I just finished something I’ve been wanting to do for years but could never find the time for – I watched all nine of the main sequence Star Wars films in order, back to back.
When I was nine, Star Wars: A New Hope came out in theaters. I was puzzled, then enchanted by the fact that it was called Episode Four – it seemed to promise so much more to come from this amazing universe.
Back then the biggest cinemas in Tucson had only three or four screens, and Star Wars was a blockbuster on an order never seen before. It’s hard to overstate it… it overwhelmed the movie theaters, with lines wrapped around the block for every showing. And it went on like that for weeks and weeks.
For me, a budding SFF lover, Star Wars was something new and epic and amazing. I idolized young Skywalker, and was swept up in the grand tale. I convinced every relative I could to take me to see it, and managed to watch it seven times in theaters in its initial run.
I had all the action figures and most of the trading cards – and yeah, I kill myself for not holding on to them. I had Luke’s x-wing fighter, and eventually even the Millennium Falcon. My cousin Brendan got his for Christmas, four months before me, and yeah, I was super jealous:
When The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters, I was there. I was just twelve years old, so I had to beg to be taken to the theaters to see it again.
I was fifteen when The Return of the Jedi came out. The release day was the last day of school – and my last final exam, and so I convinced my mother to write a letter to the school to ask them to let me take the final a day earlier, so I could see the first showing of the film at midnight with some friends.
I still remember hanging out outside the theater, maybe third in line, while a couple from the Society for Creative Anachronism jousted next to us in chain mail. And for a fifteen-year-old kid, getting to stay up past midnight while seeing one of the best movies of my life was a thrilling foretaste of adulthood.
Folks nowadays probably don’t remember, but Lucas was pretty emphatic that he would not make the other six films, despite the fact that the originals were numbered 4, 5, and 6.
He didn’t relent for over a decade, but finally he gave in, and in 1999 the first of the three prequels came out. I saw one or two of these – I don’t remember now – but by then Star Wars had lost some of its luster. And I hated both of the actors who played Anakin (as a boy and a young man).
We wouldn’t get the final trilogy until 2015, courtesy of JJ Abrams. While visually stunning, they’re riddled with inconsistencies that make the sci-fi lover in me wince.
So what are my takeaways after finally completing a journey I began forty-five years ago?
The First Trilogy
The original trilogy held up remarkably well. The special effects are still really cool, even if a keen eye can detect the slight motion stutter created by the stop-motion animation. And the story was straightforward and full of action and adventure. It’s still the purest expression of the Star Wars universe, IMHO.
It was a bit weird to see additions like the appearance of Jabba the Hut in the first film (Lucas took unused footage from 1977 and had it added in 25 years later with appropriate affects), but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the trilogy.
The prequel trilogy, while beautiful in all its CGI glory, rang a bit hollow for me. Hayden Christiensen’s take on the role of Anaki Skywalker felt wooden and shouty, and I never developed any sympathy for his character, and Queen Amidala had all the spine of a doormat. And of course the chilling echoes of our own time, as the democracy of the Republic is dismantled from within.
My favorite part of these three films? Seeing Obi Wan Kenobi as a young man, courtesy of Ewan McGregor.
The Final Three
And the last three? They were a bit of a mess, honestly. The Force Awakens felt like a direct rip-off of A New Hope – a young, inexperienced Jedi from a desert planet meets a roguish pilot, and ends up helping destroy a planet-killing weapon. And there were a lot of plot holes and discontinuities – like having all the planets stuffed next to each other in space, or people going from one side of the “Starkiller Base” planet to the other, on foot, in the blink of an eye.
And seriously, if you have de-cloaking technology, why wouldn’t you have it turned on all the time?
Like Anakin in the prequel trilogy, I really hated Adam Driver here as Ben Solo / Kylo Ren, and thought his mask was one of the stupidest “looks” of the series.
Still, there were things to love here. The return of fan faves Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Yoda, and others was a welcome treat.
It was great to see a female Jedi take the lead too – Rey was a revelation, and the strongest part of these final three films..
And the way they dealt with Carrie Fisher’s death after the filming of the second film by using previously shot footage for the last one was beautifully done and a proper goodbye for this seminal character.
I actually found the much-maligned The Rise of Skywalker to be the best of the trilogy. The struggle with the dark side of the force, and Ben Solo’s eventual redemption, were both beautifully done, and at last we had an alternative to the ubiquitous death stars from the earlier films.
Still, there were a couple missed opportunities here. For one, I would love to have seen Rey begin to rebuild the Jedi, or something new to take their place.
And the LGBTQ+ representation throughout the films is somewhere between nonexistent and abysmal, despite a brief same sex hug/kiss at the end of the last one.
I wish Abrams had gone for it with Poe and Finn… they had great chemistry, and it would have made such a difference for so many little queer kids like me to have seen something like that when I first watched A New Hope in my formative years.
I’m glad I took the journey. It’s something I wanted to do for a long time – ever since the first three were finally out on VHS – and to see the entire epic run at once reminded me of all the things I loved about the original series.
Have you watched the whole series? What were your takeaways?