‘Star Wars’: A 6-Year-Old Fan Sees the Big Picture and Awakens


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Michael Wilson and his son, Jude, 6, watched “Star Wars” in a screening room.

Credit
Yana Paskova for The New York Times

“Dad,” my 6-year-old son, Jude, began, and I thought, here we go.

“When do I get to see ‘Star Wars’?”

In print, that question reads as cheerful and eager, but in person, it was laced with jaded exasperation, for this was not our first go-round on the matter — oh no. In fact, our family’s evenings had come to include a regular feature from Jude that could be titled, “The Running List of Kids Who Have Seen ‘Star Wars’ While I Haven’t.” The long list now included a girl who lived in the apartment upstairs and a boy from school.

Was Jude ready? I looked at my boy, my sweet little boy who seemingly just yesterday loved a blue train that prided itself on being really useful. I thought of that first “Star Wars” and, in particular, the bloody severed arm of a space alien on the floor of the Mos Eisley cantina. Part of me feared it might be too intense.

At the same time, I didn’t want to wait too long. Jude already knew an awful lot about the “Star Wars” canon without having seen a single frame of film, thanks to something called “Lego Star Wars: The Ultimate Sticker Collection,” an encyclopedic volume geared to young children. It contains biographies and back stories for characters great and small. Han and Luke and the gang get as much ink as Kit Fisto and Nute Gunray and Rotta the Huttlet, “the green, squishy son of Jabba the Hutt.”

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From left, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in “Star Wars.”

Credit
20th Century Fox

And first graders aren’t great about spoiler alerts. One day last month, the father of the girl upstairs told my wife, Kinda, that a boy at school had told his daughter an unfortunate rumor involving the paternity of Luke Skywalker. The boy, it turns out, was Jude.

My father took me to see “Star Wars” in a Buffalo movie theater in 1977, when I was 7. He had no idea what it was about. He didn’t overthink it. Life was simpler then. That was the spirit, I thought — it was Jude’s time.

I looked at our humble television and thought of that mind-blowing night at the theater with my father. There was life before “Star Wars,” of which I recall little of interest, and life since. A seat in front of our television was not where epic memories were made. This cinematic experience called out for a theater.

When I checked in October, I could not find any theater showing the original “Star Wars.” No problem — I looked up AMC’s website and followed the link to “Private Events.”

“Perfect for team-building, customer or employee appreciation and company outings,” it read. Perfect for billionaire hedge-fund fathers, I thought. I scaled back to smaller theaters and picked up the phone.

A manager at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village listened patiently to my pitch: I want my son to see “Star Wars” for the first time on a big screen.

Great idea! he replied.

I promised him we wouldn’t interfere with regular business — we’d show up at 6 a.m. if need be. He said he would need written permission from whatever authorities control screenings of “Star Wars,” and then it would cost the theater’s rate of $250 an hour. Why don’t you invite your friends and their kids and have them chip in, he suggested.

I wasn’t looking to host a party and pass a hat. And besides, apparently those kids have all seen it already.

I called Film Forum — no dice. I emailed IFC Center in Greenwich Village.

“I’d love to do it for my 7-year-old, too,” a manager wrote before dropping the bad news: “I’m afraid IFC Center would be unable to do something without officially licensing the film.”

A colleague at work said screening rooms were a popular feature in new apartment buildings in recent years. I searched Google for “NYC screening rooms.”

At the top of the list was not an apartment building, but a place in Brooklyn, K2imaging. The owner, Karl Mehrer, heard me out.

Great idea! he said. It so happened that he was relocating his business, and this would be a good reason to have the new screening room set up quickly. He normally rented the room to filmmakers to show their work to potential investors or test audiences.

A father-son screening? Mr. Mehrer had young children of his own, he said. This just might work. He described the high quality of his equipment and the dimensions of the big screen.

“What are your rates?” I asked.

“I charge $250 an hour,” Mr. Mehrer said.

Five hundred dollars. I sighed.

He asked, “What number were you hoping to hear?”

I mumbled a number that was much, much smaller. So much smaller I couldn’t believe it when he said yes. We set a date, and I bought a Blu-ray edition of “Star Wars” at Kmart. And George Lucas or whoever, you can call off your goons — Mr. Mehrer later dropped the price to zero after wondering about permissions.

On a crisp Saturday morning last month, Jude and I arrived at a whitewashed old warehouse hard by the Gowanus Canal. Mr. Mehrer led us up crooked stairs to a large loft stacked high with crates and boxes of electronic gear. On the far side of the room was a screen 12 feet long by 5 feet tall, and facing it, a sofa.

Jude, polite but not there to chat, took a seat. I handed Mr. Mehrer the disc. The room went dark, the projector behind us came to life (“A long time ago,” I narrated), the crawl of text began and speakers behind the screen boomed the famous score so loudly a neighbor came knocking.

It was perfect. It had been a while, and I was pleased at how well the movie, and my capacity to be thrilled by it, had held up. The kid in me silently thanked his own father, because he probably forgot to that night. The kid next to me was so rapt he forgot I was there. He scarcely drew a breath when Darth Vader appeared on screen — this was no sticker in a book. He laughed out loud at C3P0’s fussy complaints. He absorbed entire passages of dialogue to repeat days later. And when the bloody arm hit the cantina floor, he didn’t flinch.



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