Every day, new people are born into this world. There’s a good chance most of these people have parents, and there’s an even better chance that their parents watched at least one Star Wars trilogy while growing up. These new parents are faced with all kinds of important decisions during their children’s formative years, none more divisive and controversial than the one I’m going to address today: What order do you show your offspring the Star Wars saga in?* Do you stick to the chronology in which they were made, dictating the order be episodes IV through VI followed by I to III? Or does one honour the ‘logical’ sequence of I through VI? I have come to the conclusion that neither of these billings are satisfactory, and the best solution is to use the zig zag narrative structure popular in today’s storytelling (my theory is that this was caused by a generation of writers heavily influenced by House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ ).
Those stuck with this task can now rest easy, as I’ve done their thinking for them. Come with me as I show you the path and why it must be this way.
Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
The humble beginnings of where it truly all started still has something magical shine through all the seams, as its imperfections make it all the more endearing (I obviously belong to the ever growing contingent of fans that like to pretend the ‘special edition’ versions do not exist). Because it was simple but smart, cheesy but exciting, and made by people that would be thrilled just if it broke even at the box office, it has a charm that none of the others have. But because of all this, it’s also hard to tell if it will stand the test of time with new viewers who are used to a very different kind of Sci-Fi adventure and don’t have the nostalgic associations my generation has with this film.
I’m not sure exactly how much of the story Lucas says he had planned out at this point, but I hypothesize it’s far less than he would have us believe. That being said, it was an unquestionable stroke of genius to have those first flying letters tell audiences they’re about to watch the fourth chapter of a story, showing foresight as well as (can I say ‘a stroke of’?) cockiness on Lucas’ part.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
After seeing the lovable wise old wizard perish part way through IV, what better way to bring him back than with a spot-on performance by the youthful Ewan McGregor. Watching this one next will also make the parallels between Luke and Anakin’s upbringings a little more apparent without giving away the reveal at the end of the episode V, though an astute viewer may pick up on some of the clues.
Try as they may, not even a Fanboys can really capture what it was like to first see this films in theatres. As the most anticipated film of all time, I was so psyched for it that it wasn’t until multiple viewings that I realized most of it kind of sucks. But as they say, ‘wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit’ and that it did. Everything that’s good about this film (particularly the John Williams score) culminates in the what is arguably the best lightsaber fight in the entire series. It’s so infuriating that this climactic fight is continually interrupted by THREE OTHER BATTLE SCENES! That’s just too many.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about the prequels, Phantom being the worst offender, is that Lucas really shrinks the universe by making more connections between the established characters than necessary (ie. Anakin building C-3PO). We all know is that it is set ‘long ago in a galaxy far far away’, but maybe when compared to other galaxies, it’s kind of like a remote, small town that’s really backwards and inbred.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
After viewing Episode I, you’ll probably need to bring out the big guns to keep them in their seats and caring about these characters again. Dante Hicks (as a surrogate for his creator, Kevin Smith) was the first I heard make the argument that Empire is the best Star Wars film. I wasn’t sure of it at the time, but I’ve since come to believe this wholeheartedly. Dante also said give credit where credit is due, and I believe much of the credit for this film’s success should go to screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and director Irvin Kirshner. Not many people know these names, as George Lucas likes to act as though he is Star Wars (and not in the sense that he embodies many of the characteristics of Darth Vader, but that’s an entire post unto itself). I’ll give him credit as a powerful producer and maybe even say he’s a visionary, but the fact remains that the two strongest Star Wars films were the ones not written and directed solely by Lucas.
Seriously though, this is the best Star Wars movie. Hands down.
Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Since you’re leaving them with one of cinema’s all-time greatest cliffhangers and keeping Han Solo in carbonite for a few more movies, you may as well give them the satisfaction of the story behind the big reveal at the end of Empire. And since you haven’t shown VI yet, the end of this film will hold the next surprising development. I would argue that hearing the babies’ names in final minutes of this film is a much more dramatic way to divulge this information than through a somewhat boring conversation between Luke and Obi-Wan in the first half of VI.
This movie really comes down to five words: Hayden Christensen’s stumps on fire. I liken my first reaction to this scene to that of Seann William Scott when Will Ferrell shoots a tranq into his own neck in Old School. Following the other kid-friendly prequels, I embraced the darkness of this one. After all, I’ve never known a child that was afraid of a trade embargo, and in this movie the main character actually kills kids. We finally get a lot of the backstory that original films refer to. It takes its time getting there, but this is the second trilogy’s payoff: all the cool shit that has to go down before Episode IV, making it the strongest of the prequels, the first two just tread water and wait for this one.
Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2002)
Some of you may be wondering why bother reversing II and III? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter where II goes, I’d almost be inclined to leave it out altogether, as nothing of any real consequence happens. Plus I think it would be cruel to go from the best to the worst like that. Perhaps I’m a bit too hard on Clones. To be fair, I haven’t actually watched any of it since the night it opened almost 8 years ago. I was so put off by the meandering romance, animated Yoda flips and countless other crap I’ve blocked out of my memory that I haven’t been able to go back yet. I’m actually very curious to see it again, the only part I remember liking was a badass showdown between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett. Note how McGregor played a part in every highlight of the prequels. If there were to be any future installments in this franchise, my vote would be for Episode Wan.
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
The last chapter and true emotional denouement of the saga. While the Obi-Wan/ Qui-Gon/ Maul three-way may be the most action filled fight, the final installment definitely has the most passion filled. I still get shivers every time Vader’s taunts bring Skywalker lunging out of the shadows, totally losing his shit like the big baby he his, but also kicking Vader’s ass at the same time. Everything gets wrapped up very nicely, and the payoff that appeased viewers of the original trilogy still works for the entire saga.
Now that their SW orientation is complete, they will finally understand what it means when people say ‘party like you’re at an Ewok rave with Lando after burning your Dad’s body.’ I don’t know what those Ewoks put in their drinks, but I hear if you drink enough you’ll see ghosts.
* this situation may also arise with young or foreign girlfriends**
** by ‘situation’ I mean introducing someone to all 6 films, not producing offspring***
*** you should still be safe, foreign girls can get pregnant too