My sister Susie showed my niece and nephew Jack and Juliet Star Wars for the first time a few months ago. Jack is 4.5 and Juliet is 2 and change. On Christmas Eve we watched The Empire Strikes Back with them. Or rather, we watched the movie and Jack just asked “why” every few minutes-because he’s at the “Why?” stage of development. I have no idea what Juliet got out of the experience, but she sat still quietly through the whole thing, which has to be regarded as a plus. (anything short of heroin that can get my niece to sit still and be good for a few hours is a *good thing*.)
Jack seems to have picked up on some of the Star Wars plots (Susie claims he loved it and he’s started making X wing fighters with his Legos instead of airplanes.) He knows who most of the major characters are-even if he can’t stop asking “why?” long enough for Luke to kill the abdominal snowman. Even if it kept them amused-were these kids old enough to understand how special Star Wars is (I asked myself) or is my sister just priming them to love it (without knowing why) from a young age?
Susie and I both love Star Wars (who in our generation didn’t?) When I was a senior in college the movies were re-released with extra footage. For each one, my college rented out a movie theatre the day after the films came out and bussed us all to go see them. My sister happened to be visiting me when they re-released the first one so of course we went to see it together (“they were cheering for the sound system.” She said. It was true.)
But I was a bit surprised that she was already showing her kids the movies. Aren’t they too young? And isn’t she just conditioning them to like Star Wars? Shouldn’t there be something as culturally significant and more modern that she can show them? Sadly, No.
While I was down for Christmas, we went to Costco. Susie took me and Juliet and Giovanni (aged 2 months-so everywhere Susie goes he goes) and dropped Jack off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the afternoon. As we were driving around Juliet got fussy. To keep her quiet I pulled the youtube video for Manamana up on my iPhone and handed it to her. About 12 times. Susie noting Juliet’s interest said “I don’t think they’d like the Muppet Movie though.”
“Well if you just showed them a few episodes of the Muppet Show they’d get it.” I answered.
“But that would just be showing them one thing, so that they’d like another thing.” She replied.
Instead of saying “Isn’t that kind of what you’re doing to them with Star Wars?” I just pointed out that the Muppets are quality children's television.
I don’t remember when I first heard of Star Wars. I was too young for the first movie so my parents went to see it without me. Even though I had not yet seen the first movie, by the time I saw the second movie in the theatre, I knew who Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker were. I couldn’t have been that much older than Jack when my parents took me to see it, and I can’t tell you how much I understood of the plot (although I remember being a bit annoyed that Princess Leia never wore a dress.) But when I was 5 it was showing in the theatres-not in your living room.
Still, it’s not like there’s anything similar on offer right now. I mean, Avatar was fun, but Star Wars is on par with The Ring Cycle or The Lord of the Rings or the Sandman Comics. It’s an epic tale, with a bit of a silly name. So I’m not surprised Susie wants to teach her children to appreciate the story and grow up with this mythology in their heads.
And thinking about it, it’s not like my parents didn’t do something similar to me. My dad took me to see a community theatre production of Die Fleidermaus when I was in second grade (what 7 year old doesn’t love Strauss?) And I certainly wouldn’t have discovered Mozart or Gilbert and Sullivan (I measured my achievements in life by The Modern Major General’s song-Learnt some differential calculus-check that one off) without his enthusiastic help-although when he introduced me to G &S I don’t think he had any idea how well I would take to it.
So perhaps Susie is just showing her children what Good is-the same way other young parents I know are taking their young children to have Sushi for the first time when they’re two or three.