The Nerd Parent's Guide: When and how to introduce your kids to Star Wars
Let me start by saying I'm not a big Star Wars guy. I enjoyed the films when I was growing up (I think I saw the original (Ep. 4 ANH) in 1980 along with Empire Strikes Back in 1980) but I haven't thought much about them since. That said, I appreciate the films and I like movies in general. Watching movies with my kids (usually Pixar movies) have brought us a lot of shared joy as a family. However, Star Wars are fun and classics and we wanted to share them with our kids in a way that worked for everyone given their age and our parenting style.
- Show Star Wars to your kids when you think they can discuss and analyze the themes appropriate. That might be 5, it might be 10. They're your kids.
- Don't forget you can skip parts.
- Show them the movie in 20 minute segments and make it a serial adventure rather than a movie.
- Show the films in "Machete Order" which is episodes 4,5,2,3,6. This maintains surprises while ending on a high note.
- Yes, episode 1 is hacked out and not shown. You can show it at the end of it all along with the Clone Wars cartoons and bill them as supplemental material.
- Consider Harmy's Despecialized Version fan edit or the Star Wars: Revisited fan edit.
- Make the films an event with crafts and discussion of mythology rather than just dumping in on their little brains.
You Stayed to Read it All Version
We are extremely conscious of our two boys' "screen time." They don't use the computer or play video games and they can watch TV on "show days." Show Days for us are Tues, Friday and Saturday when they can watch 20-30 minutes of TV. That adds up to about 90 minutes of screen time a week. We'd rather they dance around, dig in the dirt and play, which they do very well.
The boys watch Wild Kratts, Super Hero Squad and a few other kids' shows. They are 4 and a half and 6 and a half. Lately the topic - actually more the mythology - of Star Wars has been coming up.
"Daddy, who is Dark Vader? Is he a bad guy? I heard he has a Light Saver."
As both boys are in school it was inevitable that this topic would come up amongst the other kids. We're not ones to give in to peer pressure but in this case the boys seemed extremely interested in the characters, and as an extension the ideas around space, distance, planets, travel and the meta-topic of good vs. evil.
The wife and I were aiming to wait until they were 6 and 8 to watch Star Wars but since the interest was so high we decided to give it a try in a very structured way. Everyone's kids are different. One 10 year old might not like the aliens in the cantina while other person's 5 year old would be fascinated by how they constructed the masks and not believe they were real aliens. Our kids tend to be "makers," and as such are always constructing and deconstructing. They also understand the idea of actors and general movie making having made small films on an iPod touch so here's how we decided as parents to introduce our two boys to Star Wars.
Disclaimer: Everyone's kids are different. I'm not advocating, preaching or suggesting that you should do any of this. If some of it works for you, great, if not or if you disagree, also great. This system worked for us.
4 year old on Empire Strikes Back:"Why didn't Luke use The Force to stay warm? This makes NO sense."— Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) May 6, 2012
Structure and Time
First, I watched the first 1977 Star Wars to refresh my memory about the themes and general tone. We didn't want to put two hyper little people in front of effectively what is an intense two hour chase scene that they wouldn't understand. We also wanted to see if there were some scenes that we wanted to avoid all together.
My favorite site for getting into extreme detail on a film's content is Kids In Mind. I use this site before the boys and I watch anything. In this case Kids In Mind has this to say about Star Wars.
Smoking skeletons are seen; many people are threatened with laser guns and sometimes are actually shot (resulting in some deaths but no blood). An arm is cut off and some blood is seen. A few scuffles and attacks, and a couple of explosions. A man is strangled and a man is lifted by his throat and then his limp body is tossed across a room.
This is an excellent and short summary of the three scenes that concerned me. The arm cut off in the cantina, the skeleton at Luke's house and Vader force-choking people, as well as general lasers and chaos.
We decided that we'd show them the first movie (ep. 4 ANH) in 20 minute sittings. We literally sat down, watched 20 minutes at a time then stopped it. Star Wars IV: A New Hope is 125 minutes long, so about 5 or 6 sittings. It took us two weeks to watch the movie, which was just about right.
