Watch: Film Nerd 2.0 heads to Skywalker Ranch for a weekend of ‘Star Wars’

It started with an e-mail while I was at Sundance.

I was still gearing up for that festival, a massive drain of time and attention, getting settled in at the HitFix condo and figuring out my schedule for the days ahead, when I opened an e-mail from Fox.

I had to read it several times before I was convinced that they had sent it to the right person, and even then, I had to e-mail them back to make sure.  After all, I had spent over a decade being told in no unclear terms that I was officially Banned From The Ranch.  And yet, here was an invite for Toshi and I to fly up on a Friday night and spend a weekend participating in a press junket to celebrate the release of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 3D.

The first call I made was to my wife to find out how she felt about the idea.  I love doing the Film Nerd 2.0 stuff with Toshi, but he’s six years old, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel like he’s obligated to any of this.  I also don’t want to just make unilateral decisions about travel when Toshi’s involved, and so we talked about the pros and the cons of taking him.  One immediate issue that we both recognized was that Allen would end up feeling slighted no matter what we did, because he’s at that age where he is acutely aware of what Toshi gets to do that he doesn’t get to do.  It matters to him, and contending with that fierce sibling rivalry means sometimes making choices that head the issue off completely.

In this case, once we decided that Toshi could go as long as he had a good week at school, we also decided that we weren’t going to tell him.  I still had nine days of film festival to take care of, and that left plenty of time for things to change and for him to gloat to his little brother.  I figured it would work better as a surprise.

By the time I got home late on a Thursday night, Toshi was already asleep.  I’d talked to him on the phone and never even hinted that he might be doing something special for the weekend.  The next day, his mother took him to school, and the plan was for me to pick him up at the end of the day and take him to the airport with me without any explanation.

Instead, he came home sick.

There was a period of about six hours where we almost called the whole thing off.  Toshi came home with an upset stomach, and he proceeded to demonstrate just how upset about three times in a row.  It’s that little kid version of being sick where he was just fine except for that pesky explosive vomiting thing.  No fever.  No other symptoms.  Just a magnificent impression of Mr. Creosote.

And then he stopped.  He asked for lunch.  He had some soup and did fine with it.  He asked to go outside to play.  And my wife told me that if we didn’t go and Toshi ended up feeling fine all weekend, I’d regret it.  We were going to be in a hotel and sleeping that night anyway, so he’d have more time to recover.

I finally decided to try, and I asked my wife to drive Toshi and I over to the Flyaway.  I took one suitcase, and we each had a backpack as well.  He was confused about why he’d have to have a backpack ready just to drive me to where I was leaving, and then I asked him to get out of the car with me.  I told him it might be fun if he’d come along with me.  My wife told him to have a good time, and he realized I wasn’t kidding.  He jumped out of the car and insisted on carrying the suitcase inside.  He was ready for his trip.

He just had no idea where he was going.

Today’s video diary is footage of us getting ready for the trip out to the Ranch.  We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, and when we got into the room, they had a welcome package of “Star Wars” things for Toshi.  The biggest item they had waiting was a new lightsaber, one for every kid invited to the junket.  They originally mentioned some special guests for the lightsaber combat, but they ended up with a very amiable “Star Wars” uberfan named ObiShawn who was a big hit with the kids.

You’ll see Toshi stand in battle against ObiShawn tomorrow, and you’ll see him sit down with some of the people who helped make “The Phantom Menace” as well as the animated “Clone Wars” series.  It was a lovely first day, and we’ll have that for you this afternoon.

And then tomorrow, we’ve got video of our trip to ILM.  It’s all coming as part of our coverage of “The Phantom Menace,” which you can see in theaters on Friday.