In my article last week, I discussed how the question of “When is it appropriate to show your kids the Star Wars movies?” can become a very contentious and hotly debated topic amongst parents. And I also mentioned that I have not allowed my own five-year-old daughter to watch the Star Wars films yet, even though she really, really wants to. But here’s where I want to make an important distinction – just because I won’t let my kid watch the Star Wars MOVIES, that doesn’t mean that I keep her away from all things Star Wars.
I mentioned in my last post that every kid in my daughter’s school has Star Wars on the brain, so, I’ll admit, I didn’t want her to be the only kid in school who didn’t know what a Wampa was. She even got invited to a Star Wars-themed birthday party and I really did not want her to be the odd kid out. But I also wasn’t going to backtrack on my original decision to not show her the movies. (I actually know of some parents who’ve shown their kids the Star Wars movies solely to help them deal with peer pressure… which is kind of sad.)
So, how did I let my kid “experience” Star Wars without actually seeing the Star Wars films? Here are a few techniques I used to help my kid become Star Wars-savvy without having to reverse my original decision. (Before we begin, yes, I understand that many of my distinctions about “what is appropriate” for my five year old might sound extremely subjective, but 99% of parenting is making things up as you go. You’ve just got to do what feels right for you.)
What do you do if your kid’s not ready for the Star Wars movies yet?
Let Them Experience Star Wars in the Most Old School Way Possible, i.e. The Oral Tradition
The best scene in the underwhelming dragon flick, Reign of Fire, is a moment where Christian Bale acts out the Star Wars movies for a group of rapt young children who grew up in a post-apocalyptic England where it wasn’t exactly easy to get a copy of the original trilogy on Blu-ray:
It’s a funny moment that nicely plays into the idea that movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings really do stand as the hallmarks of our modern mythology, and it gave me a great idea.
When my daughter came home from school, asking about Star Wars again, I sat her down and said, “OK, I’m going to tell you the story of the three Star Wars movies.” (I’m a purist. Don’t talk to me about the prequels.) And, for the next hour and a half, I walked my daughter beat-by-beat through the entire trilogy. She LOVED it and so did I. Yeah, I was spoiling things left and right, and I occasionally messed up a few details (or stumbled when asked to explain something), but it was an enormously fun storytelling experience that really drew us both in. She asks me to retell her the story of the Star Wars movies every few weeks and, even though it takes a fair chunk of time to get through everything, it’s totally worth it. And her retention of details is amazing. Even though she’s never seen the movies, by their description alone, she could pick Bib Fortuna or Grand Moff Tarkin out of a line-up with no trouble at all.
Be a Curator – Selective Screenings of Star Wars Clips
While I don’t think my daughter is ready to watch all of the Star Wars films yet, that doesn’t mean that I think every single moment of every single Star Wars movie is inappropriate. So, as a special treat, I occasionally go on YouTube and find clips of Star Wars that I think my daughter will enjoy. And, since I know the movies fairly well, I know exactly what to show her and when to stop showing her a clip. For example, my daughter really wanted to see a scene with “Padme and lightsabers” (to quote her). My thoughts immediately went to the arena fight in Attack of the Clones. I found a clip, brought it up on my iPad, and (most importantly) I controlled the video playback. That meant I could skip parts, I could rewind, and I could stop whenever I wanted. So, while I could show my daughter Padme fighting the vicious Geonosian cat beast, I could also stop the clip well before Mace Windu chopped off Jango Fett’s head (right in front of Jango’s son). It was one way that I could reward my daughter’s interest in Star Wars while still controlling exactly what she was allowed to see and hear.
Try Out Some Star Wars Comics and Picture Books
There are many Star Wars books out there and a lot of them are complete crap. There are some DK Reader Star Wars books where you will swear that the book was dictated out loud by someone with a very serious closed-head injury. But that doesn’t mean that all Star Wars books are bad. If your kid is interested in Star Wars and hasn’t seen the movies yet, there are several graphic novel collections that can let them experience the Star Wars films in really dynamic ways. If your child is into the Clone Wars, try out the Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures collections by Dark Horse Comics. These collections gather various short stories, illustrated in the style of Genndy Tartakovsky’s original Clone Wars shorts for the Cartoon Network. The stories are fun, fast, and very kid-appropriate.
