I've been meaning to follow Adam Ross's Reconfiguring the saga ordering of the Star Wars movies. I was pretty convinced by Adam's original posting, five years ago, and that was only cemented reading Film Nerd 2.0 - Star Wars, in which Drew McWeeny introduced his young sons, Toshiro and Allen, to the saga in that order to apparently brilliant effect.
I had anticipated that my "opportunity" would most likely come in a few years, when the time is right to introduce Conan to "the saga".
Then, however, my lovely wife, Kimberly Rae, admitted that she had, in fact, not seen "the saga", so the schedule moved up. So, we endeavored to begin.
Star Wars - that is "Episode IV: A New Hope", for those of you of such a mind. As promised, here, I showed here Star Wars: Revisited, as I will with my son, and as I would recommend to any newcomer to the movie.
This being the movie I've seen most recently, just over a year ago, as you can see, but seeing it with Kim, you can see what a brilliant adventure machine it is.
The Empire Strikes Back continues its reign, in my mind - as well as that of many, many others, I know - as the sharpest of the series. If anything, its the movie in the series that improves the most with repeat viewing.
So, using our new-fangled viewing order, we take a back-turn to The Phantom Menace.
Back in 1999, I got in a fair number of debates - far more than I'd even entertain now - over the relative quality of The Phantom Menace vs. The Matrix. I liked The Phantom Menance and found The Matrix to be plodding, both we unpopular positions.
13 years and 2 sequels later, defending The Matrix is hardly a popular sport these days, so I could feel vindicated if I was of a mind to.
But then it's hardly like The Phantom Menace has been rethought by movie fans the world over. If anything, it has become conventional wisdom. The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the series and The Phantom Menace is an embarrassing misstep that George Lucas never really recovered from.
In fact, when I wrote In praise of "The Phantom Menace" some time back, "defending" the title, but even then I was hesitant to sound too enthusiastic about the movie itself.
Fuck it! I'm 42 years old. My brain is slowly rotting away with age, so I will never be as smart as I was and I was never anything approaching cool.
It's a weird, dark movie that Lucas tried to cover up by shaving years off the protagonist and upping the broad humor. I see why that didn't help make it make more sense to mainstream audiences. I see absolutely that it would never work well as the first chapter, the opening of the story.
As true as it is that Star Wars is a brilliant adventure machine that is designed to grab viewers and suck them in to its world and care about its people, it is also true that The Phantom Menace involves a lot of wonky political machinations that require you to pay attention, and starts right out by throwing the audience into the middle of a particularly muddy situation, even if it does lead to a pretty kick ass Jedi battle.
This is the reason this order works so well. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back have built so much up, and raised so many fascinating questions that anyone watching is paying attention at this point.
How do I feel about Jar Jar Binks and Boss Nass? I've never hated Jar-Jar the way others do. I can't see I ever will.
I feel bad for Ahmed Best. I imagine the day he got that job, it must of felt like he was joining a special clan and would be set for life, not financially, but in terms of goodwill. He could be like Peter Mayhew and those guys and always be welcome at fan gatherings and signings... and, yeah, sometimes life doesn't turn out like you hope or expect.
I'm just as glad that the Jar Jar levels dropped in the two follow-ups, but he doesn't fill me with the levels of rage he does other viewers.
In fact, while I'm a huge Brian Blessed fan - Prince Vultan, motherfucker! - but Boss Nass bugs me considerably more than Jar Jar does.
As to the movie, I do still think it would make more sense with Anakin Skywalker being 19 years old. Not only does this help make better sense of many elements, it directly mirrors Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and puts that parallel in sharper relief.
Of course, that would have eliminated the need for Qui-Gon Jinn from the story, and not only does Liam Neeson totally rock, but it's cool that Obi-Wan Kenobi shifts from having an impulsive master to having an impulsive student. It makes a lot of his decisions make more sense.
I was very excited by Attack of the Clones at the time. Now, it has some good moments, but it mostly feels like a bridge between The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith, and with John Carter of Mars topping the big Edgar Rice Burroughs arena sequence, it really doesn't have much.
Basically there's just the Yoda vs. Dooku sequence that I like, but the Yoda battle in Revenge of the Sith has more emotional impact and, I admit, The Clone Wars has enough Yoda battling to have made me at least a little spoiled.
At this point, I'd seriously intended to watch The Clone Wars and Ambush, the first episode of "The Clone Wars" series. However, Kim's amazing patience and good humor with having all of this thrust on her at once was showing some signs of cracking.
Not to mention the most basic fact. Kim may not have seen "the saga", she has lived as a culturally aware person in a post-Star Wars world. There are twists that are not a surprise to be drawn out. Bringing that element in was only interrupting the momentum.
I wrote my thoughts on Revenge of the Sith in This is it! seven years ago. As amazing as it is for me to think, this is my first time seeing it since then.
It's also interesting that my opinion of it hasn't changed significantly seeing it again. I think it has some awkward moments, but I think it's an emotionally satisfying movie for me.
One day, the prequel trilogy will be re-evaluated by my son's generation and the one's to follow. I'm less interested in what they will fill up books and blogs discussing and what the relationship with them that he'll bring to his children.
He won't have the anticipation and expectations attached to the prequels. He will have grown up with them as part of "the saga", for better or worse. He will grow up with "The Clone Wars" and, apparently, he will grown up with a series of sequels to follow and who knows what else.
I've openly asked how those generations will evaluate the prequels and gotten overly confident answers that are still based in the prejudices of my generation.
I saw The Comedians of Comedy recently. In it Patton Oswalt does a bit in which he has an imaginary conversation with George Lucas about how the prequels present Darth Vader and Boba Fett as children who experience sad difficulties and he doesn't care.
It's funny, I suppose.
But I can't help thinking that maybe, just maybe when the dust settles people will realize that this may not have been the Star Wars they expected or wanted, perhaps it's more interesting than that.
I don't think it's coincidence that both of those characters are reduced and disassembled by the prequels. I also don't think it was by accident that Darth Maul and General Grievous were built up as the next biggest baddest coolest things and then dispatched.
I think there's something Lucas wants to tell us about the nature of evil. It's not the coolest thing to say, but I think it's interesting.
What I know is that Kim watched these five movies together and enjoyed them all. Without a lifetime of speculation and expectation, there was only a series of fun, entertaining space opera adventures.
I'm looking forward. This is incomplete, of course. There is one more chapter.
I'll be interested to see how this ordering of "the saga" affects my feeling on the final entry.