Review 2006



Leonard asks:
Now that it's all done and dusted, what sequence would you recommend watching the six Stars Wars films? Although I've tried, I still can't watch them in I,II,III,IV etc order ?

When Sky recently, having gained the rights to the whole Star Wars chronicle from the Murdoch mothership, announced they would be broadcasting the shebang from the start everyone expected it to be the first time that the films would appear mini-series like in chapter order. Then they trotted out, what will be called A New Hope (just to save confusion) followed by the rest of classic trilogy and then dovetailed into the fall of the Jedi. This underlines that in the new age actually watching the series from prequels to sequels is not necessarily the 'correct order' to some.

I had planned to watch all six films in both orders to compare and contrast but since that would mean I'd have, once again to sit through:

I. The Phantom Menace
II. 'Noooooo!'
III. Ewoks

I've decided to write this from memory and hope that you'll forgive any inaccuracies and misunderstandings.

I can absolutely understand the argument for watching the films IV,V,VI,I,II & III. For a start you're beginning with (as the tv show Spaced memorably described them) 'the three good Star Wars films' which in and of themselves tell a perfectly good coherent story. It doesn't feel like anything is missing - it's not half of a narrative. It's literally a textbook narrative, with countless academic texts explaining the work of Vladmir Propp and Levi Strauss using the films to explain such things as standard use of characters, the concept of binary opposites and quest structure. People have even written coursework on the subject.

In addition, having at least rewatched the opening of both The Phantom Menace and A New Hope, I can't imagine how anyone would be able to follow the former without having seen the latter since vital exposition such as who the Jedi are is missing. Such concepts are slowly layered into Episode Four, but in Episode One it's simply assumed that the audience has an awareness of them already - in fact I'm not sure, even during the Jedi Council scene, that who the Jedi actually are is even explained. Note that Little Lord Anakin asking what midichlorians are doesn't count.

This is only relevant though, to people who've not seen any of the films and are having to deal with writer George Lucas's interesting attitude to exposition. The rest of us who've grown up with the films can approach them in a different way which is why I'm going to advocate that actually, despite the opening hour or so, you really should watch these films in the order that he intended, in episode order, I thru VI.

When Revenge of the Sith was being marketed, Lucasfilm emphasized that this would be completing the tale and the closing moments of that film reassert the icons of A New Hope, creating both a kind of nostalgia for the fans but also joining the two films together seamlessly. In addition, on the dvd for The Phantom Menace its stated quite clearly that in watching the prequels it'll become apparent that Star Wars, has always been about the fall of Anakin Skywalker and his eventual rise again in the final episode, the implication being that the title Return of the Jedi has a double meaning, not only because Luke becomes a Jedi Master but also because (and I don't think I'm spoiling anything) his Dad switches out of the dark side at the end when he saves his son and therefore a new potential Jedi order. Which is fine and actually quite sweet.

The nay-sayers suggest though, that the whole story isn't about Anakin - for this to be a whole complete story about him, he would need to be the main protagonist from the off and he's a good guy in the 'earlier' films and the dark lord of evil later. But actually one of the very clever things that Lucas has done with the prequel trilogy is to (despite the above pronouncement) keep Anakin as a supporting character and in the sweep of six the apparent main character in each film essentially shifts - from Qui-Gon Jinn to Obi-Wan to Luke to Han and back to Luke with their stories being the main focus. A case could be made though for the whole legend being a grand ensemble picture with other characters and stories shifting in and out, with the rise and fall of Anakin being just one of many.

Under these conditions, the yarn is very similar in structure to Richard Attenborough's war film A Bridge Too Far which tells the metastory of Operation Market Garden (the failed Allied attempt to break through German lines at Arnhem in the occupied Netherlands during World War II), with smaller, sometimes self contained acts of bravery described in between. Like Ben Kenobi in Star Wars, Lt. Col. J.O.E. Vandeleur (Michael Caine) is vitally important and has lots of screen time in the very beginning but disappears only to reappear briefly at the end. Like Lando, Major Julian Cook (Robert Redford) only appears towards the very end for vital bit of daring-do. And like Lt. Gen. Browning (Dirk Bogarde) who stage manages the whole sorry mess from the sidelines, it's Senator Palpatine/Darth Sideous/The Emperor/whatever he's calling himself this week in Star Wars who manipulates the development of the Empire only to let his own careless arrogance seed its downfall. Or whatever.

This truly makes the six films one story, not a quest of Lord of the Rings proportions but an epic in a similar style to The Godfather or one of the great Russian housebrick shaped books and really should be viewed as such. It's like a giant space soap opera, with personal stories weaving in and out of the rise and fall of the Empire -- love stories here, detective stories there. As Aiden Wasley notes, it could be 'The Greastest Postmodern Art Film Ever'. It's also why Lucas continues to tinker with the trilogy we know trying to make them as cohesive a story as possible and why the Ewok music was replaced at the close Return of the Jedi with shots from throughout the galaxy and a new, much more epic score from John Williams; it's closing up a much grander saga.

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