This may come as a shock to many Star Wars-fan parents who are trying to raise their kids right by raising them on a steady diet of Star Wars but… you may be doing it wrong.
Definitions: Episodes 1, 2, & 3 = The Prequels. Episodes 4, 5, & 6 = The Original Trilogy.
Revenge of the Common Wisdom
The common wisdom goes as follows: my kids need to “suffer” through Episodes 1, 2, and 3 so that they can enjoy the masterpieces of 4, 5, & 6. Since George Lucas set the prequel trilogy before the original trilogy, when we show our kids Star Wars, we should start them at “the beginning”.
Unfortunately, that’s wrong and could damage your child’s lifetime love of Star Wars.
The truth is, do not let your children see episodes 1, 2, & 3 before they have first seen A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
The Prequel Menace
Let me get one thing out of the way right up front, I’m not here to bash on the prequels. I defend many aspects of them. I see what George was doing. I’m one of the few who thinks: The Phantom Menace is the best of the three prequels.
I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t show your kids the prequels. I know some parents avoid them but there’s enough value there (especially for the true Star Wars fan), and there’s so much context that’s required to later enjoy Clone Wars and other great shows, that they are a must watch.
You absolutely should show your kids the Star Wars prequels, but not before they’ve first seen the original trilogy.
An Old Hope
Why show the original trilogy first? Nearly all of the great plot twists, key scenes, and character revelations are spoiled if you see the prequels before watching the original trilogy. Here’s some reasons to consider:
Self-contained stories: You don’t need to have seen the prequels to understand every plot point, character motivation, and storyline in the original trilogy. Both trilogies are self-contained stories and can be enjoyed separately. In fact, the prequels actually spoil most of the story of the original trilogy if you end up watching the prequels first.
Darth Vader’s Character Arc: The astounding first reveal of Darth Vader storming onto Leia’s ship is one of the great moments in cinematic history. You have no idea who Vader is. He’s ruthless, relentless, and terrifying just as he should be. The story of the prequels is a self-contained arc of Anakin as he turns into Vader. It’s the story of his fall. The original trilogy is it’s own arc of Vader’s redemption. They are two separate arcs. Knowing the prequels fall does not help understand the redemption any better because it already clearly illustrated in the original trilogy that Vader is evil.
Yoda’s Introduction: When Luke first meets Yoda, Yoda is nuts (or at least playing like he’s nuts). When Yoda reveals himself to Luke, it’s a giant twist. As Luke begins training, we find out just how powerful Yoda is. All that is lost if you’ve already seen the prequels.
I’m your Father: Don’t spoil the seminal moment in Empire Strikes Back where Vader declares Luke is his son. If you saw the prequels first, you’d already know that.
The Mystery of the Force: In the original trilogy, the force is presented as a religion, way of life, code of ethics & honor, a path that those who are willing to work can master. In the prequels, we find that biology is a much bigger factor than desire or spirituality. Don’t deny your kids the mystery and power of the force from the original trilogy first.
The Emperor’s Plan: The Death Star is a revelation. When Obi-Wan first decides the Death Star is not a moon, the audience has no idea what they are dealing with. If you’ve already seen the prequels, then you know about the Death Star and the scene is spoiled. In addition, you are intimately familiar with the emperor, his plans, and his tactics. Much of the tension of the emperor’s evil plans goes away when you know who he is, what he’s up to, and what his weapons are capable of.
The prequels rely on several moments of fan-service for conflict, tension, and plot. Amazingly, their stories are actually improved in many ways by having first seen the original trilogy in all it’s rugged, risk-taking, late 1970’s / early 1980’s cinematic glory.
Think of the Younglings
Show the trilogies in the order they were released in theaters, not in chronological order. Let your kids experience each trilogy storyline on its own terms. Many times George Lucas has been quoted as saying that the newer generation of fans likes the prequels best. I wonder if that’s because many of those kids lost out on the opportunity to see the original trilogy first and had most of the great story moments, twists, and characters spoiled by seeing the prequels first? Don’t let that happen to your kids.