A friend at the office has never seen Star Wars. Any of them. My first thought — as any educated Scottish man’s response ought to be was, of course:
So I made a decree: We are going to watch Star Wars, in its entirety, in the office. One movie a week, one act (or half-act) per day. We will start the first movie on Star Wars Day (how appropriate, right?) and then each month, spend a week watching movies.
My coworker was elated. My friends who’ve seen Star Wars were cheering. And everything was peace and glory….UNTIL I stated which episode we would be watching first.
Oh yes, I did.
Look closer. I dare you.
At this tiny phrase, every Star Wars purist I knew attacked me. “NO! How can you do this! You must show them Episode IV first! Don’t ever let them even SEE Episode I!” And they did that, too. They actually spoke with Roman numerals. You could hear it in their voices. Two people waved their hands at me and said “Episode One doesn’t exist. Stop selling deathsticks.”
But it was no use. The email was sent, the choice made. I contended to them, and I contend to you: the proper viewing order for Star Wars is in numerical order, not the order the films were shot. Here’s why:
For me, A New Hope (Episode Four, or “The Original Star Wars” for you non-purists) is the best of the six Star Wars films. It is the only film of the entire series that is a complete story in and of itself, with a beginning, middle, and end, and no cliff-hangers or unanswered questions, or any reliance on a previous story to know who is what and what the hell is going on. Empire Strikes Back slips and becomes very much a film that requires you know the first story, and that you watch the final story to know how it all ends. And Return of the Jedi feels in many ways like a let-down compared to those two.
The Phantom Menace (Episode One) was the fourth of the films shot — and even though it came some 20 years after its predecessor, it followed that same trajectory downward. It tries to deliver fan-service to the original lovers of the new film. It tries to keep the same reliance on Children’s Stories that George Lucas desperately loves, and– for the first time in the franchise history — it lets Lucas spend *all* of his time tinkering with the film, the effects, and the production values, instead of the story, characters and editing… to great detriment.
In other words, of the six movies in the Star Wars Universe… Episode One is the worst of them all. Which makes it the perfect movie to start with. It still has everything you’d expect from Star Wars: sweet lightsaber battles, intense battles in space, metaphysical wizards with physical and mental powers, and deep, dark evil always a step or two ahead of them.
Great, great, awful evil.
The Phantom Menace broke new ground and introduced the world to fully interactive, entirely digital characters with the beloved (if you were 8 years old or younger the first time you saw the movie) and equally detested (if you were 8 years old when the original trilogy came out) Jar Jar Binks. It had masterful sound editing, incredible effects, and just a lot of really, really beautiful sets and graphics.
Maybe it isn’t the best movie in the bunch (it isn’t). Maybe it’s the worst of the bunch (it is). But it’s definitely 100% Star Wars, and for that reason alone, it needs to be seen.
It sets the stage for things to get better, and better, and better. After seeing the first three episodes in episode order, a newcomer to the Star Wars universe has had a full plateful of jedi, Old Republic, Yoda, and annoying droids. When Episode IV hits them, it will hit them like a ton of bricks.
“WOW! This is like… Star Wars Noir! Obi-Wan is old… Feeble, almost. The droids! They don’t remember any of these people. Luke. OMG. That’s… That’s Anakin’s son! And that’s his daughter! He doesn’t even know who she is!!!”
The story of Star Wars, Episode Four is epic. For people having lived through what the 2000s considered epic, it will be like leveling up and taking their first step into a larger universe. NOW WE HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! What happened to Yoda? Is he still alive? OMG, Yes! Will Luke and Leia ever learn who they are? OMG, Yes! Will they find out that Darth Vader is…. O.M.G. YES.
We were a very privileged generation. The first half of an epic story had been lost, but we got to see the best part of it first. We got to see how it ended. We invented in our heads all sorts of stories and legends about the events leading up to our favorite tale. And then, after cherishing that story for a score of years, we got to see how the first part actually went.
It’s not fair to people new to the this story to force them to start in the middle too — even IF that is the best part. The story is to be told in order, good parts and bad in the sequence that the author wanted them told. So Gorram it, Jar Jar, I’m introducing my coworker to you, and I’m trusting that even after seeing you and…. shudder…. hearing you… she will be intrigued enough by what she’s seen to want to see what comes next.
I know — we all know — that if she watches the next one too, she’ll be hooked. Just like all of us were, no matter which one we saw first. And six films from now, she’ll be twitching, shaking, giddy with glee and excitement at the John Williams score, Mark Hamill whispering “The force is strong in my family,” and Harrison Ford smiling as he says, “Chewie… We’re home.”
December can’t come soon enough. I’m going to make sure my friends are all as eager for it as I am, and I’m starting them with Episode One.
If… Dear friend, if you have not seen the Star Wars movies yet, you owe it to yourself to watch them. At least once. Every single one of them. In order. And you can do it easier than ever before, as the entire collection has been released in digital release for the first time ever, and they have been gloriously produced. Check it out, here.
What do you think? Am I fool, or am I the fool who follows a fool? Which episode would YOU start a newcomer to the series with? Leave a comment below, or Tweet me @Gawainthestout