Tempted by the Dark Side - at two
Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... my husband was a four-year-old boy and sat down to watch Star Wars for the first time.
He assures me he has watched it at least 100 times since and he has been desperate to share the sci-fi experience with our children.
But until now I have had many objections – too violent, too grown-up, too confusing, too dark.
Then my two-year-old was bought a lightsaber. And all my sensible concerns fell on deaf ears.
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“The force is strong in this one,” my husband said, proudly watching his son swipe ornaments off the mantelpiece with the laser sword and chase his sister up and down the stairs. “We must act now before he is tempted by the Dark Side.”
And so it was that on Saturday evening the three of them sat down to the film.
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I am a fairly cautious parent when it comes to what my children are exposed to.
No violent video games, no programmes with swear words, drug-taking or sex scenes, and no news bulletins (with the exception of Newsround).
But where films are concerned, I have rather left it up to the British Board of Film Classification to advise me best.
In my experience, they usually get it right. But there are occasions where I have been brutally let down.
Take Watership Down for example. That film is a U for universal. It is also the stuff of nightmares.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. In fact, the BBFC admits it has received complaints about the film’s suitability for young audiences since its release in 1978.
Most say the scenes of fighting between the rival rabbits and the collapse of a warren are upsetting, even for adults.
And what about Toy Story 3? Believe it or not, this was the fourth-most-controversial film shown in 2010.
Parents said it was too disturbing to have received the U rating as it featured a one-eyed baby doll character similar to the demonic doll Chucky from the 1980s horror Child’s Play.
The BBFC admitted the movie had “lacked the sunnier aspect” of the previous Toy Story films but believed the classification was still correct.
I’m sure they know best.
And I suspect some parents – myself included – have been so busy bubble-wrapping their kids that they underestimate their ability to cope.
After all, despite tackling the seriously big issues of death and conflict, Watership Down has a happy ending and contains positive messages about bravery, friendship and the environment.
And Toy Story 3, well this touches painfully on the problems of ageing, change and obsolescence but is also about the importance of loyalty, responsibility and imagination.
Could it be that these films actually offer us a way to teach our children about life’s toughest challenges alongside the values we want them to emulate?
Of course. And this isn’t actually a new concept.
Storytelling is a universal art form that has featured strongly in all cultures as an effective way to teach since time began.
In the 15th century, there was Aesop’s Fables. Today we have Disney.
And, like parables, stories we see in films for children usually have some moral lesson to be learnt.
I know what you are thinking. What exactly did I think my children were going to learn from Star Wars?
Truth be told, I didn’t. In fact, I thought that if they were anything like their mother, they would get bored within five minutes. But from the moment the yellow text ran up the back of the star-studded screen to warn us of the rebel spaceships’ fight against the evil Galactic Empire, my children were transfixed.
There was fighting, of course, but there was no blood or gore. And Star Wars – which also boasts a U certificate – doesn’t do sex scenes, nudity, or drug-taking.
When the film ended I was satisfied that there was no cause for alarm.
At a push, maybe it had even taught my kids the idea that good should triumph over evil.
Later that evening, we tucked the children into bed.
My daughter, age five, hopped into hers with a smile on her face.
“That was a brilliant film,” she said happily. “And I loved the twist.”
My husband turned to kiss our son goodnight.
“That was great, dad,” he said, dreamily. “I wish Darth Vader could be my father too.”
Despite the best intentions of George Lucas to champion the honour, faith and bravery of Luke Skywalker, it appears there’s no teaching some kids. Or perhaps we were just too late. Either way, our two-year-old has already succumbed to the Dark Side.
n Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.