We are now just one short month from a new entry in the STAR WARS saga, mere weeks from discovering what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han after that rager on Endor finally broke up. Like many of you, I had been meaning to revisit the previous six films to get in the mood…but before I could even say “Alderaan”, a good friend hatched a plan that I signed on for immediately.
One theatre. One day. All six STAR WARS films. One epic marathon.
I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.
A few details to set the scene:
This hexology was given its due and unspooled in a proper screening room for a private screening. I feel like this is important because while any of us can take a rainy Sunday and start watching these movies one-after-the-other, it’s a whole different experience being dwarfed by a proper-sized screen, in the dark, without distraction, and surrounded by several good friends to for a proper audience.
So after taking my place in an aisle seat in the second row, and knowing that I’d only have fifteen minutes or so between selections, this is how the day shook down…
The day begins at 10am with THE PHANTOM MENACE. At 10:15, Jar-Jar Binks arrives and says his first pidgin-inspired words. Suddenly, it seems like it’s going to be a long afternoon. As the first act goes on, my brain goes back sixteen years. I think about the hype that surrounded this movie, and the fever pitch that greeted every morsel fans got in advance of its summer debut.
I ask myself quietly if I’m about to witness history repeat itself.
My curiosity doesn’t get to linger long because twenty-five minutes later Jake Lloyd asks Natalie Portman if she’s an angel. To a man, everybody gathered groans. It’s a pity, really, because it isn’t Jake Lloyd’s fault that the moment comes off so stilted (like much of his interactions with Padme will). He’s just trying to sell the bits of dialogue that are the hardest things to sell. His questions, taunts, and yelps are the sorts of things that an adolescent Christopher Walken could sell…but a kid like Jake is just out of his depth.
By 11, the pod race has begun and I realize that it’s been far too long since my last viewing of BEN-HUR.
Around noon, when The Duel of The Fates begins, I begin to think back on the whole film and the pummeling it has taken through the years. It’s not nearly as bad as I remember. It’s a tad wordy with all its talk of trade routes and senatorial debate, but it’s brisk, bright, and feels like as good a starting point as any.
I’m not ready to join the ranks of those who have been claiming that the prequels are underrated, but I’m willing to back off the state of discontent I’ve been in for too long on this movie. At 12:25, the Naboo and Gungans hold aloft a weird glowing orb, I finish my breakfast sandwich, and a hatchet is buried.
The day’s most difficult leg lay ahead. I knew it was going to be a tough go getting through ATTACK OF THE CLONES, but I’d really forgotten just how tough.
Not long after 1pm, the inappropriateness and awkwardness of Anakin and Amidala is in high gear. Again, we all cringe when the former Queen of Naboo says that to her Ani will always be that little boy on Tatooine. Gross. Seriously, gross. Considering what’s to come, I can’t believe that line stayed in the script. Then, my mind starts to wander back to casting. For the first time I find myself wondering how Christensen landed this gig. Natalie Portman was already in place by then, so any actors considered for Early Adult Vader would have had to screen test with her. Seriously, did every other bloke step on her toes and bump foreheads with her? How did this misfit land the role of her star-cross’d lover?
My wondering is interrupted at 1:20, when I realize that Ani and Padme are actually a pair of dicks. I’d never noticed this before, but as they climb a set of plaza steps in Naboo, R2-D2 can be seen behind them struggling to go stair-by-stair as a droid of his design would. Think they wait for him? Slow their roll? Nope, not even a little. On they go, leaving R2 clunking along in their dust.
Around 2 my brain drifts to musical cues. Specifically “The Duel of The Fates” and “The Imperial March”. The former returns in this film after its debut in Episode I; the latter makes its first appearance in the series during this movie…but both are tied to such curious moments. These films all seemed to be made with such “big picture” thinking…how was the musical landscape not a part of that?
At 2:40 I made a note that simply says “Anakin’s an idiot”. I have no idea why, but I’d wager we can all pick a reason.
By 2:45 things have started looking up. Despite The Battle of Geonosis containing the graphics of a modern video game, the brooding has quelled, the action has risen, Christopher Lee has arrived, and I am reminded that no matter what, the prequels deserve high marks for what the level of fighting choreography employed in all of those light sabre battles.
Soon Yoda is fighting, I finish my Honeycrisp apple, and the hard part of the day ends with the words “Written and Directed by George Lucas”.
…as if I could possibly forget.
