Jedi Mind Tricks

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I don’t care if my kids share my religion or my political beliefs, but I’ll be crushed if they don’t like “Star Wars.” They have a choice, of course. They can either be fans of the greatest science fiction franchise of all time or they can find a new family. It’s legal to give up kids for adoption over a movie opinion. Trust me; I looked it up.

I’m not blind to the shortcomings of George Lucas’s famous universe. Every time I see an ewok, I want to punch something. “Return of the Jedi” cost me a fortune in bail money. That’s why I have to trick my kids into falling in love with the movies now. Without the deceptive influence of nostalgia, it’s easy to mistake “Star Wars” for just another imperfect space soap opera with cool special effects. If I’m going to have anything in common with my daughters when they’re adults, I need to manipulate their film preferences now before they develop good taste. If I fail, we’ll have nothing to talk about at future family gatherings. At stake is a lifetime of awkward silences.

Those silences would be interrupted only by asthmatic breathing and sad murmurings of “I AM your father.”

I know this early indoctrination will work on my kids because it did on me. I wasn’t alive when the films debuted in theaters, but I saw them years later when they were replayed again and again on basic cable. Repetition is the first step in any good brain washing. My parents weren’t science fiction fans by any means, but they were huge supporters of making me shut up. I asked for “Star Wars” cards and video games at Christmas and on my birthday, and my mom and dad obliged me as long as I agreed to pretend I didn’t know them in public. I acquired a lot of shamelessly overpriced merchandise that way, the best of which was a customizable card game based on the movies. The game itself was terrible, but I always won because I was the only one who read all the rules. Shockingly, I was a virgin until after college. I saved hundreds of those cards because I knew they’d climb in value. I recently checked what they’re worth, and now I’m looking for someone who wants to use them as bedding in a hamster cage. I’ll take zero dollars, but if necessary I can drop the price.

At least my friends and I weren’t uncool enough to fight with glowing swords. Ours were just metal rods covered in colored duct tape.
At this point, I support “Star Wars” more for tradition than actual merit. It took me years to come around, but I’m finally self-aware enough to admit the movies are flawed. The added CGI dance number in Jabba’s Palace murdered my childhood. But I have to pass on my “Star Wars” fanaticism to the next generation because I stick with my mistakes. Seriously, this year is my seventh wedding anniversary. The series didn’t suddenly drop in quality when Lucas modified the original movies or even when he produced the prequels. The franchise has always featured simplistic plots and egregious overacting, but I fell in love with it before I developed the belligerent cynicism that makes me so wise today. The biggest flaw with “The Phantom Menace” was simply that when it came out I was too old to give it a free pass just because it had lightsabers in it. What I really wanted was a topless scene. Way to let everyone down, Natalie Portman.

The number of thumbs up most “Star Wars” fans give the prequels corresponds directly to the number of visible nipples in each film.
Getting my kids enamored with these less-than-perfect films could take a while. Before this weekend, my 3-year-old Betsy wasn’t impressed with the bits and pieces of “Star Wars” she’d seen on TV. She was similarly unconvinced by my promises that the movies featured a princess. Apparently a proper royal heiress shouldn’t carry a blaster rifle. Thanks for that stereotype, every animated princess movie. My quest to save my relationship with my daughters seemed doomed, but then I got the Blu-ray set of the original trilogy. I made Betsy sit down and watch “A New Hope” a few days ago. She paid attention to most of it, but it’s a surprisingly hard movie for a preschooler to understand. Betsy thought Darth Vader was a hero because for much of the movie he was winning. In the world of children’s television, that’s what the good guys do. She was also confused since the rebels appeared to be the aggressors. Some guys in white suits built a really cool space fort, and then a then a bunch of tiny spaceships flew in and blew it up for no reason. Luke Skywalker is a jerk.

After the closing credits of “A New Hope,” I asked Betsy what we should watch next. She didn’t even hesitate before shouting, “VeggieTales!” She was way off with her pronunciation of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Rather than starting a fight, I put in her DVD of choice and let her recognize her error on her own. When the evangelical broccoli finished dancing, she asked to go back to “Star Wars.” Violent space battles fill a need Christian vegetables simply can’t. By the end of the Battle of Hoth, she didn’t understand why everyone was fighting, but she at least figured out the big, triangular ships are bad and snow monsters should be avoided. I’m certain those lessons will come in handy at some point in her life, especially if she ever has to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

Honestly, I learned as much as she did this weekend. I used to read books and play games in the “Star Wars” expanded universe, but I’ve been dead inside for a quite a while now. As I spent the last decade busily not having fun, I apparently forgot what happens in the movies. Upon rewatching them, I noticed C-3PO is just as insufferable as Jar Jar Binks. On the other hand, R2-D2 is always right but almost always ignored. I don’t know whose idea it was to give the power of speech to the annoying robot but not to the one who repeatedly saves everyone’s lives. It also alarmed me that Obi-Wan Kenobi hands Luke a lightsaber even though the kid has no idea what it is or how to use it. There was a good chance he would point it in the wrong direction and kill himself when he hit the power button. When viewed without rose-colored glasses, the “Star Wars” movies are far from perfect. But they’re the only tool I have to connect with my kids. May the Force be with me. I’ll need it.