I discussed in my last post, we recently watched Star Wars with the girls and, while they seemed to like it, their reaction was less awesome than I had hoped. So I am pleased to say that when I showed the The Wizard of Oz for the first time last month, it was everything I’d hoped  it would be for them.

Aside from the obvious fact that The Wizard of Oz is a children’s movie and Star Wars isn’t, I think they were more absorbed by it because I’d laid more groundwork for it. RU’s only exposure to Star Wars prior to seeing the film was to ride Star Tours twice at Disney; with The Wizard of Oz, we’d actually read the book first. In fact, we watched Oz because the girls liked the book so much.

You might have picked up on the fact that I have a great many things I am excited, even impatient, to share with my children. Star Wars is just one example; there are books I’m looking forward to just as much and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was one of those. I would have thought RU needed another year or so before she’d be ready for something so long, but she’d been having me read those Frog and Toad books to her, all the way through, one after the other. What really surprised me was how MeToo took to it as well. She would come and sit down when I’d start a chapter with RU. She might not stay for the end, but she was interested enough to keep coming back.

The book (in case you haven’t read it) is quite good and deserves a place on your kid’s bookshelf. It moves quickly (Dorothy goes from Kansas to Oz in about five pages) and most chapters are short. I’m finding it to be a better read (easier, simpler, more engaging) than Milne’s Pooh stories, at least at RU’s age. It goes along well with the film, although naturally there are differences (less singing, for one). The brief bits when Dorothy’s companions converse with one another are nice; I loved the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman discussing the relative merits of brains and hearts.

There are a couple of spots where the book gets a little more intense than the movie. The scene where the heroes are pursued by a couple of bloodthirsty kalidahs* is a real nail-biter, but it’s resolved in just a few paragraphs. In addition to that, the Wicked Witch of the West sends some crows and wolves after them before bringing out the winged monkeys, but the Tin Woodman and his axe make short work of them. It’s glossed over quickly and isn’t terribly frightening, though that scene does give the book a body count that’s about fifty times higher than the movie. Speaking of the winged monkeys, they may be the most frightening thing in the film — they are pretty freakish and they directly assault the heroes, even tear one apart — but the book actually takes some sting out of them by revealing that they are cursed to do the bidding of whoever wears the Golden Cap. Dorothy gets ahold of it after liquidating the witch and they fly her back to the Emerald City (though they can’t take her to Kansas). While watching the movie, RU asked me when they were going to show the king of the flying monkeys (a character in the book), which I’d say testifies to the depth they are given in the book beyond just being evil henchlings.

So when I told the girls that there was a Wizard of Oz movie, they had something to get excited about.

Once the opening credits were through, they were riveted, even in the beginning when it’s all monochromatic. I’m pretty sure my girls have never watched anything that’s in black and white before**. Then that moment when Dorothy walks out of her house into Munchkinland and glorious technicolor… Well, just like that scene in Empire Strikes Back, this is one of those awesome cinematic moments that’s fun to watch a kid see for the first time. When it happened, and Dorothy stepped out into a new, fantastic world, RU’s jaw literally fell open. She turned to me (while somehow keeping her eyes on the TV) and said, “What country is this?”

Yeah, it was pretty perfect.

*Don’t know what a kalidah is? Count yourself lucky.

**Although, again, reading the book first comes in handy here. Surprisingly (to me anyway), Frank L Baum describes everything in Kansas as being grey, even Aunt Em.

A Long Time Ago, On A Yellow Brick Road Far, Far Away, Part 1: “Your Powers Are Weak, Old Man.”

We showed the kids Star Wars! Following the methods I have previously discussed, we started with, well, Star Wars, the original theatrical version, with the best special effects 1977 had to offer. (Hey, it’s not like kids today need Elmo to be an expensive digital effect in order to buy into him.)

She was excited and we talked it up ahead of time, but her reaction was a little underwhelming. Oh, she liked it. But her attention strayed at parts and she didn’t seem as fascinated with it as she does with, say, Frozen. Her reaction to The Wizard of Oz was much more fulfilling — but more on that in another post.

I suppose I had very high expectations. It isn’t a children’s movie, after all, and it is rather long. Maybe not as long as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it still clocks in at 11.2 episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. That’s a big stretch of time for a pre-schooler to stay focused.

