In case you haven’t heard, there is another Star Wars movie coming out, Real Soon Now, with more on the way. As you may also be aware, this is because Star Wars is now owned by Disney, and they are doubtless hard at work imagineering new theme park rides and features. I bring this up because we will soon be taking a vacation to Walt Disney World (a frequent destination of ours) and our oldest, RU, will meet the height requirement for the Star Tours ride. This is because she’s freakishly tall. She’s not quite 4 years old yet and wears size 5 or 6 clothes. So even though she’s tall enough, she may not really be old enough to handle it; the ride can be herky-jerky beyond her roller coaster experience, and the content might be scary for her. Or not. Either way, it’s brought up the idea that she might be old enough to watch the films. Maybe doing so would help prepare her for the ride, or at least put it into context.
Thus, I would like to discuss one of the most important considerations a parent in the 21st century faces: When and how to show your children the Star Wars. Seriously. My oldest child may be under 4, but I’ve puzzled over this question since Episode I came out in 1999. Which I guess says a lot about me.
I was born the year Star Wars* came out and have no memory of seeing it for the first time. In my mind, I just have always seen Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back is something I know I saw when I was very, very young — I would have been almost 3 when it hit theaters — but it’s more the memory of a memory. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was old enough to anticipate it and be excited about it, and being able to appreciate it like that made a huge difference. These movies were important to me and a whole generation of kids (and by “these movies” I mean just the original trilogy <sigh>). Naturally, I want to make sure that RU, Me-Too, and Z have the best first experience possible. And it turns out, that requires a little forethought.
First, are they going to be old enough to “get” it, to get involved in the story and not just have it wash over them? I think that might be true for RU by now, but just barely. I could hold this back a couple of years to let Me-Too mature to the point that she could get it, too, but I don’t have the patience for Z (sorry, buddy). Hm, perhaps I should wait a year between each movie. Let them rematch what they’ve already seen but make ‘em wait for the next one like the rest of us had to.
Sure, whenever you expose your kids to entertainment like this, you also need to make sure the content is suitable for them. All of the Star Wars films except Revenge of the Sith are rated PG, and I think the original trilogy is pretty tame by today’s standards. Well, the violence and foul language are pretty mild and I can only think of three kisses all three films combined (and one of those is between a brother and a sister — though the characters don’t know that yet, so it’s kinda gross if you think of it), but there are some scenes that might be emotionally intense. The Internet Movie Database has a Parents Guide for the series. All I know is, I must have seen the first two movies before I was 3 years old and I’m pretty sure they didn’t mess me up. RU can be a bit more sensitive, though, so there’s another reason for me to hold off for a while. As Emperor Palpatine showed us, if you are patient enough, young fools will fall into your trap with little effort.
Once you deem them ready to appreciate the greatest science fiction/fantasy myth of all time, which version will you show them? Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference to some people, but I find that all the junk added to the Special Edition versions only clutters up the frame. And that musical number added to the scene in Jabba’s Palace? Ack, don’t get me started. Wait, I’ve already started, haven’t I? Okay, it was totally gratuitous, uninteresting, and screwed up the mood and pacing. Like most all the other changes Lucas made when he started monkeying around with them again. The little things that got altered to the original films after the prequels came out might make all six films more consistent… but bringing the original films more in line with the other three steaming piles of disappointment doesn’t involve changing them for the better.
The sad part is that the alterations done for the Special Editions are considered to be the standard version now. If you go buy Star Wars on Blu-ray, you won’t see Han shoot first**. Fortunately for me, I have the first DVD releases that included the original versions — the ones where the effects haven’t been cleaned up and you can see the matte lines. Personally, I’d rather have matte lines than CGI effects that are now a decade and a half old. Still, it’d be nice if there was a middle ground, a version where the original special effects were touched up and the frames restored but none of the extra crap was added. Fortunately, there is! Harmy’s Despecialized Editions, put together by someone with vastly more patience and free time than anyone I know. My sources tell me it’s as close as you can get to reproducing in cleaned-up HD what Star Wars looked like when it first hit the theaters.
Having obtained copies of the series, in whatever your version of choice is, you will then need to decide what order to show them in. If you’ve never thought about this question, the answer may seem obvious. They’re numbered, after all. But if you’ve seen the films — both the original trilogy and the prequels — then it shouldn’t take much consideration to realize how that order can be problematic. The prequels are all about Anakin Skywalker’s tragic fall towards the Dark Side, which completely undercuts the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back when [SPOILER ALERT] Darth Vader tells Luke that he is Luke’s father. If you can somehow manage to not have that surprise ruined for you, it’s one of the most shocking reveals in cinema, especially if you’re a kid. People post YouTube videos of their children watching that scene for the first time and having the doors blown off their reality. And, really, making sure my child is able to fully enjoy and appreciate that moment is my guidepost for how to handle all this. If she’s not totally floored when she sees that, I’ll feel like I haven’t done my job.
So much for watching them in numbered order. However, strict chronological order has it’s own problems, the biggest one being that Return of the Jedi is the conclusion of both Luke and Anakin’s stories. It’s clearly the best film to end on. Strictly sticking to the order they were released in means ending with Episode III, which would just be a huge downer.
Fortunately, there’s a brilliant solution: watch the films in Machete Order. You can read all about it here. The trick — and it’s a real stroke of genius — is to watch Episode IV and V, then jump to Episodes II and III, treating the prequels like an extended flashback. You finish up with Episode VI. As a bonus, it turns out you can skip Episode I entirely, which is good because while I do think that hardship builds character, that would be overdoing it. (And if you need a reminder because you haven’t seen it since 1999, here’s a 70-minute long critique of Episode I that explains how truly terrible it is in hilariously painstaking detail.)
You know, all this is sounding like too much work for me to accomplish before our trip. The more I think about it, the more I think I should wait. If RU wants to go on the ride, it’s not that big a deal. Odds are, she’s not really ready for that, anyway.
One last note. I heard of a guy who had sat his young son down to watch the Star Wars movies and they’d gotten to that scene. The guy is just watching his kid watch the show, waiting to see the reaction. When [SPOILER ALERT] Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s father, the guy’s kid just turns to him and says, “Oh, it’s just like with Buzz Lightyear and Zerg.” So… yeah, my kids aren’t going to be watching Toy Story 2 until after they’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back.
*Yes, Star Wars, not Episode IV, not anything else. The box on the VHS tape said “Star Wars,” the listing in the TV Guide when it came on cable was “Star Wars,” and for twenty years even the most pedantic nerd would have rolled his eyes at you if you’d constantly referred to it as “A New Hope.”
**I hope you can appreciate, dear reader, the degree of restraint I am showing by letting that lie when I could passionately fill another few paragraphs on that hateful revision alone. Let me just say that everything George Lucas has done to the Star Wars films since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983 has been to make the series simultaneously dumber and less interesting. And I plan to have “Han Shot First” put on my tombstone. It might confuse some people about the nature of my passing, but I’m okay with that, too.
Update: I’ve added ads below for the DVD versions that I, myself, have, which include the original theatrical release versions of the films. Yes, they are frighteningly expensive now; if I find cheaper options through Amazon, I’ll update these links. If you purchase them by following the links from this site, I do receive remuneration.