By Patrick Young
When my girlfriend told me she had not seen Star Wars, I was met immediately with a profound predicament: where do we start? My fear of outright objection to watching the films was thankfully diminished, but it was replaced with the pressure of selecting a watch order that will ultimately make or break the experience for her.
In what might be the most controversial way to show her these films, I ultimately went with the story-chronological order (not including the spin-offs), starting with the Prequels, followed by the Original Trilogy, and then ultimately the Sequels; every week, we will watch a film until we have finally watched them all.
This was not an easy decision, it primarily being a determination of when she becomes exposed to the Prequels and whether or not that includes all three. Star Wars fans since the release of Episode III in 2005 have debated what is the proper watch order for the series. Jamie Greene and Dan Zehr wrote a piece for the official Star Wars website offering their preferred methods to watching the series in their article “From A Certain Point of View: What is the Best Star Wars Viewing Order?” Greene is a traditionalist when it comes to Star Wars, watching them in the order that they have released in, that being the Original Trilogy, the Prequels and then the Sequels. This is the definitive format Greene argues, not just because it’s the way the majority of fans have experienced the movies, but because it just makes the most sense; starting the story in media res and then ultimately contextualizing with the Prequels and Sequels is a comprehensive and fulfilling way to watch the movies. Conversely, Zehr interjects in media res more sporadically throughout their watch order, opting to do what fans have come to term the “machete order,” where after watching Episodes IV and V, you return to Episodes II and III (skipping Episode I), and ultimately return to Episode VI and the SequelsTrilogy (Jones). By watching it this way, the big revelations of Episode V: Empire Strikes Back are preserved, the context provided by Episodes II and III about Anakin Skywalker is given more weight, and the “worst” of the Prequels is avoided in the omission of The Phantom Menace, Episode I.
I considered these supposedly definitive watch formats and generally discussed them with my girlfriend. As I was talking though, I could see her eyes grow wide in dread at trying to manage everything––I was losing her.
So I began reflecting on my own experience with the franchise: I was shown the original trilogy when I was about 5 or 6, followed by the Prequels, with Episode II being the first Star Wars movie I remember coming out, and being so excited for all the new films in the last decade. Obviously, I remember liking the Original Trilogy, but it wasn’t until watching the Prequels that I fell in love with Star Wars––the amazing lightsaber duels, the incredible music, the sprawling universe, amongst other things. The Prequels are the era I have come to associate the franchise with, in the same way that older fans adore the Original Trilogy and the kids watching the series now will likely identify with the Sequels.
At the risk of crashing the plane before it even left the ground, I knew we had to start at the beginning of the series numerically. Besides, she already knew that Darth Vader is Luke’s father and that Luke and Leia are twins––let’s start with something she hadn’t seen before.
The reputation of the Prequels has fluctuated in the past twenty years. Upon release these movies were panned for their over-reliance on CGI, the egregiously bad writing and dialogue, the directing (or the lack thereof) and the questionable lore decisions that retroactively changed the rest of the franchise (Midiclorians, anyone?) In recent years though, as Star Wars content was being produced by Disney, pointedly the disappointing Sequel Trilogy, fans started returning to the Prequels and seeing the positives that had been squashed under the negatives. When watching the Prequels, for better or worse, one can tell that these movies were made by a man with a plan, wanting to sew together his sprawling universe. Say what you want about George Lucas but Star Wars will always be his child and if he wants to do something, he is going to make sure it is fully actualized. The worlds the characters travel to, the costume design throughout, and the set pieces take the limited universe we saw in the Original Trilogy and expand it like we had never seen before. Even the qualities that were ridiculed, like the cheesy dialogue and overdelivery of certain lines, have come to be sources of enjoyment on subsequent rewatches, the films having transcended into the realm of memes. (Just take a stroll through r/PrequelMemes to see what I mean.)
So how did it go then? Well, I’m happy to say that we’ll be watching Episode IV this week! To my relief and definite surprise, she genuinely liked the Prequels, enjoying each one more than the last. The low points were probably the abundance of space politics, which made the films generally pretty confusing at times, and a seeming pointlessness to the majority of Episode I and some of Episode II. She feels at times the movies can just barrage you with information without really much context or understanding of its importance. Conversely, she loved R2-D2 as a whole, Obi-Wan Kenobi as a whole, and the fairly consistent use of comic relief. Furthermore, the plot twists and destruction of everything established by the first two films in Episode III left her jaw on the floor many times.
For me, I’m interested in seeing how her opinion of the franchise changes as we move into the Original Trilogy. In many respects, the worst of Star Wars is already behind us, but at the same time, these films I think are very different from the Prequels in both format and tone. Either way, I’m excited to be on this journey with her and am thankful to have a girlfriend that at least gave this crazy space opera a try.