I I I I I I I  

MOM AND POP
CULTURE:
Darth Hater 


by Marrit Ingman

Maybe I’m a traitor to my generation, but I hate Star Wars.

I think I started hating it on the ride home from the North Oaks 6 in the way-back of somebody’s station wagon in 1977. The Empire Strikes Back was kind of okay, but then there was that one with those Ewoks. Jesus. Their song used to play on Top 40 radio. It was hell. Then I hated the special editions and fell asleep when dragged to a midnight screening, which had its own dorky preparty, of what was by then more commonly referred to as A New Hope. I do remember how everyone at the august Theater 21 in San Diego’s Hotel Circle, even the costumed fanboys, laughed at the Death Star’s explosion.

I don’t think anybody likes Star Wars anymore, not for real, unless they were born in the last fifteen years and don’t know anything different. (“How does Yoda fly?” one of the kids in my afterschool film class asked me once, apropos of nothing. “He doesn’t,” I said). Not even the fans like the aggressive merchandising and endless special editions. The hotly-anticipated release this September of the original Star Wars on DVD turns out to contain the non-anamorphic transfer from the old laserdisc. Nobody is happy with George Lucas right now.

Except for my kid, that is. I have somehow gestated and birthed a small Star Wars person. It’s as if he were born with it. He looked at me and knew I would never support his Star Wars habits, and the realization caused him eight months of colic. By the time he was old enough to speak the words “Star Wars,” I had capitulated. Okay, fine. You can play Star Wars with your friends, you can make me download Weird Al Yankovic’s “Yoda” to my Lyra and play it on repeat, you can refuse to go to sleep until I pantomime taking all the scary Star Wars people out from under your bed, and I will dress you up like some kind of Darth for Halloween. I will do for you what is anathema to me, and thus I become your parent. Maybe we could watch Star Wars back-to-back with The Searchers—compare and contrast. We could spin the whole thing into a lesson on ethics and humane justice when he was ready.

We kept him innocent as long as we could, as if parenting some kind of Anakin. Then came Revenge of the Sith, and with it, a life-sized Darth Vader standee at the Allandale HEB selling Pepsi.

"Look at that black guy!” my son yelled. It was awkward for a few minutes.

“That’s Darth Vader,” my husband explained.

“I like that black guy,” he breathed.

We saw that black guy again on an end-cap display of Cheez-Its.

“Hi, Darth Vader!”

(continued at right)



Upon request I told endless stories about Darth Vader, who manifested in our collective imagination as a giant kid who wears a helmet and doesn’t share. That was about the worst kind of evil we could handle, with a didactic, prosocial bonus. Darth Vader wanted all the planets to himself, even Endor. So he had to go to Dagobah to take sharing lessons from Yoda. But my son really liked the stories about Luke Skywalker at home with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, who helped Luke find his jigsaw puzzles when they were lost (they usually turned up in the garage with R2-D2).

When my son started preschool the older kids would take him aside on the playground (he has a nice, honest face) and regale him with stories of bloody dismemberment and crossing over to the dark side. I flipped my shit, but the nightmares lasted only a few months, and after that my dinky stories weren’t quite as riveting. I’d been outgrown. Lucas says his movies aren’t for young kids, but they sure are marketed to young kids, with DK Publishing sticker books, coloring books, and Play-a-Sounds among their tie-ins, and make no mistake: preschool kids love Star Wars. Some of these kids can’t talk about anything else. I’m used to having lengthy exchanges with young children about their preferred obsessions. I’m conversant in the entire Thomas taxonomy, and I know quite a bit about road and bridge construction since every man in my family has worked it and my father drove a motor grader when I was little. I know how many firefighters can fit on an aerial platform (four) and when you need to use foam instead of water (airport crashes, gas and electrical fires). Many times I’ve read the garbage-collection section of the Yellow Pages, and I can tell you the difference between side-load, front-load, and roll-off trucks. I still remember the Strawberry Shortcake characters, and I can even hold my own for half an hour with a kid obsessed with princesses. I’m reasonably okay with dinosaurs and marine animals. But get these Star Wars kids started, and it’s like talking to the clients waiting outside the methadone clinic by my old apartment in Boston. They’ve got one thing on their minds, and they need it now. You wouldn’t think the Star Wars franchise was waning. With the original fans finally throwing in the towel, these little kids are George Lucas’s only hope.

And all that merchandise! Brand-new characters every few years so you can collect them all—try that, Dora the Explorer! With tiny pieces to crush underfoot and lose. I kept our purchases limited to Star Wars Pez dispensers, since we already have a collection, but we have also retained a certain vintage Micro Machines Yoda head, and it hurts like a bitch to step or sit on Yoda’s dagger-like green wizened ears. We have a Yoda Pez, and a Darth Vader and a C-3PO Pez, an R2D2 Pez, a Death Star Pez, and also Emperor Palpatine and General Grievous PEZ, whoever those guys are. They were so fascinating that we used the Pez as crude puppets, enacting plays during long afternoons (“But Master Yoda, why must I share?”).

Despite his obsession, my kid is actually terrified of robots, including the Roomba we got for Christmas from my mother-in-law. He’s afraid of the Tom Servo T-shirt a friend in Seattle made for us. He dissolved into furious tears when I showed him Wallace and Gromit’s A Grand Day Out, which shows a robot living on the moon (“Wallace and Gromit will go on the shelf, and we will never watch them again!” he declared). But he wants to be a Star Wars Kid. He wants to be old enough to not be frightened by his imagination; he wants to revel in its power to create and abide in an alternate universe, and of course I want that for him, as well. I understand the power of myth and its particular resonance for little boys who are experimenting with a heroic ethic. I don’t want to be a wet blanket. But sometimes, as a parent, you have to be. I have to let him dabble, but I’m also the one who has to be there to dial him down when he gets scared and overwhelmed. Four is a complicated age.

I know so many parents, especially Generation X fathers, who encourage the Star Wars thing because they want to share something they loved as a child with their own children. But what do you do if the thing that you loved won’t go away? It keeps coming back in ostensibly new and improved formats with endless digital rejiggering that probably betrays the legacy of your memories anyway (of course Han Solo shot first. Even I know that). It’s selling Pepsi and cereal—which of course it did when you were little, too, but now you’re grown up and cynical, and perhaps by now you’ve read Ellen Seiter’s Sold Separately, and you’re much more aware of how marketers want your toddlers to be brand-aware, and they’re going to jockey for your child’s compulsive allegiance as early as they can, even if the movie is PG-13. Unless you are seriously hardcore, you’re probably already wading through a sea of plastic licensed crap just to get to your morning coffee. Some of the crunchiest parents I know couldn’t get their kids out of their organic hemp diapers and onto the toilet without the help of Spiderman briefs. The most dedicated Star Wars kid we know is being homeschooled, and his parents are classic Austin hippies who go door-to-door for the Green Party on their family’s tandem bike.

We can’t keep them little forever. But now that we’ve had thirty years of tie-in merchandising, aren’t we done with Star Wars yet? Eventually my kid will be turning twelve, and I’m pretty sure George Lucas has a plan for that.
____________________
 About the Author:
 
Marrit Ingman
is a freelance writer, film critic, occasional educator, and constant mother. She is a frequent contributor to the Austin Chronicle, and her writing on popular culture has also appeared in Brain, Child, Fertile Ground, Alternet.org, Clamor, and Venus. Her first book, Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health out with the Diapers, describes her experience with postpartum depression and was published in 2005 by Seal Press.

 

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