Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Star Wars viewing experience 2.0

With the exception of the piss-awful prequel trilogy and George Lucas constantly micromanaging and changing things in re-releases, "Star Wars" is a franchise that I have nothing but the highest praise for. It's one of those things that can be considered nearly universal for anyone my age; ask almost anyone, I guarantee you they grew up watching the original movies in some way, shape or form. If I had to pick another national anthem for the USA, I might actually pick the theme music of "Star Wars," the one that blares over the opening title crawls that are unique to the series. But why did I revisit this classic series despite having watched the original movies multiple times in my childhood? Well now that I'm older and properly able to critique a movie, I thought it would be nice to watch the entire series back to back. Then there's this other one I call "the viewing experience 2.0," which I actually did not come up with. I came up with the name, not the watching order.

"Star Wars" is an episodic series with six wait for it, wait for it ... episodes. So generally speaking, we're supposed to watch them in order from 1-6. Well, according to a close family friend, who I will identify as "M" for anonymity purposes, that's only one way to do it. See, M actually made me aware of an alternative viewing order while were both at the Dallas Sci Fi Expo last week. He asked me what the proper watching order was. Logically, I just said "1-6." M then suggested starting off with Episode IV and V as George Lucas intended. It's only after we find out that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke's father that we take a brief flashback to Episodes II and III before concluding with VI. What about I? Well, other than showing how Anakin and Obi-Wan ended up as master and teacher at the very end, "The Phantom Menace" contributed hardly anything of substance to the core storyline as we know it. Of course, this is just one opinion. After all, the only thing we care about is how Anakin became Darth Vader, not Anakin as a little kid who also happened to play Arnold Schwarzenegger's son in "Jingle all the Way" (fun fact there). And for all its wooden, emotionless acting, the events of "Attack of the Clones" got the Darth Vader ball rolling. So essentially, the watching order goes like this: IV --> V --> II --> III --> VI. For the reasons I mentioned above, you can omit I.

And now it's time for a recap. Like I said, this the first time I've ever watched the movies back to back in a fairly short time frame. First time in almost 10 years that I've watched the prequel movies. So let's see what adult me thinks of "Star Wars" now.

A New Hope: Everyone's seen this one more times than they can count. It's arguably the most enduring, beloved tale of this generation. And the most imitated, with varying degrees of success. It still is. The story of Luke Skywalker coming from literally bumf**k nowhere to end up becoming the galaxy's savior is one that has this certain kind of magic, even though the thing that got this ball rolling was the execution of Luke's aunt and uncle at the hands of the empire, which in turn was caused by the not-so-accidental release of two certain droids. Whether you watch it one or 100 times, it won't lose any of that charm. Plus, the performances were all quite solid. And although it wasn't the only time in the series, that first time the Death Star got destroyed is just ... wow.

The Empire Strikes Back: This episode has a reputation as being one of the darkest movies of all time, which incidentally makes it one of the best. When the original trilogy was re-released in the late 90s, I found "Empire" to be quite upsetting to watch. To sum it up, the bad guys won, and all my heroes lost big. Luke lost his hand, Han got frozen in carbonite, and the future wasn't really certain for the rebellion at that point. It's so dark that Joss Whedon is actually using it has an inspiration for the second "Avengers" movie due out in 2015. Revisiting it as a (semi) grown man, that darkness is what arguably makes "Empire" the best movie in the series. All the heroes, especially Luke (after the reveal that turned out to be the greatest plot twist in history), hit their absolute rock bottom and realize that it can't get THAT much worse than how they have it. It's kind of like losing a pivotal sports game. It enabled our heroes to grow as characters and absolutely upped the stakes, which in turn would end up making the conclusion all that more satisfying.

Attack of the Clones: This is where the prequel has its use, as a flashback. We start here after the big "I am your father" reveal because it shows Darth Vader in his youth at roughly Luke's age. First of all, the acting in this movie is just the worst. Although Natalie Portman has gotten better, Hayden Christensen has no emotion or sense of delivery. I've seen more emotion in most action figures, and that ought to say something! The action here is pretty decent, with the big standout being the battles of Geonosis, especially the fight in the arena. Jango Fett is also worthy of honorable mention. The one thing story wise I liked was how the path to the dark side got started. Anakin and Obi-Wan are investigating an assassination attempt on then-Senator Padme Amidala. Obi-Wan ends up playing detective in an attempt to find out who ordered the assassination while Anakin gets left as a bodyguard for Jane Foster/that one chick from "Black Swan." Five guesses as to what happens when a horny 20-year-old who is getting that universe's equivalent to monk training gets left alone with a very attractive and wealthy young lady. Spoiler: it doesn't end well for anyone involved, and you bet he doesn't keep his vows.

Revenge of the Sith: The acting isn't a whole lot better than in its predecessor, but the story and fight scenes more than make up for that. In my opinion, "Sith" might actually be the most action-packed movie in the entire saga. I remember watching it as an eighth-grader and having my entire opinion of Master Yoda change in a millisecond. I mean, I thought the guy was cool before, but he was always this sort of Buddha-like figure. Then we really got to see him kick ass. And if anything, the ending almost makes up the general lackluster quality of the prequel trilogy. Call me corny, but the amount of feels that ending brought, wow. For all his flaws, George Lucas is a hell of a storyteller, and the way he tied "Revenge of the Sith" to "A New Hope" was just perfect.

Return of the Jedi: With our digression/flashback over, we switch back to the present day. The storyline in "Jedi" is a lot more straightforward than the one in "Empire," but I think that may be because of how dark and depressing "Empire" was. By the events of the present, Luke has become a full-fledged Jedi Knight and ass kicker. That in itself is more satisfying and relieving to see after the condition Darth Vader left him in last we saw him. But the thing that makes the last movie in the saga so satisfying is the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The events of "Empire" upped the stakes, and the Rebels definitely fought the good fight here. Only this time they won. Big. As in, the Emperor Palpatine was killed, and the Death Star II was destroyed. And although he spent most of the trilogy as the ultimate embodiment of evil, it was a nice touch to see Vader fulfilling that prophecy they kept talking about in the prequel movies, especially after we saw his origin story. Wow, talk about full circle. Then the final battles on and over Endor and the final duel between Luke and Vader comprised some of my favorite cinematic moments in my childhood. And they still are. Nothing has changed. Nothing at all.

Anything else to say? Not really. I think I've written enough, I really do. And if you're frustrated by how long this post was, well, good. Let the hate flow through you.

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