Star Wars I-VI: Review and Impressions from a 2014 'May the 4th' viewing, after ten years' break.

Ok well more like 8-9 years I guess, given that's when the DVD release date of Revenge of the Sith was (late 2005).

So, May the 4th just passed us, and I had a Star Wars 1-6 movie marathon. Yes, I watched episodes 1-6 in episodical order, and I'm here to tell you my impressions of it.

It had been a long time - and my vast strides in personal maturity, artistic appreciation, and life experience as a whole, made it quite an interesting up-to-speed 'reassessment' of the films, and how their standing is in the test of time as of 2014.

First off: I grew up with the prequels - yep, I'm a vicenarian. I saw the prequels - (in fact I think all three) - BEFORE I went off and watched any of the sequels.

It started with me watching The Phantom Menace at the cinemas when I was 10 years old with, my two best friends - and I absolutely loved it. Jar Jar is not as bad as the 'old farts' make out; a few annoying lines - ok, but he's not as suicide-inducing as everyone LOVES to say. I'm not ashamed to say, even this time round I still mildly smiled or even chuckled at his comedic lines (maybe that's just my personality - or maybe a strange muscle memory of it making me laugh as a child when first seeing it?), but as a mature adult I just understood the device of why Lucas had put those lines there, and not just that, but I still found a lot of jar jar's comedic timing actually - gasp - FUNNY...I dunno, it worked, it was ok. I think people need to stop thinking that 'quality' or 'integrity' has to mean sombre, Nolan-like morosity the whole time - as if 'dark', 'gritty', or 'real' are the only ways that anything can be 'flawless' these days? Yes, it's not as quality as the comedy (comedic timing) of the material in the original films, but I don't think it means you should shoot it down just cos it's not the golden heights that were in the originals.

What was interesting though, during this movie marathon after ten years' break, was how I started off feeling surprisingly ok about the prequels, but then after seeing the sequels, as a mature adult now, I finally realised... just what the old farts are on about.

"THAT UNIQUE STAR WARS MOOD..."

But more on that later. For now, some random observations:

  • My GOSH: the opening blast of the orchestra with those epically big STAR WARS words at the opening of each movie - it doesn't fail to give me goose bumps EVERY TIME and all I can say is, it's a stroke of genius and will forever be an iconic part of cinematic history! For adults and children alike, it's a masterpiece in spectacle-ry, an INSTANT injection of sheer wonder and anticipation into the film viewer.
  • I didn't realise just how big the music was in Star Wars! John Williams' score really makes it something that separates Star Wars from other sci-fi or 'space fantasy' films. He fills it with a certain majesty and sweeping 'flourish' that just creates that unique Star Wars mood that we instantly recognise (and which no other space-fi franchise could possibly ever emulate) - I think the music is actually a big part of its filmic signature. If it was Hans Zimmer, it would be EXTREMELY different (and I think it would totally fall flat despite me having huge admiration of that Zimmer - Star Wars just needs that old-fashioned, brass-heavy symphonic swagger with fan-faring trumpets or horns, resonant timpani, sweeping harp, and soaring strings, that it has always had - both prequels and sequels), and it makes me glad he's agreed to take up the reins even again for the third trilogy. And also, I've always been baffled as to why Star Wars in particular, despite his ageing etc., he's without QUESTION come back to, despite relinquishing extended roles in other equally huge franchises, like Harry Potter. I think he realises - like I have now - just how central a part his single-handed contribution is to this unique part of cinema and modern culture. It just can't be the Star Wars we know if it doesn't have John's music, you know?
  • A note about Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, and their love story in general - I enjoyed it more than I thought I would this time - maybe cos I'm an older, soppier, 'mature love'-experienced individual now - but I really enjoyed their moments, understood them more, now - and his acting isn't QUITE so shocking as people say - but that may be cos I'm just used to it (being him) by now too - that kinda happens once we accept what we have in front of us, doesn't it. Still, I thought Portman was really good given her poor directorship setting; she helped carry over any shortcomings of Christensen in their scenes and not just make them bearable - most of the time - but even 'gooey'-ly enjoyable. PLUS, Christensen did improve in general for episode III, we mustn't forget.
  • I can confirm.....the 'noooooooo' in Ep. III is awful. very poorly done. what a travesty. Like he said himself:

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Sigh.

"HAN SOLO: THANK YOU."

So now back to my little epiphany of 'what the old farts are on about'. When starting to watch this 'hexalogy' marathon, on May the Fourth of this year 2014, my early thoughts were, 'Hey the prequels are not THAT bad, really: the sequels had their Ewoks, and their contrived hysterical trash compactor scenes, and their inexcusably gaudy Jabba the Hutt court entertainers, too!' But, when it came round to actually re-living these sequels now as a mature adult this time, I realised. I saw it. I experienced it.

