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 this year. 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; Eleven-ThirtyEight ran our first interview in June. This follow-up comes after Kelsey watched Episodes IV, V, VI, and VII in order (although not Rogue One or any other canonical material). This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What were your thoughts watching A New Hope, coming in straight from the prequels?
I liked it! But I imagine it would be massively confusing without having known anything else about this universe…I can’t imagine that this was the first movie the public saw!
Any questions you had coming out of A New Hope?
I wish we got to see the little hooded creatures in the huge tank w/o their robes… I couldn’t tell if the beady eyes were cute or scary, haha. Also, how thick is Darth Vader? Why didn’t he feel a disturbance in the Force when he was in such close proximity to Leia and Luke? That should’ve been at least double disturbance! Also, Luke’s reaction to Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice speaking to him suddenly was like, nothing. He should’ve been freaked out! Or was he happy because he recognizes it as Obi, which might mean he’s not really dead? Or maybe he doesn’t realize it’s Obi and just decides to listen to this invisible person that no one else seems to hear…weird.
Obi-Wan was your favorite character in the prequels. How did you find his portrayal in the original trilogy?
Well, he had such limited screen time. He wasn’t my favorite character anymore because we didn’t see much of him (plus, all the ghosts are sort of reserved). I still like him, and I thought it was interesting that he came back to talk to Luke wherever he is. But it was definitely a new set of main characters.
Do you have a new favorite character in this trilogy?
Yoda was hands down my favorite character, for what I think are very “Kelsey reasons”: I like things that are kind of backwards from the way you think they should be, things that take some reflectiveness and philosophy and thought…Yoda would sit and listen, but then he would say something and it’s so profound. They’re backwards from the way you would think, but they’re still true. My favorite part of the series is when he told Luke to raise the ship out of the water. You could see his eyes widen when Luke was kind of successful, so to me it’s like he wasn’t fully expecting it: it’s amazing from a teacher/motivator perspective. Yoda wasn’t trying to encourage Luke with compliments; he was putting himself as a teacher in a place of humility by letting himself be surprised. I thought that was a very amazing way of teaching someone, and shows a lot of humility and sensitivity to what the Force really is. It doesn’t have to do with his own control.
“Saving Luke was awesome! I totally wasn’t expecting that.”
In our last interview, you commented that you thought the dark side seemed stronger. What’d you think of Yoda’s explanation that it’s just quicker and easier, but not stronger? I thought it’d be a yes or no question, but Yoda’s explanation offers a much more powerful answer. It has to do with the way it interacts with people. Yoda gave it more complexity; his answer wasn’t as discrete as I had expected.
What did you think of Darth Vader’s redemption at the end?
Saving Luke was awesome! I totally wasn’t expecting that. I don’t remember much of my thoughts at the time, other than that I expected the other heroes would come to rescue Luke: I didn’t even include Vader in the picture. It couldn’t have been easy for him to fight back, being passed out on the floor somewhere. Let alone to do something so bold as that! There hadn’t been anything said before that made me question his alignment, and even that action didn’t change his alignment, but at the end it’s “this person is my offspring, and he’s being hurt,” so let me jump in and save Luke. I guess my big question is if Vader is really a “good guy” after that. Because perhaps the moral is that even bad guys don’t want their kids to be murdered. I really didn’t see it as “yay we won one over, Darth Vader is a good guy again.”
Really? That’s so interesting! Because conventional wisdom among Star Wars fans is that in that act, Darth Vader turns back to the light, and that’s why Luke sees his ghost later.
To me, [the ghosts] are like in Harry Potter when Harry walks to his death and all the people from resurrection stone see him. It’s just solidarity, his “family” is here for him. It felt more like a sweet moment to me…just because Anakin was standing there, I didn’t necessarily think anything of it. Moreover, there’s no reason for me to believe that only light side people can come back as ghosts; why should it be impossible to do on the dark side?
[Andrew’s note: I still hold to the idea that Darth Vader was redeemed in his final moments, but Kelsey brings up a good point: isn’t Darth Vader still being self-serving in this act, killing the Emperor merely to save someone he loves? Can we really say this act is substantially different than Anakin’s failed actions to save Padmé in Episode III? Kelsey’s thoughts about Force ghosts are also interesting; in early concept art for The Force Awakens, concept artist Ian McCaig envisioned a dark Force ghost version of Anakin who comes to speak to Kylo Ren.]
