I’m a Star Wars fan. I know that comes as a shock to all of you who have read this column for years and heard about my appreciation for Darth Vader’s ability to choke his underlings from a distance and wish to have “The Imperial March” played at my wedding. Equally so, it will be a surprise to those who have listened to Knick Moore and me on the Dorque Podcast as we’ve gone on rambling sessions about his Princess Leia tattoo or my Boba Fett boxers, or my plan to turn my living room into the Rancor room from Jabba’s palace.
People around the world are all atwitter with the excitement over the Force awakening in December. BB-8 toys are being snatched up in droves. Kids in Darth Vader and Kylo Ren masks are parading around pretending that every day between now and Dec. 18 is Halloween. Somewhere, Ewoks are roasting over open fires until they’re a nice, succulent golden brown. Episode VII is coming, and the world is eager for it to arrive.
Back in 1999, before Episode I — The Phantom Menace came out, I was chomping at the bit for a new Star Wars cinematic adventure. Since Return of the Jedi had left the theater in the early ’80s, there hadn’t been anything new Star Wars-wise that one could experience in the true silver screen fashion. Yes, I recognize that the Special Editions came back into theaters in 1997, but they weren’t the real movies. In my heart, Han always shot first. (And don’t even get me started on the DVD changes they made to the already altered versions. Yeesh!)
Somewhere, Ewoks are roasting over open fires until they’re a nice, succulent golden brown.
I’m talking about all this because I’ve done something I’ve never done for any other film. I bought my tickets beforehand. And not just the day before or a few hours before. I got tickets to see Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens a full two months before the movie’s release.
Am I one of the die-hard folks who will camp out for days dressed as Padmé Amidala in front of the theater? No, but I’ll be one of the first to see it. My tickets are for the earliest time possible to see it in Louisiana without owning or working for a major cinema. So, yeah, I may not cosplay on the first night, but I’ll be wearing a “Looking for love in Alderaan places” shirt, or something similar.
I know my Star Wars. I love it. I breathe it. I guarantee you that if I took a quiz on Star Wars at a sci-fi convention along with the other conventiongoers, I’d score in the 90th percentile (85th percentile if you included the expanded universe; I didn’t read ALL the books). I also know that The Empire Strikes Back is the best in the saga. Thus far, anyway.
You may have seen a recent story in the UK’s Telegraph that says Episode III was the best of the bunch based on contemporary reviews. As the British would say, “Bollocks!” You can’t base the overall quality and especially its cultural impact on reviews from the film when it came out.
It is neither critical reception nor purely box office receipts that determine what a movie really means in the long run. If it were just what the critics said at first that mattered, we would have long dismissed The Wizard of Oz as “unimaginative” and let it fall by the wayside.
The survey at the bottom of the article itself shows that somewhere around 60-65% think Empire is the epitome of all things Star Wars.
So do yourself a favor: Before you (inevitably) see Episode VII, go ahead and watch all six films of the saga so far. You can do it in any order you want. Some folks would suggest chronological order, going from Episode I — The Phantom Menace numerically to Episode VI — Return of the Jedi. Some would say watch the original trilogy first and then the prequels; that way, you’re watching them in the order they were released theatrically.
I’ll recommend the machete order. You start with Star Wars (1977), now referred to as Episode IV — A New Hope, then go on to Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back, but before you seal the original deal with the Jedi returning, you go back and watch the prequels. This way, you still get the original trilogy thrill and feel of adventure and you avoid one of the biggest spoilers in all of moviedom. Consider it a giant flashback scene that takes more than six hours to tell.
If you have the feature on your video player to watch movies at 1½ times speed, you use that for The Phantom Menace.
By then, you’ll be glad to get back to Return of the Jedi and learn how all of this comes together (or apart) in the end. I think it really works as a storytelling device, and, if anything, watching Episode III penultimately, and seeing some of the parallels that go on among Skywalkers, makes watching Jedi (or should I say Episode VI — Return of the Jedi) a better experience. You understand more about the path that Luke is walking right before you see him walking it.
And seriously, if you can get the theatrical versions and NOT the Special Editions. That is infinitely preferable. EWOK VICTORY SONG RULES!!!
In any case, I’d recommend that if you have the feature on your video player to watch movies at 1½ times speed, you use that for The Phantom Menace until the point where you see three people wielding lightsabers simultaneously. That way, you make the flick that is generally considered the least of all of the Star Wars films (by contemporary critics and current fans) the shortest, as well. Pull that Band-Aid as quickly as possible!