My husband, Carlos, had never seen a Star Wars movie. Sure, he had seen some clips. That’s perhaps unavoidable for anyone with access to a television set. However, he had never watched any of the movies from start to finish. This is unusual because he is part of the generation that grew up with George Lucas’ famed franchise and watches a lot of movies. His good friends are really into the original trilogy. Plus, he married an avowed fan. I was probably still running around our college campus in a Star Wars ringer t-shirt when we first started dating.
More importantly, what kind of wife was I for not sharing the epic struggle of the rebellion with my husband?
We dated for over a decade and I never bothered to share Empire Strikes Back with him. A while back, Carlos mentioned that he would watch the original trilogy if I could find it the pre-Special Editions versions. So, I went to my mom’s house and dug through the old family VHS collection and found the 1995 THX box set. Last month, on our first anniversary, Carlos finally saw Star Wars. We followed it up with Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi later that weekend. The prequels will have to wait for another time.
You can watch Star Wars until you have every line memorized, but it’s a totally different experience when you’re watching movies you love with someone who has never seen them. By the end of the weekend, I understood more about Star Wars by watching it one of the uninitiated than from decades of re-watching the flicks on my own. Here is what I learned:
1. If You Want Someone to Understand Why Star Wars Is a Phenomenon, Go for Old Versions in the Original Order.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Machete Order. This is when you watch Episodes IV and V, then II and III before getting to VI. It’s a good plan if you’re going to include the prequels in your viewing sessions as it makes a lot of narrative sense. However, despite a friend’s suggestion that we try Machete Order, we just went with the original trilogy on VHS.
The way I see it, there are two ways you can introduce Star Wars to someone. You can try to get them caught up on the story, in which case Machete Order is likely the best way to go. Or, you can try to make them understand why Star Warsbecame, and remains, a pop culture phenomenon. In order to do that, you have to watch the movies in a format that’s closest to the original release. We opted for the latter option.
The benefit of watching the pre-Special Edition versions is that it gives you insight into how the Star Warsuniverse changed as filmmaking technology grew. You can see the difference between the effects in Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. The former introduces this intriguing, unknown galaxy in a visual style that hadn’t been seen on the big screen. In the latter, though, the team’s handle on these effects is more secure. They can create more than what they did with the prior film.
Now, everything that you see in these movies is outdated. If you’re watching the movie with someone who was alive in the ’80s, though, they have a point of reference to understand the look of the films and what kind of undertaking that meant. While we were watching the trilogy – particularly in the original film – Carlos noted how far movies have come from what team Star Wars did in 1977. This movie marks the start of that evolution. Sometimes, that bit of significance fades when you’ve seen the movies in many different incarnations over the years. When you’re watching this with someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars before, it’s obvious.
2. There’s a Purpose for the Special Editions and 2004 Version.
It kills me to say this, but, there’s a purpose to the Special Editions. Moreover, there’s a reason for the 2004 re-vamp. This doesn’t mean that I like them. I just (kind of) understand why they exist.
In the more than 20 years that passed between the release of the original trilogy and the prequels, special effects changed drastically. Whether or not they changed for the worse is irrelevant. Technology progressed and the look of the prequels is markedly different from the look of Luke Skywalker’s journey. This can create an issue if you’re marathoning through all six movies. It’s an even bigger issue if you’re trying to watch this Machete-style. In that case, you case you watch IV and V, which look fantastic for the time in which they were made. Once you get to Episode II, though, you’ll notice how dated the effects are. Since Episode II takes place before IV and V, the aesthetic differences can pull the audience out of the story. The Special Editions create visual consistency that’s necessary if the six parts are supposed to function as two separate, but closely related, journeys. The 2004 versions take this even further, adding bits that connect the narratives of the two trilogies.
Sure you could argue that the original trilogy should look rougher than the prequels. After all, by the time Luke, Leia and Han come into the picture, the galaxy has fallen into peril. However, hard times don’t necessarily look like 1977. Suspension of disbelief has already been ruined and that kind of argument won’t work on a Star Wars n00b.
3. It’s Still Better When Han Shoots First.
As we started watching Star Wars, Carlos asked if Han really shoots first. It’s a controversy that has extended far beyond the original fan base. And, yes, it does matter.
When we finally got to the confrontation between Han Solo and Greedo, we watched carefully. Bam! It happened. Han shoots. Greedo is blown to bits.
The significance of Han’s quick kill shot is evident when you see the “Holy Shit!” look on the face of the person next to you. Han Solo isn’t just a smart ass who got into a bit of trouble with a crime lord. He’s not misunderstood. He’s actually not a good person. He’s dangerous and Obi-Wan and Luke have to be desperate to count on him for transportation. They’re putting their own lives in the hands of someone who just shot someone.
Eventually, Han becomes one of the heroes. Before all that happens, though, he shoots first.
4. The Empire Strikes Back Will Crush You, Like the First Time You Saw It.
Lots of people will tell you that Empire Strikes Back is the best flick in the franchise. I’m one of them. Empire Strikes Back isn’t just my favorite of the Star Wars films, it’s tied with Dr. Strangelove for my all-time favorite movie. So, when Carlos was on the fence about Star Wars, saying that it was good but not great, I told him, “Just wait for Empire.” He did and his reaction to the fifth episode was a major improvement.
