We watched The Empire Strikes Back last night. Ryan was mesmerized--and traumatized. We knew he'd have zillions of questions about the plot, which was why we made it an Event. The Aunt and Uncle were there, too, the Uncle being something of a Star Wars fan himself. (I seem to recall him kicking our butts in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit a few years back.)
Things were going along swimmingly--the battle of Hoth, the chase into the asteroid belt, meeting Yoda--when things suddenly took a turn for the worse. First, our heroes were betrayed by Lando Calrissian, a guy we thought was a Good Guy and a Friend. Then, they were captured by Darth Vader and Han Solo was tortured. We had to explain that to him, how the Bad Guys were hurting Han just because they were Bad Guys--Ryan looked stricken. And then poor, poor Han Solo was frozen in carbonite. Well that did it--our little boy was in tears. He was clinging to me so hard it reminded me of his baby years. Brendan was on his other side, patting his leg. No amount of reassuring him that Han would be rescued in the next movie seemed to help him feel better. He cried for Han, for Chewbacca, and was (and probably still is) seriously confused by Lando's actions: is he or isn't he a Good Guy? At 5 1/2, Ryan doesn't quite understand these ambiguities. He asked question after question.
Just as he recovered a very little bit (a dismantled C-3PO providing some desperately important comic relief), well, then Luke lost an appendage in a big battle with Vader. Ryan actually got over that fairly quickly, as Luke's new robot hand was pretty spiffy and followed fairly quickly in sequence--no waiting for the next movie.
Mr. Ryan is a very, very sensitive little boy. He feels things very deeply and has always been extremely tuned in to the emotions of other people. Laugh with him and he will LAUGH. He can detect subtleties in a person's facial expression and is very astute at judging a person's mood--no hiding your feelings around this kid. On the flip side, just seeing a person with a sad expression might make him cry. Even as a small baby, he would break down into tears when a slow, sad song was played in his presence, especially if the song was in a minor key. His own big feelings scare him sometimes and he has learned how to cope with them very well as he's matured. He's just a sensitive guy--and that's okay. It's part of what makes him unique and awesome and will serve him well as he gets older. He's already quite an actor, and very empathetic (when he isn't scared of the magnitude of his feelings in feeling someone else's pain). I'm sure his future spouse will appreciate this quality in him.
We knew all this, of course, so you're probably wondering where our brains were when we showed him this movie. Well, we watched it with him because we knew he wouldn't understand parts of it, and I knew he'd be sad when Han got frozen, but I honestly underestimated how sad he'd get. Of course I feel so sad for him--I was practically in tears myself, remembering how sad I was myself the first time I saw Han descend bravely into the freezing chamber. And I was older than Ryan. Time and maturity made me forget what it was like to see that for the first time.
We tried to remind him what the other good and interesting parts of the movie were, and he cried, "But I'm afraid that it's only the bad things that will be inside my memory!"
My sis and bro-in-law must leave today, but we will watch Return of the Jedi, beginning in a few minutes, so that Ryan's fears may be soothed. I hope. I'll let you know how that one goes--Yoda's going to die, and Vader, too, and of course, the Emperor is pretty creepy. But I am confident that the overall success of our heroes will be what stays inside his memory. I hope I hope I hope. But he must see the movie, at least once--this kid needs some closure.
My poor little guy--he is a very brave fellow, overall very resilient, and seems to be fine this morning and I know he will survive all this trauma. But I have a feeling that it will be a very, very long time before we see Empire again in this house.