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May the Force be with you, my son...

Our columnist introduces his 6-year-old to ”Star Wars.” Plus: the saga’s best non-speaking characters, your mail in defense of ”Ishtar,” and more

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May the Force be with you, my son…

Now the circle is complete. And rest assured, it is a really geeky circle.

I was 6 years old when Star Wars came out. It was just Star Wars then — as opposed to the new, not-so-lean, not-so-mean title of Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. I was transfixed, and immediately made it my life’s goal to collect every stupid action figure, no matter how insignificant the character. Star Wars has been a part of my life ever since. I wasn’t dressing up like Dengar and hanging out at Star Wars conventions, mind you — and yes, I just name-checked Dengar — but I did see The Empire Strikes Back a good 11 times when it first came out in theaters.

Fast-forward a few decades. My son, Dale, was born in 2000. I immediately had visions of father and son playing catch and cheering at overpriced sporting events. But what I was really excited about was the opportunity to relive the Star Wars experience with someone seeing it for the first time. Although I tried this once before, with decidedly mixed results.

When my wife, Christina, and I first started dating, she informed me she had never seen any of the Star Wars movies. After spitting out my beer and asking her if she was out of her %&¢#!*^ mind, I set a schedule: three nights, three movies. The good news is, she didn’t dump me. The bad news: She couldn’t have cared less about the films. (Later, when we scored tickets to an advance screening of The Phantom Menace — only the most anticipated movie in history! — she fell asleep 20 minutes in. Not that meesa blame her.) I do have to give my wife serious props, however: Not only did she allow us to give the tables at our wedding Star Wars character names instead of boring old numbers, but she actually suggested it! (Another nice — if super geeked-out — touch? Putting Han Solo and Princess Leia on top of the wedding cake.)

I purposely waited until Dale reached a little over 6 years old to introduce him to the Star Wars universe — partly so he could experience the film at the exact same age I did, but mostly because he tends to get scared easily. He’s still frightened by The Grinch (and yes, I’m talking about the cartoon one, not the live-action version, which actually scares me with its blatant, all-encompassing badness). Now, I know George Lucas claims that the Star Wars films are best viewed in order of episode number, but that’s kinda like introducing someone to the Rocky franchise by having them watch Balboa slug it out in the middle of the street with Tommy Gunn — you’re just not doing anyone any favors with that strategy.

So I fired up Star Wars… sorry, Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope… in the DVD player and let her rip. I have to say, I got pretty emotional, starting with the theme song and opening crawl of floating yellow text. What a life-changing moment. Some fathers teach their sons the ways of the world. Me, I make mine watch a scruffy nerf herder shoot a green alien in the groin. It was so cool seeing Dale experience these things for the first time, just as I did at the same age 30 years ago. At one point, I even came close to tearing up. I tried to play it off like I was just worried that Luke wouldn’t be able get his power converters at Toshi Station, but I don’t think Dale bought it. He seemed confused by my emotional outburst — almost as confused as he was by Princess Leia slipping into a phony English accent whenever in the company of Grand Moff Tarkin.

Of course, Star Wars… dammit, Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope!… was just the first course. Next up is The Empire Strikes Back, clearly the best one in the franchise. Then we will no doubt hit a bit of a rocky patch with the Yub-Yub-loving Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, although their annoyingness will be solid preparation for the intergalactic abhorrence that is Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. We’ll finish it up with Attack of the Clones, which he’s already hyper-spazzing about, just so he can see the massive Jedi-droid battle. But what of Revenge of the Sith, you ask? No way is my 6-year-old ready to see some limbless dude rolling around with charred flesh. I’m also not quite sure how I could adequately prepare him for the cheesiness of watching Darth Vader shake his fists in the air while yelling ”Nooooooooooo!” at the top of his lungs. (Parenting is hard sometimes.)

Of course, I haven’t even gotten to the biggest benefit of going through this coming-of-age ritual with my offspring — the opportunity to bust out all my old Star Wars toys with impunity. They had previously been relegated to an attic closet, after Christina came home from work one day to see a full-size cardboard cut-out of Boba Fett just chillin’ in our living room. (What? Who needs a security system when you have a badass bounty hunter in the joint?) But now voice-changing helmets, lightsabers, spaceships, even talking Yodas and Darth Vader banks are back and taking over the place. Of course, there are drawbacks: It took Dale and his 4-year-old sister, Violet, approximately 13 seconds to break the lightsaber off my original 30-year-old Luke Skywalker action figure. But that is a small price to pay to share the Force with my family — even if eBay tells me otherwise.

