As a child of the Seventies, Star Wars has existed for most of my life and exerted a force lightning level effect upon it. Christmas and birthday capital was spent asking for underwhelming action figures and vehicles configured for pilots without knees. The films inspiring the merchandise were confounding; the simple hero’s journey and alien ecosystems that launched countless imaginations were followed by a stone bummer of a bad dad narrative and the ominous portent of the adorable victory at Endor, galactic capitalism’s ultimate triumph. The fallow period that followed seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen, as Star Wars diverged into children’s cartoons, dreck movies of the week or comics and novels, the better ones written with just enough ambition to scour both the saccharine and magical elements from the universe.

This time in the desert was followed by the second most obvious and awful plot twist in modern film fandom: realizing on some level that you were too old to be excited for the return of your childhood toy delivery system and then getting excited and waiting in line with people in costume that only stoke the fires of your anticipation, to sit at midnight with your closest friends and family and be presented with The Phantom Menace. The extreme disappointment was tempered only by the immense good will that Lucas had earned during my lifetime. It wasn’t until the child massacre and Anakin screaming to the heavens that I finally came to my senses, flew the space finger at the screen, and left the Star Wars universe for good.

Sentiment seemed to follow me, but the franchise clawed its way back to relevance. There was buzz around the return of the original cast and the presence of serious thespians and genre favorites in the new trilogy. Most importantly, the films were not going to be directed by George Lucas. The first few notes of the siren song had sounded, but soon there was talk of an expanded universe with more canon films, a television series, and increased synergy with Disney. The corporation then wasted Donald Glover and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Trolls attacked Kelly Marie Tran. What sounded like it may be fun began to seem like work; Star Wars was cratering before it had even crawled out of the pit. The manufactured hype and merchandising tsunami associated with the Disney-certified fun of Galaxy’s Edge and Ewok-esque cuteness on display in The Mandalorian[1]. The decision to step far, far away from what Star Wars had become never seemed easier.

That is, until my parents, in their unending and totally understandable quest to remove all aspects of my childhood from their home, delivered unto my children a wealth of grubby, shabbily customized, and slavishly adored Star Wars toys. They were, despite some material degradation, all there: the Wampa hastily purchased as a bribe when my sister got a Cabbage Patch doll, the Jabba’s palace play set that allowed for exclusively horizontal captivity of prisoners, and my original toy, an Imperial Troop Transport given as a birthday gift when there were no X-Wing or Tie Fighters to be had in Clarksburg, West Virginia[2]. The kids gleefully jumped in up to the elbow, owing not so much to the magic of Star Wars as their inherent willingness to at least attempt to play with anything presented as a toy. Jabba’s arm was an early casualty, but eventually play settled to the level of endless questions. I had to explain what a bounty hunter was, why there were no Transformers, and whether any of the aliens were girls. I fully expected that, existing in a vacuum, interest in the toys would soon fade and Bossk and the boys would be consigned to the garage with the baseball cards and copies of Nintendo Power that serve as spider hotels in my garage.

The force was strong with the younglings, however. The little one finally made the connection to all the clothing he had received from one of his uncles, and the older sib suddenly decided that my newest greatest failing as a parent was that she had not seen Star Wars when all the true movers and shakers in her first grade class were immersed in the culture. As agitation for a screening increased, I had to consider not whether I wanted my kids to see Star Wars- I know that will happen eventually, unless the series is supplanted by the legion of properties out there competing for hearts and minds[3]– but if I want to encourage their burgeoning interest.

As their main provider of clothing, toys and entertainment, it would be an easy thing to do. I can buy the Kylo Ren pajamas and some branded LEGO sets that will plant the seeds of fandom. I can show them how to set up proper Star Wars narratives by fantasy drafting a team of action figures for a battle royal, or  Most importantly, I can sit down with my kids and watch the movies. They are still at the age when a parent endorsement counts for something and, given the screen restrictions in our house, will watch literally anything on television[4]. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a good starting point or that large parts of the series are dry as Tatooine; deployment of the movies at this point is what the corporation depends on- parents create the next generation of fans. So I sit here like Emperor Palpatine with hands tented, contemplating my small window of power. For the low, low price of $6.99 a month[5], I can alter two lives forever.

But in the tradition of Greedo, who also apparently shot first, I am going to have to let someone else pull the trigger on the trilogies. There are selfish reasons. I don’t want to drop a bunch of money on toys that, despite the addition of knees, are basically good just for playing Star Wars. There aren’t a lot of instances where the characters do anything other than fight each other in a basic good versus evil showdown. That’s fine, if a little limited for a narrative, but not the basis for a whole lot of imaginative play. Even the customs that I did as a kid were to enact or continue story lines started in the movies. Stars Wars toys, merely by being part of the franchise, dictates how you play with it. And this mode of play feeds into the larger problem of pouring more money into the black hole[6] of the Disney corporation, which, after all but cornering the market for children’s cinema and theme parks, has set its sights on the larger and more lucrative adult audience. Though I’m sure that my kids will merge on to this entertainment superhighway at some point during their childhood, there’s no need to aid the process.

Despite Disney’s status as a  main reason that I won’t introduce my children to Star Wars, however, is that a lot of the franchise is simply indefensible, a relic of once acceptable attitudes that have no place in the society I want for my children.  I don’t want to be on the couch next to my daughter for  Oola and “slave” Leia or watch a movie with characters as ill-conceived as Watto, Jar Jar Binks, and Boss Nass. As a parent, I know that I’ll eventually have to have conversations with my kids about weighty topics such as racism and toxic masculinity. I definitely don’t want to have them because they want to see a Star Wars movie, but more importantly, I don’t want them to realize everything I did about the movies later on, and wonder if I didn’t notice, didn’t care, or, worse, endorsed Lucas’s retrograde takes on women and minorities[7]. If there was something exceptional in the narrative that I could point to, some irreplaceable moment of my childhood that I needed to share, I would fire up A New Hope in a second, but there just isn’t. My responsibility as a parent to care for my children supersedes whatever fun I might have once had in a galaxy, far, far away.

[1] Every cynical bone in my body was first activated by the fact that an adorable, salable character shows up in a Disney branded series and second by the inevitable and incorrect Lone Wolf and Cub comparisons. Daigoro would wipe the floor with that green baby doll. 

[2] The X-Wing was delivered on the occasion of my fifth birthday. I have a sweet picture, recently dropped off at my house, of me holding it while wearing a construction paper birthday crown standing next to a chocolate cake with the numeral five constructed from marshmallows.

[3] Disney is in the driver’s seat here. The Princess franchise is omnipresent and has pulled the amazing trick of staying relevant by simply making live action versions of twenty year old cartoons. The Marvel characters have shown some signs of wear recently, but a rebooted franchise will probably be printing money for the foreseeable future.

[4] I took a break from writing to hook up a new Roku. The kids are watching it download new software and counting the percentage complete in unison.

[5] The ridiculously low price point of Disney+ indicates that the entertainments are now incidental to the synergy they create.

[6] Incidentally, Disney’s first try at their own science fiction epic was the Tony Perkins vehicle The Black Hole. Due to the continued scarcity of Star Wars merchandise, I spent a few lunch periods making up reasons that my lunch box and thermos showcased the superior film.

[7] And for those that would apologize, defend, or ignore. Don’t. It’s there and it’s awful.

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