Hi, my name is Keith Nelson Jr. I’m 29 years old and I have never seen a single Star Wars film.
That’s what I told my coworkers at Digital Trends a few weeks back. The air went out of the room. Everyone gasped in disbelief, then proceeded to viciously laugh and pepper me with questions. Yes. I breathed air for 29 years without watching a single second of George Lucas’ space fever dream. All I knew about Stars Wars at that point were glow in the dark swords and daddy issues. This was unacceptable. Like a Sith master and his apprentice (I think?), they sought to bring me to the dark side.
For the last week, I was force fed all the Star Wars movies I could handle, and in the fanciest, most modern way possible. Yep. I succumbed to peer pressure, partially to shut my coworkers up, but also to finally find out what all the fuss has been about for the last 40 years. That’s right, 40 years: the first film in the Star Wars franchise was was released on May 25, 1977, exactly 40 years ago today. So to come to grips with this thing, I watched the series in the new modified machete order. It’s an overly complex, out-of-order way to watch the franchise, likely created by someone with too much free time … and who may or may not understand that all of this is fake.
I started with Rogue One, zipped through Episode IV and V (A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back) before rewinding time and hitting the two final prequels (Episodes II and III, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith), then Return of the Jedi (Episode VI). Finally, The Force Awakens during which I entered a state of delirium. We skipped The Phantom Menace (Episode I) because it was agreed the film is unnecessary torture. What is it with Star Wars fans and the order these movies are watched? I need a movie just to understand it all.
I sat down in front of a fancy, 65-inch 4K TV with one question in mind: What the hell is Star Wars? I quickly learned almost everything I thought I knew over the last 29 years was wrong.
The force shines strongest in Episode III
I’m going to get right to it: As a new watcher in 2017, Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is my favorite Star Wars film, and I’m ready to throw down Ron Burgundy-style fisticuffs to defend it — which I may have to do, judging by the reactions I’m getting.
How is a film with non-stop action, the most profound dialogue from George Lucas, and the saddest end to a lightsaber fight in Star Wars history not the best one? Revenge of the Sith has it all. Even Yoda, the character my friends and I joked was a geriatric, feces-colored ragdoll, had me imitating sword swiping in the air trying to will him to defeat the chancellor. The Empire Strikes Back, my second favorite of the bunch, has the more expansive scope and better talent, but Episode III has more fun. I like fun, don’t you?
I have seen the light, and it’s gorgeous
Even if you Star Wars purists who bashed the prequels did not like watching some of the films, I’m sure you loved looking at all of them like I did. The second most surprising thing I was never told about Star Wars is how absolutely beautiful it is. Watching these films on a widescreen, 4K TV made me giddy like a teenager every time I would see all the colors of this universe. If you do not audibly gasp in awe when the Millennium Falcon soars into the picturesque red clouds of Bespin in Empire Strikes Back, and again when Luke’s hanging among them waiting for his ride out of there, blink twice. You may be blind. Watching these films I often whispered to myself “do you understand how stupid you were not watching this years ago?”
I quickly learned almost everything I thought I knew over the last 29 years was wrong.
It goes beyond beauty, though. After 15+ hours of Stars Wars viewing in 10 days, one prevailing thought has put a Darth Vader death grip on my mind: Star Wars is a masterful normalization of the abnormal. Choking people through video chat with The Force seems like a cool iPhone feature now, but Star Wars made me feel at home in worlds that could never exist — a skill current sci-fi franchises like Transformers fail at, despite their best attempts to pummel your eyes with CGI robots that look like they’re made of silverware.
In Star Wars, Most of the alien languages are not translated and Han Solo cuts open a dead animal and stuffs Luke inside it to prevent him from freezing to death at the beginning of Empire Strikes Back. It’s crazy and insane, but feels normal in the strangest of ways. Even the ships and planets look worn and beaten. They aren’t glossy and new, as modern films’ vision of of the future often is.
Star Wars hooked me by the end of A New Hope, and has not lost its grip on my fascination … for the most part.
