I was this close to a really timely blog post. Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens (technically) today, with showings all yesterday evening (go figure). And were I the post calvin’s 19th-of-the-month person, this piece would have been a review.
But it’s not.
I’m the 18th-of-the-month person, and my post came due just seven hours before my wife and I headed off to Goodrich 16 in Savoy for our 7:00 p.m. showing on Thursday.
So, instead of extremely timely, I’ve decided to settle for passably relevant. And because Buzzfeed and my recent glut of seminar papers have convinced me that lists are a fun and acceptable alternative to essays, I’ve decided to make a short list. A list about the Star Wars movies, with pictures and bits of commentary after each item.
Consider it a primer for Episode VII.
- The new one
In November, Paul Menn offered us a cynic’s forecast of The Force Awakens. This December, I’m here to be the voice of unreasoning enthusiasm. BECAUSE, PEOPLE, THIS MOVIE IS GOING TO ROCK. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be visually stunning, and it’s going to be awesome. And even if it isn’t any of these things—thankfully, the reviews are claiming otherwise—it doesn’t matter, because the collective thunder of a theater-full of nostalgia-neurons firing at once will drown out whatever faults the movie may or may not have.
- The old ones
Recently, my wife and I watched all six Star Wars movies in preparation for The Force Awakens—a feat I hadn’t done in years—and I remember my vaguely alarmed reaction during the credit-crawl for A New Hope.
“I feel like I remember this being better.”
In fact, that was my reaction to the original trilogy as a whole. And while I realize that by voicing this opinion, I call down the ire of the Internet rage-machine, I’ll go ahead and voice it anyway: The original trilogy is good—revolutionary, even—but not great. The characterization tends to be superficial, the story stretched thin. Even within particular episodes, the plot feels remarkably episodic (A New Hope especially).
Sure, I still rank A New Hope above The Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back way above them both; but relative to the sacred cow that movie-going culture usually makes of these movies, my return to the franchise felt, well, a little underwhelming.
- The chronologically old ones, or yousa rememba mesa?
As long as we’re toppling sacred cows, I figure I’ll have a go at another. The prequels aren’t bad. Or at least they aren’t that bad. Yes, they have their faults: midichlorians, Jar-Jar, Hayden Christensen, Jar-Jar, some truly terrible dialogue, Jar-Jar. But more often than not, I get the sense that hating on the prequel films has become a thing unto itself, a way for pop-culture hipsters to assert their pop-culture cred. And the upshot of derision’s (d)evolution into a marker of cultural cachet is that viewers tend to miss what these films do well. The origin story, for instance.
Look: aside from a certain someone’s rather unbelievable transition to the Dark Side, the trilogy does a remarkable job of framing the story to come, and it does so in exactly the material that ten-year-old-me used to pooh-pooh as “boring.” On the one hand, the prequels give us a portrait of the Empire in its beginnings—an Empire that, importantly, does not come into existence when Palpatine declares it, but that already existed in the form of a Republic too-eager to flex its imperial muscles against separatist factions. On the other hand, we get a compelling glimpse of a crumbling, ossified Jedi Order—the police force for a senate that’s become increasingly corrupt. (For those interested, The A.V. Club goes into a much longer defense of these films than I will venture here.)
And as for the exciting stuff. Well. CGI-enhanced lightsaber-battles, anyone?
- The Machete Order
If you plan on watching/rewatching Star Wars before seeing The Force Awakens, or even afterward, give Machete Order a chance. I highly recommend it.
In contrast with the two classic approaches to the Stars Wars films—that is, watching them in the order of their release or watching them chronologically—Machete Order represents a third alternative. Originally from a blog called Absolutely No Machete Juggling (brace yourselves: it’s a long read, but a persuasive one), Machete Order takes as its founding premise that the story of the first six Star Wars films is, at bottom, the story of Luke. Therefore, it recommends watching the movies in the following order: IV, V, II, III, VI.
This revised order accomplishes a number of things. One, for first-time viewers, it preserves a significant twist at the end of Episode V—a twist we lose if we approach the films chronologically. Two, it frames Episodes II and III as a prolonged flashback that contextualizes the aforementioned twist, and explains Vader’s origins. In doing so, three, this order draws out some thematic parallels between The Revenge of the Sith and The Return of the Jedi, by positioning the movies beside each other. Four, provided you’re watching versions of the original trilogy that George Lucas “fixed,” this order accounts for the otherwise inexplicable presence of Hayden Christensen as an Episode-VI force ghost.
And, no, I didn’t forget about Episode I. Machete Order excludes it (not the same as declaring it non-canon, mind you). And while that absence might rankle die-hard fans, I would refer them back to Machete Order’s founding premise and ask, “How important is the story of little Annie, or even the story of the admittedly badass Darth Maul, to the story of Luke?” Plus, the absence of The Phantom Menace resolves certain… other problems with the first movie. I direct your attention to the picture above.
Ben DeVries (’15) graduated with degrees in literature and writing. He and his wife Jes, a fellow Calvin grad, live in Champaign, Illinois, where Ben is looking to add some letters behind his name. On the academic off-seasons, he reads fantasy and works as a glorified “go-fer” at the Champaign Park District. He’s been known to make a mean deep-dish pizza.