At 3:15, things begin looking up as REVENGE OF THE SITH opens with a shot that contains fluidity and scope that are unmatched in the Prequel Trilogy. Soon thereafter there’s a much-needed dose of Obi-Wan smartassery, and another helping of the oxygen Christopher Lee brings to the proceedings.
All in one go, I feel like I’m getting much of what’s been missing from the series so far, and things are looking up. Then Hayden tries to sell the line “I’m so in love with you” and I feel like I’m back to where I was two hours ago.
Where’s a river of lava when you need it?
At 4pm the question suddenly occurs to me – exactly how does destroying The Dark Side of The Force “bring balance”. Isn’t that precisely the opposite?
I wonder about it for a moment or two, then find myself too distracted trying to figure out what sort of Cirque de Soleil-meets-Sea Monkeys act Palpatine is watching in that opera house.
Distracted as I am, I cannot deny that this is the most entertained I have been all morning. These films were always about the fall of The Jedi…the fall of The Republic. All morning though, both the Jedi and The Republic seem to have been just fine thank-you, so now that things are finally unravelling, I find myself rapt. Leaves me to wonder, what might have happened if things had really started going south in Episode II? Might I have been more interested?
At 5pm my first feeling of fatigue sets in. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever sat through three screenings in a row, with just short, 15-minute breaks to show for it, and my body is starting to feel it.
Soon though, we are inside of Senator Organa’s shuttle – that familiar corridor we will see again in the very near future as the original trilogy begins.
My spirits lift, my package of almonds is empty. I wonder why we never got to know Conehead the Jedi better and I welcome the dinner break before the next three films unspool.
I get a little over-excited to be out of the screening room and allow dinner to run long. As a consequence, I’m not back in my seat until C-3PO and R2-D2 are already down on Tatooine. Why couldn’t dinner break have been before Episode II?
At 6:25, Luke finds Princess Leia’s message inside of R2-D2’s memory bank and asks his notorious question: “Who is she?…She’s beautiful…”
A ripple of laughter runs through the group. Their relationship is already awkward, but allow me to come back to that.
Soon after we meet Sir Alec Guinness as a much older Obi-Wan Kinobi and get his recap of what we have just seen. When we hear him talk of Vader’s “betrayal and murder” of Anakin Skywalker…and it sorta seems like he’s…just…making shit up. Obiviously, George Lucas couldn’t have had all the nuts and bolts of the back story in place when he wrote this scene, but after spending more than seven hours with a singular story, it’s jarring to hear it sloughed off so ham-handedly.
I’d never suggest Obi-Wan tell Luke the truth; perhaps just that the original trilogy jive a bit more with what was laid down in ’77. More on that later.
I couldn’t help but be struck by how labourious all of the dogfighting in this movie is compared to what I’d just witnessed in the original trilogy. It’s still incredible for its time, and impressive considering the resources…but in contrast to the speed and weightlessness I’ve just watched, the story seems like it has gone back in time, not forward. The cost of a franchise cooling its heels for sixteen years.
The other thing I was struck by was how accustomed I’ve become to all of the changes made in the Special Edition re-releases. The screening unfurled the original edits, so Han shoots first and Jabba is absent. The funny thing is, this film is now 38 years old, and the revisions have been in place for 18 of those 38 years. I’ve spent just about as much time with them as I originally did without. Heresy as this may be, they almost feel as though they are as much “the norm” as the original cut.
At 9pm, medals are handed out, we all applaud, and things are looking up.
At 8:15, I open a packet of candies and feel a bit of a buzz in the room. It feels like the whole day has built-up to this…that we are getting the reward for sitting through talk of Midichlorians and Kimino Cloners. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK feels refreshing, perhaps because of all that bright, snowy Hoth landscape that greets us after so many hours in the dark of space. Even Tatooine didn’t feel this invigorating.
However, EMPIRE is where some of the puzzle pieces don’t fit together as well in light of those first three chapters – and perhaps why many have actually begun to watch this film second, and treat the entire prequel trilogy as a three-film flashback before ending with Jedi.
Sometime after 8:30, Luke and Leia kiss and that “ewwww…” goes through the crowd again. There just isn’t any other way to take the moments after we’ve seen Queen Amidala bring them into the world seconds before she exits. We know they are brother and sister, so what was once two sides of a love triangle now feels utterly and completely wrong.
Something else starts to feel off when watching it all end-to-end; Darth Vader’s ‘spidey-sense’ about Luke’s presence feels like it is miscalibrated. If the assumption is that he can sense Luke because he is now using the ways of the force, that’s one thing. However, one gets the feeling that he can sense Luke because…y’know…he’s his son. If he’s able to sense Luke, how is it that he’s never able to sense Leia. He stood face-to-face with her at the start of A NEW HOPE. How did he never read a midichlorian or two in her bloodstream?
