On Passing the Torch: or, You Can’t Make Them Love Things the Way You Do

At the time of this writing, my daughter, Deirdre, is eight years old. She is smart, energetic, loving, inventive, headstrong, selfless, and fierce. She regularly goes through her room to gather books and toys in boxes, unasked, and marches them up to me with instructions of which friends, family members, or aid organizations she wants them donated to. She gives up her recess period at school to be a classroom aid for disabled students (this was her idea) and runs bullies off from her friends armed with sticks and dodgeballs in the after-school program. When we put her in time out as a toddler (on the bottom step) she would put her feet two steps up and extend her hands down to the floor to do incline pushups and planks until she was set free. She is the only child I’ve ever known who was effectively working out in prison before age five. I’ve thought many times that she’s actually what we mean when we refer to a character as “a self-rescuing princess.” She’s like a tiny Princess Leia, or Padmé Amidala at her finest (ie., before getting tangled up with that bag of issues, Anakin).

Padme, Leia, and Rey: the Holy Trinity of Star Wars Women, and you can fight me about that

It may come to you as a surprise, then, that she only watched her first Star Wars film this past week (Episode IV, A New Hope, because I am many things, but not a monster). For reasons unknown to anyone but herself, she’s refused all manifestations of Star Wars media up to now. She ignored the Princess Leia action figure given to her two birthdays ago, eventually donating it to Goodwill, still in its original packaging. She would leave the room any time her older brother would turn on The Clone Wars cartoon, or play a LEGO Star Wars video game. But the persistent sameness of a quarantined summer finally broke her stubborn resistance, and so she sat down to watch the film.

It’s an interesting thing, watching someone you love, someone still small and still coming into their own, form a relationship with something you’ve known and loved for years. I spent easily as much of our movie night watching her as I did watching the screen, trying to get a sense of her reactions. 

Deirdre has a terrible poker face. It was abundantly clear she’d fallen in love. 

Later that night, I posted triumphantly on Twitter and Facebook about her entrance into the fandom, noting that she seemed to have fallen for 1970s Harrison Ford about as hard as I did, thirty-some years ago.

When we sat down to watch The Empire Strikes Back two nights later, I was stunned to see her unmoved by Han being frozen in carbonite. So, of course, I asked her about it.

“It was pretty awful, what happened to Han,” I began, fishing.

We were bouncing on the trampoline in our yard. It was hard to make out the shrug in her shoulders with all that jostling, but her voice carried all its ambivalence. “It was, but I’m not worried about him, because he’s a bad person.”

I stopped bouncing.

“What do you mean? I thought you liked him!”

She stopped bouncing, too. 

“What?”

“The way you were looking at him, during the shootout scene in the prison cell block on the Death Star. During the first movie. You remember?”

Deirdre’s face lit up. “That was awesome! Chewie was like kerpow kerpow blam,” she cried, waving her arms in the Universal Blaster Rifle Miming Position. “He was going crazy. It was so amazing!”

“That’s what I mean. You were bouncing on the couch and whooping and everything. Wasn’t Han amazing in that scene?”

“I guess? He’s kind of selfish and stuck up, and always trying to show off. I don’t like him.  He’s not a good person. Chewie is awesome, though, and Leia? I never knew a princess could use a gun like that, or go jumping into the garbage, or make sure everybody got away from the base on Hoth before the Empire came. Chewie is loyal and fun, and Leia is basically perfect.”

I couldn’t disagree with her assessment of Leia, and she had a point about Chewie, but no love for Han? Han, my problematic smuggler boyfriend? My swaggering murderboy who most assuredly did shoot first?

This is why Twitter needs an edit button. The face she made that convinced me she’d fallen for Han was, in fact, the ecstatic expression of a girl finding her eight foot tall Wookiee adventure bro. I had submitted into the archives of the interwebs a proud declaration of my daughter’s fandom that was nothing more than a nerd parent’s projection.

