I did it! I watched the entire Star Wars Saga in one sitting. Six movies back-to-back starting with Episode I and ending with Episode VI. That’s over 12 hours of footage in glorious Blu-Ray on a 50″ plasma TV with surround sound. I learned so much and was finally able to follow everything thanks to the pause button and my friends. I didn’t think I would but I changed my opinions about many of the films. Some films I liked, I liked less and others, I liked more. I guess I learned to appreciate certain films in a way I never had.
Let’s start with my rankings before going in:
IV, VI, I, III, II, V.
Yes. Episode V is last. Here’s a list of how many times I had seen each (in completion):
I: 5-10 (Once in theaters in ’99, several times on DVD, and once more in theaters in 3D a couple of years ago.)
II: Once in theaters in ’02.
III: Once in theaters in ’05.
IV: 5-10 (several times on VHS. once in theaters for the ’97 rerelease, once or twice since on DVD).
V: 1-4 (I owned the VHS, but never got past the first 30 minutes more than once or twice, as far as my memory serves me).
VI: 5-10 (Several times on VHS).
If you’re keeping track, it’s been years since I’ve re-watched any Star Wars. Most recently it was Episode I in 3D. Before that was Episode I on DVD, and before that was Episode IV in college (2008 or 2009). So it’s clear to audiences that I don’t see rewatch value in the entire series and it seems episode I and IV have the most rewatch value followed closely by VI. I think I loved Star Wars for the lightsabers, the spectacle, and the force. Oh and the music. But beyond that, it wasn’t a go-to film for me.
It sustained me for most of my childhood, having watched them countless times on VHS (before I could even remember things). And when the special editions came out in ’97 we got the new VHS set and broke those in (oh the joys of untangling magnetic tape) with a only little more long-term memory formation (the most broken in of those was IV and VI). But by the time college came around a decade later, I had nearly forgotten the plot of all the films (in fact, as of this viewing, I forgot the plot of every movie except for most of I and IV). At some point I learned to love the ideas of the franchise more than the films: lightsabers and the force, Luke as a hero and role model and Darth Vader as a villain.
Episode I came out when I was 12 and it became my favorite of the series. It was the brightest, happiest, most fun Star Wars that I had seen. It had all of the action I desired in a Star Wars movie. Plus, it followed a child protagonist who I could relate to: I loved my mom and had a heart that wanted good in the world even if I didn’t know how to accomplish it. The scenes where Anakin has to leave his mother always hits hard with me. It’s one of the most poignant moments in the entire series. It’s probably because I really loved my mom and could feel the pain my mom would go through if I left her. Today it still hits hard, because I love my mom and know the pain she went through went I left for college and when my sister died. It seems many people didn’t feel this emotion and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t grow up with a similar loving relationship with their parents. It was a loss of innocence story that was fresh in my mind and continues to this day.
Anyway, I probably watched Episode I 2-3 times in theaters, and kept watching it on VHS and DVD. It had Duel of the Fates, Darth Maul, his double-lightsabers, and the pod-race. Having seen all 6 this weekend, I still think it’s one of the best light-saber fights in the franchise. Anything from the original trilogy pales in comparison. Darth Maul’s fight has re-watch value. It has capable actors actually performing with acrobatics and precision speed. Plus there is an emotional bend to it that makes you connect to Obi-Wan and makes you fearful that his rage doesn’t do him in.
So to make a long-story short. I was a weird Star Wars fan. I’m the fan that George Lucas was writing the original trilogy for. A fan who liked the hope, fun, and beauty of Episode I and cared less for the cold dark films of the original trilogy (set in space, a desert planet, an ice planet, and finally a planet with greenery). Having seen episode IV through VI before I was old enough to care about the twist in V, I grew to only like films which offered good re-watch value, like IV, VI, and I for their action and positive, fun attitude. Episodes V, II, and III felt like tragic downers and fillers to get to the triumphant finales of IV and VI. And Episode I joined the group of upper finale films.
Furthermore, by the age of 12 (when Episode I came out) I started watching R-rated action films like: Speed, The Rock, Broken Arrow, and others. Also, by ’99 The Matrix had come out. So sitting on my film rack were those films on VHS and they took priority over the Star Wars franchise when it came to re-watching films because they were much more entertaining. So when Episode II came out in ’02, I was unimpressed (and confused), and when Episode III came out in ’05, I was comparing it to Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Boys II, Snatch, and Fight Club. I was bored with Star Wars.
THAT WAS MY FRAME OF REFERENCE.