Carlos went into Empire Strikes Back knowing the major plot twist. The identity of Luke Skywalker’s dad was no mystery for him. That one famed spoiler, though, doesn’t prepare new viewers for how bleak things are for the rebels at this point. The first film ended on a high. The Battle of Yavin was a success. The Death Star was no more. Luke, Han and Chewbacca were heroes. All of that success is a distant memory in Empire Strikes Back. The rebels cannot turn a corner without running into an attack from the Empire. Situations don’t improve by the last act of the film. It’s two hours and change of crushing defeat and despair.
A lot of us went through the emotional roller coaster of watching the Empire kick Rebel Alliance butt back as children. As adults, we can watch the film on a bunch of different levels, maybe to appreciate the art or to find some slice of humor in it. However, watching Empire with someone who hasn’t seen the movie will bring back that flood of feels.
No! Darth Vader is Luke’s…
OMG, they have to save Han!
When the movie ends, you’re still staring at the TV screen, too bummed to reach for the remote control.
5. You Don’t Actually Know Everything About Star Wars.
Maybe there are a couple people out in the world who know every bit of Star Wars trivia. Most of us, though, still miss a few things, even when we’ve lost track of how many times we have watched the movies. I didn’t realize how little I knew about Star Wars until I watched the movies with my husband.
There are so many characters in the original trilogy who are anonymous on screen, but actually do have names and back stories. Sometimes I knew their identities. My grasp of Star Wars trivia is best suited for scenes involving a shady Mos Eisley bar and Jabba the Hutt’s entourage. Other times, Carlos would ask me a question about some seemingly trivial aspect of the movie and I drew a blank. I opened up my laptop and look up the answer on Wookieepedia. The Star Wars wiki is a great asset when you’re re-watching the films. You can impress your movie-watching partner(s) by giving the demographic breakdown of Bespin or rattle off the names of all the commanders in the Battle of Yavin. Mostly, they will be impressed that something called Wookieepedia exists. Then, they’ll question the source.
6. Star Wars Obsession Is Nostalgic.
After watching Episodes IV, V and IV, it appeared that Carlos had some sort of newfound appreciation for Star Wars. He liked Empire Strikes Back best, which is probably expected. However, he won’t have that life-long fascination with the movies that I have. Now, I have to admit that a lot of my own love for Star Wars is based on nostalgia.
For many of us, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were the first blockbusters we saw in a theater. We remember dressing up as characters for Halloween and playing with the toys. For me, Star Wars will always be tied to my relationship with my dad, who died several years ago. He took me to see the original trilogy. I took him to see the prequels. We spent many hours griping about the prequels. I can tell my life story in a series of related anecdotes. Star Wars was where Little Lizzie, then less than two years old, cried in the theater and was escorted out by her father. The 1997 Special Editions came when I was sweeping up popcorn and milk dud clusters at a movie theater in the San Fernando Valley. I saw Phantom Menace a few weeks after graduating from college and starting my first 9 to 5. My disdain for the prequels might be tied to the angst that came with transitioning in functional adulthood.
At this point, I can’t watch the existing Star Wars movies objectively. They’re tied too tightly to my life. I suspect that others in my generation can admit to something similar.
Star Wars isn’t for everybody. Even people who might generally fall into the “nerd” camp – like someone who will go on at length about Punisher or Conan the Barbarian – might be able to abstain from the obsession. It seems shocking, but it’s true. Just because Star Wars hit a pop culture apex where there’s now a fan holiday, doesn’t mean that everyone is hitting up the big sale on R2-D2 hoodies.
My husband spent a long time avoiding Star Wars. When I mentioned this to friends in person and on Facebook, a lot of people responded. Many were stunned, thinking that everyone in their 30s must have seen Star Wars Episodes IV, V and VI at some point in their lives. Others confessed that they too had never seen the movies. Somehow, there’s a whole subset of folks from the tale end of Generation X and top of Generation Y who managed to avoid the movies.
Sure, everybody has missed out on some really big hit films. I’ve never seen Titanic or Forrest Gump. Star Wars is different, though. Those movies weren’t just in the theaters for a while upon release, they returned to theaters years later. They popped up on cable plenty of times. Then there’s all the merch. How could you go through the toy boom of the ’80s, the retro t-shirt fascination of the ’90s and the geek phenomenon of the 21st century without once feeling compelled to sit down and watch at least one of the movies? This still baffles me.
More than 30 years after they were released, Carlos finally saw the original Star Wars trilogy. He enjoyed it. However, he’s not going to be the kind of mega-fan that I am. It’s cool. I’m just glad that he now understands some of those references that I’ve been dropping since we met over a decade ago.
If there’s someone special in your life who hasn’t seen a Star Wars movie, take the time to get him or her to watch it. It will be a fun experience for both of you. Just know that it might not be some kind of life-changing cinematic moment.
Previously by Liz Ohanesian