So - NONE of the Star Wars films are perfect (although ep. V is pretty up there) - they all have sagging bits too - but I didn't quite realise, the sheer LACK of characterisation in the prequels until I saw the sequels again. Han Solo: thank you. This was a HUGE element that just wasn't in the prequel botch jobs. (Yep, I now declare that this is what they are.) I now understand, that Lucas should never have continued on as Director (or Screenwriter) and is mostly just a talented visionary story-teller that struck gold with a few good tales then lived off that for the rest of his life (or something), and as absolute dictator of the prequel trilogy, churned out pretty much a reflection of his main preoccupation which was robot armies, flashing laser beams, or, as one of his production companies just spells it out: 'Industrial Light & Magic'.

The sheer force of personality was something so lacking in the prequels, and the few 'ok' presences themselves (like Ewan McGregor's effort) were something you would grapple at like a drop of water in the middle of the sahara desert. In the sequels, it was a wellspring in plenteous supply.

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I mean: after experiencing the end of 'A New Hope' again, in which you're just swept up in an inevitable tide of high spirits and ecstatic joy: it's no wonder the first Star Wars movie erupted such a pop cultural phenomenon at the time. Imagine experiencing the ending of that movie for the first time in the cinema in 1977!

The prequels didn't have this element, at all.

"FORGET MACHETE ORDER."

And now, on to my views on watching order. Forget machete order.

The whole thing about 'watch the sequels before the prequels', or the 'watch episode IV & V, then II & III, then finish with VI and skip I altogether' machete approach - I really think it's unnecessary if you've watched all six films a billion times before anyway. Maybe for a newcomer, yes, it's best to watch them in released (or machete) order, but I'm here to tell you, that watching them in I-VI order worked really just fine for someone who's watched them all at least two times before.

The reasons are:

  • If you're an 'old fart' who bangs on about how the story is more important than the effects after all, (which, it is), then the 'jarring' transition from modern sfx to the sequel films shouldn't be an issue. It wasn't to me, and actually I liked the idea of the 'old republic' falling apart and then us arriving in a 'dark ages' type regressed era in episode IV, and sort of starting over (in the galaxy) and having that sense of 'a new hope' and rediscovering things for the first time. (through Luke.) The idea that Obi-Wan has withdrawn into a recluse-like status, and Yoda into hiding. That's the continuation of things and it actually works REALLY WELL if you watch it in order. Luke (as portrayed by the young Hamill), fits in really well as this fresh, young, offspring, 'new hope', so I actually like the continuation of this, as a cinematic experience.
  • The matter of 'the inside jokes only working if you watch them in released order' - well - if you've seen em all multiple times before anyway, again, this won't be a problem!!! I already smile at "I've got a bad feeling about this" in the prequels, cos I already KNOW the reference, duh!...
  • And the other cool thing about watching them in episodical order - again, if the story / thematic / film quality aspects are what's most important to you anyway (and let's face it, the prequels - even III - are looking more and more dated as time goes on themselves - some truly awful CGI at times) - then watching them I-VI means you should actually have WHAT'S IMPORTANT, to look forward to, as you progress through them! Again, you've seen em all before, so I argue, all things considered, that for a seasoned fan, I-VI is the best order in the end after all.

Now I agree with the merits of the machete order, and agree that episode I isn't REALLY needed to enjoy the story arc of Vader or nearly all of what I've mentioned above - but still, I argue that you may as well watch it, if nothing else, to server as a 'settler-in-a-rer' and I suppose it does offer some exposition and backstory of Sidius' dark behind the scenes scheming towards his ultimate emperor despotism in the end.

And although the sheer sense of adventure from the sequels is sorely lacking in the prequels, one of the best things to deeply enjoy about it (and this can only really be enjoyed, in this way, by episodical order), is the progressional story arc of Vader - I must comment, on how powerful the utter tragedy of Vader's fall is, emotionally - the journey of a man struggling to battle his emotions and destiny, and the fact the dark side is the only outcome possible for this struggle. no wonder he later says, to Luke: 'it is your...destiny.' he still feels the dark side of the force is the only solution for reconciling the force with the problems and challenges that life presents you - until of course, his son convinces him otherwise, showing by example. (which is beautiful.)

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And not only again, the exploration of the Jedi (and Sith) ways and history (in the prequels) can actually be good to experience before the sequels. And you know, the actor rapport/on screen relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakan (and ultimate horror and tragedy of this relationship & friendship's utter collapse) is quite something to value in the prequels (in I-VI watching order). I saw a lot of things I enjoyed about Obi-Wan, and enjoyed a lot of the tragedy that would come from him eventually being killed by Anakin in episode IV, and the gravitas of all that - and even the sense that Lucas showed us C-3PO and R2 having a lot of their own swashbuckling adventures, only to have their memories wiped and reset in the sequels (well C-3PO's anyway - R2's just too awesome to give the story away isn't he!). As onlookers of all this, there's depth in that.

There's also a lot of sense of intrigue/mystery, when watching ep. IV AFTER the prequels, by us knowing everything that Luke's only just starting to get hints on. There's depth to the exciting (or shocking) discoveries that slowly unfurl in front of him - and his unique, 'new' take and experience in all of it.