During the climactic attack on the Death Star, when it cuts to all the Imperial officers and crewmen and stormtroopers hurrying to their posts to repel the rebel attack, RU asked, “Why are Darth Vader’s friends running?” So, even when she was engaged with it, pretty much all of the context for any given scene went just a bit over her head.

With the lights off and the film that comprises the core of my nerd psyche playing on the TV, I flashed back to the movie nights of my childhood. I remembered being a little older than RU is now, struggling to pay attention to movies that I very much wanted to watch; I couldn’t stay on target with Star Wars any better than she did.

In the final analysis, in our enthusiasm to share Star Wars with her, we jumped the gun a little bit. I’ve decided to wait a year before showing the kids The Empire Strikes Back, though if she wants to watch Star Wars again, we’ll do that. I think putting about a year between the films leaves enough room to anticipate the next chapter while rewatching and absorbing the ones already seen. That would put us on schedule to be unveiling Return of the Jedi to them around 2018/2019, when RU will be 7. Baby Z should be 4 by then, which gives him the short end of the stick, so I’ll have to figure out some other movie franchise to schedule around his level of age-appropriateness. Harry Potter? The Avengers-related films? Or maybe when he’s a teenager I’ll show him Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.

Now I just have to figure out if and when we’re going to watch that Clone Wars show that I’ve heard is actually pretty good.

The Force is confusing with this one

In case you haven’t heard, there is another Star Wars movie coming out, Real Soon Now, with more on the way. As you may also be aware, this is because Star Wars is now owned by Disney, and they are doubtless hard at work imagineering new theme park rides and features. I bring this up because we will soon be taking a vacation to Walt Disney World (a frequent destination of ours) and our oldest, RU, will meet the height requirement for the Star Tours ride. This is because she’s freakishly tall. She’s not quite 4 years old yet and wears size 5 or 6 clothes. So even though she’s tall enough, she may not really be old enough to handle it; the ride can be herky-jerky beyond her roller coaster experience, and the content might be scary for her. Or not. Either way, it’s brought up the idea that she might be old enough to watch the films. Maybe doing so would help prepare her for the ride, or at least put it into context.

Thus, I would like to discuss one of the most important considerations a parent in the 21st century faces: When and how to show your children the Star Wars. Seriously. My oldest child may be under 4, but I’ve puzzled over this question since Episode I came out in 1999. Which I guess says a lot about me.

I was born the year Star Wars* came out and have no memory of seeing it for the first time. In my mind, I just have always seen Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back is something I know I saw when I was very, very young — I would have been almost 3 when it hit theaters — but it’s more the memory of a memory. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was old enough to anticipate it and be excited about it, and being able to appreciate it like that made a huge difference. These movies were important to me and a whole generation of kids (and by “these movies” I mean just the original trilogy <sigh>). Naturally, I want to make sure that RU, Me-Too, and Z have the best first experience possible. And it turns out, that requires a little forethought.

First, are they going to be old enough to “get” it, to get involved in the story and not just have it wash over them? I think that might be true for RU by now, but just barely. I could hold this back a couple of years to let Me-Too mature to the point that she could get it, too, but I don’t have the patience for Z (sorry, buddy). Hm, perhaps I should wait a year between each movie. Let them rematch what they’ve already seen but make ‘em wait for the next one like the rest of us had to.

Sure, whenever you expose your kids to entertainment like this, you also need to make sure the content is suitable for them. All of the Star Wars films except Revenge of the Sith are rated PG, and I think the original trilogy is pretty tame by today’s standards. Well, the violence and foul language are pretty mild and I can only think of three kisses all three films combined (and one of those is between a brother and a sister — though the characters don’t know that yet, so it’s kinda gross if you think of it), but there are some scenes that might be emotionally intense. The Internet Movie Database has a Parents Guide for the series. All I know is, I must have seen the first two movies before I was 3 years old and I’m pretty sure they didn’t mess me up. RU can be a bit more sensitive, though, so there’s another reason for me to hold off for a while. As Emperor Palpatine showed us, if you are patient enough, young fools will fall into your trap with little effort.