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

Survivor: All-Stars was a bit of a downer. And Big Brother: All-Stars was a big letdown, not to mention an oxymoron. So why am I going gaga for the all-star edition of The Amazing Race? I had pretty much left this show for dead after the intolerable family edition, but seeing teams like Charla and Mirna, Danny and Oswald, and even Rob and Amber sprint around the world reminds me why I loved the show in the first place. There’s just something refreshing about watching people running around late and lost in a foreign land and knowing that it is not me. There’s something about watching people not be able to decipher a clue right in front of their faces and know that yes, that happens to others. And there is something about watching high-strung cousins yell at a taxi driver to take all their money — and doing so in broken English complete with nebulously adopted foreign-person accents, as if that will somehow make him understand what they are trying to say. But what makes the Amazing Race all-star edition work when the Survivor and Big Brother ones didn’t? The format. Survivor and Big Brother are games that are based around strangers coexisting in a difficult environment. When you put past players — and now friends — back in the fishbowl, it just doesn’t translate. But the Race is still all about… well, the race. How you get along with the other teams matters less than how quickly you can get to the next pit stop. In other words, it’s still pretty much the same game. Which is why I am obsessed once again.

THE FIVE

Sticking with this week’s Star Wars theme, here are my five favorite Star Wars characters that fail to utter a single line of dialogue.

1) Lobot
A guy with a computer fused into his brain — that’s pretty awesome. He seems to communicate with humans solely through knowing glances and pointing toward doors. Cloud City would be lost without him.

2) Han Solo’s Tauntan
We do hear him squeal a few times before he keels over and dies, but what a majestic creature he was, especially with his guts spilled out all over the frozen Hoth tundra.

3) IG-88
This robot is supposed to be a notorious bounty hunter, but I’m not exactly sure why. He doesn’t seem very sturdy or nimble to me.

4) Kit Fisto
Gotta love a Jedi breaking into a big-ass grin in the middle of a deadly battle, as Kit Fisto does after force-pushing C-3PO in the battle of Geonosis. Plus, Kit Fisto sounds like the name of a killer punk rock band.

5) The Plushy Blue Elephant-Looking Creature in Sy Snootles’ Band
Not even I am geeky enough to know this dude’s name, but I know a cheap costume when I see it.

READER MAIL

For a cinematic punch line, Ishtar sure does have fans who find the film funny for a different reason — the comedy on the screen. The response was downright massive to last week’s ”In Defense of Ishtar” column, with fans writing in to share their support. Unfortunately, just as many people wrote to rub it in my face how hot Hugh Grant is. Let’s get this party started…

Thank you, thank you for finally admitting Hollywood’s ugly little secret — Ishtar is damn funny! The film is flawed, no doubt about it, and it goes downhill bad after they go to Ishtar, but there are so many classic scenes. (”Give me five more minutes, just like the last five minutes.”)… The soundtrack dates the movie so badly, and is terrible. But Beatty and Hoffman are just great. Beatty plays a dumb loser better than any brilliant sex god ever! — Sean Wisdom

Interesting point on Beatty, and I concur. A lot of people dissed and dismissed his performance as being lazy and uninterested, but I find him to be completely engaging, in a dopey sort of way.

There are two things that I remember thinking when I saw Ishtar in the theater(!) 20 years ago. One was how it didn’t feel like I was watching a $40 million movie. Of course, by today’s standards, it NOW looks like a $40 million movie. But the second and most lasting impression it made on me is how I couldn’t understand what all the negative fuss was about. I found many parts of it very amusing and thought Hoffman and Beatty had good chemistry. However, for the sake of full disclosure, I also didn’t think Howard the Duck was THAT bad either. (Note: After catching Howard the Duck on cable a couple months ago, I think I may not have been of sound mind when I originally saw it and have since repented that opinion). — Eric Forry

Yeah, I can’t get with you on Howard the Duck, Eric. In fact, it remains to this day the only movie I have ever walked out on. And I had a puberty-fueled crush on Lea Thompson at the time, so that shows you just how bad it had to be to make me get up and leave.

