It’s that time of year, folks! Time to pull out the DVDs for one last “Star Wars” binge before the Dec. 15 release of a new installment in the beloved franchise.
As a parent of a young kid, and a cusp-GenX-er whose childhood was timed for peak “Star Wars” nostalgia, I put a lot of thought into how I’d introduce the series to my child. After a year of hearing her beg to watch “Star Wars” and then some research — yes, this matter can be researched — we decided last year to let her watch the whole series in what’s known as “Godfather, Part II” order or “Ernst Rister” order (Episodes IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII)
Much has been made of the prequels’ weaknesses, so I needn’t re-explain that disappointment. But the full weight of their failure wasn’t clear to me until I showed the series to my daughter.
At age 4, she got through Episodes IV and V with admirable engagement for movies with no children in them, and by the end of “Empire” was invested enough to weep at Darth Vader’s big reveal.
Then we began “The Phantom Menace.”
I couldn’t even read the opening crawl aloud to her, with its discussion of trade federations and senators. I paraphrased it to be about “greedy businessmen hurting regular people” — but none of that aligned with the movie because we never actually see the people of Naboo suffering.
There’s the thing: For all the attention to visual effects, the prequels SHOW very little of the plot. Mute the TV, and it’s hard to tell whether any two characters even like or dislike each other.
Actually, that’s a fun game. Here, hit mute and watch the first few minutes of “A New Hope” (the original “Star Wars”). Then watch the opening scenes of “The Phantom Menace.”
In the first, we see faces and body language showing fear and some character traits — even on robots, no less. The action begins right away. The good guys and bad guys, the underdogs and the bullies — all of this is immediately clear.
In the second, the images are so choppy you can’t tell right away what any of the characters have to do with each other. The costumes are a mishmash, with good guys and bad guys dressed like each other. Almost no emotion is shown. And it takes way longer to get to any action.
Turns out the prequels advance the story almost entirely through dialogue. Wordy, wooden dialogue. About complicated grown-up stuff. For seven hours.
There I was, plotting distractions for some of the violent parts, and my kid left to play with her toys anyway. By the end she was asking: “How much more ‘Star Wars’ do we have to watch?”
How much more “Star Wars” do we HAVE TO watch!!
When we jumped back to “Return of the Jedi,” she brightened at the familiar characters, but she had lost enthusiasm for the story since the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.” She eventually got back into it, and seeing a force-proficient girl in Episode VII was a huge payout for her.
Now it’s a year later, a new episode is coming, and we recently began rewatching the movies to get psyched for “The Last Jedi.” We planned to watch in story sequence this time, Episodes I-VII, maybe adding “Rogue One” in its place before “A New Hope.” I thought the prequels might be more tolerable to my kid after another year of attention span development.
We were halfway through “Attack of the Clones” — me yawning and she, once again, wandering around the house with her toys — when I just knew another 3 1/2 hours of prequel drudgery would smother her flame for “Star Wars.” She loves Rey. She loves Kylo Ren. She loves Luke and R2-D2 and scary Darth Vader. Why not just let her have that?
So skip them. Unless you don’t see why they’re awful or your kids really get into the CGI action (and they might). Watch the original trilogy to welcome the youngest generation of fans to the “Star Wars” universe and remind yourself what childlike wonder feels like. Then get back into the story with Episode VII. Throw in “Rogue One” at the beginning if that trips your trigger.
Do not let your pangs of allegiance or fan cred force bad movies onto your children. Just listen to the review of a modern kid when she asks, midprequel:
How much more “Star Wars” do we have to watch?