My wife and I sat down to watch the first Star Wars film with our boys on a Saturday morning. We had already decided that we will be watching the films in the morning or afternoons – i.e. not right before bedtime. That was in the hopes of warding off any potential bad dreams related to the scarier elements of the films.
Neither of my boys is reading much yet, so I read the “A long time ago…” line and the entire opening crawl to them as they came up. Now, this opening crawl introduces the general state of affairs in this galaxy and talks about Princess Leia as it sets the scene for what’s to come. The boys really didn’t get any of this as I read it, so I summed it up for them as the ships appeared: the bad guys are chasing the princess. Done.
Now the boys knew C3PO and R2D2 pretty well already, so they latched on to those characters rather quickly. They were worried on their behalf as they tried to sneak around their ship and finally blasted out in an escape pod and landed in the desert. Their plight was clearly important to the boys the Jawas picked them up and eventually brought them to Luke.
Again, Luke Skywalker is a character that they were already familiar with, but they were a bit confused about meeting him here – in a desert farm with his Uncle and Aunt. Wasn’t he supposed to be the hero? It struck me that this character arc of Luke’s in Episode IV is pretty great and something that young people identify with on a fairly basic level. He has a boring life and wants to go to space. Pure and simple.
The Sandpeople show up. Oh, the Sandpeople. Still as scary as ever when they attack Luke! Yowza! Then Kenobi appears and Luke is handed a lightsaber. Now the boys are all in on Luke and the Jedi mythology. They really like Kenobi too, especially when they see his power on display in the Mos Eisley with the stormtroopers and in the cantina defending Luke.
The scene when Luke finds his farm burned and his Aunt and Uncle’s skeletons in the wreckage, the boys are shocked. They couldn’t quite make out the skeletal remains in the quick shot of them, which is for the best probably. Again, many questions. Who did that? Why? Why do they want the droids?
When Han Solo shows up, I tell the boys he’s a smuggler. This is a term that they’re somewhat familiar with from reading some Hardy Boys books with me. They know smugglers are “bad guys”, so they ask if Han is a bad guy and I tell them that he kind of is, yeah. I tell them that he works with bad guys and all he cares about is money. All true at this point in the story.
As all that Tatooine stuff is going on, we visit Leia and Vader on the Death Star and see that creepy interrogation scene and Alderaan destroyed. The boys are really starting to see how evil Vader, Tarkin and the Empire are. When Vader force-chokes an Empire general at the strategy table, they are very confused. “Why would Darth Vader attack a fellow bad-guy?”, they ask. I explain that he’s such a bad guy that he will hurt anyone, even his own people, to get his way. This comes up again more profoundly in Episode V.
Anyway, as our heroes work to rescue the princess and escape the Death Star in Act II, the boys are thrilled with the firefights and the scary garbage compactor monster that attacks Luke.
Then the fight scene between Kenobi and Vader comes on. It’s our first lightsaber battle scene in the movies. The boys have a soft grasp on the fact that Vader used to be a “good guy” and that Kenobi was his teacher, so they feel a bit of that weight during the fight. Then when Kenobi is struck down – they are totally shocked. This is the big twist of the film and they can hardly believe that Vader won that fight. They’re also (rightly) confused about the fact that Kenobi’s body disappears and Luke hear’s his voice in his head. I tell them that it’s kind of like Luke is remembering Kenobi and the force is helping him.
From the Death Star escape, we move to Act III and the rebel attack. First Han and Chewie leave with their dough, which cements his status as a smuggler for the boys. Finally, it’s time for the big spaceship fight! The boys are loving it, but there are just too many rebel ships and pilots that they can’t keep track of who’s who and what’s going on. Every time a ship blows up, they ask if that was Luke’s ship. When I say “no”, they ask whose it was. Eventually, as you may know, it’s just Luke and Wedge left on the X-Wing attack and Wedge has to bail out of the trench. Vader puts Luke in his sights and seemingly destroys R2D2. Tragedy for the boys. They implore me to tell them if R2 is going to be alright. Then Luke hears Kenobi in his head again and uses the Force to hit his target as the Millenium Falcon blows Vader out of the trench. Han and Chewie are back! They aren’t pseudo-bad-guys after all! Then as Luke lands as a hero, we see R2D2 as a charred husk and it’s unclear if he’s fixable. Again, the boys don’t care about much else at this point but R2’s recovery.
Thankfully, we go right to the medal ceremony scene and see an alive and polished R2! Hooray!
And that’s the end. The boys loved it. They had lots of questions throughout. Many of their questions were about who’s who of the different scenes. They had a lot of trouble remembering if the Rebels were good guys or bad guys and who the Empire was, but that will come as they see more. They loved the ships and the weapons, mostly because they had seen them before as toys. As the credits rolled, they were eager to watch the next film!
This was my first time seeing the movie in probably 10 years. A few stray observations I made:
I was much more attuned to the political backstory going on, especially because those threads were explored (too much) in the Prequel trilogy. A seemingly throw-away line from Grand Moff Tarkin, “The Emperor has dissolved the Senate permanently” carries some weight for what’s going on in this galaxy.
I gained a lot of appreciate for the structure of the story of this film. It’s such a classic adventure story. A little setup and a central conflict, a young hero is introduced and quickly finds himself with an invitation to adventure, he saves the princess, ascends to the hero role more fully and saves the entire galaxy. It has a clear beginning (Tatooine), middle (Death Star) and end (Final Battle).
One thing I’ve read as an adult that stood out to me here is the dearth of female characters in the film. Really, the only ones are Leia and Aunt Beru (who is quickly killed).
So in my mind, it’s still an amazing film and is the perfect launching pad for the franchise as a whole!
Next up… things get a lot tougher for our ragtag band of heroes in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back!