Tonight my daughter and I saw The Force Awakens together.
She is a grand total of three-and-a-quarter years old. She and I have been playing with lightsabers and Star Wars toys and reading Star Wars books together since she was very young. I played the Han and Leia theme in her first moments (along with singing her You Are My Sunshine, both of which she had heard even before she was born). Around her third birthday, she asked to see a Star Wars movie, and she quickly became a huge fan of Leia. She wanted to be Leia for Halloween, and so she was.
Yes, I had dreamed of a Star Wars movie being the first movie she saw in the theater. My first movie in the theater was ET, when I was three, and my second was Return of the Jedi, when I was five. This wasn't something I was going to force on her, though, this had to be her choice. I have never tried to insist she like Star Wars. She hasn't been interested in Star Wars cartoons like Rebels, and that is fine. She is her own person, and while we do our best to provide guidance, we also try to let her make her own choices too.
Star Wars has always been a huge part of my life, and I saw The Force Awakens at the first possible opportunity, Thursday, at 7 p.m. I loved it, and I really thought my daughter would too. For a while now she has talked about how she wants to fly spaceships. She loves building things and swinging a lightsaber. I thought she would love the character of Rey.
She knew daddy was going to see a new Star Wars movie, and the next morning she asked me about it. I told her I really enjoyed it, and I thought she would like Rey. She already had a Rey action figure with a speeder bike, so we played with it a bit. At that point we had seen the original movies and Episode I. She had gotten a little nervous at seeing the Emperor and Darth Maul. I didn't want to scar her, so I told her the new movie had some scary parts.
I tried to use this as a learning opportunity, and I told her that if she wanted to see the new movie, she would need to be brave. I explained that being brave doesn't mean you aren't scared: it means that you are scared, but still do something anyway.
When I asked her if she thought she could be brave even if the new movie is scary, she went still. After a pause, she whispered, "The scary parts are cool."
She was not only willing to take a leap to try something she was maybe unsure of, she wanted to put on a good face doing so.
As a final road test, we watched Episode II and III over the weekend. Those both have even more intense moments than the Original Trilogy, so I felt if she could get through those, then maybe The Force Awakens would be an option. She had a good time watching them, even if they weren't quite as good as the original trilogy.
By chance, just after we finished watching Revenge of the Sith, we needed to go help my wife at her bus stop, which just so happened to be at the local movie theater. Her car had stalled, and while we were waiting for the tow truck, my daughter needed to go to the bathroom. I had to talk our way past the box office and ticket taker to get her to a bathroom, so she sort of saw the inside of a movie theater for the first time. After we got home, we watched the trailers for the new Star Wars movie, and then we talked about whether she wanted to go to the theater to see it. She wanted to see Rey.
A friend had sent her a Star Wars dress and lightsaber chopsticks, which she used to eat her chicken nuggets for dinner last night. This morning she wanted to wear her new Star Wars dress. After work, I picked her up from daycare a bit early. Once in the car we talked about what to expect at the theater. There is a big screen. We need to be quiet during the movie. The music can be loud. If you need to go to the bathroom, let me know.
She held my hand as we walked through the parking lot to the theater. As we got our tickets, I mentioned this was her first movie in the theater. "You couldn't have picked a more perfect first movie!" I gave her a ticket she could hand to the ticket taker. We got to our seats and got our winter gear off. When she tried to sit in the seat, it started to close back up on her, which spooked her. So she sat on daddy's lap.
The movie theater got dark for the trailers. She let out a few loud "WHAT"s, and we talked more about being quiet, and asking me questions after the movie. She began to discover the joys of a little movie theater popcorn. Holding her in my lap, she had an easier time reaching for a kernel than me. Than the Lucasfilm logo came up on the screen, and the movie began.
She did remarkably well. Early on, she asked a few questions. I would whisper a reply and remind her about being quiet. Before long, she was ssshing me. I had brought her a milk thermos and some snack cups. Those fell a couple times. Between retrieving those and the seat adjustments, I hope we didn't bother those in front of us too much. That was one of my biggest fears, but all told I think all went pretty well. About a third through the movie, my daughter turned back to me and said "I like you, Daddy."
We got through the movie, and she didn't seem terribly scared. She did really enjoy Rey, and she said this was her favorite Star Wars movie. She says a lot of things are her favorite, but I would not be surprised if she meant it. I enjoyed it even more than the first time I saw the movie. I was able to let go of any little questions I had about what was going on and just enjoy the ride. Great new characters, great dialogue, really good acting, and none of the clunkiness of the prequels.
Are there similarities to the original movies? Undoubtedly. Is this the exact same story? No.
A story is not just the plot points and the scenery, a story lives in the details. Even stories with broadly similar outlines can be remarkably different. Particularly with these sorts of mythological hero stories, those details matter. Epic tales exist in part to define who our culture defines as heroes. What sort of person do we value as a hero? What actions do we consider heroic?
The Force Awakens tells a new story if only because it provides a new definition for who is the hero at the center of the Star Wars universe. That matters.
I took a leap by giving my daughter the chance to see the new Star Wars movie, when it could have gone poorly. She took a leap by actively choosing to go to her first movie, even when it might be scary. And in the movie, we see our hero take a leap doing more than was thought possible.
There are braver tales than these by far. However, that act of taking a leap even when I am not sure—being brave when I am scared—I would like to think that is a core part of who I am, and I hope I can pass that on to my daughter.
Recently I took a leap and submited an article for publication, something I haven't really done with my tech writing. Yesterday, that article appeared on The Pastry Box ("Fast sites do not require insults"). I was very nervous both in submitting the article, and in how it would be received. So far, so good. Last year, I was very nervous about making a change in my career, but I couldn't be happier with how that change turned out.
I tend to get knotted up about doing certain things, but I hope to make more leaps this next year. I am going to try to do more writing, perhaps submit more articles for publication, and apply for more speaking opportunities.
My daughter will take more leaps, too, and I cannot wait to see what she chooses to try to do. I will be there for counsel and guidance, and to do my best to keep her safe, while also trying to let her try to do more than she thinks possible. Try new things, find new adventures.
Of course there is no try—only do or do not. So in 2016, new leaps we will take.
May the Force be with you. Always.