But I vowed to put personal prejudices aside and people’s opinions aside too when viewing the saga. I tried to watch the movie as if I were watching it for the first time. I vowed to not be defensive about everyone’s hate toward Jar Jar. I vowed to open my mind about everyone’s love for Episode V. I also vowed to watch the series based on my new written-down axioms of film-making. Things I want to see in movies and things I feel make movies worse and others that make things universally work. I analyzed it from acting, writing, and against the entire arc of the saga. I feel I did a fair job of being honest with myself and it shocked me about which films I ended up liking more than others. And it shocked me how, afterward, I could rationalize myself out of liking films I had a lot of fun watching or how I could rationalize myself into respecting films I thought were boring.
The biggest change for me was Episode III. I was bored the first time in theaters because I couldn’t follow the story, but this time I followed it much better and understood all of the tragedy and clever plotting of George Lucas and the Emperor. The pace was lightning fast, the music was above average, and the action/montages were epic. It was exciting and I was having fun at re-learning all of the twists and turns. There was so much in the movie that it felt like 3 hours of content and story even though it was much closer to 2 hours. I was thoroughly impressed with George’s ability to entangle a plot and present it visually on screen. In the end I moved Episode III up in the rankings.
Episode II also shocked me. I was much more impressed with it than when I left in theaters. The only thing that ruined the film for me and everyone who watched it was the love chemistry between Padme and Anakin. A lot of people really blamed Anakin for the poor chemistry, but Hayden played him perfectly because that’s how he was written. He’s supposed to be a whiny bitchy creeper! That’s the type of guy who turns into Vader. That’s what George Lucas was saying. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman didn’t play it right. Or somehow her transition from “Don’t look at me that way” to kissing Anakin was awful. Awful. She played it too inwardly stoic or emotionlessly. It was as if she had botox. She completely failed to build and convey a character who would fall in love with Anakin, but it was totally doable and this is the character: a sexually-repressed overwhelmed leader incapable of dating due to her responsibilities, and a broken woman who gave Anakin her virgin love, because of his admirable, yet creepy relentless love for her. She was someone who threw caution to the wind on her “vacation” at Naboo and decided to indulge in a summer fling with Anakin. Yet like many women, once she opens herself to sexual feelings to another man that she feels is unqualified of her love, she often times justifies her actions by trying harder and harder to convince herself that the man she let kiss her is actually a good and dateable person. I’ve seen this in so many real-life tragic relationships, where a man sleeps with a girl on a one-night stand and instead of the girl accepting the fact that she was just as slutty as the man (confronting her guilt), she tries to continue the relationship and find the good in the guy. That was all there in the screenplay, but somehow Natalie missed all of that. And she failed to convey it on screen. Blame the director? Possibly. But don’t blame Hayden. Hayden was a believable angsty kid who shoots up a schoolyard because he can’t get his childhood crush to like him instead of the jocks. Anakin was relentless, though awkward, at getting the girl of his dreams (kind of how Jack broke down Rose’s wall or Ryan Gosling stalked Rachel McAdams in the Notebook, only Hayden wasn’t as beautiful as those people). Fortunately, Anakin got the girl instead of shooting up the schoolyard. But in a way, he still shoots up the galactic schoolyard by joining the dark side.
So bad acting aside, I thought the story was well-written.
Episode I also surprised me. I was left feeling a little cold which I’ll explain in a minute, but I also couldn’t help laughing at Jar Jar. I didn’t hate him at all, I just laughed at how ridiculous this character is. And in no way was he written as a secret Sith he was written as the insignificant character whose good heart and selflessness reunites a planet in a fight against the droid army. The beginning of the Duel of the Fates got me nervous because it was only an okay sword fight, pretty boring. It wasn’t until Qui-Gon was bygone that the fight escalated and became an amazing choreography. Furthermore, I realized I’m a sound-and-visual person. Because the podrace was once again an eargasm of sound effects and eyegasm of special effects and fast action. I continue to enjoy it even though it doesn’t deserve to be 10 minutes long and was completely deleteable.
That said, I’ll attempt to explain why the original trilogy was more engaging than the prequel trilogy. Simply put:
THERE WAS NO PASSION.
In the prequel trilogy the apparent protagonists (the character(s) we follow and whose decisions/actions push the story forward) were the Jedis and Anakin. For the first 20 minutes of Episode I our protagonists were completely untouchable (emotionally) characters: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Two leads who completely controlled their emotions and were unphased by encounters. They didn’t shit their pants nor flip out on each other. They were perfect heroes, which to many are boring. To me as a kid, they were role models. Unfortunately, from a film-making, story-telling stand point, it feels cold. They have no strong passion for anything, nothing we can empathize with. Even Padme/Queen Amedala was forced to be emotionless because of her political position. In fact most of the players in the play were political. We were watching Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fight the oil industry (trade federation) through politics. When Anakin shows up, he’s the first character to be emotional and if you watch his emotions you begin to see a character who was fearful and beginning to doubt the good in the universe but never giving up completely. He was willing to help and he put his life on the line for the greater good of the noble Jedis. But his strong will and uncontrollable emotion led to his turn to the dark side.
