WELCOME to the Season to be Jolly. Let me be the first to tell you that if you are the parent or relative of a boy under the age of 9 or so, you are going to need every inner resource you possess during the next five weeks to remain jolly. "The Empire Strikes Back" has struck again.

Last year it was "Star Wars" that sent millions of sane, intelligent American adults traipsing through shopping malls at Christmas time in search of three-inch-high figures with names like Han Solo and Greedo and See-threepio, and, of course, all they could find for their efforts were a bunch of Princess Leias that nobody wanted because what little boy wants to play with Princess Leia. Some of us picked up Princess Leia anyway because we hadn't been able to find any of the other 10 figures on the list and she was better than nothing. At least it showed we tried. As Christmas got closer, money became no object. Who among us didn't gratefully pay up the $15 or whatever it cost when we found the last Death Star Space Station on earth in a battered box under a stack of extraterrestrial junk nobody wanted because it wasn't from Star Wars. It was only slightly easier to find a millennium falcon in the stores, presumably because they cost around $25 and who wants to plunk down $25 on a millennium falcon? That's a ridiculous price to pay for a child's toy, right? Right. And who among us didn't go ahead and clutch it to their bosom all the way out of the store, guarding it like a robin pulling a worm out of the ground, lest some other parent come along and snatch it from our grasp?

This year, I decided to start early. No more waiting until December to shop for Christmas. This, as we all know, is an annual resolution much honored in the breach, but it is nevertheless one I vowed to keep after seeing the resident 5-year-old's Christmas list. Christmas, it was clear, would be nothing without some of the various space stations, planets, snow vehicles and space vehicles, and weird creatures that starred in "The Empire Strikes Back," and specifically, Christmas would be a disaster without Tauntaun and Yoda.

So I called my friend Claudette. She is, among other things, the mother of a 7-year-old who is a trendsetter in the neighborhood when it comes to toys. It was Claudette who first told me that the strange sounds my son was making two years ago were actually the words "Darth Vader," and that he was a wicked lord who rode around in space in a thing called a Death Star Space Station, which you could have gotten a terrific deal on at Toys-R-Us if you'd done your Christmas shopping in August. Claudette does her Christmas shopping in August. By catalogue.

"You want a Yoda? Good luck. I haven't seen one of those in the stores in months. I have a friend who found some Yodas in a store in Chantilly a while ago and she bought five for all the people she knows who would be needing them."

"I really don't want to go all the way to Chantilly for Yoda," I said starting to feel the same panic I had last Christmas when there were no Imperial Stormtroopers to be had in the entire Metropolitan area. "This is getting ridiculous."

"Isn't it?" said Claudette. "A man at one store was telling me that he got a shipment of Yodas in and put them out on display and there were 200 of them gone in two minutes. And I know there are some things that are sold out now and they're not even getting any more in before January. The only way you're going to find these is by being there when they bring out a new shipment and, of course, there's no way of knowing when they're going to do that."

Claudette was hardly encouraging. I started going through the Sunday paper to see if there were any Empire Strikes Back toys advertised. You never know, right? And lo, right there in the Sunday inserts was an ad from a store claiming that it was going to have Yodas and Tauntauns and a couple of other things in their stores from then until mid-December. At a discount. What luck, I thought, rapidly dialing their number.

"We had them this morning," said the toy department lady, "but we're all sold out. We're going to be getting shipments on Wednesday and Fridays." Well, I'd heard that before.

"Are you really going to be getting shipments or is this just a line?" I asked.

"Well, we're supposed to."

With that, I sat down and crossed my fingers and placed an order for a variety of "Empire Strikes Back" toys from a store whose catalogue department claimed it had not run into any shortages. Yet. It is not a store that carries Yodas, however, so I have no idea how we will handle that.

But it turns out that Claudette's Yoda problem is worse than mine. Her litte boy has come to the Age of Suspicion. She has confronted the situation in the usual smart, adult fashion, which is to say she is obfuscating and hoping for the best. Her little boy, however, has devised the acid test for Santa. He has decided that he wants Santa to bring him a large Yoda, and he has apparently decided this with the full knowledge that the toy manufacturer makes only a miniature Yoda and that the large Yoda is a creature that cannot be purchased by his parents in any store on the face of the earth.

"He has decided," said his mother with a slight edge of hysteria in her voice, "that if he gets a large-size Yoda then there is a real Santa. And if he doesn't get a large-size Yoda, then there isn't a real Santa."

Good luck, Claudette.