March 2nd, 2012

R2D2

How to Watch Star Wars

First, if you checked my blog soon after I posted yesterday and thought it looked familiar, it seems that in my cold-fogged haze I had a wee bit of a copy/paste error and re-posted the previous day's blog. I guess you actually have to hit "copy" after highlighting something. I'm lucky that the last thing I'd copied was the previous day's blog post. That had the potential to be all kinds of embarrassing or awkward. Anyway, the right post is up, so you might want to re-check.

I did find that ballet worked really well for clearing my stuffy head. I almost couldn't talk myself into going, but exertion in a really hot, humid room turned out to be great. I may have to shut the bathroom door, run the shower and jog in place. I still have the last remnants of sniffles and sinus pressure, but I think the end of the nightmare is near. Even with my head all stuffy and aching, I felt like I was really dancing for a while. Normally I'm just getting through the moves, but I was able to turn my brain off and let my body go with what it knows how to do.

And now to indulge in a bit of geekery (that I should probably also post to my very neglected Stealth Geek blog).

This blog post has been making the rounds among my friends, and it resolves one of the burning issues of our time: the proper viewing order of the Star Wars series. Should you view them in release order, starting with the original Star Wars and the first trilogy and then moving on to the prequels, or should you view them in chronological order, starting with Episode 1? (That's putting aside the whole "the prequels don't exist, la, la, la, can't hear you" mindset.)

You can read that very long blog post if you want the whole story, but here's my perspective. I'm a child of the 70s, and I saw the original Star Wars in the theater during its original theatrical run (yes, I'm old). We were actually kind of late to the party, as this movie had been the smash hit of the summer of 1977, while we didn't see it until Labor Day. I think that was mostly because of practical reasons. There was one theater in the entire city showing it, and you had to wait in line for hours to get in. That's not something you want to do with two children, one of them a preschooler. Even on Labor Day, we waited in a very long line and got less than ideal seats in a totally packed theater. I didn't actually want to see it. The other movie playing at that "twin" cinema was The Slipper and the Rose, a live-action Cinderella musical, and that's what I wanted to see, but my dad insisted on Star Wars (bless him -- I did eventually see the Cinderella movie on TV, and he so made the right call). And I was totally blown away. That movie changed my life and had a lot to do with me wanting to be a writer. I'm still not entirely sure how that worked, how my lifelong love of books didn't trigger that, but a movie did, but I think it had something to do with so totally capturing my imagination and making me want to tell stories.

Flash forward a few years. I was late, again, to The Empire Strikes Back because I was living in Germany at the time and the base theater didn't get it until November. I was thoroughly spoiled, since one of my mom's women's magazines had published a condensed version of the novelization during the summer. I didn't believe the big reveal until I read it in the actual novelization, which I obtained through a school friend who had an extra copy from her grandparents in the States. Even so, that big moment when Darth Vader tells Luke that he's his father was a big shocker, and I remember the gasp in the theater.

That's the big problem with watching in episode order. If you've seen the prequels and have watched Anakin Skywalker turn into Darth Vader, you know all along who Vader is and it's no big shock, assuming you're showing these films to someone who's been living under a rock and has never heard of any of the major plot developments. But even if you've heard about it, it's still different from seeing it in context. However, if you watch the movies in release order, you end with the big downer of the Republic falling and Anakin becoming Darth Vader. The author of the original blog post also mentions the problem of not knowing who the ghost dude at the end of Return of the Jedi is, but I guess that's a Blu-Ray problem as I haven't watched the version where they replaced older ghost Anakin with young ghost Anakin (the original DVDs have both original and special edition versions).

The solution he proposes is rather clever -- watch Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, then treat the prequels as a backstory flashback to tell Anakin's story after the big revelation, and then return to Return of the Jedi to finish it off and conclude both Anakin's story and Luke's story as well as the restoration of the Republic. Everything comes full circle. There are a few continuity errors that become more obvious this way, like Leia remembering her mother in Return of the Jedi when you'd have just seen that their mother died in childbirth, so neither of them knew their mother. But still, the idea of using the prequels as an extended flashback works better than most viewing orders.

Then the original blogger goes on to propose that you don't even need Episode 1 here, and that makes a lot of sense. Everything you need to know from that episode is explained in Episode 2, and skipping that one means no whiny boy Anakin, less reminder of the kind of creepy way that Anakin and Padme meet when he's a child and she's a teenager (not to mention that whole thing of a planet being ruled by a teenage girl who is elected to that office -- who the heck came up with that political system?), next to no Jar-Jar and no talk of the pseudoscience "immaculate conception" of Anakin (another "seriously?" item). The few good parts of Episode 1 are mostly just action scenes that don't lend much to the plot. Just watch the lightsaber duel at the end for kicks (and the music for that is truly awesome).

I may have to try this during the March TV hiatus/rerun season, and it's convenient as Episode 1 is the only one I don't have on DVD. Of course, it's hard to purge the knowledge of all the films from the brain to really see how it works, and I don't think I know anyone who hasn't seen these movies. It's sort of mandatory for geeks, and all my friends are geeks. Still, it might be an interesting experiment from a story structure perspective.