We also skipped over the severed arm in the Cantina as it's the only blood shown in the first movie and kinds of stands out in a gross way. We also implied that Luke's Aunt and Uncle ran away and the smoking husk in front of the house was a droid that was caught in the fire. These two small omissions cut out 90% of the violence that we were uncomfortable with. The rest we deal with by showing the movie in chunks as well as using each segment as an opportunity to talk about interesting topics as a family.
The benefits of splitting the movie up into two weeks of six segments are many. The most significant benefit given that the audience is children was time for discussion and "cool down." Little boys LOVE action. My boys were concocting crazy scenarios with good guys, bad guys and explosions long before they even knew what a television was. They are hard-wired for action, but again, two hours of action is too much for our little people. Twenty minute segments gave the boys one effectively interesting action segment and a bunch of expository dialogue.
Watching "Empire Strikes Back" with the 6 year old. Han and Leia are kissing. "Oh, man, AGAIN in this movie?!?"— Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) May 6, 2012
Each time something interesting happened or something intense happened we would pause the show and say something like "wow, why did Han do that?" This would often turn into a 10 minute discussion between us - and more often between the two boys - debating the merits of one action versus another. It also allowed the kids to connect to the story more than the action. If we got the sense that they weren't understanding the movie we would just stop it and try again in 6-12 months. No joke. There's no point showing a movie to a kid if they aren't going to understand the themes.
In a fast moving films it can be hard to keep track of what's happening and who is who. Stopping every 10 minutes or so for a discussion or a
feigned confused parent question like "Wait, why is that guy mad at that guy? Who are they?" gives the kids a chance to absorb the content as well as good practice in explaining complex plots to adults.
Watching only 20 minutes at a time also took what would have been an intense two hour explosion and turned it into a fun weekly episodic serial with the excitement of "what will happen next?" propelling the boys through the week. More discussions and analysis continued and continues even now. The boys haven talked about good and bad, when to fight and when not to.
There's lots of versions of Star Wars as George Lucas continues to tinker with it. The Special Editions that came out in 1997 included lots of computer graphics tweaks and changes. He continued to make changes in 2004 when Star Wars was released on DVD and again when it was released on 2011 on Blu-Ray.
There have been a number of "fan edits" of Star Wars but one of the highest quality and certainly the most popular is "Harmy's Despecialized Edition." This edition takes nine different sources and merges them together into an excellent fan preservation. The Despecialized HD version is a 720 AVCHD dual-sided DVD9.
Nerd on: You likely know that a DVD can hold about 5 gigs and shows films at 480p (480 horizontal lines of resolution) and a Blu-Ray can hold 25 gigs (or 50 gigs when dual later) and show films at 1080p. There was another interstitial format that is used on dual layer DVDs that can hold almost 9 gigs. The AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) format is similar to Blu-Rays (it's a derivative, effectively) and you'll find it in many Camcorders. It originally supported 720p.
You can get the Star Wars Despecialized Edition HD in an AVCHD format for a Dual Layer DVD9. This is a lovely 720p fan edit that is playable on many Blu-Ray Players. I own the original DVD boxed set as well. You are required to own a legitimate copy in order to watch a fan edit and you must never pay for a fan edit. There's box art and labels you can download to put together your own copies for the home. There's a number of nice YouTube comparison clips showing your choices so you can decide if you care or not about showing a fan-edit. We watched the Harmy Edit and at least *I* appreciated the effort and attention to details.
Wife watching Star Wars for the first time: "It's that 'Hans' Solo? He was in Sabrina!"— Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) April 30, 2012
We all watched the movies in the order they came out which is 4,5,6 then 1,2,3. When you're showing the Star Wars movies to a new person you have the advantage to show them the movies in whatever order you like. The most popular and well respected alternate order is Machete Order from Rod Hilton. He recommends showing the movies in this order:
- 4 - Star Wars: A New Hope
- 5 - Empire Strikes Back
- 2 - Attack of The Clones
- 3 - Revenge of the Sith
- 6 - Return of the Jedi
You'll notice there is no film #1. That's for a number of reasons, some passionate but others logical and well-reasoned.
"Episode I is a failure on every possible level. The acting, writing, directing, and special effects are all atrocious, and the movie is just plain boring. Luckily, George Lucas has done everyone a favor by making the content of Episode I completely irrelevant to the rest of the series. Seriously, think about it for a minute. Name as many things as you can that happen in Episode I and actually help flesh out the story in any subsequent episode."
