After a life spent immersed in pop culture, here’s what it was like to experience all six Star Wars movies for the first time in 2015.
I’m nearly thirty, and until last week, I’d never seen Star Wars.
It’s impossible to avoid the hype surrounding the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but as someone with no attachment whatsoever to the franchise, I’d been tuning it out. However, just enough of it seeped through, and one day not long ago, it struck me: this new movie is going to be good. Not just the nostalgia factor. Not just the special effects. The impression I was getting via fandom was that this is going to be a well-written, progressive, character-driven movie that will hold up on its own, and all at once I realized that if I do not participate in enjoying it, I am going to be missing out.
Odd as it is to me that J.J. Abrams switched his Star-power from Trek to Wars, his work on the 2009 reboot made a total Trekkie out of me — a complete virgin to the Final Frontier. I saw Star Trek nine times in cinemas, and have since become obsessed with the original series as well, so I kind of know what he’s capable of. But his new Star Wars movie isn’t a reboot — it’s a continuation of George Lucas’s overall story, and I knew that if I wanted to properly experience The Force Awakens, I was going to have to watch the other six movies first.
The reasons why I’d never seen Star Wars before are wide-ranging: at first, it was because I grew up with a disinterest bordering on distaste for space-based science fiction, a prejudice that got slowly dismantled by Firefly, Doctor Who, and as I mentioned, the Star Trek universe. Sci-fi opened up to me, but everything Star Wars related remained solidly in the “no thanks” column. I always carried a mild, underlying amount of scorn about the franchise and those who swore by it — that may have had something to do with the people who’ve driven the fannish narrative for the past 40 years, something I’ll touch on more later — and the vibe I’d always gotten was that once you look past the impressive-for-the-era effects, Star Wars wasn’t a very well-written or acted body of work, that it lacked depth, and that it wasn’t really about the human experience, especially compared to the ground-breaking early days of Star Trek.
However, recently, I’ve been trying out this radical new concept of not shooting down stuff that other people love, or wasting energy on actively disliking things. My attempt to eliminate negative attitudes has been running kind of concurrently with the resurgence of Star Wars, and through bits of meta that passed on my Tumblr dash, GIF sets of Original Trilogy deleted scenes, and charming interviews with the new cast, I realized that there might be something in this for me after all. The real deciding factor was my discovery of the Machete Order — a blogger’s 2011 suggestion which has caught on in certain circles. Instead of watching Star Wars in the order of release, or the actual episode chronology, Machete Order places the prequel trilogy as a flashback — after watching Episodes IV and V, at the big daddy Vader reveal, you go back and watch I, II and III to see how Anakin got to that point, before watching Luke deal with this realization throughout Episode VI. This option instantly appealed to me as a method that would add a lot more character depth and emotional impact to Luke and Anakin’s story and made me more interested in Star Wars than I’ve ever been before.
Everyone knows the basics about Star Wars, even if you haven’t seen it. It’s inescapable, particularly for someone immersed in many other offshoots of pop culture and fandom. For most of my life, particularly before the rise of Harry Potter, Star Wars was still the biggest phenomenon, the most referenced touchstone in all of pop culture. I’ve always known enough to identify when something is a Star Wars reference — in fact, I felt like I knew everything it was possible to know about these movies without having actually watched them. I knew who was who in the Skywalker family tree, and who Ben was. I knew about Tauntauns and AT-ATs and Ewoks. I knew that Samuel L. Jackson’s only stipulation about his character was that he got to have a purple lightsaber. I knew that the remastered editions created character assassination controversy over Han no longer shooting first. Star Wars is so ingrained into our lives that it’s impossible to not have picked up on a lot about it via sheer osmosis, and all of that information created a preconceived notion for me of what these movies were.
Here’s what I discovered when I took a week to actually sit down and watch them.