A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
The Force will be with Hugh
Janice has often referred to Star Wars as our household’s second religion. I, myself, was in the demographic group statistically most strongly affected by Lucas -- boys aged six to twelve when the first film was released, whose fathers were absent or problematical by the time Vader revealed Luke’s parentage. Keefe saw Star Wars for the first time on his fourth birthday, after months of requests, and stayed obsessed for years, amassing a legion of toys to complement the meager leavings of my own childhood. I wrote, collected, and sang over 100 Star Wars folksongs, constructed whiffle-bat light sabres to teach him some kendo, and used the toys for impromptu lessons on every conceivable educational topic. When an election was imminent, we made note of colored signs on local lawns before sorting the action figures into categories. “Princess Leia will tend to vote along with the other rebels because they’re a ‘party’, but she’s got to keep in mind what’s best for the Alderaan refugees, too. Unfortunately, politicians like Jabba here make bad decisions because they get money from people who can profit from things being that way.” Keefe nodded sagely, instantly absorbing a tutorial on parliamentary process because of the high-interest Star Wars context. And Janice rolled her eyes and graciously endured, sewing me a set of Jedi robes for my birthday with assurance that they’d see plenty of use.
Fast-forward several years. Keefe is still recognized by peers as a Star Wars nut, although naturally his interests have multiplied manifold. I was even more careful to try and keep Hugh away from violent media than I had been with Keefe, but of course it was inevitable that sooner or later he would be indoctrinated into what is, after all, a significant part of our household mythology. Many of his classmates had seen the films and talked about them at school, and he knew the major characters by name already. So on what seemed like an auspicious weekend I slipped into familiar character voices and we stepped into a galaxy far away. A sort of rite of passage. It would serve as another common bond for him to explore with his brother, we’d get even more mileage out of the ocean of toys we already had, and I could break out robes, sing those songs again, and otherwise commemorate his imminent sixth birthday in great style, sharing old infectious joys.
Hugh is, of course, different from Keefe, and tumbled into the chasm of fandom in distinct ways. Keefe’s major desire had been to create as complete and authentic a costume of his favorite character of the day as possible, while Hugh invents new characters of his own to fit into the narrative in his own way, like the Stormtrooper captain who is learning light sabre skills from Vader and serves him as a personal lieutenant, or Luke Skywalker’s half brothers Jake and Duke. He plays more with the Star Wars Legos than the action figures, in part I think because we finally sorted the Lego pieces into compartmentalized trays and it’s easier to find parts than it used to be. He absorbs the names of incidental characters and other extreme geek trivia as hungrily as he once consumed dinosaur and volcano facts, and runs around the house making explosion noises continually. Unfortunately, he also absorbed more of the genre’s aggression than Keefe used to, and I had to throw on the brakes a couple of times. I put a lot of thought into why that was.
The largest factor is probably time – although Keefe was younger when he earned his junior Jedi badge, he was also an only child, and I had more opportunity to direct his games into moral themes through role playing. Just that simple realization has invigorated me, and creating more scenarios where jedi Hugh brings aid to planetary disaster victims or seeks to reform or understand the villain or bring peace to warring factions has done wonders. Like all bright children, he can see the directions his parents encourage him to travel, and he’s getting to experience success in play through conflict resolution skills that have application outside of the blaster arena. When it works, it is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. Still, I must admit, it isn’t as satisfying for me as it was with Keefe, and a part of me misses the Hugh who was turning five last April and loved science documentaries more than anything else in the world.
Star Wars isn’t what it used to be. While the original trilogy drew heavily on Joseph Campbell’s treatise on the universal hero myth, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the last two decades of Star Wars have relied more on digital spectacle for its own sake and “Buy more toys.” Even the changes Lucas made to the original films before re-release weaken them dramatically – Greedo fires first, demoting him from ‘real threat’ to ‘incompetent who can’t hit a target two feet from him’, and young Anakin’s ghost joins old Obi Wan’s after the empire’s demise, as if the brooding kid who made bad choices is somehow the more ‘real’ Anakin than the father who is redeemed from a life of evil through his love for his son. In the light of current events, we can debate the destruction of the death star as arguably the greatest single act of political terrorism ever committed on celluloid, although the dark nature of the imminent third film fits perfectly with the ‘evil empire closing its military fist around the planet’ timbre of international relations that’s globally feared today. Lucas says his new film will be bleaker and uglier, earning a higher rating category, and it will be hard for Hugh that his interest culminates in the last movie being perhaps one he must wait to see.
The real joy for me is also the real work, I suppose. My cynical ‘don’t like the way the modern world works and worry for my children’s future’ dark side wars with my efforts to recapture and share the more optimistic invigorating quest for knighthood that fired my childhood spirit. Yoda’s dialogue paraphrases the Tao Te Ching, and the force is easily compared not only to the Tao but also Indra’s net and Bell’s theories on non-locality. I wish the world didn’t have any wrong in it, but when they eventually confront it, I want the boys to face it like a Jedi -- with a philosophy, and some insight, and effectively. Even a cultural monolith like Star Wars can be turned to my own purposes. Truly the Force is with me.
(Sung to the theme of the old Spider Man cartoon)
Keeps the fans entertained
With a whiffle bat I will duel at the dawn
I'll create for the boys
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