Every character established in Episode I is either killed or removed before it ends (Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, Chancellor Valorum), unimportant (Nute Gunray, Watto), or established better in a later episode (Mace Windu, Darth Sidious). Does it ever matter that Palpatine had an apprentice before Count Dooku? Nope, Darth Maul is killed by the end of Episode I and never referenced again. You may as well just start with the assumption that Dooku was the only apprentice. Does it ever matter that Obi-Wan was being trained by Qui-Gon? Nope, Obi-Wan is well into training Anakin at the start of Episode II, Qui-Gon is completely irrelevant.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true! Episode I doesn’t matter at all.
He goes on to explain not only that Episode #1 doesn't matter but also that the really exciting surprises like who Luke's father is and others are maintained with this order.
Given that our kids are younger, we will stop the series for a while after Attack of the Clones. Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith is super dark and the most physically violent of the films. I want to wait until I feel the boys are ready to internalize that much intensity. I suspect that will be around 10 years or, perhaps older. After that we'll pick up where we left off. You should decide on your own but it's useful to be aware or reminded how dark episode 3 really is.
"Why was Obi Wan the only one who clicked his seat belt in the Millennium Falcon?" - my 6 year old— Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) April 29, 2012
We've introduced our little people to the Star Wars mythology in a slow and structured way. There's been more talking and playing in the backyard so far than actual movie watching. There's been discussions of movie making and how to make an alien mask. There's been cardboard light sabers and grappling hooks made of straws. There's been hours of discussion about character motivations, why good guys do good stuff, why bad guys do bad stuff and why Han Solo likes money and whether or not we should "mess with Yoda."
Overall, my wife and I are happy with the results. I hope this post helps you and your kids jump into Star Wars. I'm off now to deal with the burning question in our household this week: "Who took Chewbacca's pants?"
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
I appreciated the guide.
My daughter is 5 and is very sensitive (cried during parts of Shrek) so I was worried, but I had got the full BluRay set and was watching Star Wars.
Machete order may make sense (Ep 1 is truly boring and hard to follow, it's very true. Even the pod race is boring) though I find Jedi is still a nice and fun uplift after Empire, better than Clones for that. In other word, original order for me.
You missed mentioning some scenes: Anakin butchering the Tuskens. I skipped it (she didn't miss it, was bored at the Tatooine part).
And now, months after seeing it originally, her most frightening scene was Luke losing his hand to his father. Which, well, YEAH. That was pretty much the suck. If your dad started throwing stuff at you and scaring you and sliced off your hand and let you know you are destined to be evil and join the big bad, AND fall to certain death and hang on a coathanger with one hand and the hatch closes when you try to climb, and as you hang there your only hope is the princess you love and want to rescue who you have no clue or reason to know is your sister and also a Jedi ninja deep inside? Yeah.
(Btw didn't show Sith really, certainly not the slaughter. But Ani's conversion with Palpatine she actually did walk in on and I carefully explained.That was more intellectual than emotional. She knew long before that the little boy becomes Dark Vader ("he's Light Vader"). She just thought it wasn't very convincing that he'd change to be bad. Which, well, YEAH. Not a source of nightmares - Shrek had nights of counseling by comparison.
Not saying that age 5 is "right". I wanted to wait until later. But I don't think it went too badly, and she was absolutely delighted to understand this "Star Wars" that all the boys were going on about in kindergarten.
Lots of talking about the movie for sure while it's on (and a pause button handy). And know your kid!
I've got a (nearly) 2 year old boy and we're doing our best to limit TV time (actually, at the moment its no TV time). Its hard work not using the TV as a "baby-sitter", you actually have to engage with your kids! So BIG respect to you for doing that.
We plan to introduce TV in the same manner that you've mentioned in your post. I like your approach to action movies like Star Wars. Will keep this post in mind when the time is right. I hadn't heard of the Kids In Mind website, or the others the other posters have mentioned. All good stuff!