These aren’t the sort of details I really believe matter in the grand scheme of the saga, but when you’ve just spent so much time seeing how hot-and-bothered Ani got over all things Padme, it’s strange to think that he wouldn’t get a rise out of the legacy she left behind.
However, the biggest legacy of watching EMPIRE in such close proximity to Episodes I – III is seeing Luke train with Yoda.
On the one hand, I’m not dead certain on what sort of “wax-on, wax-off” technique Yoda is trying to employ with our hero…but at the very least we see him learning about The Force, what it can do, and how much he till needs to get a grasp on. It was only then that I realized we never saw Anakin go through anything of the sort. We don’t know how awkward or amazing he was when he first tried to levitate a spacecraft with the power of his mind…and suddenly I found myself missing that.
The Trials, The Training, going from Padewan to Knight to Master…I’d have given ten awkward Ani/Amidala kisses for even a moment of that earlier on.
By 10:15 I’m out of candy, the credits are rolling, and I begin to feel my energy fading. I’ve been in this theatre the better part of twelve whole hours.
It’s 10:35, and I’m out of snacks. What I wouldn’t give for a candy bar, a fruit-roll-up, or a glass of blue milk right about now. Five minutes from now will bring my first yawn of the day.
I’ve often thought the multilingualism of The Star Wars Galaxy was what was missing from MENACE, CLONES, and SITH. Hearing it used to such great effect in Jabba’s palace really underscores the beautiful idea that there are galaxies out there where different languages are so clearly understood. Of course, then I think back on Jake Lloyd’s awful syntax with the language he was asked to use and I reconsider my position.
At 10:50 it occurs to me that Han Solo melting free of the carbonite is by far the weakest visual effect in the entire series. I also find myself unclear on how much time has passed between EMPIRE and JEDI…obviously enough to build half a Death Star, but the narrative surrounding Luke’s training and Han’s rescue makes it seem like less time.
By 11:20, we finally return to Degobah, kiss Yoda goodbye once and for all, and get to hear Ben re-state his position on The Legend of Anakin Skywalker. Once again, he seems to be making shit up. He didn’t think he could train Anakin, Yoda assigned him the task. He also wasn’t really what one would call a great pilot so much as he was a reasonably competent kid. At best, Kinobi is playing fast and loose with the facts and still taking a “certain point of view”. It just really doesn’t jive with what I watched unfold this morning and this afternoon.
I don’t blame Ben for skewing the truth, I blame Lucas for not allowing the truth to line-up as well.
Twenty minutes later, I let out my second yawn, and wonder if Ewok appreciation is a sign of a generational divide.
Just before the witching hour, Luke tells Leia that she is his sister. She replies by saying “Somehow, I’ve always known”. We laugh at this…hard. The moment is followed by my first ‘long blink’ of the series.
So many iconic moments follow; The Battle of Endor, The Duel of The Skywalkers, Anakin’s Redemption, and The Destruction of Death Star II. After fourteen hours, every one of them feels joyous, well-earned, and comforting. I’m reminded of the way JEDI used to feel like a let-down after the emotional assault of EMPIRE and now feel so very differently about it. This sixth chapter is a reward – it’s a reward for clinging tight to what worked, and letting go of what didn’t. It’s taking a boy and young adult I spent more than seven hours loathing, and making me finally sympathetic to his plight.
At twenty til one, the sounds of “Yub Nub” chime out, the screen fades to black, and I am beyond gassed.
This was the first time I have ever sat through every STAR WARS film in one long go. With more on the way that would turn this fourteen-hour experience into a sixteen-hour experience (at least), I can also tell you that it is the last time I will ever sit through every STAR WARS film in one long go.
Experiencing the story in all of its ups and downs pulled several things into focus – some for better, some for worse. It made me wonder if somewhere along the way this became a series of stories that wasn’t meant to be consumed together…and that just too much time passed by to allow it all cohesion. Perhaps they just can’t stand up in that manner.
Regardless, this is handily an experience with the franchise that I will never forget. It ranks with finally A NEW HOPE on a big screen for the first time in 1997, or lining up to see those prequels at midnight the days they were released. It reminds me of just how transcendent a series these flawed films are…that I’d even leap at the chance to do this.
Hell – in that manner, they stand completely on their own.