Why I can’t wait to introduce Star Wars to my preschooler

On this Star Wars Day, a dad reflects on why the films are so important to him—and how he’ll share his passion with his little girl.

Photo: Derek Malcolm

Three-year-old Abby. Photo: Derek Malcolm

To paraphrase the legendary Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker from the mind-blowing new trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens: The Force is strong in my family—the Force for loving Star Wars movies, that is. My father had it. I have it. My brother has it. And, if she’s lucky, my daughter will have it. (*passes lightsaber to three-and-a-half-year-old, despite better judgement*)

Yes, it’s May the fourth, and I’m celebrating Star Wars Day with my little girl, Abby. Now, the hard-core Star Wars nerds might scoff at this notion, because how could a preschooler possibly grasp the complexities of the films and important, mind-bending things like The Force, midi-chlorian levels and what the heck the Kessel Run is (and how Han Solo managed to pull it off in less than 12 parsecs). To them I say, of course she doesn’t fully understand; she’s three. But years of Star Wars themed Happy Meal toys, R2-D2 Christmas tree ornaments and made-up bedtime stories that always somehow end with furry characters destroying the Death Star, have made my child wise in the ways of that galaxy far, far away—wiser than most kids twice her age.

Abby doesn’t just know who Anakin Skywalker is; she also knows that he “gets bad,” turns into “Dark Vader” and is also (spoiler alert!) Luke’s father. With J.J. Abrams breathing new life into the epic franchise and, most recently, with its new trailer featuring the return of Harrison Ford as Han-freakin’-Solo, I’ve found myself getting really excited for the day I can start introducing my munchkin to the movies that meant so much to me growing up.

But where to start? According to the child education and advocacy site Common Sense Media, Abby’s going to have to wait until she’s seven years old to feast her little eyes on the original 1977 film that started it all, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. I don’t know who that’s going to be harder on, her or me. And the recommended ages for the remaining films get older from there, so I’d better settle in:

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)–8 years old

Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)–8 years old

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)–8 years old

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)–10 years old

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)–11 years old

Now, there’s some debate over the order in which first-timers should watch the films—I to VI chronologically, the originals then the prequels or, as many suggest, skipping Phantom Menace altogether because, well, it’s a horrible train wreck of a film. For me, I’ll opt for the originals then the prequels. My nephews actually loved Phantom Menace, so I think I’ll leave it in and let my daughter judge for herself.

In the meantime, what’s a Star Wars obsessed father to do for the next three years?! Most, if not all, of the Lego Star Wars games and movies on the market are still a couple years from being age appropriate for my soon-to-be four-year-old. And I’d rather be frozen in carbonite than expose her to 1978’s horrific Star Wars Holiday Special.

Apart from continuing my regimen of bastardized Star Wars night-night tales, there are some great books out there made for kids three to five, including World of Reading Star Wars: Escape from Darth Vader, which adorably retells A New Hope with some cute illustrations. For kids six and up, and their dads, there’s Tony DiTerlizzi’s incredible The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. It tells the story of the original trilogy with illustrations by famous Star Wars storyboard artist Ralph McQuarrie. Younger kids might like this one too, but there are a couple of scarier pictures you might want to skip.

So, now that my young Padawan of a daughter is on the path to Star Wars geekdom, that brings me to a question a Today’s Parent editor asked me over lunch recently: What is it about Star Wars that has left such a deep impact on us? And why are grown men sobbing at the mere sight of an elderly Han Solo and his furball sidekick Chewbacca at the end of the new movie trailer?

I was around six years old when I first saw A New Hope (too young, apparently), and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Everything about it was cool—it took place in space, and there were awesome fighter jets and explosions and swords made of light that could cut through anything (anything!), and a badass evil guy in a scary black helmet (even the way he breathed was cool). And don’t get me started on The Force. The movie’s main hero, Luke Skywalker (do I even need to point out how cool that name was to a six-year-old?), had a supernatural power he could use to move things with his mind, see into the future and a bunch of other fantastic stuff. Then there’s Han Solo. Sure, Luke was cool, he had the whole Jedi-thing going on, but Han owned the Millennium Falcon. And that was it for me. Every kid on the playground wanted to be Luke, but Han had the Falcon and hung out with a Wookie, so I wanted to be him. Full stop.

And here’s where I make my point: Star Wars provided the characters and narratives that fuelled the playtimes and imaginations of entire generations of kids. When we played Star Wars, whether on the playground or with those original Kenner action figures, we were those characters fighting the evil Empire, helping our friends in need, becoming Jedi Knights, resisting the Dark Side, destroying the Death Star, celebrating the victories and suffering the defeats.

Now, please try to stay with me as I make a correlation between Star Wars and (*shudder*) the movie Frozen. When Abby is role-playing as Elsa or Anna, I can see how invested she is in it, mimicking the emotions with the same level of intensity the characters show on screen—acting them out so she can learn how to feel and experience things she may not have felt before. Right now Frozen is her Star Wars, and I’m totally fine with that.

So yeah, I teared up a little watching that silly trailer when Harrison Ford, back as my hero Han Solo for the first time in 30 years, says to Chewbacca, “Chewy, we’re home.” Call it nostalgia. Call it childish. I call it awesome. And whether it’s Frozen, Toy Story, Big Hero 6, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars reboots or the classics, I can’t wait to see what movies and characters affect Abby the way Star Wars affected me. Happy Star Wars Day. And May the fourth be with you.

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May 4, 2015