If you were introducing the fabulous story of Star Wars to your children or to someone who has never seen the movies before (gasp!), which movie would you start with? Would you start with the original movie released in theaters, Episode IV: A New Hope, or would you start chronologically with Episode I: The Phantom Menace?
This is a tough question and it was actually brought to my attention by my 17 year old brother the other day. For me, the answer was obvious. Episode IV, of course. No question about it. So it was to my big surprise when my brother exclaimed, “No way! Episode I!”
After this discussion (and by “discussion”, I mean vehement arguing), I began wondering if other people thought non-fans should be introduced to Star Wars through TPM. It turns out, after questioning some folks, a lot of other people agree with my brother.
Really? TPM?! So I started thinking about it in earnest and trying to list pros and cons of starting with each movie. Because that’s what I do, I make lists. Deal with it.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
1. Better CGI/more modern look. No arguing there. Scenes that pop to mind are anything with battle droids, the travel through the planet core (“There’s always a bigger fish”), and Jar Jar Binks. Ships and battles are more modern. For someone jumping in, it might be in your benefit to show them something that looks slicker and faster.
2. Cooler lightsaber battle. Yes, I love the battle of TPM, as anyone who read my post that reviewed lightsaber battles knows.
3. More recognizable actors and actresses. If you’re trying to convert a random person, it’s probably easier to list off Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Natalie Portman.
1. A lot of talking. There’s a lot of politics, Trade Federation mumbo jumbo, and senate squabbling to slug through. It can just get downright confusing. I think it took me at least four or five times as a 12 year old to understand what was going on. I never realized this until I was watching TPM with a child who had only seen The Clone Wars. He was so excited to watch Star Wars, but was bored through at least 60% of it.
3. Lack of character depth. When you can’t understand the politics, the characters should at least keep you interested. But this movie really lacks empathy for the characters and a level of human understanding. And how can you relate to Jar Jar Binks? Definitely no character development with him.
4. By starting with TPM and going chronologically, you find out that ANAKIN IS LUKE AND LEIA’S FATHER. You miss out on the delightful surprise that rocked the world in Episode V. I think that is often a main argument for people against starting in chronological order.
Episode IV: A New Hope
1. Great characters! You fall in love with them immediately. Han’s wise comments, Leia’s rebuttal, Luke’s innocence, and the classic story of a boy going on a journey/quest. They are funny and even though they are in a galaxy far, far away…they are also relatable.
2. Cool, mysterious bad guy. Darth Vader is as bad as bad can get. To top it off, he has an interesting breathing problem and keeps you wondering if he’s part machine, part human. But the mysteriousness that shrouds him, makes him more frightening. There’s a reason he is ranked #3 on AFI’s top villain list.
3. Classic story of good versus bad. This storyline is easy to understand. There’s a big, bad Empire ruling the galaxy with an oppressive thumb. Then there’s the underdog, a group known as the Rebellion who are determined to take down the Empire though the odds are against them. And while watching this trilogy, you find out a huge revelation in Episode V, and you’re SURPRISED. Unlike if you watch it chronologically.
1. Sometimes it feels a little old. I know, I know, I hate to write that, but I’ve seen people not want to watch it because of it doesn’t look modern. Special Editions and Blu-Ray versions are better, but you can still notice that the movie (and sometimes the hairstyles) are from 1977.
2. You follow two robots for a large portion of the movie. Some people love this and they say it makes the movie more interesting, but trust me – I have a friend thinking of watching the movies for the first time and this club-going, glitzy and glamorous girl will not be interested in watching two bickering robots for the majority of the beginning of the movie.
3. Oh gosh, I can’t think of another con. I am clearly biased!
I understand my brother’s argument, but I’m too much of a purist to let anyone start with Episode I. I also think you could get really lost while watching that movie and not want to watch the rest of the saga. Whereas, when you start with IV, you get connected to the characters and want to continue watching their journey. And lastly, you miss out on the big surprise in Episode V of Vader being Luke’s father.
What do you think? What movie would you start the saga off with? Would it be different for a child who has no concept of Star Wars vs. a grown person who has knowledge of the saga but has never seen it? Do you think that when Episode VII comes out, we will have this argument all over again? 😉