If your kid is into the original trilogy, Dark Horse also published a fantastic series of Star Wars Manga collections that retell the first three (and best) Star Wars movies in the style of Japanese comic books. The Star Wars Manga graphic novels are all in black-and-white, but their design and kinetic storytelling makes them very appealing to young readers. And, if you have a really young Star Wars fan at home, you should definitely check out Jeffrey Brown’s inspired picture book Darth Vader and Son, which shows the Dark Lord of the Sith patiently trying to raise a young Luke Skywalker like any normal father would. (The best moment is when Darth tries to talk Luke out of buying a Jar-Jar doll at a toy store – “This is not the toy you’re looking for.”) Plus, now that Disney owns Star Wars, it’s a safe bet to assume that that the House of Mouse will start publishing even more youngling-appropriate Star Wars books and comics in the near future (possibly published by the also-Disney-owned Marvel Comics).
Embrace Lego Star Wars
I’m actually not sure what’s more popular with kids these days – Star Wars or the Lego version of Star Wars. Lego Star Wars is a HUGE deal with elementary school kids, even with the kids who aren’t particularly into Legos. While there are some die-hard Lego fans who love spending two weeks putting together a Lego Imperial Destroyer, I know far more children who are more into the overall Lego Star Wars “aesthetic” – kids who have their parents put together their playsets, never break them apart again, and who just bought the set in the first place so they could play with the mini-figures. (My daughter is one of those kids.) And there are also Lego Star Wars cartoons (we love the “Bombad Bounty” short online) and video games that are all age-appropriate for younger Star Wars fanatics. While, yes, there are things about Lego Star Wars that drive me nuts – the mini-figures are crazy expensive on eBay, thanks to sad thirty-year-old collector dorks – it is a very irreverent, quirky way to introduce kids to the overall Star Wars experience.
And, due to the overwhelming success of Lego’s kid-if-ication of the Star Wars franchise (which worked much better than the Droids/Ewoks Saturday morning cartoons from the 1980s), other family-friendly properties have also made it possible to share your Star Wars geekery with your kids in some occasionally fun and decidedly “meta” ways. Some of these are fairly lo-fi (Star Wars Monopoly), some are really, really terrible (Star Wars Squinkies, a.k.a. the weird little eraser people that most kids just end up losing or eating), and some are hardwired into the minds of the iPhone generation. While my daughter may not have seen Empire Strikes Back yet, she’s chomping at the bit to play Angry Birds Star Wars when it’s released later this month.
Four Words: Star Wars Dance-Off
I mentioned earlier about using YouTube to show my daughter Star Wars clips, but there are other Star Wars videos that we’ve watched online far, FAR more often than just simple clips of the speeder bike scene in Jedi. Possibly our most watched Star Wars videos EVER are the videos from the annual “Hyperspace Hoopla”, a hysterical fully-in-costume character dance-off that they perform at Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars Weekends every year. Granted, I know some parents and Star Wars geeks that HATE this show with a vengeance, but personally, I think it’s wonderfully bent and goofy, and kids go WILD watching the videos. My daughter cackles like a madwoman every time we watch one.
Every year, you might see Chewbacca dancing to “Welcome to the Jungle”, Darth Vader and Boba Fett performing “Smooth Criminal”, or Padme and Leia teaming up for their rendition of the Spice Girls’ “Tell Me What You Want”. Is it kind of dumb?
YES, but it’s very self-consciously dumb and fun and just entertaining as hell. The performances are extremely tongue in cheek, and I think the videos are a great way to deflate the pomp and circumstance surrounding the movies and show kids that Star Wars, first and foremost, should be a whole lot of fun.
(Unrelated: the header image from this story is from 1993’s incredibad Star Wars Chess, by The Software Toolworks)