I don’t like Rogue One at all, or Princess Leia
Let’s finally address the $3.1 billion wookie in the room: Both of the newer films barely add anything worthwhile to the Star Wars story. The Force Awakens is a really enjoyable movie, but it’s essentially Star Wars 101. Old characters and props are central to the story and the biggest surprise in the film is the same “I’m your father” plot reheated. And I know it got great reviews, but Rogue One is definitely the worst Star Wars movie. It’s full of characters I didn’t care about, and the information it added about the Death Star plans could have been condensed to a 10 minute short before A New Hope. Or maybe Princess Leia could have been the one tearing it up to secure the plans; her character would’ve become a lot more interesting. Frankly, she was boring in the original trilogy.
Speaking of the woman who made cinnamon buns a hairstyle phenomena, I always heard how she was a great trailblazer for women in sci-fi during the 1970s. So, it brought a tear to my eye when I finished the films and realized every interesting thing about her was tied to a man. For the most part, she’s Han’s love interest, Kylo’s mom, a damsel in distress, or Luke’s sister who she unwittingly gives a passionate kiss to make Han jealous. I almost threw up when I realized Stars Wars really went that far for a romantic arc. Splash some water on your face and wash the nostalgia off, it’s time to admit Princess Leia is the most overrated character in all of Star Wars.
But it’s not all her fault. She also had bad lines. I went into Star Wars knowing the dialogue was going to be horrible, and it lived down to my expectations. The dialogue (as written) is so stiff and uninspired I often could not tell if characters were supposed to have emotions in some of the films. Here’s a fun game: replace “sand” with “Star Wars dialogue” for the following Star Wars quote: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” Anakin Skywalker said that in Episode II. He talked for a few minutes about sand. George Lucas needs to thank his lucky stars for the fact that actors like Harrison Ford could charm a snake by simply reciting the alphabet.
I’m happy I watched them in this weird new order
Now that I have hyper-jumped through the Star Wars galaxy, I’m now at a place where I can confidently say I am happy I saw the films, and even happier I did not watch them when they originally released. I doubt I would have appreciated how wonderfully complex Darth Vader is as a character watching in any other way than the strange “machete” order. He was a heartless monster in Rogue One, A New Hope, and The Empire Strikes Back until right at the end when he calls out for his son and then saunters off when Luke decides he’d rather die than join him. Going directly from that scene into two films centered on how the love of Anakin Skywalker’s wife and child turned him to the dark side made the climax of Return of the Jedi a believable, beautiful end to his story.
Everyone who encouraged me to watch Star Wars told me to not judge the the original trilogy too harshly since the visuals and dialogue have aged a bit. It was as if I was about to meet their very sweet, but very senile grandparent. Starting with the modern look of Rogue One followed by Episode IV and V, and then the last two prequels I could see a cool evolution of Star Wars’ visual effects. If I did not see Episode II right after Empire Strikes Back I would not have noticed how the cheesy look of Han Solo maneuvering through asteroids was vastly more believable when Obi Wan was doing the same in Episode II thanks to its extensive computer-generated effects. But old graphics or not, I still loved seeing the Falcon rip it up.
The Force is (kind of) strong
Look, if anyone tells you Star Wars is deep enough to warrant the massive fandom, do not believe them. If someone, like teenage me, tells you Star Wars is horrible, do not believe them either. Star Wars is a wonderfully entertaining franchise with some interesting commentary on the importance of family and the complexities of good and evil. But, it’s a tad overrated, simply because people have literally worshipped it. It’s good, but it’s not that good.
I never ventured into a galaxy far, far away until now because Star Wars barely existed to me growing up. My parents never had any VHS tapes of it around to pass down to a potential padawan; None of my friends talked about it outside of dirty Yoda jokes; And the little I did hear about Star Wars just seemed silly. The main character finds out the evil villain is his long, lost father? Cool. That happens on The Jerry Springer Show every day. Worst of all, I grew up during the age of the Star Wars prequels. My impressionable mind never could shake the sight of grown men dressing up like homeless monks to watch a prequel movie they’re only going to ridicule. As a teenager, all I wanted was to be cool, and Star Wars was to cool what a bandaid is to a gunshot wound. Not enough, and painful to endure.
I would not consider myself a Star Wars fan (yet?), but I am definitely a Star Wars appreciator. I can feel The Force, but it is not in me. Maybe that will change when I go see The Last Jedi in December. Until then, it is good to finally know what the hell Star Wars is.
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