Congratulations! You just had a kid… So in what order are you going to play Star Wars for them?
This was an actual question asked amongst a group of 25 – 35-year-old Star Wars fans. In other words, the impressionable 15-year-olds that were only alive for Episodes I, II, and III (the poor kids). And the most common answer was that they would obviously start from Episode I since that is the proper order. But is it?
For a new group of fans, this may be their first chance to see Star Wars (of any kind) in a theater. Some theaters are giving an even greater possibility by playing all six films – Episode I – VI – with the culmination being the Dec 17 evening preview of Episode VII. And they are doing it in the wrong order. It should go Episode IV, V, I, II, II, VI, VII. That’s it. No dramatic changes, no ignoring of scenes.
Now this is not an argument over which came first, the chicken or the egg. We all know it was the egg that hatched the mutant that became known as the chicken. No matter how much the “maker” might say that Episodes I-III were the first episodes, for good storytelling they can’t be because of one basic fact, one line in Episode V that is the focal point of the whole story – “No, I am your father!” In a way, Episodes I-III should actually come with a spoiler alert for Episode V.
Due to the passage of time and pop culture iconification we know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father but it is not until the dramatic reveal do we as an audience know this truism. And these are what spoilers are, revealing the dramatic reveal at the wrong time. We know that Romeo and Juliet both die, we know that Rosebud is a sled, we know that Soylent Green is people, we even know that [I’ll have to mention that one later], but with all of the above, they were all dramatic reveals near or at the end of the unfolding drama.
The passion for this order begins with me being an impressionable high school student in 1980 so I am of the generation that saw The Empire Strikes Back when it came out at the theater. There had only been one film – Star Wars. When covering the sequel yet to come, the movie magazines were calling it Star Wars 2. It wasn’t until Time Magazine had Darth Vader on its cover that it was announced there would be a title card added to the head of the film – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. What? The magazine article explained that there were to be three prequels that would eventually be made that would give the whole dramatic backstory.
But this backstory was completely unknown to the 500 people sitting in a sold out theater, including myself, as I sat in the 3rd row staring up at a wall of a screen, where at the proper dramatic moment 30 feet up above my head, was a black suited figure revealing one of the most dramatic moments I had ever heard. A stunned silence fell across the auditorium.
When you go back and look at the film Luke is also silent, grasping the reality. We were all Luke at that moment.
Luke cries – “That’s not true, that’s impossible!” We all agreed!
Vader replies – “Search your feelings, you know it too be true.”
The only response Luke – and the audience – can give is a plaintiff “No” because his feelings are telling him that it is the truth! And collectively we plunge with Luke into the depths of “What just happen???” Our lives were turned upside down, by the dramatic reveal that everything we thought we knew was possibly now a lie. A truism that Luke would eventually face.
After that plunge Luke was rescued, we saw the Millennium Falcon fly away, and then… credits… what, that’s it!! “What just happen?” as we left the theater.
So why is that scene so dramatic, why is it so powerful? Because we have been caught up in the drama, we really only learn “our” destiny as Luke does. What we didn’t know is that were actually watching a Greek Tragedy play. Where father betrays son and son destroys father. Over the years it has been purported that Lucas was raised and inspired by these stories. He actually started the films as great Greek tragedies do, in media res (the middle of the story). They would build to a dramatic conflict, a reveal and then give us the back story. It’s what we now call a flashback. Yes, Episodes I, II, and III are nothing but a 6-hour flashback at the end of Episode V, it has to be as that is the nature of the structure. This is why in Episode VI, Obi-Wan has to sit on a stump and tell us all we never saw. They didn’t shoot the flashback.
Think of the classic Greek tales. You had the hero go off on the glorious quest. The quest to find their destiny. This was Luke’s quest, and as all hero stories go it actually started long before he met Obi-Wan in adult life. Yoda says of him later, “All his life has he looked away to the stars, the future.” He is a hero that never knew he was a hero and when he finally finds his destiny, we have the adventures, the excitement, things a Jedi craves not, and we follow the trail of Greek tragedies, where we might be following the adventures of the hero but it is really the audience’s journey. At that moment, when the audience knows that it has been betrayed by the storyteller, the skies would tremble and the “gods” would reveal the past to our hero.
Episode V ends – Cut to Episode I.
We follow the story of Anakin.
We now have it revealed his troubled youth, his meeting with his future… spoilers… and all of the things that would eventually lead to that fateful moment in Episode V.
I stop describing the events here as this is where you benefit or are betrayed by the passage of time. Because of a span of over 30 years since the first trilogy, most of the events of these films have been discussed, parodied, quoted by your husband way too many times. (You know who you are). So you are aware of what most could call spoilers. But with I – III they are actually considered new enough that there are those that will not be seeing them until now. To them, it is all fresh.
So watch I-III, have fun, but THEN watch Episode VI. Lived the true way a tragedy is told.
If you ignored my advice and watched I, II, and III first there never was the great reveal about Obi-Wan, the force, the Empire, all the dramatic veils that are lifted as the tale unfolded. You already knew the oracle’s secrets having lived the story in filmed order,
The moment you hear “I am your father” you may empathize with Luke but we as an audience have been cheated. It is we the audience that is having the light of truth burn in our face. We are the ones that are to be emotionally shocked. For if we have been pulled into the story correctly, we have been Luke on his adventure, learning as he learns, growing as he grows. We too are letting go and making the fall down that shaft. Everything we know stripped away to be revealed later.
But if you follow my advice, treat it just like the story structure it truly is, watch as a young Obi- Wan go off to the desert then roll Episode VI. Flashback over and Luke’s journey – our journey – has actually started again as a new reality is discovered and truly accepts his destiny. It is my hope that you will follow my heading and watch them in the proper out of order order.