In Episode II and III we follow a new Anakin, an anti-hero who is annoying and whiny and one we know turns to the dark side. But he’s not someone we’re rooting for anymore, he’s someone we roll our eyes at when he says things and when he gets the girl.
In Episode III at least we see the tragedy of Anakin come to light, but the journey wasn’t enjoyable.
But I feel the biggest problem of the prequel trilogy is that it’s a mystery story and a puzzle piece story. It runs on the principle of what is going on? And why are these things happening? It puts our protagonists in the position of reacting to the plans of some mastermind instead of making their own destiny.
And that leads to the true problem of the prequel trilogy:
In the prequel trilogy, our protagonist (the character whose decision move the story forward) was the phantom menace (Darth Sidious). His actions set everything in motion. Aside from some sort of cosmic fate that the Jedis find Anakin in Episode I, the story moves forward because Darth Sidious is taking action and the Jedis are scrambling to understand events and find the mastermind.
Compare this to the original trilogy where Leia is being hunted because she has plans to destroy the Death Star and our heroes journey to return the plans to the Rebellion and save the day. This is followed by the sequels which essentially also revolve around the Rebellion and destruction of the Empire. The motives are clear. There is no mystery. Furthermore,
The original trilogy has a clear villain and clear heroes. The prequel trilogy has a mysterious villain (Darth Sidious) and a broken tragic hero.
Also, the prequel trilogy was a tragedy while the original trilogy was a triumph. If the prequel trilogy worked right, then the hero we’re supposed to empathize with in Episode I turns to the dark side by episode III. It’s a tragedy by design which is the exact opposite story of the original trilogy, where the protagonist fights temptation and ends up turning evil good. So at best you’re left in a dark, bitter place by the end of Episode III. That would actually make IV slightly more triumphant, but we still have to wait 3 more hours until Anakin (as Darth Vader) turns good again. And all of a sudden we’re following a different cast of protagonists.
At the end of the 12 hours. I came to realize that none of the films are worth rewatching. Because they’re all equally important on the tragic arc of Anakin. In reality, Episode IV through VI are only to complete the arc of Anakin, but why then focus on Luke and his friends? And if you think about it more, the only point of episode V was to put Han in danger, reveal that Darth is Luke’s father, and start Luke’s training into a Jedi. In my opinion, if you got rid of Han’s story-line (from Cloud City to Jabba’s palace) and put the other two plot points into the beginning of Episode VI then you would have a much tighter, less meandering story.
However, the greatest part of the original trilogy is that you were following flawed humans and watching them grow into heroes. And when you have flawed humans, you have more fun, more visibly passionate characters. People can be assholes to each other and it’s okay because they’re not supposed to be perfect like Jedi yet. So eliminating Han’s arc would eliminate some of the charm about the original trilogy. The films were about the group of friends, the camaraderie among our flawed heroes. They were just like us, and trying their hardest to do the right thing. Hans’s arc was from scoundrel to hero. It’s supposed to say that people can change and even though you may be a smuggler, it doesn’t mean you’re unredeemable or not a product of your bad environment. This story arc makes Han shooting first so vital. He’s not supposed to be likable. It’s ironic that George tries to quell the exact reason why people like Han. It’s because people like people who take action, have a goal, and go after their vision with any means necessary (even murder). That’s why Indiana Jones works, he never gives up on his quest for the Ark of the Covenant (or Holy Grail).
Anyway, I’m glad I watched the complete saga. I have incredible respect for George Lucas to have created this whole thing entirely on his own! There are incredible cinematic feats and tragically bad acting along with fun acting. How Lucas crafted Darth Sidious’s rise to power is absolutely genious. It’s realistic, believable, and an allegory for the dangers of our current and past social structure. It’s a warning tale. It shows just how knowledgeable Lucas is about life and society.
Unfortunately, it’s too long for me to rewatch enthusiastically. However, I hear there are “Phantom Edits” of the prequel trilogy and shortened versions of the films. So if there was a two hour version of each of the trilogies, then I may just watch them. I know there is a two hour version of the prequel trilogy, I just hope there is a version of the original trilogy that gets rid of the boring\unnecessary parts of V (Hoth, Degobah) and VI (Jabba’s palace). Maybe even tightens all of the Tatooine scenes in the original.