There was a question from the audience after our last interview: “How much Star Wars knowledge had Kelsey absorbed via pop cultural osmosis before she watched the films?”
“I knew ‘I am your father’ all my life, yet I was still shocked when it happened.”
Shockingly, I feel like it was zero. I thought I knew stuff. I knew some names; I knew of Yoda and his backwards way of phrasing things. And I had a vague sense of if they’re a hero/villain. I knew “I am your father” all my life, yet I was still shocked when it happened. I might have been able to piece it together, but I wasn’t really thinking about it until in Cloud City, that’s when I recognized the significance of it. Luke handles it pretty well given everything that’s going on at that moment!
One critique: Mainstream culture really plays up Leia, but it doesn’t seem like she’s a big deal other than that she’s a female character. She’s a general for part of it, and she does more than you’d think a princess is capable of, but her character paled in comparison to the display of complexity and screen time for the people who move the plot along. It feels like she’s an object they’re trying to get back/chase down, and I felt she doesn’t govern the plot in a major way.
What was your favorite scene in the original trilogy?
I liked all the bear creatures that used guerrilla tactics to win. It wasn’t TOO unrealistic: it wasn’t like just a slingshot, they also moved logs, used catapults, etc.
Was there anything that bugged you in the original trilogy or The Force Awakens?
In general, I can’t believe they reuse the Death Star plot device twice. Can’t they come up with a better idea? Is there a deeper meaning? To be fair, there’s that small twist in RotJ [the Death Star being operational and having a working shield], but not one that requires much effort to overcome. Why did the Empire build it again and have the same weakness, again? “Arrogance of the Empire”, I guess…
I also feel like Luke’s struggle against the dark side wasn’t that compelling. In TFA, I really wanted Kylo Ren to choose the right thing to do, so maybe that heightened my sense of tension. But then he chose dark side. And similarly, when Anakin chooses it in Ep. III, he sort of has a struggle, but you’ve also seen his continuous development: from his murder of the [Tuskens] onward, there’s a pattern of darkness. Whereas Luke’s struggle doesn’t seem as dramatic, we’re pretty confident he’s going to do the right thing.
You’re saying Luke didn’t seem as close to the dark as Anakin or Kylo?
Yeah. There wasn’t as much long story build up, building up his darkness that might continue to develop his dark side as much, so it made sense he moved to light side. Also his body language, and facial expressions, and ways of speaking, when Darth Vader and he are circling [in RotJ], it doesn’t seem like he’s genuinely considering the dark side.
…other than him wearing all black.
True, but that whole scene is dark metal, so I didn’t notice. Plus he’s sneaking around, of course he would be wearing black!
“I liked that the Force is not just flicking a trashcan with my finger or manipulating objects.”
How did the original trilogy compare to the prequel trilogy?
It did feel like two separate volumes, with two different sets of main characters. I know there are some people who say, “oh the classics are SO different and the prequels are SO terrible.” I did enjoy the OT more, but I didn’t see a huge divide; I enjoyed them all. I found interesting plot and characters in all of them. Maybe I can understand if I had watched the OT and then the PT, because the OT is more action-packed and has less conversations, so maybe if you watched them in that order it might be boring. But overall I didn’t see a huge difference other than in the CGI.
Finally, what are your overall thoughts on Star Wars overall after watching these seven films?
Overall, I liked Star Wars so much more than I thought I would! I didn’t realize there was such a deep well to go in here. There’s a lot of complexity and stuff that isn’t answered. Usually I like fandoms where they set up a deep dystopia using existing set pieces. But in Star Wars, you can obsess with everything that hasn’t been addressed/answered yet. It’s genuine curiosity over the empty spaces within a highly complex and plausible universe. Harry Potter also does that well. It’s not just “oh, here’s Ron Weasely,” it’s thinking about all the minor characters, and magical people back in history, and the parallels with racism in our world. The fact that we would still have questions and mysteries show that it was set up in a thoughtful and well-done way. Similarly, I have way more respect for Star Wars now that I’ve seen them: it’s more than just spaceships and aliens (although those are significant too!).
