Earlier this evening I fulfilled a long-time promise to my girls, and sat down to watch Return of the Jedi with them.
I grew up on Star Wars, in a manner of speaking. I was a young girl when the first movie came out, and it was the first PG movie I ever saw. I eagerly awaited the second movie--and then broke down and read the movie paperback before going to see it. The movie wasn't spoiled for me, though to this day I can remember some of the slight variations between the book's rendition of the movie's dialog, and the movie's actual dialog. The two movies between them sparked in me a lifelong enjoyment of campy sci-fi, which never really translated into some of the hardcore, more serious stuff. I still like to sit down and read or watch a relatively cliched but original enough to be fun piece in which space pirates or evil despotic governments or mysterious space royalty show up; I liked the original Battlestar Galactica series on television as a kid, and never bothered to watch the new dark somber serious heavy-on-the-6th-Commandment-violations iteration.
But Return of the Jedi couldn't fail to disappoint. I was just old enough to cringe at the acting and storytelling and carefully rigged explosions. The Luke/Leia brother/sister relationship had been correctly guessed at and revealed a dozen times over before the movie came out, making a shrugfest out of what were supposed to be some of the more shocking moments; the Jabba the Hut part at the beginning was, and remains, a grotesquerie without much artistic justification; and the actors had been around just long enough not to portray convincingly the characters they'd brought to life before--in fact, at more than one point in the film there's more "Indiana Jones" than "Han Solo" in Harrison Ford's phoning-it-in portrayal.
When my children were old enough to be interested in Star Wars we were careful. They saw the first two, and I let them see The Phantom Menace a little later, though we skipped (and still do) the silly "he has no father" business, arguably the one thing in that movie that is more stupid than Jar Jar Binks. But I held off on Return of the Jedi mainly out of sensitivity to their modesty, and the fact that Princess Leia's "slave girl" attire is skimpy enough to be a problem for parents who might otherwise share this movie with their kids--though as we discussed, the character bears no fault for presumably being dressed this way by the evil and lecherous Jabba the Hut, whose bloated surging reminds me of nothing so much as the federal debt. Still, while the character may not bear fault, someone decided it was necessary to dress--or undress--Carrie Fisher in this way, and so for a long time I just said "no" to the movie.
At this point, though, my girls' desire to see the "conclusion" of the Star Wars saga was pretty strong; they have no interest in watching the other two prequel films, and were happy with a quick synopsis, but they did want to see the resolution of the original trilogy. How did Han Solo escape that carbon-freezing chamber? How did Luke defeat the Emperor? What the heck is an Ewok? So I sat with them to watch the film, and we fast-forwarded through some of the skimpy-costume bits as I gave them terse summaries: "Jabba's threatening them. Now he's ordering Han and Luke to be taken away. Now..." and so on, with stops for them to watch bits that didn't have Leia in them, until she was properly clothed again.
Once we got through that bit, though, I thought that my much younger self's harsh assessment of the movie was a little too critical, in parts. True, it's a campy, cliched movie. But the campiness is mostly good-hearted, and the cliches are decent ones, about family, and friendship, and love, and the possibility of redemption, and the empty seduction of evil.
When it was over Kitten, our oldest girl, wanted to talk about it a bit with me. She had really picked up on the movie's treatment of good and evil, on the fact that it was possible for Darth Vader to choose good even after all those years of being a slave to evil. We talked about how you could think of "the Force" in a way as that striving for balance between our intellects and emotions when we are faced with difficult choices--that some emotions (anger, hatred, fear) really do lead us astray more often than they are helpful, and that avoiding impulsive emotional decision-making is probably a good thing. At the same time, though, it's possible (though it happens less often in our world today) to stifle and ignore the emotions even when our hearts are telling us something we need to stop and listen to; we used the example of a high school student torn between college near home and college far away. Is her desire to remain near family and friends mere feeling, or is it her heart trying to overrule her head, which dispassionately elevates the more rigorous or diverse study offered at the far-away school?
People have talked a lot about what George Lucas intended by these films; certainly he isn't a friend to the deeply religious. But something happens when you tell a story that happens to have truth in it: the true parts are still true, and still good. We can choose good, whether we've chosen evil for a whole lifetime or whether we were momentarily tempted by evil (as Luke is when he strikes at the Emperor, giving in to his anger for a brief second). We can trust the people we love, even if it takes them longer to take down a deflector shield generator--or to take out the trash--than we were counting on. We can recognize those times when negative emotions are doing not only our thinking, but our choosing, for us.
And we can stay the heck away from teddy bears with spears. I'm just saying. :)