Monday, December 14, 2015

My Mom's Six Reactions to Seeing Star Wars for the First Time

My mom doesn't really like Fantasy and Science Fiction. She barely reads what I write, preferring more grounded dramas like No Country for Old Men and The Ghost Writer. It's hard for her in a way nerd kids struggle to understand, because like many of our parents, she grew up without much access to cartoons or Fantasy books, and so didn't develop the taste that we have. She knows I love the genres, but can't get into Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean. Or, she couldn't get into them until this year.

Earlier this year she watched LOST and started feeling like Genre Fiction could mean something to her. It had a blend of human stories along with its fantastic elements that made them approachable to her, something I'll probably write up later. In October, fresh out of European movies to watch, she binged all of Fringe, which was the true gateway drug for her. It's gotten me to start watching it, just to find out why it was the silver bullet.

That set her up, though. When the Force Awakens trailer hit, Mom called me up and asked something I'll cherish for years: "Can we watch Star Treks?"

Yes, Mom. We can always watch Star Treks.

She wanted to know about the cultural phenomenon she'd missed, about this weird collaboration between John Williams, the Jim Henson Company, and Harrison Ford. In preparation for the new movie, we watched Lucas's original trilogy. Watching her was more interesting to me than revisiting the films, and I had to share some of it.

1. Wookies Are Hilarious
Mom was surprised that the actors could keep straight faces as they talked to Chewbacca, or when he made his trumpet-like voice-roar. Chewbacca was exemplary of Star Wars leaning into a certain hokeyness that modern SciFi is ashamed of, and she found refreshing. This is probably why she didn't mind the Ewok Army, either. Multiple times she commented that the movies feel much more innocent than the media she's used to seeing today. It made me wonder if The Force Awakens can strike that balance.

2. The Princess Leia Arc
At first she dismissed Leia as the result of a screenwriter taking a women's lib class. In the first film, Mom scoffed when Leia shot a hole for the group to escape into. It was only by Empire Strikes Back that she warmed to Leia's character, enjoying that the men listened to her advice and conversed rather than just dismissing her concerns. Mom doesn't remember movies of the 70's doing this much with female characters.

She grew to like her so much that she got pissed at Return of the Jedi for putting her in a slave bikini. She blamed the filmmakers, not Jabba the Hut.

The movie was on thin ice until it got her to crack up with the I Love You/I Know exchange. She was happy to learn that Leia would be back in the new movies.

3. Han Solo Is a Bad Actor
Shortly after the introductory Cantina scene, Mom turned to me and said, "He got a lot better at acting when he got older."

He was a big draw to the films for her, but she didn't think Ford had gravitas or flare. During Empire Strikes Back, she wondered if he'd taken acting lessons. For the character of Solo, though, she grew to like him any time he was polite. She thought Leia was civilizing his whiny ass. Mom described him as, "The rogue that turned into a prince when he kissed the princess."

4. The Black Villains...?
During Empire Strikes Back, Lando tries to negotiate with Darth Vader. Mom watched half the scene, and then said, "It's unfortunate that the two bad guys are black."

She wasn't right, but I couldn't defend the movie either. What was I going to say? "Well Mom, the prominent black lead Vader is actually a white guy"? "Well Mom, Lando gets to be cool in the third movie"?

No. Star Wars is weird.

Mom was happy to see that the Jedi hero of the next movie is black. It's about time.

5. The Only Surprise
There are a lot of thrilling twists in these movies, from escaping into a trash compactor to "I am your father." But the only one that surprised her was Ben Kenobi's death. She thought he had so much left to teach Luke, and had grown comfortable with an older cast member.

This was the start of the surprise of my rewatch. This happy-fun-time series kills a lot of featured characters. Ben, Luke's aunt and uncle, Biggs, Jabba, Boba Fett, Vader, and the Emperor. Ironically the only movie without prominent murder is the dark Empire Strikes Back, where Han gets frozen is and is quickly confirmed as alive.

In terms of off-screen deaths, Empire is also the only movie where the heroes don't blow up a giant space station full of people.

6. Not A Surprise At All
Mom didn't know anything about the end of the Empire Strikes Back at all. I was excited to see her reaction to Luke and Vader, but she didn't even flinch. It was just a plot beat to her. It's a trope, but so is killing the mentor so that the student can rise, and she was surprised by Ben's death.

My opinion was that the twist, famous as it is, isn't very well-earned. You have to bend over backwards to accept how everyone is talking about Anakin and Vader as different people until the reveal - and immediately afterwards all the characters talk about them in a very different way. To Mom, it was dorky SciFi stuff, no more shocking than that people understood Chewbacca when he talked.

Even across Return of the Jedi, she was mostly ambivalent to the sudden father/son dynamic. Only as Luke was being electrocuted by the Emperor did she comment, "Well his dad better do something."

There are a lot of interesting movies out this month. I'd like to see Spotlight, Revenant, or Creed, but The Force Awakens is the only movie Mom wants to see. Her argument is valid, though. As someone who follows the news closely, she's excited for a movie that's an escape from brutality.

Most of my friends who are ardent Star Wars fans seem nervous that the movie will suck. Mom doesn't care. If it's sloppy or sharp, it'll still have sweeping music and fun imagery. She doesn't want her year changed by it. Her year is changed by financial well-being, her children succeeding, and if a movie sucks, she'll just watch something else on Netflix.

It actually makes me feel a little silly for having so many opinions on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's beneficial to have my perspective on such things checked from time to time. But I'm still going to watch that X-Men: Apocalypse trailer a dozen more times.


  1. That must've been a great moment when she decided she wanted to watch the Star Wars movies. Maybe she'll want to read some of your stories now? (And my mom is the same way - she's never read any of my books.)
    Just think, with the new Star Trek trailer debuting with Star Wars, she might get hooked on another awesome franchise.

  2. How I love that you watched together. And that you both benefited from the experience.

  3. I love your mom's reaction. They were cute and funny.

  4. Glad you two could enjoy the trilogy together. Hope she enjoys the new one too.

  5. As a die-hard fan, I agree with your mom re: the new movie.

  6. I think I love your family. Will they adopt me? From this interaction to you buying 50 Shades from gramma, I would just love to hang out in your house for a bit. I am not a huge Sci-Fi buff (nerd, whatever), but I am also the only person in my house who has seen the original Star Wars movies. I'm trying to get someone to go watch The Force Awakens with me, but it looks like I may have to just go with Monster's boyfriend. He's the only person in my real life that wants to watch it but that might be weird.

  7. How wonderful to be able to see these classics through new eyes like this! Thank you for sharing!

    (Tiny nerd correction: Wedge survived all the movies.)


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