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.