I never got around to watching Star Wars as a kid. My parents were never big into movies, and so I grew up with an odd combination of books, television, and video games. That pattern continued into my adulthood, even after I left my parents’ house. I more or less stopped reading for pleasure, considering how much reading I have to do in my line of work, but my interest in television and video games continued. I still didn’t watch that many movies, though; there was always one more video game to play or one more TV episode to stream. However, now that I was out from under my parents’ wing, my excuses for not having watched Star Wars wore ever thinner. “I’ll get around to it eventually,” I’d say, as my friends reacted incredulously to the news that I remained ignorant of George Lucas’ oeuvre. Finally, a few weeks ago, I realized that I was a dude in my mid-twenties who had never seen Star Wars, and that was kind of embarrassing. So I sat down and endeavoured to watch all six Star Wars films, from start to finish. Here are my thoughts on the experience, in convenient listicle form, because who doesn’t like listicles?
Oh yeah, it should go without saying that this piece contains spoilers for both Star Wars trilogies.
- People really care about the order in which you watch the films. Conventional wisdom dictates that you should watch the films in the order they were made: start with the original trilogy, and then watch the prequel trilogy. But as someone who knew all the series’ major revelations going in – Darth Vader is Luke’s father, Leia is Luke’s sister, Palpatine is evil – it’s not as if the prequels spoiled later revelations for me. I decided to follow the advice of a friend who said that since the original trilogy is better than the prequels, I should watch the prequels first so that I could end on a high note.
- Ranking the films is pretty easy. 5 > 6 > 3 > 4 > 2 > 1. 5 is excellent. 6 is good. 3 is okay. 4 is bad. 2 is awful. 1 is abysmal. That’s right. 3 is better than 4. Bite me, nerds.
- Episode IV is totally overrated. It’s got thin, interchangeable characters. It has a boring, meandering plot where nothing happens for most of the movie. The pacing is awful. There’s zero sense of scope. And the portion of the film on the Death Star is an interminable slog. I understand that it was a marvelous technical achievement at the time, but nearly forty years later, it doesn’t hold up at all.
- Episode I really is that bad. It suffers from most of the same problems as Episode IV, but without the veneer of basic competence in filmmaking. Plus, the premise that the Federation would go to war with Naboo to force Naboo to sign a treaty is so utterly fucking stupid that I almost stopped the movie five minutes in. And if that weren’t enough, fucking Jar Jar shitfucking Binks. (For the record, I don’t think Jake Lloyd is all that bad.)
- The prequel trilogy is more ambitious, but it falls flat on its face. The original trilogy, as entertaining as it is, doesn’t play around with very complicated themes. It’s basically: “Here are the good guys, here are the bad guys, let’s make shit explode.” The prequel trilogy sets its thematic ambitions a bit higher. Its central idea is that of temptation vs. duty, as illustrated by Anakin’s character arc, but it also wrestles with the notion that authority can be fallible in its supposed wisdom, as evinced by Obi-Wan’s misplaced trust in Anakin. Now, I don’t think that the films are successful at exploring these ideas, since the trilogy doesn’t have anything to say about the idea of temptation vs. duty; it’s a half-formed thematic idea without a clear thematic statement.
- It’s exhilarating to hear iconic lines in context. For people watching the films around the time they came out, there was no way they could have known that lines such as “Do or do not; there is no ‘try.'” would become as often-quoted as they are. But I’ve been hearing that line, along with Leia and Han’s “I love you”/”I know” exchange, for most of my life. It was cool to finally hear them spoken by the original actors.
- I kind of understand why Star Wars is a phenomenon. If the original trilogy only had cutting-edge effects (for its time) and nothing else going for it, it would still be remembered as a cinematic achievement, but Star Wars would have never blossomed into a cultural phenomenon. The original trilogy works because it’s a classic tale of good vs. evil, the kind that almost anybody can latch onto. Heck, there’s even a Dark side and a Light side. It doesn’t get any starker than that.
Though I didn’t much care for the prequel trilogy, I’m excited to see what Episode VII will look like when it comes out in December. It might be a train wreck, but if so, it’ll be fascinating to see others experience that train wreck alongside me.