One of the things I talk to my students about frequently is how fandom is simultaneously one of the best and the absolute worst thing to come out of geek culture. It’s a joyous celebration of shared love for something other people made up, a phenomenon nurtured and sustained by the people who have loved that thing, loved the people who made it, and dedicated their own time, energy, and creativity to adding to it. It’s fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, meet-ups, kaffeeklatsches, arts and crafts, trivia, and more. And yet, fandom is also people who love a thing telling its creators or continuers that they’re ruining something great, or that the fans would do it better, or that they’re the wrong color, gender, sexual identification, creed⁠—the wrong anything⁠⁠—to “belong” as part of the sacred society of [fill in the fandom here]. It’s people looking at how other fans play a game, love a character, retcon a plot in fanfic, or make an argument on social media and deciding they deserve to be hurt for it

In my own small way, I had poked at that line because of course my daughter should think Han is awesome. I argued with Deirdre for a while, trying to convince her that of course I agreed that Chewie was cool and Leia was awesome, but HAN. Come on, kiddo, HAN, AMIRITE?

HAN, THO, AMIRITE? (Photo by Lucasfilm/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

I dare you to try arguing with Deirdre about anything. See how far it gets you.

To her credit, she had some good points. I’ve summarized them below:

  1. We’re supposed to like Han because he’s handsome and exciting.
  2. Luke is also handsome and exciting.
  3. Han is also conceited, selfish, and frequently a jerk. These negative traits are more important than him being cute and cool.
  4. Luke is a pouter and whiner. He’s quick to give up when things go badly. These negative traits are more important than him being cute and cool. 
  5. Chewie is big, and strong, and loyal, and funny, and supportive, and you don’t really know what he’s saying, but you can tell from how people react that he’s usually making fun of Han and putting him in his place, which means he’s probably not stuck up or a jerk and knows people shouldn’t be.
  6. Ergo, Chewie is a better man than Han or Luke, and more worthy of her fandom.

This is why you can’t argue with my daughter, except perhaps the categorization of Chewbacca as “a man,” in linguistic or biological terms. Because, honestly? She’s right. With the clear-eyed vision of a kid who had seen the first two movies of the original trilogy, and knew quite literally nothing about the rest of the narrative, she had hit upon an entirely reasonable⁠—maybe even the only reasonable, ethical, and moral reading of the story thus far⁠—and couldn’t understand why I would like someone who was such a jerk. Maybe given more context and the complete story, her vision of these characters would change a little, but even if it did, it wouldn’t make this first reading of the text wrong. Not even close.

We can’t control what other people like about the things we like, or how they choose to like them (absent Codes of Conduct and other measures intended to protect fans from the worst of the worst among us). Part of the care and feeding of my young geeklings, and part of learning every day to be a better writer, is learning that all you can do is make something great and offer it up to the world. You make something and hope people see the good in it. I’m trying to remember that as the work-in-progress taking up my summer writing time tries to grow out of its newborn giraffe stage, all limbs and neck and improbable angular momentum. I know what I want people to like about it. And I also know that trying to force that will only break the whole wobbly thing. 

It’s like that, when you show someone something you’ve loved, and hope they’ll love it with you. To use a different metaphor⁠—a little hackneyed, but apt⁠—we tend to do a good job of extending our hands to pass the torch. It’s the part where we let go of it that’s hard. You can’t share something if you’re still wrestling for control of it.

We’ll see what the future brings for Deirdre’s newfound love of Star Wars. We’re supposed to watch Return of the Jedi on Father’s Day weekend together. During last night’s trampoline chat, Deirdre mused about whether Luke would survive his next battle with Darth Vader, and if Leia might choose to be Luke’s girlfriend, instead.

“I mean, they seem like they get along, and he’s nice to her,” she observed on the rebound. “They have a lot in common.”

Oof. Well. She’s not wrong.

“That’s an interesting point,” I said. 

“What do you think, Mom?”

“I. . . think you should probably just watch the movie and decide for yourself.”

One thought

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.