A Grown-Up Watches Star Wars For the First Time, Part One – The Prequels

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When was the last time you met an adult who had never watched a single Star Wars film? What if you could introduce them to the series, one film at a time, and ask them their thoughts as they went along? That’s exactly the situation I’ve found myself in, as my friend Kelsey just started watching the Star Wars films over the past few months and has become increasingly engrossed. After viewing Episodes I, II, and III, Kelsey agreed to be interviewed to satisfy my curiosity about her experience and reflections on the series so far. After all, most Star Wars fans who started with the prequels did so as children, and it’s a rare pleasure to be able to ask thoughtful questions of an adult fan with almost no prior knowledge of where the series is headed after Anakin’s fall to the dark side. Stay tuned for a follow-up interview with Kelsey in a few months after she finishes the series!

What were your favorite things about the prequels?

I really liked in Episode III all of the complications between Anakin and Padmé (I was able to get over the “weirdness factor” of their age difference!). And I saw there is something good and genuine in how they love each other, but somehow in the midst of all these good intentions, all these horrible things happened. But it wasn’t random or mysterious, it was that Anakin consistently made the wrong decisions; there was a twisting on his part. It wasn’t just a tragic love story—there’s no doubt there were some evil things that happened in Anakin that I think will set up the next couple movies. I’m intrigued about that. There was a lot of gray area: it’s not just black and white that you latch a story onto, the canvas is already gray.

I think there was also just a lot of cool worldbuilding. Especially in the middle of Episode II, I started figuring out how their society and universes generally work. In other words, I knew there was intergalactic diplomacy happening, but I didn’t understand it in [The Phantom Menace]. It wasn’t until [Attack of the Clones] that I felt I understood the universe enough that I felt if I wanted to, I could come up with another planet or species consistent with this galaxy’s rules. Plus as a biology major I enjoyed starting to see new kinds of animals in the second movie.

I also love how good Obi-Wan is. I was playing a lot of mental catch-up, learning all the new names and their factions, so it was helpful to have at least one character you know for sure is good. Because even in first movie Anakin is a bit questionable; he’s mischievous (He’s also “Jesus-esque” with all these big-picture story elements, but even in the first movie you can tell something is a little bit off). Whereas Obi seems good start to finish; the one trustworthy character. Especially in [Revenge of the Sith], when you see the Jedi aren’t even living up to their own Code… I thought the Jedi were always going to be the good guys, so it was confusing to me that the Jedi deal with all these huge universe problems, but they’re not even living up to their own strict codes that they’re supposed to be living up to. They’re consciously going against it. I know I’m also coming into these films with Christian allegory stuff in the back of my mind, so it reminds me of Christians, how they have rules but still consciously sin at times—it’s just like the Jedi. It’s very shocking to me.

Is Obi-Wan your favorite character then?

I’m trying to think through all of them. Yeah. I guess so. I guess that’s cheesy, but he’s my favorite. And he’s one of the best actors.

[Andrew’s note: If most Star Wars fans had to pick a favorite character from the original trilogy, I believe very few would pick Obi-Wan. He comes across as somewhat confusing, dry, and even deceptive. Thus I found it very interesting that Kelsey enjoys him so much in the prequel trilogy, and I wonder if she’ll be disappointed by his characterization when she watches the original trilogy.]

What’s your favorite scene so far?

There were so many ridiculous ones we were making fun of in [AotC]: so uncomfortable! There were also a couple scenes where I feel there’s lot of deep stuff happening, but then they immediately go and fight a battle, so there’s no time for the viewer to unpack whatever profound thing just happened. I liked the coliseum scene [in AotC], because of all the different creatures that try to take down a Jedi—I just love animals!

“I didn’t think [the Jedi] had their own agenda at first, but at the end of [RotS] I’m starting to question that.”

From what you’ve seen, what do you think is the role of the Jedi in this galaxy?

Right now I think they’re supposed to be some kind of unaligned people, not with a government or planet or species, and they don’t play by anyone’s rules, including the intergalactic rules. They’re kind of like monks in a sense. They even have a temple, and have the mentoring training things kind of like spiritual stuff. It’s clear the Force is a spiritual, external thing.

The Jedi have something to do with monitoring this spiritual reality and how it interacts with the rest of the universe. They’re there to be peacekeepers regardless of whatever earthly [i.e., non-Force] powers might be at work. I didn’t think they had their own agenda at first, but at the end of [RotS] I’m starting to question that. Maybe by forming an agenda, they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing; they go too closely connected to these earthly powers.

Which I know to you sounds a lot like Christianity. What else reminds you of Christianity in Star Wars?

