It seems that our generation has the now always relevant question, “At what age do you show your children ‘Star Wars’?”
After many conversations with other parents over the years, weighing maturity and violence against things our kids are currently watching, we concluded that age 7 was about right for our son. As a result, we knew this meant we would have to accept that our daughter, still 4.5, would be seeing it earlier than we would have chosen. The timing of our son turning 7 was fortunate since it was about two months before the release of “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.”
One question that always pops up on Facebook and in conversations when starting to approach showing the “Star Wars” series to kids is, “Which one do you start with?” For me and my husband, the answer was a no-brainer: We would show them in the order in which they were released, starting with “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” We chose to do it this way, not only because it was the way in which we experienced it originally, but because it was how the majority of the culture experienced it (and many people argue that the earlier ones are the best ones, anyway).
My husband started watching “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” with our son while my daughter was at gymnastics class. He paused for many questions and explanations and warned him of scenes that would have a lot of tension (something that is a little hard for my son). They made it through a good chunk of it before my son decided he wanted to stop. He continued watching it in subsequent weeks that my daughter was at gymnastics. His experiences with the movie were her introduction. When he started asking questions about it at the dinner table and made references to characters or scenes, we had to explain it to her, too.
And then all the secrets came out.
It was a little bit of a bummer, for us, to have the kids already know about secret familial relationships that the audience isn’t supposed to know about until the 5th or 6th movie (especially when my daughter hadn’t even started watching the first one) but, there you had it. And, of course, to explain many of the secrets, my husband, an avid Star Wars fan, had to share stories from the first three episodes as well. Nothing was sacred.
About a month after my son started watching the movies, I started watching “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” with my daughter. Despite her age, my daughter was mostly unruffled by the tense scenes, having heard about them rather extensively already. She asked many clarifying questions and we moved at a slower pace, only getting through the first third on our first day, though we stopped out of necessity, not desire.
The “Star Wars” discussions continued for several weeks before we had opportunities to watch more of the movies themselves. We talked about why characters made certain choices about sharing information or hiding or deceiving each other. We discussed the emotions that the characters were going through in certain scenes. My daughter, as many 4-year-olds do, asked the same questions again and again at different times, trying to process the information in the story. We also got some of the “Lego Star Wars” books out of the library to read.
Over Thanksgiving week, my son finally finished “Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back” and “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” with my husband while my daughter and I finished “Star Wars Episode IV: The New Hope.” As a reward, each child was promptly shown the trailer for “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.”
To add to their thoughts, we also shared some funny books my husband had been given about Darth Vader as a dad written by Jeffrey Brown. This put the kids over the top. My husband and I took turns reading the cartoons in our best Darth Vader and little Luke and little Leia voices, with stories about Darth Vader balancing being an Evil Empire lord with giving Luke a timeout or about Leia interrupting Darth Vader while he was trying to strangle someone to say, “Hi, Daddy!” The kids read the books for the rest of the weekend and have quoted those nearly as much as the movies themselves.
Many of their peers are also very excited about “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” coming out (probably because their parents are excited…just a guess). As a result, my son has reconnected with a friend from last year and they have compared knowledge about the Star Wars world. My daughter, a huge fan of pretend play, is now playing Star Wars at school with some of her friends, regularly saving the universe from the Evil Empire.
We still intend to have my daughter see the 5th and 6th movies before she can see the new one. And I imagine that they will be interested in seeing the first three, as well. We don’t know if we will feel that “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” will be appropriate for them now. But they’ll be ready to see it on the big screen, if we do.