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Episode 4, 5, 6 … 1, 2, 3?

July 5, 2012

As the resident Star Wars nerd of Huttstuff, it was only a matter of time before I once again dove head first into my own unashamed fandom and go in-depth with my favourite movie franchise.

WARNING: to any Star Wars newcomers or individuals planning on watching the movies for the first time, this article and video contains SPOILERS!

I was posed an interesting question the other day: “What order do you show the films to a new comer to the Star Wars Franchise?”

Should they watch them in chronological, canonical order, so from Episode I to Episode VI, or should they go according to the release date of the films themselves (so from Episode IV to Episode VI, then back to Episode I, up to Episode III)?

Some excellent points were made in our in-depth discussion as to why the original trilogy should be shown first, but mainly it boiled down to the original trilogy being better. However, like all these arguments over which Star Wars is the best Star Wars, they are concluded by looking through rose-tinted spectacles.

Now, as more people had watched the original trilogy as a young man or woman and had become enamored with the films, I can understand why people feel the prequel trilogy falls flat, especially from a filmic aspect. As hardcore Star Wars nerds we should understand that we love all Star Wars films, though, and don’t we want to make other people love them too?

For this reason I also agree the original trilogy would be best seen first, not necessarily because I feel the originals are better but because the originals serve as a better platform for which the true Star Wars geek can flourish.

I was lucky enough to have seen the originals back in 1998 on VHS, a year or so before the new prequel trilogy started, and in a way I am rather fortunate. In the originals I was tantalised with rumours of the Old Republic, the Jedi Order and the Clone Wars, all massive aspects of Star Wars lore, and not a year later I was being given all these glorious re-tellings on the silver screen. I gained a lot more by being given the basics in the original trilogy. For exmple, a nugget of information given about Darth Vader’s true identity, Anakin Skywalker, or Obi Wan’s failure to train Anakin and Anakin’s ultimate fall to the Dark Side.

What was Vader like before the mask?

As a child, you end up imagining the rich history for yourself, but with the prequels you are allowed to see the history and the altered perspective they offer. They fundamentally change how you see the originals, but not in a damaging way; compared, say, if you had been given the taste for Star Wars with the prequels first.

While watching the originals, the story revolves around the young Luke Skywalker. His story is critical, as he ends up redeeming the twisted Lord Vader, who sacrifices himself for the survival of Luke and the Jedi Order. How much more dramatic, though, is the scene where Darth Sidious is torturing Luke with force lightning, complete with the son calling out for help to his destroyed and broken father?

Thanks to the prequels, you can look back, right to the day where Mace Windu had Darth Sidious at his mercy, begging for his life. Where Anakin slices through the master’s arm so to preserve Sidious’ life, so he could learn of a way to save his pregnant wife. The day he gave himself to the Sith cause and betrayed his fellow Jedi, for the life he couldn’t save in the end, and had ultimately led to destroying himself in a self-fulfilling nightmare. You saw Vader ponder on his son, his own flesh and blood, one of the last reminders of his beloved wife, finally realising what he himself had become.

Beginnings of a tyrant

By watching the originals, it wets your appetite. You want to see the grand democracy of the Republic, the Jedi in their days of protecting peace and justice, the moment the Jedi are betrayed by Vader and the events that led to Luke becoming the saviour of the galaxy. The prequels give a sense of history and depth to the originals. You find yourself thinking about the moments before the major plot, much like you do when understanding the moments that bought about infamous global events. You see the pieces falling into place, realising your original perspective was far too narrow.

I know the prequels have their flaws, but the originals also have flaws; utimately, they are movies.  To say Episode VI is better than, say, Episode III isnt actually enjoying the tale, it’s enjoying the moment the tale was first told to you, with your childlike imagination and eyes completely overwhelmed by the galaxy and gift that is Star Wars. Personally, Episode VI is my least favourite, mainly because it was much too light-hearted compared to the darker and superior Episode V.

There are major nods to the prequels in the originals … or should it be the originals to the prequels? For instance, the moment where the Emperor taunts Luke Skywalker into striking him down aboard the second Darth Vader seems uncomfortably close to the moment where, on the Visible Hand, the Supreme Chancellor (Sidious) manipulated Anakin into defeating and beheading Count Dooku, the once-proud Apprentice Sith. Does Vader sense deja vu? The possibility that the Emperor will use the prodigal son to remove his father and take his place at the Emperor’s side? Does this motivate Darth Vader to duel his son again, or does it help Vader understand that the Emperor ultimately was just using him to remove the Jedi, just like Luke may now be manipulated into doing for him …

This is why it is wrong to think of the two trilogies as separate. They flow into a single gripping continuity, so perhaps it would be better to watch the prequels, then the originals, so as to maintain the continuity. However, such dramatic moments would lose their kick if you showed a newcomer the films in canonical order, such as Vader’s confession of actually being Luke’s father.

This would be a massive ‘so what?’ moment to watchers seeing them in chronological order, although the line ‘Luke, I am your father’ is dug deep into the cultural zeitgeist that anyone who hasn’t heard it in a referential way must be living in a cave.

After watching the prequels, you see Darth Sidious’ first steps as sinister manipulator. Turning the galaxy on itself, bringing the legendary chosen one Anakin Skywalker to his knees and under the new mantle of Darth Vader, the purging of the selfless Jedi Order and the end of a democracy that spanned millennia. You see how the galaxy falls from a vibrant rich tapestry of life and diversity to a dull, oppressive world lacking colour and independence. Doesn’t this make Luke’s final victory over the Empire give more back to that moment when you realise the Empire is finally over? Is this not the hook that has brought many more fans to the Star Wars Universe? For this reason, I believe you should show a newcomer naive to the Star Wars franchise the originals first, – and wet their appetite for more – and then satisfy them with the prequels. Hopefully, you will have found yourself a new fan.

Image Link: alexandgregory.com, The Official Dave Prowse Website

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