Trying to wean my 5 year old from some trashy cartoons he's gotten hooked to during his Summer Break here!
lucas' inspiration for star wars was in part the serialised adventures of flash gordon, so for you to present it in this way to your kids must only increase their excitement for the next installment. im an 80s kid, so when i watched them all in the early 90's i watched them all one after the other. the concept of waiting between episodes is something i missed out on, no wonder fans flocked to the cinema.
i also applaud the steps you're taking on your kids behalf. i think responsible parenting regarding screen is something thats often overlooked. far too many use the pc or tv as a baby sitter instead of taking an active interest in their activities.
ps - those tweets made me laugh. a childs interpretation of what does and doesn't make sense in film is always hilarious.
My dad would just throw any weird sci-fi/horror thing at me, regardless of age. I remember watching The Fly and the American Werefolf in London (which I remember finding funny because the werewolf reminded me a poodle) still under or around 7yo. And I watched Alien and Terminator 2 of my own accord, shortly thereafter. Though Alien did scare me a bit.. but that's what you get for watching it home alone.
Here are the parts I removed and the edits were only for a few seconds each.
1. Sand people come up in front of the scope
2. Burning corpses of Luke's aunt and uncle
3. Cut off arm in bar
4. Vader choking guy in ship
5. Monster in trash compactor
But that's me.
As George Lucas puts it, Star Wars is really the story of Darth Vader. He's the main antagonist in 4, 5, 6. And he's the main protagonist in 1, 2, and 3. Actually 3 stands out as it's when we first see him shift to the dark side. Still, in my opinion this order tells the story best.
My introduction to Star Wars was going to see Empire, in the cinema at age 6 having not seen ep4... yeaaah not good, left scars.
My own boys, of 4 & 7, I started on Ep1 to introduce them to the universe, the force, light-sabers - the cool things that got their attention, without raising all the story & good versus evil questions. There's enough lulls in the story to chat through it too.
We then started with the Lego Star Wars games, which does all the editing and padding for you, even the big "twist" doesn't really spoil anything.
Any 'true' fan knows the correct order is 4,5,6,1,2,3,4,5,6
And none of this 20 minute segment lark. A 14 hour marathon is the appropriate way.
Sorry, this is more about the TV time than Star Wars, but I have a kid named Luke. Star Wars was kind if a given for us. I'm happy to have held the line at #4 so far.
Before we watched any of the films though, we read the original novels of 4, 5, and 6, which was awesome, because when we got to the films, we didn't have to pause and constantly figure out the plot. The novels had some grown-up vocabulary that I had to simplify on the spot as I was reading it, but it still worked and got the point across.
We watched 4,5,6, and 1, and then I waited a whole year before watching 2 and 3, which were both too violent and dark for my 5 year old at the time. By age 6, he was much more prepared for the emotional scenes in those movies, and picked up on things like pregnancy and deception that he wouldn't have a year earlier.
Of course it all ended with a Star Wars birthday party that I created a ton of props for with leftover materials from various home remodels. I think it was all probably more fun for me to relive all this stuff from my childhood than it was for my son to get into it.
Yes, some might say that the kids "will not get the complete story". Well, we got it only after waiting for 20 years, and that didnt stop us from loving and enjoying the original movies, now did it?
Just say no to prequels.
He had inherited my old figures, and a fair bit of LEGO. He had also seen some clone wars cartoons (which are really well done).
This year, after his 6th birthday, I did something I had been dying to do and sat down with him to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark (he had asked about it after seeing the LEGO).
Overall, not bad, but the religious and historical themes were mostly lost on him. He got the Egyption stuff, but knew none of the history that helps ROTLA make sense. I saw it in the theaters when it came out, by myself as I recall; I would have been 9. I had seen it a million times sense then (it's one of my favorite movies.) I know I didn't understand it when I first saw it at the theater any more than I understood the real themes behind Star Wars when I saw that at the movies at the age of 5, right after my birthday (1977, baby!)
Raiders is the first thing I watched with him that I wished I had censored. The fight scenes were ok, but the melting/exploding faces at the end (which I had completely forgotten about), didn't sit well. That part ruined his enjoyment of it, but otherwise he really liked it.
Ben also liked SW Episode 1, even Jar Jar, but I threatened to throw him out of the house if he ever admitted that in public ;)
I don't remember when I was "exposed" to Star Wars (or other movies with some violent/adult content), but I doubt it was as young as yours are now.
