May The Force be with my son
THERE is a new game in my household. It's called Good Anakin, Bad Anakin.
Basically, I do one-woman re-enactments of scenes from Star Wars: Episode I, II and III, in front of my seven-year-old son, Julian. These film instalments, for the uninitiated, chronicle how a sweet slave boy named Anakin Skywalker goes from do-gooding Jedi knight to galactic villain Darth Vader.
So the scene could be one in which Skywalker is being a smart mouth to his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Me, in my Obi-Wan voice: "What took you so long?"
Me, in my insolent Anakin drawl: "Well, you know, Master, I couldn't find a speeder that I really liked..."
Obi-Wan-me: "If you spent as much time practising your sabre techniques as you did your wit, you'd rival Master Yoda as a swordsman."
Anakin-me: "I thought I already did."
After that, I'll ask my Star Wars-obsessed firstborn: "Now, was that good Anakin or bad Anakin?"
Stirring his ice cream idly, surrounded by the table-top detritus of our family dinner, my son shrugs and pretends he doesn't know the answer, even though his sly smile tells me he does. It is as obvious as day. Rude Anakin is Bad Anakin.
And so it goes.
Anakin refusing to leave his Master in times of danger, risking his own life to save his friends'? Good Anakin.
Anakin overstepping his boundaries as an apprentice and challenging his Jedi Master's instructions, questioning authority at almost every turn? Bad Anakin.
At what age should one introduce the Star Wars films to one's kids? For a long, long time, and in cyber-galaxies far, far away, parents have been debating this deep, philosophical question.
Just three months ago, The New York Times' Motherlode parenting blog posed this question, attracting 53 comments. And, earlier this year, a bunch of daddy bloggers on DorkDaddy.com did a mock-academic White Paper on the right age to expose one's kids to the sci-fi classic.
"The answers ranged from 'in the womb' to 'never', with an average suggested age of somewhere between five and six," they concluded.
In my 20s, fresh out of a relationship with a Star Wars fan whose Internet username was "slave 1", I would have scoffed at the idea that the movies would one day play a part in the way I mother my kids.
For the past couple of months, my two sons have been obsessed with the original trilogy and, lately, the prequel too.
It started with some Lego Star Wars sets that we built together, then an encyclopaedia of Star Wars characters and trivia, before becoming full-blown as the entire family sat down to view the movies proper.
Almost-four-year-old Lucien wanted to know constantly if this character is a "good guy or bad guy?". As the identities blur, and the political intrigue hots up, I find it increasingly challenging to answer him.
These days, I'm finding that George Lucas' mythology is providing a useful shorthand with which to explain complex life lessons to my elder son. The Force and the Dark Side are simply another way of impressing upon him upright values versus bad habits and morals.
Our game of How Not To Become Darth Vader enables me to explain - in a way that sticks - that it is the small things, left unchecked, that contribute to the gradual deterioration of a person's character.
You start, as a child, with things like lack of discipline, disrespect, impatience and arrogance. Once these become a part of your psyche, you risk greater and greater wrongdoings, ending up committing bigger and bigger crimes.
I explained to my seven-year-old that Anakin left his mother at the tender age of nine in search of a greater destiny, and this separation contributed to his alienation and eventual downfall.
"I am your mother," I told him. "And it is my responsibility to correct you on the small things in your early journey in life, so you do not end up like Anakin."
The Boy Who Could Be Anything said nothing. But I knew he was listening.