Oh and a bonus from ep. IV (if watching in episodical order): although Alec Guinness didn't know about the FULL Vader backstory about him being Luke's father and all when they filmed A New Hope, remarkably he still manages to show nuances of emotion that can be read to convey knowledge of all this. I find that amazing and a really rewarding little easter egg for Star Wars fans who really notice. Anyway - boy was that a good performance.

And I'm gonna say another thing: the prequels, kid of enrich our appreciation and understanding of the Jedi mythology and storyline. Even though it wasn't as developed and was 'all new' and kind of 'introductory' in nature in the sequels (Luke's going to Dagobah kind of seeming crude/simplistic compared to the noble system of Jedi training and principles established in the prequels) - coming from the prequels right off the bat (watching order wise), kind of still makes the sequels more interesting - even if it's retrospective in nature - literally 'retrofitting' a perspective. To follow a theme I've been saying all along in this post - the prequels, the backstory - kind of bring a gravitas and significance that's actually rewarding when you re-watch the sequels with all this in mind.

It actually puts Luke in an even better light - his achievements and progress, and rather than just dismissing his journey with the force as being 'undeveloped' concept-wise back in the 70's/80's and say that simplicity is just a casualty in practicality of making the sequels before the prequels - I like to think they should be made to fit in as much as possible, and the prequels actually enrich the sequels. I don't have childhood baggage from the 70's to carry in terms of 'pure experience' to not handle having even the slightest disturbances/clarifications/things to say about the nature of the force from the prequels - so this doesn't bother me.

"DON'T KNOCK MIDI-CHLORIANS"

A (personal) note about these little things that are apparently hated so much: again, I grew up with the prequels and not the sequels - but, upon considering them afresh once more today as an adult - I think I understand why Lucas expanded the explanation of the force with midi-chlorians - we live in a scientific age, and this helps rationalise it a bit for the 'scientifically' demanding / increasingly smart audiences in theatres today - I'm actually more fascinated with the idea of midi-chlorians being these little things everywhere that, according to how many of them you have within you, you can manipulate/read/work with them more (to influence other objects and beings around you), than just some extremely vague 'just feel it' thing in the originals - they're freaking sci-fi movies, not religious accounts, and I think the idea of midi-chlorians is actually more interesting. I also enjoyed further reflecting on the relationship Jedi have with feelings and emotions and people this time round given I'm a much more life-experienced adult than when I last saw the movies about 8-9 years ago. Jedi are not actually cold, emotionless vulcan-like monks (even in the prequels!) - they just make choices to be able to be in control of those values, and serve others to further those causes, which you surely cannot disagree, have emotional implications/sensibilities fundamentally. They clearly feel emotions, they clearly feel loss - why are the Jedi always the ones who feel compassion, loss, pain (surely these are emotive), MORE than others in the universe? But it's discipline about being the MASTER of them, and not letting them control you.

Anyway I digress: don't knock midi-chlorians - I just don't get its hate. it's actually interesting and I think, only enhances and sophisticates it. In the sequels, it's described as an 'energy' field, 'created by all living things', tell me that's not got a sense of science about it itself, I don't get what the big fuss is! Ok, the word 'religion' is used in the sequel films, but is it ever used by any actual Jedi (in the films)? not that I heard. Maybe I'm way out of my depth as not a particularly versed Star Wars fan here, but maybe you could view it as a 'hazy' science that IS true, but is dismissed as 'religion' by those who don't (or can't) practice it...or like Han said in IV, it's 'mystic' energy fields but not actual ones.

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"TAKE AWAY"

So yeah, my take away on all this is that: the original films, are better *films* - this may largely be because of Lucas only directing one of them and him having absolute creative control (no question asked) with the later prequels - but that the prequels, are actually just as interesting, if not more, in terms of 'Star Wars universe' and 'Star Wars story'.

At the end of this experience, I come away excited for the potential that the new films might have - I think there's HUGE potential and it's all up to how deep the writers for the new films decide to go with it. While watching Star Wars afresh for the first time in ten years - I noticed many deep things they could do with the mythology that would be awesome, satisfying and meaningful to all who love it - and I hope they DO, cos Lucas certainly has botched things up enough for no one to surely care about what he thinks about what they do with his creation, by this point. It's no longer his thing, and I think that's great.

I just hope they do something SPECIAL with the new films and not merely an excellent, 'virtuosic' job at it - I want them to deepen the MYTHOLOGY of Star Wars, really explore the profound themes of dark side vs. 'good' side (like, philosophically, ideologically), and tell stories just as BIG as that of the original six (with even HIGHER meaningfulness for the mythology) - not just acceptable 'filler' entertainment in the same universe that we're familiarly used to - not just 'oh the galaxy will be taken over by evil people again' but struggles at the CORE of what the force means in the mythology. I fear the most likely scenario is the lessor of the ambitions, and not the deeper - but one can hope :).

I've never explored much of the extended universe - only read half of one book about solo's children one time when I was 12 - but I know, just from watching and experiencing the deep story of Anakin Skywalker's own journey (and this is gained from ep. II and III alone) - that there's SO much they could do with 'the force' in the future.

So long, scoundrels...