Once you deem them ready to appreciate the greatest science fiction/fantasy myth of all time, which version will you show them? Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference to some people, but I find that all the junk added to the Special Edition versions only clutters up the frame. And that musical number added to the scene in Jabba’s Palace? Ack, don’t get me started. Wait, I’ve already started, haven’t I? Okay, it was totally gratuitous, uninteresting, and screwed up the mood and pacing. Like most all the other changes Lucas made when he started monkeying around with them again. The little things that got altered to the original films after the prequels came out might make all six films more consistent… but bringing the original films more in line with the other three steaming piles of disappointment doesn’t involve changing them for the better.

The sad part is that the alterations done for the Special Editions are considered to be the standard version now. If you go buy Star Wars on Blu-ray, you won’t see Han shoot first**. Fortunately for me, I have the first DVD releases that included the original versions — the ones where the effects haven’t been cleaned up and you can see the matte lines. Personally, I’d rather have matte lines than CGI effects that are now a decade and a half old. Still, it’d be nice if there was a middle ground, a version where the original special effects were touched up and the frames restored but none of the extra crap was added. Fortunately, there is! Harmy’s Despecialized Editions, put together by someone with vastly more patience and free time than anyone I know. My sources tell me it’s as close as you can get to reproducing in cleaned-up HD what Star Wars looked like when it first hit the theaters.

Having obtained copies of the series, in whatever your version of choice is, you will then need to decide what order to show them in. If you’ve never thought about this question, the answer may seem obvious. They’re numbered, after all. But if you’ve seen the films — both the original trilogy and the prequels — then it shouldn’t take much consideration to realize how that order can be problematic. The prequels are all about Anakin Skywalker’s tragic fall towards the Dark Side, which completely undercuts the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back when [SPOILER ALERT] Darth Vader tells Luke that he is Luke’s father. If you can somehow manage to not have that surprise ruined for you, it’s one of the most shocking reveals in cinema, especially if you’re a kid. People post YouTube videos of their children watching that scene for the first time and having the doors blown off their reality. And, really, making sure my child is able to fully enjoy and appreciate that moment is my guidepost for how to handle all this. If she’s not totally floored when she sees that, I’ll feel like I haven’t done my job.

So much for watching them in numbered order. However, strict chronological order has it’s own problems, the biggest one being that Return of the Jedi is the conclusion of both Luke and Anakin’s stories. It’s clearly the best film to end on. Strictly sticking to the order they were released in means ending with Episode III, which would just be a huge downer.

Fortunately, there’s a brilliant solution: watch the films in Machete Order. You can read all about it here. The trick — and it’s a real stroke of genius — is to watch Episode IV and V, then jump to Episodes II and III, treating the prequels like an extended flashback. You finish up with Episode VI. As a bonus, it turns out you can skip Episode I entirely, which is good because while I do think that hardship builds character, that would be overdoing it. (And if you need a reminder because you haven’t seen it since 1999, here’s a 70-minute long critique of Episode I that explains how truly terrible it is in hilariously painstaking detail.)

You know, all this is sounding like too much work for me to accomplish before our trip. The more I think about it, the more I think I should wait. If RU wants to go on the ride, it’s not that big a deal. Odds are, she’s not really ready for that, anyway.

One last note. I heard of a guy who had sat his young son down to watch the Star Wars movies and they’d gotten to that scene. The guy is just watching his kid watch the show, waiting to see the reaction. When [SPOILER ALERT] Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s father, the guy’s kid just turns to him and says, “Oh, it’s just like with Buzz Lightyear and Zerg.” So… yeah, my kids aren’t going to be watching Toy Story 2 until after they’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back.

*Yes, Star Wars, not Episode IV, not anything else. The box on the VHS tape said “Star Wars,” the listing in the TV Guide when it came on cable was “Star Wars,” and for twenty years even the most pedantic nerd would have rolled his eyes at you if you’d constantly referred to it as “A New Hope.”

**I hope you can appreciate, dear reader, the degree of restraint I am showing by letting that lie when I could passionately fill another few paragraphs on that hateful revision alone. Let me just say that everything George Lucas has done to the Star Wars films since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983 has been to make the series simultaneously dumber and less interesting. And I plan to have “Han Shot First” put on my tombstone. It might confuse some people about the nature of my passing, but I’m okay with that, too.

Update: I’ve added ads below for the DVD versions that I, myself, have, which include the original theatrical release versions of the films. Yes, they are frighteningly expensive now; if I find cheaper options through Amazon, I’ll update these links. If you purchase them by following the links from this site, I do receive remuneration.