So much of Episode I reminds me of Christianity, particularly themes of being caught in slavery and oppression. For both Anakin and Jesus, they seem to identify with the lower people in society. They both have these long-term promises or prophecies about each of them, and they both have a significant mother figure. There’s even just the sense of “you’re just a kid, but we can sense something different about you.” They can already do some special things even when they’re young; there’s an acuity right there. And with Anakin trying to win the race, it’s so something good would happen for other people, so there’s already a sense of “I am doing this to set other people free, it’s not just for me.”

What do you think will happen in the following movies?

We have our bad guy: Darth Vader. And it seems like the movies are focusing on one particular lineage, so it’ll be something that brings out the character development of at least a couple characters of that lineage. We’ll find out who are these Skywalkers. Obi-Wan and Yoda are the last two Jedi that we know to be alive, so maybe they’ll go find out the other people who might still be around, or find other people who once were Jedi and then gave it up, and maybe recruit an army or people they know are on their side; start networking. They’ll go into hiding for a couple years. Maybe as the bad guys start taking over and expanding, maybe there’ll be little skirmishes as they continue to get power, or alternately maybe they’ll start the next movies in the full reign of the bad people and already past the skirmishes. Maybe you don’t really see the Jedi come back until much later, and this gives the rest of the planets and the universe some time to realize that this new Empire is bad—or maybe they’ll scarily think it’s good. Whether the Republic is present or not, it’s clearly not a democracy, so maybe there’s some galactic realization that “Oh we’re powerless to change it now, we see our mistakes, and let’s give the Jedi a chance when they start coming back.”

So do you see the Jedi coming back?

Oh yeah, definitely. Maybe not in one grand battle; maybe they’ll keep coming back bit by bit and getting squashed down. It’d be boring if the bad guys just stayed in power the whole time with no opposition.

[Andrew’s note: Kelsey’s perspective, coming from the prequels, is very Jedi-focused—which makes sense! It’s interesting in retrospect how few Jedi there are in Episodes IV-VII, given their prevalence beforehand. Sure, there was the purge, but not to the extent that a prequel viewer like Kelsey would think they’d be almost extinct.]

What are the big, lingering questions still that you hope will be answered in Episodes IV-VI?

I have no idea what Darth Vader’s motivation is. The thing that motivated him—Padmé—is now gone, and that just changed in Episode III. I don’t know where his character is going because I don’t know what replaced that motivation. Moreover, is there anything redemptive about him? It seems like he went off this deep end so fast, in the course of a single movie. Maybe there will be a moment before death where he has some kind of hint of self-awareness, or perhaps regret that he’s been used by Darth Sidious.

“Why the heck is the evil side of the Force stronger than the good side? It seems stronger!”

Another question I have is: How does Obi-Wan work through the fact that his apprentice brought about this massive change in the worst way possible? They’re not supposed to be attached, but the fact that Obi didn’t want to be sent to kill him, and Obi-Wan was also good friends with Padmé, and a godparent to their kids. How does he deal with that and that sense of failure with this kid Anakin, and all the emotional repercussions that follow.

Another question I have is there going to be a full restart for the Jedi, of actually living by the Code and being more consistent in following it?

Finally, how did Yoda—he’s fighting Count Dooku. Why the heck is the evil side of the Force stronger than the good side? It seems stronger! It seems like that in the films. That doesn’t seem fair. If the Force is just an element of the universe, why is there an imbalance in something as straightforward as that? Is the dark side more powerful? Is it more abundant than the light? Or does the difference just lie in the way the Jedi are channeling it?…

[Andrew’s note: It’s fascinating how much of the original trilogy Kelsey anticipates, including Yoda’s speech about the light side being stronger, though more difficult. She also anticipates the return of the Jedi and the redemption of Anakin. However, her questions regarding Darth Vader’s motivations and Obi-Wan’s emotional baggage are left mostly unanswered in the OT. Is that something Lucas should have fleshed out more in the OT, or was it wise to have started afresh with a new set of protagonists? I lean towards the latter, but I do empathize with her questions as well as those who still long for a solo Obi-Wan movie to answer some of them!]

I have to ask—what’d you think of Jar Jar?

I did like his one line in [AotC]. “It warms my heart to see yousa alive,” or something like that. I want to greet everyone that way!

18 comments

  1. Ian Cooper says:

    Out of interest, is it R1 next or ANH?

    • Pearlann says:

      I think R1 would be too removed and strange to watch without the context of the later movies. Idk

    • Andrew Berg says:

      I actually suggested that she watch Rogue One first next, just out of curiosity what her experience would be to go purely chronologically, but I think she decided just stick to the Original Trilogy for now.

