Monday, 9 March 2015

Star Wars IV and V

Being a geek and a sci-fi nerd, I always expected to share Star Wars with my children. I had, however, assumed that I would do so quite late on, as it was done with me, and that I would have plenty of time to get in the DVDs that I want, make sure Han shoots first, that kind of thing. Imagine my surprise when the Boy decided that he wanted to watch some Lego Star Wars things on youtube. This rapidly progressed to reading some of the books. Given that he is no fan of films with people in them or live action I figured it was good, but still a way off the actual films. Then he decided to get a Lego New Hope and Empire Strikes Back pack with two story books.

Suffice to say, he wanted to see these stories in video. I found some of the Lego stuff but it relied a lot on already knowing the story. I showed him the trailer of A New Hope from 1977 and he wanted to see more. I have no DVDs, I haven't bought the first trilogy yet either - I always reasoned I would buy the whole lot but then kept putting it off. I dug out my old VHS boxset from 1997ish and the old combi TV-VHS that Anna had lurking in the spare room, plugged it all together and we've watched the first two films. What follows are my thoughts.

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The Boy is not a fan of live action - he dislikes people talking - and so I was not expecting to be able to watch much of it. I've had the VHS versions (special edition) of the original trilogy knocking about since they were re-released back in 1997 and I thought I was being clever (by buying the non-widescreen editions so that I could watch them on my own TV that was tiny). I remember that I loved Return of the Jedi the most but appreciated the first two as well. I had posters, for free from a shop as they were promo-posters rather than proper ones, and when I went to University it was seeing the sci-fi society playing the Battle of Hoth on a battered TV that made me join them. So, yes, I had assumed that he would watch a short amount, declare it boring and walk away.

We sat in the bottom bunk of his bed, a place we still plan to convert to a den at some point, and were joined by his elder sister. I couldn't find the old TV controls and so we had to watch through the 'making of' special. I remember watching this at home, alone, on our bigger TV sometime after some exams, it may have been A Levels, and being captivated. Before that point I had seen all of the films but we had Empire Strikes Back taped from ITV one Christmas (maybe 1987) and a really poor copy of Return of the Jedi with bits missing badly recorded from BBC1. A New Hope was completely missing from our film collection, though we had owned it on V2000 (a fore-runner to VHS) taped from ITV again (around 1985). My family were not terribly into sci-fi. So, we sat and we watched the first 'making of' together. The Boy was restless but weathered it and even seemed enthused about the film, the Girlie was barely able to contain her excitement.

We watched the film proper, I was amazed at the lack of trailers (it has been a long long time since I watched my own copies, possibly since 1999) and I read out the opening text. Of course, as I watched, I regretted my decision to not buy widescreen all that time ago, the text was only properly legible halfway up the screen as a consequence and many of the opening shots lacked the power they held at the cinema. However, when compared to the quality that I grew up with, these were far superior. I also noticed something else. Watching these on VHS, with tracking and poorer quality sound on an old combi TV, both my children were more engrossed in the film. We had the lights off and we were snuggled together in a duvet, but their attention and excitement was much more than I have seen with the DVDs on the big plasma downstairs (okay, it's not that big, but it's bigger than an old combi barely wider than the slot for a VHS).

At about halfway through the film, Alderaan had been blown up, we ceased and I promised that we would see the rest the following night. There was something special about seeing it on VHS, the Boy tried to explain how we had little boxes that we put in the big box to make it all work to Anna, who found that rather funny, and the Girlie was fascinated by the story. Of course we watched the next installment and then went straight on to Empire Strikes Back the night after that (though the Girlie eschewed that in favour of resting after a long day rehearsing her dance show). Interestingly, the Boy was much more involved and emotionally attached to the second film. The darker feeling to it and the slightly harder plot seemed to hook him. Tonight, we saw the training of Dagobah, including the fight in the cave, through to the end. Although the Girlie was bubbling over with excitement as we progressed into the duel between Vader and Skywalker she couldn't bring herself to actually ask questions, as she usually does, and watched with rapt attention. Both children cuddled in as the twist was revealed, "I am your father" intones Vader, and gasped at the right points. It was quite something to feel and see the reactions that I had heard from other parents first hand. I had assumed that my own children would be almost dismissive as neither had been pushed toward sci-fi at all by me, nor had they shown any inclination toward it.

Both children also asked the same question at about the same point (as Skywalker hangs beneath Bespin awaiting rescue): "But how did Darth Vader become Luke's Daddy?" Which, although slightly the wrong way around, shows an interesting take on the story so far. I find it of interest because I had always planned to show the films in machete order. But, as I have disclosed here, I only have the original trilogy (okay, special edition) on VHS. That's it. I have no DVDs, no copies at all of Episodes I to III. How can I show the full story?

Part of me wants to find Episodes II and III on VHS but I don't even know if that can be done! I did look in Tesco tonight to see if they had a boxset of all six films on DVD but they did not. I'm not sure I want to go traipsing round charity shops on the off-chance of finding VHS versions of II and III either. But the question asked by both children, almost simultaneously, suggests that machete order is definitely the way to go - the story of how Anakin becomes Vader in the latter two films of the first trilogy is definitely the part that my children want to know more about next. And this is in the face of the fact that I would dearly love to show them Return of the Jedi as soon as possible. Of all the problems I thought that I would have with showing my children this little piece of my own childhood, in my own way (rather than because Star Wars is some cultural touchstone - it wasn't for me, most of my childhood I was the only child not to have seen the films and much less understood them) the lack of two of the films was not one of them. Mind you, I had assumed I would have a little bit longer to arrange things.

For what it is worth then, this is my experience at having shown my children A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Much more positive and visceral than I was expecting!

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