Every night, our neighbors hear us coming.
First they spot my 3-year-old son, barreling up the sidewalk, yipping and whooping at dogs and bikes and joggers, clutching a plastic sword he calls a bow and arrow. He’s an Ewok warrior, protecting our block’s porgs (birds) and womp rats (squirrels) and tauntauns (dogs) from Stormtroopers (everyone else).
Then they spot me, the taller, hairier Chewbacca, and know our nightly block parade has begun. We’ve all been conscripted into our son’s Star Wars cinematic universe — which, like the actual universe, encompasses every aspect of our lives. Especially during quarantine.
To any parents out there who relate, may the Force — or, should I say, May the Fourth — be with you.
That’s become the traditional geek greeting each May 4, a date fans long ago decreed Star Wars Day. Over time, the pun has been embraced by Lucasfilm’s imperial overlords as a major promotional tool. This May the Fourth, they’re dropping the latest Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker, on Disney+, along with an eight-part docuseries on their hit show The Mandalorian. Throw in a new season of The Clone Wars, and it’s like an all-out X-wing assault on us Jedi.
My family, however, is used to it. Since social distancing went into effect, Star Wars has been a 'round-the-clock presence in our home, as it’s the only thing keeping our son sane.
He has binged each Star Wars film multiple times, start to finish, enthralled by every scene. He careens around the house singing John Williams’ score, quoting dialogue from George Lucas and J.J. Abrams, crashing off walls and into furniture with a Kylo Ren lightsaber. He falls asleep clutching Boba Fett and wakes up in a nest of plastic blasters, ready to do it again the next day.
I realize he’s in a tough spot. I’m squirreled away at a laptop while my wife helps our daughter with her digital first-grade syllabus. My son has to find ways to entertain himself when we’re busy, a challenge for any preschooler.
He misses how things were, even if he can’t articulate it. He knows playgrounds are closed “because of the coronavirus,” and yes, it is heartbreaking to hear a 3-year-old with a lisp say that word. Even more so when he still begs to go, promising to wash his hands and not touch anything if we take him.
So we relent. Gone are quaint, pre-pandemic notions like monitored screen time, or debates over whether it’s wise to let a 3-year-old watch the Anakin/Obi-Wan duel in Revenge of the Sith. You want to eat Ritz Bits in your PJs while watching Phantom Menace? So be it, Jedi.
The miracle of Star Wars is how well it builds worlds, planets rich in characters and ideas and technology. We’re lucky the thing he’s obsessed with isn’t Paw Patrol, but a sprawling cultural universe you can ponder and play with in so many different ways. Star Wars is a language we all sort of speak. It connects us, like some mysterious energy binding every living thing. There should be a word for that.
If Star Wars can fuel a fertile imagination, we try as best we can to prime the pump. We re-enact scenes and coach him through improvised role play, building upon his suggestions, creating plots that defy all kinds of canon. We build crude starships from Magna-Tiles, Ewok fortresses from hand-me-down dollhouses. My wife plays the score on the piano and he scurries up to hum along. We quiz him on the alphabet, asking for words that begin with each letter.
During each movie, we patiently answer every question, from “Who plays the Stormtroopers?" to “Why did Darth Vader cut off Luke’s hand?” to “Why did Luke become a Force ghost?” When we stumble for an answer, it just makes him want to know more. His Star Wars curiosity is insatiable. We all should be so lucky to love a thing this much.
Some afternoons, he trots back to my bedroom workspace with a DVD of Return of the Jedi, promising to be quiet if he can watch it there with me. I’ll press play, and before long, he’s nestled in a sunny spot on the bedspread, dozing through the Battle of Endor. I look over and think: I’ll miss this when it’s over.
At night I carry him into the empty street to look up at the moon, and beyond that, Dagobah and Jakku and Kashyyyk. On clear nights, he swears he can make out Cloud City. It’s really up there. He can see it.
Living in quarantine, my son’s world has never been so small. But his galaxy has never been bigger.
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