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Warning: SOME SPOILERS (But seriously, you still haven’t seen it?!)
I have created a monster.
Every morning, in the still-slumbering predawn, it sneaks upstairs and into my room, crawls into bed between me and my wife, presses its face close to mine and whispers with its foul morning breath: “Daddy: Let’s talk about Star Wars.”
Like most parents I have to some degree attempted to impress my own hard-won good taste on my 4-year-old daughter. I play vinyl in the living room, leaning heavily on a hearty selection of Blue Note jazz from the late ’50s and early ’60s. We’ve read Charlotte’s Web (twice), The Cricket in Times Squareand most recently Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. One of the first movies she fell in love with was My Neighbor Totoro. Although she loves any iteration of them, she has sat through almost all of the original adventures of the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
There are, naturally, other things she cares about that I had little to nothing to do with: Frozen, Super Why!, these godawfully long books that are just point-for-point transliterations of Disney movies like Cinderella. And there are things I couldn’t get her into. Despite her love of playing under the parachute, she had little interest in listening to “Twin Falls” by Built to Spill.
But basically, I was probably more prepared for this aspect of parenting than any other: the chance to curate even just a small slice of another person’s taste from birth. You see, one of my greatest passions is telling people about the things I love and maybe especially explaining exactly why I love them. It’s about as unbearable as you might think, and my parents, my brother, my wife and others can testify to my propensity to point out and obsess over seemingly minor things in songs, movies and books. Believe me: I understand that this can do just as much to drive someone away from something as draw them to it, but I can’t stop.
And honestly, when I made the decision to show my daughter Star Wars, it wasn’t because I’m some kind of die-hard fan. Sure, Star Wars was the first movie I saw back when I was her age, and I certainly grew up with the toys and with the franchise as a major part of the collective popular unconscious. But I never saw The Phantom Menace when it came out, didn’t own the movies on DVD or Blu-Ray, don’t have any books, toys or much of anything beyond a Boba Fett mug I bought out of nostalgia at an exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I would say I am about averagely attached to the Star Wars franchise for a white American male in his late 30s.
So when I coaxed my daughter into watching A New Hope, it was with the promise of Princess Leia and low expectations. She liked it, though, and wanted the next movie. If there’s one trait we share so far, it seems to be a desire to get wrapped up in something just a little out of our reach. So before we tackled The Empire Strikes Back a week later, I gave a quick recap of what had happened in the first movie. She was already looking forward to Yoda (who’s basically a Muppet, remember) and had keyed in on Darth Vader (Dark Vader, according to her) and Chewbacca in addition to Leia.
Throughout the film I had to answer questions about who this or that was and what they were doing. She latched onto, for some reason, the first scene between Leia and Han Solo, the one where they’re fighting and trying to hide their feelings for each other. She loved Yoda and there is something unmistakably thrilling about getting to watch Empire with someone who literally has no idea that Darth Vader could be Luke Skywalker’s father.
As I read the crawl on Return of the Jedi to her a week later, I was glad that she had gotten so into the films. I had already had to recount the stories ofStar Wars and Empire several times, and here came a whole new slew of characters for her to absorb: Jabba the Hut, Boba Fett (who gets more play in Jedi than Empire, even though he dies), Admiral Ackbar — OK, no one really cares about Ackbar except for when he says, “It’s a trap!” She wasn’t as into the Ewoks as I thought she’d be, but she was into it enough to make it through the weakest of the 3 original films.
Even before we went to see The Force Awakens I was retelling the plots of 3 movies at least once a day and, at first, it was fun to prompt her to fill in the blanks. Something about a 4-year-old girl saying, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” scratches all kinds of itches. It’s thrilling for your child to be interested in something you yourself were interested in at her age, and especially when you can feel like you’re breaking down some gender barriers about what’s for girls and what’s for boys.
Like almost all kids, she wants to see the same thing many times, or hear the same story over and over. I identify with that. When I find that song or movie or poem that hits me in that certain way, I want to go through it over and over again until I can tell exactly how it does what it does. I know that’s not the precise reason she yearns for repetition, but I understand the pull itself.
The Force Awakens required more explanation. After all, the characters in the original trilogy feel to her like the present day when they’re up on the screen — she has no way to understand that 30 years have passed. So when Leia — whom she’d been looking forward to seeing again — made her first appearance, she asked me, “Who’s that?”
I paused. “That’s Princess Leia.”
She paused. “What happened?”
She recognized Chewbacca; Han, not so much. She accepted BB-8 into her heart and developed a hesitant affection for Rey, although she couldn’t dislodge Leia from her place of honor so quickly. When Rey dramatically extends her hand at the end of the movie, returning a legendary weapon to its mythic owner, she asked, “What’s that?”
“That? That’s Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.”
“Oh. … And who’s she giving it to?”
So here we are in the present day, every day: Me, orally drafting Wikipedia entries titled “Plot” for 4 movies in a half-coherent state while supine in my pajamas, and my daughter, insisting that she’s Leia and I’m Han and her mother is Rey and her 2-month old sister is BB-8 and explaining that she’s going to wear her Yoda socks today and her Darth Vader socks tomorrow so she’s leaving them both out, okay? I can see it driving my wife slowly, inexorably insane.
This is me, getting exactly what I’ve always wanted: a totally captive audience becoming as single-mindedly devoted to something as I am. It’s mildly terrifying, mostly because I’ve become accustomed to people putting up with my enthusiasm, not getting even more sucked into it than me.
Down at their roots, one of the things the Star Wars movies are about is how legacies are passed from generation to generation through traits and traditions, even as they’re refracted or changed in the passing. These legacies are always a mixed bag, but they’re inescapable, they’re all we’ve got. So I’ll wait for my daughter each morning, and keep re-telling these stories simply because there can be no doubt: there’s been an awakening.
Steve McPherson has written for Rolling Stone, A Wolf Among Wolves, 1500 ESPN, ViceSports, and Grantland (RIP). He primarily writes about basketball. You can follow him on facebook and twitter (@steventurous). Read more from Steve below: