The Case for Watching The Phantom Menace

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:

2000px-Star_Wars_Logo.svg[1]The first time I saw this, I swear to God, there was NO “A New Hope” on the scroll.

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.

luke-vader-the-biggest-star-wars-plot-holes-and-the-fan-theories-that-explain-them-jpeg-142712[1]That’s impossible!

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

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Boldly Go, Leonard

I never met Leonard Nimoy. I am quite certain he never once heard of me, nor knew I even existed. And yet today, when I learned of his passing, I wept. Sitting at my desk in a office full of people, I was openly sobbing at the deep, painful sense of loss that pretty much wrecked me for the entire day. I would imagine that Nimoy wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I believe firmly, though, that he knew it would happen, and had learned to accept that with the grace and dignity that he brought to everything he did.

In truth, the only thing I know Nimoy for is Spock. When he died, Spock died. No mistake, Zachary Quinto has done a fantastic job making the role his own, but just as Moses will always be Charleton Heston and Rooster Cogburn will always be John Wayne, Spock will always be Leonard Nimoy. I ache knowing that I will never again see him on screen. I hurt knowing that a vital part of the culture that I based my life on is gone. It points the way to my own mortality and reminds me in its insidious way that I am not ready for my demise yet.


Spock was the perfect combination of intelligence, reason and logic, tinged with just enough humanity to make it matter. He was always calm, cool and collected, yet able to make the right choice not just because of his brain, but because of his reasoned analysis of human emotions. When he died at the end of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, he did so because his sacrifice was necessary, because doing the right thing sometimes meant giving more than you could. There have been few better deaths in Science Fiction cinema.

John Siegel and I got into a fight once, back in 5th grade. A real throw-down brawl that ended with me on top of him, holding his arms pinned at his side, trying to stay there like a cowboy riding a riled up bull for all he’s worth. “Don’t make me get violent,” I said, calmly, it being the only thing I could think of to say, but it worked. Johnny relented, I let him up, and we became best friends. He later told me that the thing that scared him the most was how I hadn’t shown any emotion during the fight. Like a boxer intent on a task, I had just worked methodically for an advantage and victory. He said I reminded him of Spock. The comparison stuck, and many friends through the years noted the similarity.

Which is why, I think, Nimoy’s death hurt harder than others. It wasn’t just that he was Spock. It was that I was Spock too, and when he died, I died too.

Nimoy carefully crafted the character of Spock in later renditions of his character. In the television series he was a science officer and a nerd. In the films he became a philosopher. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came, he had transitioned into an ambassador for peace. With the new movie reboots he was carefully positioned as a mentor. As Nimoy matured, Spock did too. The wisdom he gathered on earth found a place in the stars traveled to by the starship Enterprise.

At the end of Star Trek 2, Spock put a part of his soul into Dr. McCoy, who later used that to bring Spock back to us, because the universe still needed that wisdom. I believe that Leonard Nimoy put a piece of himself in all of us who loved him and loved his green-blooded Vulcan. As long as we remember him, remember to always try to balance rationality with emotion, remember that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, he will always be right here with us.



Live long, and prosper.

Peace, and long life.

And boldly go where none of us have gone before.


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The Road Trip That Wasn’t: Day 67, 2/19/2015, New Orleans

Oh no!

We missed Mardi Gras!


It’s not a long drive from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Just about an hour and a half on the battlewagon of RoadTrippers everyone: ye olde I10. Unfortunately, when I planned the trip, I’d just presumed we’d miss Mardi Gras, thinking it was later in the year. To find out we were two days too late makes one go “Ahhhhhhhhh, dangit.”

Still, we had a lot of great stuff planned for the next few days, the first being hanging out with my parents, who had already been in town for Mardi Gras and now awaited us because today’s Mom’s birthday! I wasn’t as surprised to find that they’d gone to one of the best Krew parades in the entire festivities, but that my mom had collected something like 1000 bead necklaces! (Pervs, it was a black tie parade. This particular set of floats awards all women with beads, not just the randy ones.)

Mom and Guys with Beads

The kids loved seeing Grandma and Grandpa, and everybody shared their adventure stories. “We saw petrified dinosaurs!” “We went on a New Orleans Cruise!” “We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!” “I got beads!” “We saw petroglyphs!” “We got fell out a window!” Then we packed into Dad’s Trailblazer (that thing has enough miles on it to have done my road trip 5 times over) and went out to dinner.

We picked Brennan’s Red Fish Grill. Ralph Brennan is one of the most famous restauranteers in New Orleans, and owns a half-dozen or so classy joints all over town. We had a lot of fun, shelled out a ton of money, and gave mom a party almost as worthy as one more night of Mardi Gras.



Fat, fed and happy, Mom and Dad dropped us off at our RV, and we said our good byes. We’ll see them again in a few weeks when the Road Trip takes us by their home. We tucked the kids into bed and then sat up and talked about our next few days’ itinerary. New Orleans is an energetic powderkeg of fun, even when it’s not partying its brains out.  Happy birthday, Mom! See you again next month!

We were (not) in New Orleans, Louisiana on 2/19. Can you guess where we’ll (not) be on 2/26? There’s a $5 bounty for the first person to guess. All you gotta do is comment below with your guess before midnight tonight. Winner announced when the 2/26 post goes live.

(The Road Trip That Never Was is a fictional account of a year-long road trip I am (not) taking across America. Follow my nomadic journey by subscribing to the email feed on the top right. It’s fun, fast and free!)






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The Road Trip That Wasn’t: Day 66, 2/18/2015, Baton Rouge

Well, I wanted to have this post start with Garth Brooks’ song “Calling Baton Rogue” but it seems like his record company didn’t like it being on Youtube, so I can’t. Sorry Garth. Sorry, Internet. So instead, here’s a picture of an alligator sunning himself on a log.


That’s right. Today we’re headed to bayou country: Louisiana. I’ve never been here before, so this is all new to me. If I get anything wrong (since this is an imaginary road trip), PLEASE let me know, in email ( or comments below. Our first stop? The capital of Louisiana, Baton Rogue.

Just a five hour drive from Galveston, we made our way across the southern edge of the United States east on — you guessed it! — good ole I10. It was definitely much, much colder than we’d had in a long time. The winter in the Southwest had spoiled us somewhat. Today didn’t promise to get much beyond the low 50s… and it didn’t. But, it was dry at least.

When we pulled into town, the first thing we looked for was the Capitol building, as we do in every state capital we’re visiting on this trip (see them all here). BAM! For the first time ever, we saw not a fancy traditional dome, or Southwestern-syle building, but a freaking French Castle. I’m serious! I expected Bobby Jindal to strut out of this building muttering “What is Count Richelieu plotting, and where are my Musketeers?”

1280px-BatonRougeOldCapitolBuildingWestFascadeStepsKaminsky[1]pic by David J. Kaminsky, HAER Photographer. Thanks, mate

Haha, just kidding, kind of. That was the Capitol Building for Louisiana until the 1930s, when the new one was built, and it looks more like a traditional Federal Building than anything else to me:

mc22[1]There’s a penthouse on the top floor where Zuul hangs out during Mardi Gras.

 Boy, Baton Rouge has had its share of political hijinks too. The governor was assassinated here in the 30s. The Senate building was blown up in the 70s. And, of course, now that I’m in the South — for much of the next several months, I’ll be travelling through areas with actual battlegrounds, where men bled and died in huge numbers to make America what it is today. When we saw the Alamo a few days ago, that marked the beginning of this part of the American History lessons for Stephen.

We fueled up the RV, refilled the propance, and did all our grocery shopping while we were here. Tomorrow we’re in New Orleans in a very swank RV park. The wife doesn’t want to spend any time doing mundane things: it’s Mardi Gras!!! So we took care of all our business here. Tomorrow is almost my mom’s birthday, and she said she’s going to meet us there, so that should be a lot of fun! I hope I see you there tomorrow too! Please add your email address over there on the right and you can get notified every time a new entry is posted.

We were (not) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on 2/18. Can you guess where we’ll (not) be on 2/25? There’s a $5 bounty for the first person to guess. All you gotta do is comment below with your guess before midnight tonight. Winner announced when the 2/25 post goes live.

(The Road Trip That Never Was is a fictional account of a year-long road trip I am (not) taking across America. Follow my nomadic journey by subscribing to the email feed on the top right. It’s fun, fast and free!)




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