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.