The Force is strong with this one

It is suddenly all Star Wars, all the time here. Dante had been indifferent to Star Wars before, but from what I can tell, his interest was piqued by seeing me play this game on the computer. Seeing Darth Vader stalk around a planet’s surface, brushing away soldiers and crushing vehicles with the Force, Dante suddenly became ravenous for Star Wars knowledge. He watched me play through the entire Empire campaign (I’d already played the Rebel campaign before this sudden blaze of attention). In fact, I stopped playing altogether when he wasn’t around, so that he wouldn’t miss a minute. He learned about every ship in the game, both those of the Empire and the Rebellion. He asked me a torrent of questions about the characters and the story. (The game’s plot encompasses events leading up to Episode 4, as well as some of the events of Episode 4 itself.) He became utterly fascinated with the Death Star, and the night we unlocked it, his euphoria was something to behold.

Never one to miss an opportunity, I decided it was time for us to watch the movies together. Not only would it give him a sense of the story as something deeper than pieces moving around a board, it was a great chance to capitalize on his enthusiasm to help him continue to acclimate to the experience of movie-watching. I didn’t actually own the Star Wars movies (let alone the prequels, which in my mind might as well be a whole different universe altogether), so first on the list was finding some way of obtaining them. This was astonishingly difficult! I don’t have the right gear for streaming or Blu-ray, but watching a stratospherically popular 35-year-old movie on DVD should be pretty easy, right? WRONG!

(This is the part where I rant about the ridiculous DVD situation of Star Wars. Feel free to skip. I’ll wave my arms real big when the rant’s over.) The movie actually is not for sale on DVD. I found some used copies of it on eBay, but the asking prices were just ridiculous. So I thought maybe I’d rent it on DVD. My local Blockbuster video has a copy. Oh, but wait. Its copy is on Blu-ray. Same with the other 5 Blockbusters in my neighborhood.

So forget brick and mortar renting. I considered becoming a Netflix subscriber, just for a little while. I even used to be one, for a little while, back when Netflix’s business was about mailing out DVDs. Now, though, netflix.com now seems to be all about streaming, with nary a word about DVDs. Oh wait, there’s dvd.netflix.com! That’s about DVDs! Except that when I try to sign up, they recognize me as being a previous subscriber, and reroute me… to the streaming site! No DVDs mentioned! Oh aha, there’s the mention: I can pay another $8 for DVDs on top of the fee I’d pay for the streaming-I-can’t-do. No thanks.

Okay, so forget buying, forget renting, and forget Netflix. I’ll do Blockbuster’s DVD-by-mail thing. Except Blockbuster’s web site is TERRIBLE! It is terrible to the degree that when I click on the link labeled “Star Wars”, its reply is, “An error occurred while processing your request. Reference #102.3747b1cd.1331189568.701359a”. It is terrible to the degree that when I click “Sign Up”, the web site just grinds away endlessly, failing to produce anything with any interest in taking my money.

“ARGH!” I yelled (on Facebook), “A PLAGUE ON ALL YOUR HOUSES! I cannot believe it is so frickin difficult to watch Star Wars with my 6-year-old!!!” Then came the wonderful outpouring of sympathy and help. I know that Facebook isn’t everybody’s favorite thing, but for me, it is just awesome in situations like this. Multiple friends offered to loan me their DVD copies, or outright give me their VHS copies. A couple of brilliant friends suggested I try my local library. Finally, my mom came to the rescue by pointing out what I had been missing: used item listings on Amazon! I am so used to ignoring them, it was as if they were not there at all for me. The prices were much, much more reasonable than eBay’s, and she even offered to foot the bill. Thanks, Mom!

OKAY, RANT OVER.

So we watched the movie. It went very well. He asked nonstop questions, the entire time. It was like a Cinema Interruptus session, except I was a poor man’s Roger Ebert, and we didn’t stop the movie, because otherwise the exercise would have collapsed under its own weight. In fact, literally two days after I watched the movie with Dante, Learned League asked me a question about it, and I got the answer wrong, because as usual I was talking to Dante during that part of the movie. But I knew all this going in, and sharing the movie with him was wonderful, just awesome. When the Death Star exploded, he whispered reverently, “That was BEAUTIFUL.” George Lucas’ remastered explosions have at least one loyal fan.