Lastly, Star Wars is especially interesting for me as a Christian. I’m especially curious about the Force, because there’s some things about how it works that parallel the Holy Spirit and made me have certain questions and curiosities. Is the Force similar to God, or different? I also liked that the Force is not just flicking a trashcan with my finger or manipulating objects. It’s really about unity, being in touch with this realm that is material, but also spiritual. That definitely goes into me liking the Star Wars series: realizing that the Force is complex, and reflective of this other thing—religion—that’s also very complex.
6 thoughts to “A Grown-Up Watches Star Wars For the First Time, Part Two – The Originals (and TFA)”
This is really interesting, because it highlights the difficulty of expanding on and adding nuance to a philosophy in a prequel – when you then sit down and watch things chronologically, it can be a strange leap to go from that to the more “straightforward,” core original universe and comfortably marry the two together.
The Force ghosts is a case in point. The RotS script and novelization and The Clone Wars make it clear that Lucas intended it to be a light-side-only ability, because it requires letting go of your power in the physical world – something a Sith could never do, or even understand. But it’s not clear in the movies, and there’s no sense in the original trilogy that he’d really defined what it was at that stage (an early RotJ draft even had Yoda and Obi-Wan’s ghosts fighting Palpatine with Luke). So in the films themselves, it seems ambiguous if not downright muddled.
Vader’s redemption … that’s a tough one. I’d say there’s a difference between killing children because you can’t bear to live without your wife, and sacrificing yourself to save your son from a genocidal dictator, but it’s a nuanced thing – again complicated by the fact that it was only the prequels that really started to define the difference between attachment and compassion. That wasn’t as much of an issue in the OT, at least not as overtly.
The same applies to the “flawed” Jedi order. People talk about it a lot because the prequels and TCW were released later, but in the story they come BEFORE the originals, where the Jedi aren’t portrayed as particularly flawed. So when talking about the sequel trilogy, is it even relevant to talk about the flaws of the prequel Jedi any more, when within the frame of the OT it’s never really a problem?
Anyway, this has been a fascinating experiment and I’ve loved reading it! Always great to read a unique, new perspective on experiencing these films.
The OT may not give you much nuance on the matter but I’d argue there’s a pretty straight line to be drawn between the PT Order’s flaws and Obi/Yoda’s refusal to believe Vader could be redeemed—and more generally, “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny”, which was definitely wrong re: Vader and may prove to be even more wrong re: Kylo.
Speaking of Kylo, Kelsey, if you’re reading this, I wonder if you could talk a little more about him and his fall. Do you see it as a failure of Luke’s training or something that was beyond his control? To my mind many long-term Star Wars fans, OT fans especially, have developed an inflated sense of Luke’s infallibility and overall amazingness, so the idea that he a) lost his nephew b) lost his other students and c) retreated from galactic life has been a bitter and depressing pill for a lot of fans to swallow. Going straight from RotJ to TFA, did you find Luke’s trajectory disappointing, or out of character? What do you think his reasons might be for staying out of the fight and not wanting to train Rey?
I’m curious, too, as it seems like most only have that view as far as the post-NJO Luke was indefatigable and unstoppable at any level.
Hi, Mike! These questions look great, and I would love to hold onto them for a little bit! I was dragged to the movie theater to see Episode 7, which was a couple years before I decided to actually watch OT/PT! So I have a vague memory of how Luke’s and Kylo’s “falls/struggles” were different… But I definitely want to refresh it! So maybe there will be a “Part Three” of this article 😉
Oh, great! I thought you had just seen it recently. Let us know what you think!
Thanks – both to Kelsey and Andrew for sharing!
And Kelsey, you actually answered a question I’d been mulling about for months, with your comment on A New Hope: “I imagine it would be massively confusing without having known anything else about this universe…I can’t imagine that this was the first movie the public saw!”
I was around the right age for The Phantom Menace to be as equally Star Wars to me as the OT when it came out, but I still had grown up watching the OT for as long as I can remember. So I was wondering the reverse: if it had been massively confusing for the people who started with The Phantom Menace, for the same reasons you mentioned.
It’s nice to know that they’re both effective starting points!
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