Sarah Smiley: Star Wars Episode VII heralds new phase

My house does not have Barbies, nor does it have a doll house or little plastic ponies. For most of my experience as a parent so far (minus a few years), my house has been filled with toy creatures whose names I can't pronounce and that I don't particularly like to look at. Banthas, jawas, and tauntauns — these are the things that impale my bare foot in the middle of the night as I shuffle toward the bathroom.

My house does not have Barbies, nor does it have a doll house or little plastic ponies. For most of my experience as a parent so far (minus a few years), my house has been filled with toy creatures whose names I can’t pronounce and that I don’t particularly like to look at. Banthas, jawas, and tauntauns — these are the things that impale my bare foot in the middle of the night as I shuffle toward the bathroom.

It all began when Ford was 4 years old. For two years, he had been obsessed with Superman. He hummed the theme song constantly. He made swooshing sounds like he was flying. And he would wear his red cape outdoors in just a pair of underwear if I had let him.

Ford’s baby brother, Owen, could not claim to like Superman as much as Ford did. Ford had already seized the lover-of-all-things-Superman status, so as many second-born children do, Owen picked a lesser but similar hero of his own: Batman. And then Ford promptly changed Owen’s mind and made him obsessed with Flash instead. This, by the way, is a pattern that continues today. Last year, when I asked Owen what he wanted for his 12th birthday, Ford said, “Owen and I haven’t decided what he wants yet.”

So Superman and Flash ran through our living room eight hours a day. And did I mention that they hummed incessantly? Dustin had had enough. If he heard those swooshing/flying/zerburty noises one more time, he was going to volunteer for another deployment. “And what’s with everyone always wearing a cape around here?” he asked.

Dustin went to the living room, fished around in the cabinet underneath the television, and pulled out a VHS tape. “Boys,” he said. “Forget about your capes and humming and swooshing. I want to introduce you to something new. This is Star Wars.”

And so began more than a decade of Ford humming the Star Wars theme song non-stop and making light saber noises any time he passed through a room.

“It’s just a phase,” I told Dustin as he pretended to bang his head on the kitchen wall. “Just like the Superman phase, it will pass.”

“But I don’t have any more VHS tapes,” he said. “How will I make the humming stop now?”

I didn’t have an answer, and, unlike my husband, I didn’t even understand Star Wars. I had lightsabers in my car and toy Yodas on my bathroom counter, but none of it meant anything to me. So four years into this “phase,” Dustin suggested that I watch all six episodes. “It makes the humming hurt less if you at least understand the story,” he said.

By Episode III, I was hooked. I cried through most of Episodes IV, V and VI. Suddenly, I understood. Star Wars, for all of its sci-fi-ness,is really a story about loss and redemption — that just happens to take place in a galaxy far away.

Soon after, I bought myself a Princess Leia winter hat and our family tickets to see Star Wars Live in concert with the Boston Pops. This was around the time that my boys grew out of their phase. Coincidence? A year later, and I was hauling the Millennium Falcon and an AT-AT to the Goodwill. I no longer frequented the Star Wars aisle at Toys R Us for the boys’ birthday gifts. The writing on their cakes had returned to the usual “Happy Birthday” instead of “May the Force Be With You.”

I have never been so sad to see a phase end.

And then news of Episode VII came along. My teenage sons, so cool and unaffected on the outside, became like little boys again. Their eyes lit up like they did the morning that Santa delivered the Millennium Falcon.

Which other childhood toys do boys return to in such a way? Ford has never showed interest in Blue’s Clues or Superman again. Owen has outgrown Thomas the Tank and Jay Jay the Jet Plane forever. But Star Wars has the unique power to draw both of them back to the toy aisle in search of their youth.

We visited that aisle just the other day. My boys, no longer toddling and whining and reaching up with sticky hands, looked at the toys and … then they mentioned how fake most of it looked.

“Remember when we loved this stuff?” Owen said. “Remember when those action figures looked so real?”

Had the toys changed or had my boys? I’m not really sure. Today their relationship with Star Wars is more complex. They talk about character development, set construction, and hefty themes like redemption. It’s all so familiar (the humming is exactly the same), and yet different.

This weekend, we will be among the masses watching the debut and wading through old memories. I will delight in getting a glimpse at my boys’ childhoods and all the ewoks that used to lay on our floor.

Thank you, Disney and George Lucas for allowing us to remember.

As if Ford’s humming could ever let us forget.

Follow columnist Sarah Smiley online at https://www.facebook.com/sarah.is.smiley/

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