Less than a week until Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
I’ll go to see it with my wife and children, mirroring the time I went to see the first Star Wars movie with my parents and brother. My daughters have watched the first six Star Wars movies at home on DVD. And, yes, they watched them in the same order I did. Here are some of my recollections from those first viewings.
Simply called Star Wars when I was a mere whippersnapper growing up in a small provincial town in England, it is hard to imagine a more perfect movie for my seven-year old self. I loved it of course, although I was not obsessive. My best friend had seen it 15 times by the time I saw it for the second time with him at our local cinema. And although I enjoyed playing with all the toys my friends had, I never had any myself. Han Solo was my favourite character, closely followed by Princess Leia. I was kind of ambivalent about Luke Skywalker, however, as he always seemed a bit of a dweeb.
As excited as I was to see this as the time, I have fuzzier memories of this film than of the preceding and subsequent films. Whereas this is now my favourite of all the Star Wars movies, 35 years ago I think the darkness of this episode got in the way of my simply enjoying the spectacle as much as I had the previous film. I recall feeling exasperated at Luke for leaving Yoda on Dagobah as he clearly wasn’t ready yet. Then Han gets frozen in carbon by Darth Vader, which was very upsetting. And I’m pretty sure I was in denial about Vader’s revelation to Luke at the end of the movie for many months after.
I was at secondary school now and, as luck would have it, my new best friend was such a Star Wars nerd that he invited me to go see this movie with him and his family in London at one of the huge West End cinemas. We were fully versed in the whole shebang and knew all of the plot and character details and filmmaking trivia. I went to an adventure camp that summer and I remember playing this amazing “capture the flag” type game where we were all given Star Wars characters to play. In the evenings I worked on this fabulous giant recreation of the poster from the movie. I was very good at drawing Leia.
Back when Return of the Jedi came out, at the height of my fandom, my best friend told me that the first three Star Wars movies were merely the middle episodes of a nine-part series. This was tremendously exciting news and we spent many happy hours speculating about how Episodes I-III would have to be about Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, while Episodes VII-IX should be about Leia and Han Solo and the Jedi offspring they’d have. But then nothing happened for 16 years. By the time Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released, I was at graduate school in Minnesota, soon to be married. I was still interested to see it, but although I remember being excited by the movie in the cinema, I was left feeling pretty flat afterwards. I’d loved Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman in movies before (and since), but found their performances really lacking here. The young Anakin was just irritating and the main villain, Darth something-or-other, was just dull.
After the disappointment of the previous film, this one managed to exceed my expectations, albeit barely. I found myself more caught up in the story, the villains were more interesting, and I enjoyed most of the acting performances more (Hayden Christensen notwithstanding). Overall, however, with all the frenetic goings-on, I found the film more exhausting than entertaining.
As the final part of the three “prequels,” I was anticipating Revenge of the Sith almost as much as I had “Return of the Jedi” more than 20 years previously. Of course I knew what was ultimately going to happen, but I was anxious to find out how it was all going to play out. It was all so gloriously tragic and I was greatly affected as I sat there watching the drama unfold. I was quite surprised at how much this movie moved and disturbed me. In isolation perhaps it would not have done so. However, given my long relationship with the character of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I found the ending to this part of the saga to be as powerful as my first exposure to the Star Wars universe a long time ago.
Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.