I would like to discuss what I believe is the unequivocally correct way to watch Star Wars. Every once in awhile you run into someone who hasn't seen the movies before, or only has a vague idea of what happens. Here, many Star Wars fans anguish over whether it is best to show this deprived individual the series in chronological order, or in the order that the rest of the world saw. Essentially, which set of 3 do you show first?
Several issues come to mind here:
- Writing. The originals are better. You don't want to end with bad writing.
- Special effects. The originals are way worse. The prequels have beautiful lightsaber fights and beautifully special effects. Imagine finishing Ep 3, then turning on Ep 4. Not so fun.
- The dramatic revelation of the century. Our whole planet and surrounding star systems know that Darth Vader is Luke's father. There is no way even my generation can know how it felt to see that for the first time in the movie theater (unless you were very very sheltered until you saw it). Yet, it seems wrong to present the story in an order where the audience is informed of Darth Vader's identity as Anakin Skywalker before the big reveal at the end of Episode V. Among other reasons, it makes it harder to empathize with Luke at that critical moment.
- Setting and scenery. Many may like the idea of a structured, ordered Republic shown at the beginning of the Phantom Menace slowly weaken and then massively crumble into the Empire/Rebellion in the originals. Others might prefer to first see the fragmented galaxy in the originals, and then see the "golden age" of the past degenerate into that fragmentation. This may seem like more subtle point, but the visuals are very big deal here.
- Anakin Skywalker. This is his story after all. His childhood, rise, fall, and redemption. I can appreciate the story that ends with the tragic fall of the hero, succumbing to the dark side, being burned alive and imprisoned within a cold suit of armor. That is just a cool concept. This was a beautiful (for some definitions of "beautiful") way to tie up the story for all of us fans. But perhaps keeping in mind that Anakin is the main character could give us a more intriguing way to order the story.
My not-so-humble declaration of the correct order to watch the movies:
4- You get the same introduction that the world got. You build an understanding of the universe with the good writing and setting of the original movies. You put together ideas of what Jedi are, who Obi-Wan "Ben" and Darth Vader are, and their relationship.
5- Luke struggles to pick up the pieces of Jedi training left to him. He grapples with the struggle of having power and wanting to use recklessly. The big reveal of Darth Vader really is.
1- Flashback. Now that you have been told who Vader is, you get his childhood. You follow this kind, innocent youth as he finds his impossible dream of becoming a Jedi. You also see the Republic and the Jedi at their golden age. You get real lightsaber fights, and see the Jedi temple and the council.
2- You see Anakin's impatience with limits and his raw potential. You see the frightening power he has and start to realize that there must be something wrong with the "perfect" picture of how the Jedi run their order, since Anakin does not get the respect, training, and counseling he clearly needs. He isn't the first teenager to go through the Jedi ranks. He's apparently just the most powerful.
3- The fall. You see the Republic fall apart. The so-called Clone War was just a farce, with both sides led by the same person. The Jedi Order falls in the crossfire, and Anakin loses everything to pursue power and attention he had never been afforded by the Jedi. You see the birth of twins, and learn from their mother's own lips that Leia is Luke's twin sister.
6- Armed with a clear knowledge of the past, you can judge for yourself Obi-Wan's explanation of his previous deception. You also are ready for his reveal that Leia is Luke's sister. You see the final confrontation between father and son, and the emperor's presence is carried directly over from the 3rd movie. You see Vader's redemption and the beginnings of the restoration of the Republic. The series ends with the best of the originals' special effects, and the really good writing of the originals. And it ends where story should: a happy ending.
So next time you want to do a star wars marathon, or introduce the series in full to a friend or child, remember: 4,5,1,2,3,6