Like many a child born in the 1980s, I was raised on Star Wars from my earliest years. Princess Leia was my idol. Han Solo was my dream man/is still my dream man/I like him because he's a scoundrel. My Yoda figurine sat on my bedside table to keep bad dreams away. As a wave of late '70s nostalgia permeated pop culture in the mid-to-late-90s, the Star Wars franchise (which had, of course, always been popular) became even more popular, and my enthusiasm increased correspondingly. Between the ages of 11 and 14, most of my birthday and Christmas gifts were Star Wars related. I wrote fan fiction when I was in 6th grade (if anyone wants to know about Han Solo's long-lost younger sister, go ahead and give me a call... actually please don't, just admitting this is deeply humiliating). When I was a sophomore in high school, something magical happened: a new Star Wars movie was released. It was a miracle.
There had been whispers for a long time about George Lucas releasing prequels, but on May 19, 1999, almost exactly 22 years to the day A New Hope was first released, The Phantom Menace hit the big screen. We met Darth Vader as a seven year old, as well as Luke and Leia's mom, who was then a tweenage queen. We saw Obi-Wan Kenobi when he was a hot Ewan McGregor (*praise hands*). We ooo-ed and ahhh-ed Darth Maul's sweet lightsaber staff, even as it struck down the Liam Neesons. We were so excited. But then something happened... we left the theater.
What followed is what I have come to call The Phantom Menace effect: The further you get from the screen, the more you realize that your in-the-moment enjoyment was based exclusively on built-up excitement that had finally had its release. So, as the credits roll, you're like, "THAT WAS AWESOME!" as you walk down the aisle, you're like, "OK, Jar Jar Binks was pretty irritating and also sort of racist, but it was still a great movie." When you're in the lobby you're like, "And actually, that Jake Lloyd kid was not a very good actor... and Natalie Portman was pretty wooden." By the time you're in the parking lot, you're like, "Dafuq did I just watch?!" And yet we still got excited when Attack of the Clones came out in 2002, and then again with Revenge of the Sith in 2005. That's how much excitement we had banked in the 20+ years of waiting: Even after Jar Jar Binks and suffering through dialogue that legitimately could have sprung from the pages of my 11-year-old fan fiction, we still paid money to see those monstrosities.
In 2012, Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, which would grant the House of Mouse the right to do with Star Wars whatever it pleased, including making new movies. At first, nerds all groaned and bemoaned the death of their beloved franchise. But then we slowly realized something: Our beloved franchise died years ago. Lucas, like Medea, had killed his darlings (unlike Medea, he had done so unintentionally). What this sale to Disney signified was, dare I say it, a new hope, because we had literally nothing left to lose.
It's sort of like J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, is saying to us, "Guess what, everyone! You know your beloved childhood dog, Mitzy, who died back in 2005? I'm going to bring her back to life, and she's going to be just as amazing as she was in her best years!" That leaves bitter, skeptical, thrice-burnt fans staring back at him with these two options before them: Either J.J. Abrams is a charlatan, which is annoying but doesn't make our dog any more dead so we have nothing to lose, or J.J. Abrams is a powerful wizard and we're going to sob like infants when Mitzy comes running back into our arms. Even if we have hope only to have it dashed, that is nothing new. We know that feeling. We've already endured it.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow geeks, I choose to hope. Even if I am disappointed in the end, the act of hoping now is making me happy. Because on top of being excited for me, I am excited to use The Force Awakens as an opportunity to introduce Star Wars to my children. I've been waiting until they were old enough to, you know, appreciate on a level I can approve of, and I believe my young padawans are ready. Here's how you, too, can prepare your children for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Introduce Them To The Holy Trilogy
You may well have already done this, which is right and good of you. Obviously, before your child can delve into The Force Awakens, they will need a solid background in the classics. You can't really delve into the Western literary canon without knowing a few Greek myths and Bible stories, and you can't be expected to appreciate the new Star Wars without first immersing yourself in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of The Jedi.
Introduce Them To The Toys
Children learn through play, and they will learn to be fanboys and fangirls through playing with the vast collection of Star Wars merchandise available to them. This will not be hard to swing, either for you or them. On your end, getting your hands on Star Wars toys is and has always been fairly easy. As for whether your kids will enjoy them, a lot of the charm of the series is that the characters translate so well into playthings, which is why kids latch on so hard. With the original three films, I find this was very rarely abused to the point of crass marketing, except for the Ewoks. (Fun fact: Ewoks are actually never referred to as such at all in Return of the Jedi. You only know they're Ewoks because of aggressive toy marketing.)
For The Love Of God, Shield Them From The Prequels
If they never see these movies, that's great. If they do, however, it should be done in proper context. Like, "This is a terrible thing that happened that must never happen again." Showing it to them too young will make them like it, because kids are not discerning enough to know garbage when they see it and they will be taken in by the explosions and whimsical creatures. They have to be old enough to grasp the depth of these atrocities.
Get Them Star Wars Costumes
In order to truly love Star Wars, your children must become Star Wars. Let your kid go grocery shopping with you dressed as Luke Skywalker or Chewbacca. As a fun bonus: You will be entertained for hours watching your kid run around pretending to be a Jedi or a Wookie. ZOMG OR A WOOKIE JEDI!
Sprinkle Star Wars References In Your Everyday Conversations
If your kid found your junk food stash, wave your hand in front of them and say, "These aren't the cookies you're looking for." Don't just remark on how cold it is, say, "It's Hoth cold up in here!" If someone irritates you, call them a "scruffy looking nerf herder." I won't lie: this will make you a massive nerd. But if you want to encourage your child to be a nerd (and you know you do), you've gotta go whole hog on this thing, at least until a love of Star Wars takes root.
Start Talking About The New Movie
Let them know it's coming. Tell them that the band is getting back together! Leia, Han, Luke, Chewy, and a slew of new heroes will be coming into theaters this December.
Show Them The Trailer
This will hopefully be the final step in getting them really excited. If you cry as you watch along with them (like my friend's boyfriend here), don't be ashamed to let them see you cry. Wear those nerdy tears proudly on your cheeks: You've waited a long time for this.
Hope For The Best
In preparing your child for these movies, you'll also be preparing your inner child for these movies. There's still a chance that you will have your heart broken all over again, but at the very least, this will be fun while it lasts.
Images: Kazuhiro Nugi/Getty Images; Giphy(8)