Friday, August 14, 2009

Return of the Return of...

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. :)


j. christian said...

Just out of curiosity, how old were your daughters when you let them see the first Star Wars? Because I think the violence -- which is there right from the beginning -- made more of a dark impression on my 6yo sensibilities than did "slave Leia" on my 13yo (male) mind. I think people tend to forget about the violence in Star Wars because it's such an iconic film, and our memories of it get blurred in a haze of nostalgia at times. But personally, I was much more deeply disturbed by it than I think I ever let on.

There was that video floating around the Web awhile ago of the 3yo girl giving her synopsis of Star Wars, and the consensus was "How cute!" It troubled me, though: How well can a 3yo process that stuff?

None of this is to question your decision to let them see it -- we let our son watch it at a very young age -- but just to put the question out there.

Red Cardigan said...

I don't remember their exact age, but they weren't extremely young. Our oldest is sensitive to war, violence, explosions etc. having memories of watching 9/11 coverage on TV at a young age (I think a lot of us parents didn't realize how much they were seeing--we were all so much in shock that day).

I myself didn't see the first Star Wars movie till I was almost nine (when it came out in the movie theater), so I'm thinking they were around that age. By ten or so she was old enough to see "Star Wars" style violence as more "comic-book" of sorts; it was clearly faked, and not disturbing at all, even to her sensitive mind.

I think this is one of those things parents do have to weigh carefully, though. Other movies I saw fairly young are still on the "no" list, and will be for a long time. But with still others, I have to look at each child and assess their individual readiness, as well as their levels of interest/ability to separate reality from fantasy, etc, as well as whether the movie has anything of value to offer and so on. The important thing, I think, is to be cognizant of these things and considerate in our choices, not to hand our kids things just because we liked them a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, so to speak.

Dawn Farias said...

We can recognize those times when negative emotions are doing not only our thinking, but our choosing, for us.

That's been me the last few days. I've definitely been allowing the dark side take over.

Anonymous said...

Interesting review.

We were pretty judicious about what our sons saw on TV, so I think my sons were allowed to watch these programs at an older young age than most kids in the movie theater.

Unfortunately I went to see Chainsaw Hallowe'en stuff with a 16yr old; I left screaming from the theater. (We later discussed the gratuitous brutality.)

It was my mistake in poor judgment so only can blame myself for allowing a 6 yr old see The Day After as we were simply staying up late and watching whatever was on. Soon afterwards, we donated the TV. I think the movie affected the little boy for many years.

On the other hand, have never been one to suggest fiction was more than a story, made up to express someone's point of view for entertainment or propaganda; merely screen performances by actors. Nonetheless was many years before we purchased another TV.

Deirdre Mundy said...

That's funny, Erin--- My almost 6 year old has seen Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, but we HAVEN'T let her see Empire yet!

Our reasoning? Violence doesn't bother her as long as the good guys are GOOD and the Bad guys are BAD. (As a toddler her favorite part of the Christmas story was... King Herod and the slaughter of the innocents.... because the Evil king tried to kill Jesus, but an angel helped him get away....)

BUT she is REALLY sensitive to stories where the good guys don't win at the end. She has a very strtong sense that good should ALWAYS triumph at the end.

So Star Wars and Return are fine for her, but we've been holding off on Empire because it ends on such a low note. (The only way we could manage would be to show Return immediately after, so she could see that they're two parts of the same story.)

It IS interesting what bothers different kids... we haven't watched ANY of the Star Wars movies recently, because my almost-4-Year old is really sensitive to anything scary. (We checked an episode of 'My little pony' out of the library and it sent her screaming from the room!)