His imagination has likewise exploded into creative bursts of Star Wars adaptations. He created “Domino Star Wars.” He doesn’t have dominoes, really — he has kind of a cut-rate Jenga game with a bunch of identical wood blocks, that he sometimes sets up and knocks down like dominoes. Now he arranges those “dominoes” in patterns, which he decides are various Star Wars ships or buildings, and then stages battles with them, a la Empire At War. We have spent many hours sliding wooden blocks across our kitchen table at each other, knocking down structures and setting them back up again. Sometimes he’ll lift up the dominoes’ storage bucket, announce that it’s the Death Star, and wipe out EVERYTHING.

There’s also “Lego Star Wars”. No, not Lego Star Wars. It’s his own creation, no special pieces necessary. He takes his own Legos and arranges them into special configurations. Then he instructs us as to their identities: “This is a Star Destroyer, this is a Corellian Corvette, these are TIE Fighters, these are X-Wings, this is a Mon Calamari Cruiser…” And so on. A double-height blue Lego is Darth Vader, and a double-height yellow Lego is Luke Skywalker. Three stacked brown Legos are Obi-Wan Kenobi. A paper airplane plays the role of the Millennium Falcon. Just as with Domino Star Wars, the pieces battle it out. Dante loves to be the Empire (in keeping with his tendency to always want to play the more powerful role), so the battle scenes often involve the Empire showing up with overwhelming force, and the Rebellion escaping into hyperspace (led by the paper airplane Millennium Falcon, which does an awesome hyperspace jump across the room.) “In this game,” he is careful to explain, “all the pieces always regenerate, so even if your ships get destroyed, they come right back.” Even if you’re losing, you don’t have to feel bad for long.

On Monday night, I casually mentioned that I had a black cape packed away somewhere, and maybe I could dig it up sometime and he could use it to pretend to be Darth Vader. On Tuesday night when I came home from work, it was clear he’d been waiting all day to give me instructions. “Here is my agenda! I have a Star Wars mission for you with several objectives! One: find the black cape! Two: put it on me! Three: You dress up as Obi-Wan and we will have a lightsaber battle!”

So that’s what we did. The cape is perfect on him — comes right down to his ankles. I wore a brown hoodie and a bathrobe. Laura had gotten him an inflatable lightsaber for cheap — that one was mine. This Christmas, the lucky boy had gotten a hand-me-down iPhone from my sister and her husband — it has no service, obviously, but it can connect to our home wi-fi and download apps. It essentially functions like an iPod Touch. Anyway, we downloaded a cool light saber app that makes perfect sound effects when you wave the phone — that one was his.

He directed all the action, bringing in Laura and blocking the scene for us like a mini-Lucas. “Okay, Daddy, you go over to the fridge, and move the magnets. That’s how you turn off the tractor beam in the Death Star. Then pick up your lightsaber and walk over to the front of the couch. Meanwhile, I’ll be walking down the stairs. Then we see each other and have a lightsaber battle. After about, I would say, twenty hits, you lower your lightsaber, and then I’ll strike you down. After that, you take off your robe like you’ve disappeared. I’ll nudge the robe with my foot. Mama, you’re Luke. You be standing in the nook this whole time, and then when I nudge the robe, you yell, ‘No! Ben!'”

It has been exuberantly, ridiculously fun. I must have flashed on the Talking With Your Kids About Star Wars video a hundred times. He was sick last week and the beginning of this week, but even at his sickest, he wanted Star Wars play. On his most feverish, sluggish day, he said to me, “Let’s play Lego Star Wars, but just a gentler version, not so energetic.” After I agreed, he explained to me, “I’m spelling energetic e-n-e-r-J-E-D-I-c.”

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