In honor of May the Fourth, I humbly offer this story about one of the most important rites of passage a father and child can share. (I originally shared parts of this on my personal blog here, but I’m pretty sure the only people who read it back then were my parents.)
It was 2009. Four years ago. If my memory serves me correctly, it was June. My daughter Riley was seven years old.
I’d chosen the day carefully. I wanted to make sure the timing was right. I’d planned this for a long time, this event for her and I to share. I didn’t want it to take place too early, didn’t want it to be lost on her. But I also knew I couldn’t wait another single second.
First, I took her to Best Buy to make The Purchase.
“I don’t know about this,” she said at the time, fidgeting in the sci-fi DVD aisle.
“Trust me,” I said, scanning the shelves. “This is a great movie. It’s one of the best movies ever made. You’re going to love it. I promise. Trust your father.”
“I don’t think I will.”
“Listen,” I said, mustering all the confidence I could, “have I ever steered you wrong about stuff like this?”
Even back then, at age seven, my daughter had perfected the Raised Eyebrow of Skepticism. Right there in the middle of Best Buy. The eyebrow that said, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but I’m not falling for it.
I don’t think this is a good idea,” she said firmly.
Here’s the thing about this kid: she’s never trusted me when it comes to pop culture recommendations. I know what she likes, and I have a 100% perfect record with her. She’s never NOT loved the songs, movies, or books that I’ve endorsed. But that doesn’t matter — since she was a toddler, whenever I’ve showed any enthusiasm about anything I want her to try, it’s always caused an instant Emergency Shutdown in her brain. When she can sense how desperately I hope she’ll like something, her mental gates slam shut, and we’re done. The only way I’ve ever gotten her to like anything is by acting like I couldn’t care less about it. (That, incidentally, is how I oh so craftily got her to love Harry Potter a year earlier — she saw the books on my shelf and asked, “Hey, I didn’t know you had Harry Potter books,” to which I casually replied, “Whatever. They’re ok.” She took the first two volumes into her room and read them within 48 hours, tucking them under her pillow at night. Ha! See? I thought then. I’m smarter than you, Short Skeptical Person!!)
I should’ve remembered my Harry Potter success and employed the same Strategy of Nonchalance on this particular day.
But I couldn’t. I was too excited. This was too big a deal.
In other words, I realized right there in Best Buy that I’d set this up all wrong. I’d forgotten about reverse psychology already, showed my Fanboy side too quickly, and possibly ruined everything.
We purchased our DVD and headed home.
That afternoon, I set Riley up on the couch next to me. Pop Tarts, milk and The Greatest Movie Ever.
She was not happy. She was worried. In addition to her general distrust of me, she was also a bit of a wuss about movies. Sure, after seeing one once and liking it, she’d watch it a thousand times (see: Kung Fu Panda/Finding Nemo/Toy Story/How to Train Your Dragon). But getting her to watch something new was always tough. Even this — this movie, that I had promised would become her Favorite Movie of All Time Forever.
She dutifully sat next to me, eyebrows crunched into unhappy question marks as the movie began: blue letters on a black screen, in silence:
And then that first big bombastic John Williams blast pasted us into the couch. Because we were watching Star Wars.
Original Star Wars. 1977 Star Wars. The one that counts. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, jawas, droids, the cantina, the Death Star, the quasi-death of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The mother of all Underdog Triumphing Over Evil stories.
Like I said, I’d been waiting for a long time to show my kid this movie. When she was born, I couldn’t imagine helping her ride her first bike, or teaching her how to drive… but I did imagine this.
I’m not saying she had to love Star Wars as much as I did when I was a kid. I’m just saying if she didn’t, I’d have to sell her.
We watched. The yellow text narrative for Episode IV started scrolling up, against that big majestic instrumental score…
…and the kid ran out of the room.
“What’s wrong?” I called, my spirit immediately sinking.
“Too loud, too scary,” she shouted back from the dining room.
I was momentarily devastated. If the backstory is too scary for her, I thought, what’s she going to do when Darth Vader chokes his first underperforming lackey?
I turned the volume down, and she tiptoed back in and sat next to me, almost in my lap. I could tell she was nervous and hesitant. And yet she mustered up enough bravery to return. Maybe she sense how important this was to me. Maybe she just wanted more Pop tarts.
But she stayed, and she sat, and she watched Star Wars, while I watched her watch Star Wars. She stopped fidgeting. As the twin suns rose over Tatooine, I predicted every moment when she might run out of the room for good, Pop Tart in fist, and refuse to come back.
She didn’t leave. The music did get loud again, but she stayed. You know the part where Luke gets attacked by the grunting, primal Sand People? She stayed. Or the part in the Millenium Falcon when things get really scary and ominous and you realize that our heroes are headed for big-time trouble (“That’s no moon.. that’s a space station”)? She kept right on watching. When they almost get squished in the big trash compactor? She stayed. And the final do-or-die scene, when Luke is racing through the Death Star gauntlet in his X-Wing fighter and John Williams’ brass section is virtually sawing you in half with suspense, and you yourself are watching and suddenly you’re 7-years-old again yourself, the same age as your daughter, the same age you were when you saw this moment for the very first time, and you were truly worried about the fate of the galaxy if Luke failed to hit his target?
She stayed. I don’t even think she realized she was still sitting next to me.
The ending remained the same. The final shot was still the tableau of our heroes, resplendent in their finery and medals.
I looked over at her as she watched the credits roll, eyes still wide.
“So. What did you think? Did you like it?”
She turned to me. Her eyes were bright with wonder. “I LOVED it. Can we watch it again?”
And that’s the story of how my daughter fell in love with Star Wars. We’ve watched it countless times since, my girl and I.
This Saturday is officially unofficially National Star Wars Day. You already know how to celebrate it. If your kids haven’t seen the movie, what a great day to be the Best Parent Ever and show them a whole new galaxy.
May the Fourth Be With You.