The Internet is full of thinkpieces about how to watch Star Wars. Some fans will passionately tell you to watch them in the order they were made, while others will say to hit them chronologically.
Then there’s the Machete order, which places episodes two and three between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, skipping The Phantom Menace completely.
But somehow, the decision on viewing order is made infinitely more difficult when it’s not just about the order you watch films, and more about how you introduce your son to the franchise that defined science fiction for 30 years.
This has been my dilemma. For more than six years I’ve internally debated the details of how I would introduce my son to the films I watched so much as a kid the VHS tape of Return of the Jedi actually snapped in the machine.
And with The Force Awakens arriving at cinemas around the world this week, the time seemed perfect to give him the intergalactic education he so desperately needed.
Fear leads to anger
A large part of the indecision over viewing order stems from not just my extreme disappointment in the prequel trilogy, but also the fact that the Blu-ray versions of the original trilogy got a digital "upgrade" from George Lucas.
Unnecessary CGI characters, ridiculous audio additions, Greedo shooting first, Hayden Christensen – the list of Lucas additions is long and complex, and every change takes away from the beauty that was the original films.
I wanted to ensure my son experienced the same sense of wonder, of magic that I did when I first watched the movie 30 years ago. So it was as if all my Star Wars Christmas Special dreams had come true at once when, days before we sat down to marathon the original trilogy, I managed to get my hands on the Despecialized Editions of the original trilogy.
For those unfamiliar with the Harmy Despecialized Editions, the general gist is that a group of people have been painstakingly recreating the theatrical release of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in high definition. Working through each and every frame, they have been attempting to remove the annoying digital additions of the Blu-ray release, restoring the film to the way it was when it blew audiences away 30-plus years ago.
It’s not just the ridiculous inclusion of Gungans at the end of Return of the Jedi or shaving Darth Vader’s eyebrows either – the Despecialized release fixes the weird colour hue of the Blu-ray release, leaving a much more natural film.
Anger leads to hate
It boggles the mind that fans have to take it upon themselves to recreate the film they fell in love with in today’s era of special editions and director’s cuts. Many fans (myself included) loudly hoped that Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm would finally see the theatrical release of Star Wars make its way to Blu-ray, although that has yet to materialise.
When films like Blade Runner can somehow include five different versions of the film in a Blu-ray release, there’s no reason that Star Wars fans shouldn’t be able to enjoy the same experience.
But the fact that the Despecialized films exist meant that my decision on viewing order was largely made for me. I would introduce my son to Star Wars the same way it was introduced to me – the original theatrical releases with no Lucas additions, in the order they were released.
It was an amazing experience. After decades of suffering through the debate of who shot first, it was almost refreshing to watch Han shoot Greedo not only first, but before the greedy green alien could pull off a shot at all.
I watched as my son – who once referred to Darth Vader as "Star-faced Flader" as a three year old – cheered as Luke launched his Proton torpedoes to set off the chain reaction that would blow up the first Death Star. I revelled in his discovery that Luke’s father wasn’t dead as Obi-Wan had told him, but really Darth Vader. And I watched as he came to grips with the fact that there was still good inside Vader, and that he sacrificed himself to save his son from the evil Emperor.
It was, as I’d hoped, the perfect Star Wars introduction.
Disney is riding an amazing wave of Star Wars euphoria following the almost unanimous adoration of Episode VII. But it should also be taking the availability of the Despecialized films and the love and passion that has gone into recreating them very seriously.
Now that the House of Mouse has the keys to the Star Wars universe, it should be putting a whole heap of energy into releasing the original films on Blu-ray as they were made, so parents like me can happily teach our children about the Star Wars universe just as we were taught.
Hate leads to suffering
Of course, now that my son has experienced the original trilogy in all its original glory, the question moves to "what’s next?"
The prequel trilogy is erratic, bloated and tedious. The Clone Wars animated series has a lot of merit (aside from the decision to include Jar Jar Binks and not kill him off painfully), while Disney’s current animated show, Star Wars Rebels, is truly fantastic.
The catch is that the animated shows probably need the context of the prequel trilogy to make sense.
Honestly, I will probably watch the prequel trilogy with him next. But I still hold out hope that one day Disney will release an edited version of the prequels that tells the story of Anakin and Obi-Wan, without the extraneous rubbish that turns each film into an exercise in tedium.
Just like the despecialized films, internet fans have released fan-cut versions of the prequels. Goodbye midichlorians. Goodbye creepy stalker Anakin. Goodbye Vader Nnnnoooooooooooo! scream. But sadly none of them has managed to deliver on the promise of watching Anakin’s turn to the dark side.
That could be the source material, but there’s still hope that there’s enough footage on the floor at SkyWalker ranch for the prequels to be saved.
If not for me, then for my son.