Watching Empire Strikes Back with My Nieces

The Empire Will Strike Back - in a just moment by Kalexanderson from FlickrOver the weekend I trekked out to my sister’s place for a movie night. It was a big deal. For the first time ever, my two nieces were going to watch The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s difficult to convey exactly what this movie means to me. I might go so far as to say it’s impossible to get that across. Either it has the same niche in your life that it does in mine, or you’ll never get it.

I’m not saying that to be snooty. I’m saying that because for me, this movie came out at exactly the right time. My big brother was a teenager when the original came out. We had just brought a brand new technological marvel known as the VCR into our home. And HBO had moved from an eight hour broadcast day to running around the clock, showing a new array of popular movies.

That was the landing pad that the original Star Wars movies had access to.

My brother’s influence, the ability to watch movies at home at your leisure, and the ability to record a movie off of the TV? It was a powerful combination. I can still remember the HBO logo presentation from that era vividly because it was at the beginning of our recording of Star Wars, and I watched that recording an uncountable number of times.

In fact, watching Star Wars was so ingrained in my gray matter that I have memories of seeing the actors perform their stunts on my family’s television and thinking, “You know it’s really impressive. No matter how many times I put this movie on, they always manage to make the same shots when they fire at the Stormtroopers, and they fly the exact same way in their ships, and Luke and Leia always swing across that broken bridge in the Death Star and never miss.”

In other words, I didn’t even realize what a movie was by the time I had watched this movie enough to have parts of it memorized.

(note: I have absolutely no idea what the hell I thought I was watching, like if I thought the actors were miniaturized in my family’s TV or what…I just know that I have memories of thinking those thoughts)

Getting to share these movies with my nieces was a powerful thing. And with Empire being my favorite of the trilogy, well it was an exciting night all around. I mean, my nine-year-old (9YO) and six-year-old (6YO) nieces found out who Luke Skywalker’s father was last Saturday.

That’s mind blowing.

This information was entirely new to almost half the viewing audience. How often does that situation arise? When Vader delivered his devastating news to Luke I got the chills. My brother-in-law gasped dramatically at 6YO. My sister poked 9YO asking, “Can you believe it?! Darth Vader is Luke’s father!”

9YO nodded and said that she had already sort of guessed that.

Which is hilarious on a whole other level.

Included with all this nostalgia, though, were a few interesting things going on from the perspective of a storyteller.

9YO was fidgeting most of the movie. She kept looking for more popcorn in other people’s bowls, she would randomly shift positions on the couch in very dramatic ways, and occasionally she would opt to play with her feet rather than look at the screen.

This was trying.

I’ve explained the overall love the adults in the room had for Empire. Plus we were well aware of how monumental a moment we wanted this viewing to be. The girls were watching Empire for freak’s sake.

And one of them was fidgety.

Was she bored? Was she unable to follow the plot? Or was she just acting like a nine-year-old?

And did any of that even matter?

I mean, as I just said, my early viewings of these movies were so over my head that I didn’t even know that I was watching a movie. And I still loved them. So how much needed to be getting across to 9YO for her to really share in the moment? Again, I didn’t even understand the concept of a movie and my early viewings are looked back on with fondness. How much of any story do we actually take in when we first hear it?

Then there is the notion that trying to make sure that 9YO was paying attention had a downside: she would try to pay too much attention. Her questions became less and less about keeping up with the general plot, and more and more about details that didn’t matter. “Why does that guy have headphones? Why is Chewbacca yelling? Where did Luke just fall to?”

They weren’t bad questions by any means, but they weren’t  integral questions either. She was so concerned about understanding each scene that she would ask questions before the movie even had a chance to answer them.

Now I don’t mean to say she didn’t enjoy herself, or that we stressed her out to a crazy extent. This is all me looking back on this and pondering. But the fact is, you really aren’t supposed to understand everything you’re seeing in a movie as you’re seeing it. An awful lot of the time, while taking in a story, you sit there confused. Scenes introduce elements that aren’t explained yet. Characters have discussions hinting at back stories that you don’t know. Emotions are expressed, giving whiffs of conflict that you aren’t familiar with.

It’s really pretty amazing if you stop to think about it.

C-3PO wanders away from the group in Cloud City and gets blown up for no reason by people we don’t see. Yoda hides who he really is and acts like a crazy person when he first contacts Luke. Han flies into an asteroid field while everyone on the Falcon is screaming at him not to.

Almost every scene in a movie does it’s best to confuse the audience, and then later it unravels that confusion.

Later, Chewbacca replays C-3PO’s memory and we learn that C-3PO had stumbled onto where the Imperial Troops were hiding and they blasted him. Later, we come to realize that Yoda was testing Luke’s patience and feeling him out before introducing himself. Later, we watch Han maneuver the Falcon through the asteroids while the lesser Imperial pilots fail and crash one by one.

And that’s how good stories are told.

I get worried a lot that I’m not getting across enough story, that the details I’m putting in are overwhelming, or that my readers won’t like the fact that I’m teasing them with information.

But it turns out that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. The whole object is to snag your reader on hooks. They’ll roll right along with it as long as you take them off of that hook at some later point in a satisfactory manner.

Until then?

Well it turns out you can skewer them any way you want to.


Happy hunting.