Ishtar rules!! I saw it in the theater when it came out and have been defending it (er, the first 20 minutes) ever since. Me and my buddy even formed a Rogers & Clarke tribute band here in Los Angeles. As far as not being available on DVD, I took matters into my own hands and bought a VCR copy for $4.95 on eBay, had it transferred to DVD, and can now watch my own custom 20th Anniversary Ishtar Edition from my DVD player!! Unfortunately there is static on some of the scenes since the VCR tape was so old, but somehow that enhances the Ishtar experience. Keep spreading the Ishtar faith — maybe they will make a sequel someday! — Levi Stokes

Wow, that is dedication, Levi — burning your own DVD. The question is, have you been able to get anyone to watch it with you? If not, it’s time for you to plead — nay, demand — that your friends and family take the Ishtar plunge. This is a battle that needs to be waged one viewer at a time. It is a battle of popular opinion, Levi, and we are far outnumbered. But the war has just begun, and as soon as the rest of our troops are armed with DVDs, the tide will most certainly turn.

Dalton, I was hooked on you the very first time I read one of your What to Watch columns back in the day. I wait in anticipation for your Survivor recaps every Thursday and think that The Glutton is hysterical. But I am sad to say that you have disappointed me greatly, and I might have to take you out of ”my boyfriend list,” for dissing my HUGH GRANT. Oh, Dalton, how could you?! I love me the Hugh Grant and will till the end of time. So please take back what you said about him and go watch Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, or About a Boy and see why he is the cat’s meow. If you promise to do that, I will put you back on the ”boyfriend list.” — Tami Mills

Tami, it’s Hugh or me. You’ll have to choose. He may have the looks, the wit, the charm, and the bank account, but I know a dude who has a burned-DVD copy of Ishtar. The choice is yours…

Dalton, you and my husband are in the same boat. He cannot understand my fixation with Hugh Grant…. What can I say? First off, there is the accent. I know it is a shallow reason, but it gets me every time. After years of self examination on the Hugh Grant topic, I figured out that it’s the cad quality. You know he is self-absorbed. Anyone who would let Liz Hurley get away has to be. Plus, he gives no apologies. He is what he is. Knowing that can be very appealing for a woman, since you will always know where you stand. Plus the dancing in Love, Actually was great. Oh…did I mention the accent? — Kaiulani Watson

You know, there’s another reason to hate Huge Grant right there: He cheated on Elizabeth Hurley, perhaps the hottest woman this side of… uh, my wife. Shouldn’t women hate him for that as well, or does that give him some sort of bad-boy street cred? Jeez, you can’t win with this guy!

I too have memories of many of the reality shows you list in this week’s column. However, some of the series you mention bring me pleasant memories, not painful ones. Chains of Love was so-bad-it’s-good (I wonder what The Locksmith is up to these days?) And Boot Camp provided one of my all-time favorite reality TV exchanges…
Drill Sergeant: (while inspecting the contents of a recruit’s suitcase, he comes across an anthropomorphic lemon-stuffed toy) ”What is this?”
Recruit: ”Sir! That’s Mister Lemon! SIR!”
Drill Sergeant: ”Why would you bring this? What is it for? What is its purpose?”
Recruit: Sir! Mister Lemon’s purpose is to provide for a pleasant atmosphere! SIR!” — Nancy Russo

Are you sure you don’t work at EW, Nancy? We were all obsessed with the Locksmith back in the day, and spent many an hour laughing about Private Lemon. In fact, just the other night I got another taste of Lemon when I caught the Boot Camp premiere episode airing on Fox Reality. Yes, I am the kind of dork that rewatches an episode of a lame reality show six years after it originally aired. Take that, Hugh Grant!

Have you watched Star Wars with your kids? Who are you rooting for on The Amazing Race: All-Stars? And what are some of your favorite cheesy reality TV moments? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to theglutton@ew.com, or simply fill out the handy-dandy form below. See ya next week!

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