  2. Pearlann says:

    I had a friend (years ago) who I introduced SW to in cronological order (1-6). Her take on the story overall was so incredibly different. Things that were assumed and already known to me were a complete shock to her (“Anakin went to the Darkside?!” “Palpitine was Sidious?!”) and things that should have been surprises weren’t (“I am your father” …duh). It was cool to see how radically different the story was perceived in that order. I remember her actually feeling that Episode IV was slow and rather detached from the pace and overall story that had been established so far. It was her least favorite, so I’m anxious to hear what this person’s experience brings.

    However, my favorite moment was being with my friend after watching Episode III and having her lean over to me and whisper “…Those kids are going to be badass.” Heh.

    • Andrew Berg says:

      Ha that’s awesome! Yeah it is so fascinating the difference in perspective there is in starting with the Prequels. I wonder if in another decade or two, it’ll be much more common for new fans to start from Episode I instead of IV, particularly as the “shun-the-prequels” community continues to shrink as a proportion of the overall fan base.

  3. Eric Brown says:

    This is probably because I’m of an older generation (I was born while A New Hope was still in the theaters — and I still think of it as simply “Star Wars”) – but if I had the friend to introduce the films to, I would do it in order of release.

    I know, that’s how I showed them to my kids =o) But they also watched them as a kids watch shows, and without a good sense of larger build up.

    This is a fascinating interview – I’m looking forward to the response to the new. I hope the age/technical differences don’t throw. And, in my opinion, make sure she sees it so she knows that Han shot first.

    • Master Ki-Aaron-Mundi says:

      Au contraire, I’m a 2nd generation fan (born in ’89) and I also wouldn’t show the movies in chronological order. It would either be release order or, if I were showing them in close proximity, I might experiment with IV-V-I-II-III-VI. The originals are simply more intentional about expository dialogue–around the Force, the Jedi, the way the universe is set up, etc.

      Of course, for scientific purposes, it’s fascinating to see someone exposed to the films in chronological order and to look at how that affects their interpretations. Definitely looking forward to Part II in a few months!

    • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

      And, in my opinion, make sure she sees it so she knows that Han shot first.

      To hell with that—I want to know how she reacts to the super-new Blu-Ray stuff like the Krayt Dragon call and Vader’s “NO” in Jedi. The whole point of this is explore a perspective that’s different from ours, and if these things don’t stand out to her, I think that’s incredibly instructive.

      • Eric Brown says:

        Do we bring them into the community in a way so that they can have a shared experience of understanding what BS got pulled on us, or do we use them as a experiment – always separate and unable to understand our pain? =o)

      • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

        Attempting to cultivate the same reactions the rest of us had (in your opinion anyway–as a SE baby I don’t actually grant that premise) is just as much of an “experiment” as the opposite approach. The only difference is the results would make for a less interesting article.

      • Master Ki-Aaron-Mundi says:

        I agree with Coop on this one–I’ll actually be surprised if the Han/Greedo showdown stands out to her. Yes, it looks clunky and poorly-edited–but the Millennium Falcon matte painting in Return of the Jedi also looks clunky, as does that overhead shot of Padme navigating through the droid factory conveyor belt in Attack of the Clones. The seams show every once in a while, and when you don’t know the real-world history of this particular seam, I doubt she’s going to jump up and say, “That’s so out of character! Han should be cold-blooded at this point!”

  4. Man, this was so neat to read the perspective of someone coming in fresh to the franchise! I usually intro people with the OT first and then go to the PT, but I really love seeing the response the other way around.

    I’m curious: how much Star Wars knowledge has your friend absorbed via pop cultural osmosis? Though I guess that’s kind of a moot question since so many of the “twists” (Vader is Anakin, Luke and Leia are siblings) are already given away just from watching the prequels first.

    • Andrew Berg says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! I had a blast interviewing her and seeing the series from such a unique perspective.
      That’s a good question. My sense is not a whole lot, but I didn’t want to ask her yet because I wanted to avoid reminding her of any spoilers in case she had unconsciously heard them somewhere along the line. But I will definitely ask her about that in the follow-up interview; I’d find it very hard to believe she’d never heard the “No, I am your father” line before!

  5. Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

    While I of course would love to publish Part Two of this as soon as possible, I do have one suggestion—assuming she wants to continue past the OT, don’t let her watch TFA until right before The Last Jedi comes out. Once she’s caught up that’s basically the end of the experiment but seeing someone go right from VII to VIII without much time to mull over Luke’s exile, Rey’s parents, Snoke, etc would be worth a third piece.

  6. Looking forward to her picking up on the continuity errors. Why doesn’t Obi-Wan remember the droids? (although he could have been hiding that) What do you mean, your father wanted to have this? You picked it up when you left him for dead. Why does he call him “Darth” as if it was a first name, not “Anakin”? etc.

    • Andrew Berg says:

      Yeah! Those will definitely be included in the follow-up! She just watched IV and texted me about some “errors,” though not the ones you mentioned (and some are only “errors” from a certain point of view; others are arguably intentional).

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