I initially thought your approach was bit silly and over-protective, but considering your kids are pretty young, and after reading more, it actually started making a lot of sense.
I especially like that you paused and encouraged discussion of the intense parts. It's nice to see an approach like this as I'm sure it encourages the kids to think for themselves and not just take other people's opinions for fact.
Manda, Early Childhood Teacher.
This conveys the important idea of gradual improvement in skills and knowledge over time and use. Children should learn that while their abilities may seem inadequate now, with practice they will improve.
I had only watched Episode 3 once, when it was at the cinema, so a few weeks back I decided to watch it again. I only managed about 20mins before switching it off because I thought it was boring as hell!
Very rarely do I ever stop watching movies, but I just couldn't get through it.
Keep up the great posts, and I will be seeing you in Glasgow!
We actually started with episode 1 and he liked it, so each Saturday we'd watch the next episode. During the week, there was that anticipation of the next episode -By the end, he was super excited for the end.
Episode 3, although with much action, had the part at the end with Anakin in the fire - that part we fast forwarded past - a bit too much for sure.
There were many discussions of how Anakin went from Jedi to Darth Vadar - but all good :)
Funny how we all made fun of Jar Jar Binks - but my youngest really liked him - go figure :)
Sad to see people denounce what solid families in American find beneficial and practical.
Back to Star Wars - like above, my 7 yr old played the Lego Star Wars games, great games !
Also, Clone Wars is definitely too mature - I'd hold off on that series (or at least until they are older)
<a href="http://youtu.be/pCjMGOvMghY" title="Star Wars Talk" \>
Here is a great supplemental PSA about when to have the talk with your kids.
Star Wars Talk
I happen to work for this company be we do the most thorough reviews around and tell parents all the content that is in the movies.
I appreciate your article since most of what we try to educate families about is how the media affects the cognitive stages of development in children.
Because of you, we'll have to watch Star Wars this weekend. It's been TOO long.
Martin - I'll check that out, thanks!
DVD9 isn't some intermediate 720p format between regular DVD and Blu-ray.
From the beginning of the DVD standard, physical DVDs have come in 4.7GB single layer ("DVD5") and 8.5GB dual layer ("DVD9") formats (note that DVD9 is dual layer, not dual sided--you don't have to flip them over to play the second layer). The vast majority of movies commercially released on DVD are released on dual layer DVD9 media. They're still 480p resolution, though, because the data on the disc is encoded in DVD Video format, which only supports 480p.
But DVDs can also store data in formats other than DVD Video, just like CDs can store data in formats other than Audio CD. And just like some standalone CD players are capable of playing certain kinds of music files (MP3, WMA, etc.) from data CDs, there are some standalone Blu-ray and DVD video players that are capable of playing certain kinds of video files (including those encoded in AVCHD) from data DVDs (and BDs).
So when you say that Harmy's Despecialized Edition is a "720 AVCHD dual-sided DVD9" what you really mean is that it's a 720p AVCHD-encoded MKV file that fits on a dual-layer DVD9.
All of that said, I thank you for sharing your thoughts about showing Star Wars to the kids, as I've been debating whether my 5.5yo is ready yet or not (he's increasingly interested in Star Wars toys and characters, but knows nothing about the movies), and the 20 minute installment idea is an excellent one! (Also, I wasn't previously aware of the Despecialized Edition, and may just have to check that out for my own purposes...)
This is quite an intriguing approach, and I really like the concept of taking screen-time and turning it into something mind-expanding, rather than mind-numbing. I'm not a parent, but will be when the time is right, but I do have a question: how do you deal with situations where parents of your kids' friends don't share the same goals/ideals as you wrt the whole screen-time thing, and they go and ruin your plans by sitting the kids down in front of a movie at a birthday party. I only ask this because this happened when I was kid, and sparked a bit of angst between one set of parents who weren't ok with the choice of movie, and the parents who organised the party (neither of them were my parents, so I've no emotional attachment). I'm interested to hear your thoughts, because this seems, to me, to be a potential spanner in the works, and I don't know how I would approach it.
Comments are closed.