I’m Pretty Sure That Was A Trap
If there was only one thing I could say about the Star Wars marathon, it would be something like… “bibbledy bibbledy bibbledy gabba gabba hey!” I mean we just went really loopy. We were laughing at things that I don’t even remember what they were. Everything seemed funny. It was weird. The day before, I had found my old trombone in my parents’ garage. I haven’t played, held, touched or even seen the thing since I was in the high school jazz band thirteen years ago, but I nonetheless decided to walk around pretending I knew how to play it. It gave me something to do besides watching Star Wars. Here’s a video log of the experience:
So this was the longest marathon we’ve done yet, the Star Trek fiasco notwithstanding, and let me tell you I felt every last second of it. For all the problems the prequels have, by far the most frustrating one was their sheer length. Those movies are just stupid long. The Phantom Menace, the shortest of the prequels, was two minutes longer than Return of the Jedi, the longest of the original trilogy. That may not seem like a lot, but I promise: 136 minutes of one of the worst films ever made is a lot longer than 134 minutes of one of the best films ever made.
This time around, friend of the site Paul and his infant son Reese, previously introduced for the latter half of the Predator marathon, attended the entire thing. Andrew, another friend, missed only the first act or so of the first movie, so he was basically there the whole time too. It was nice to have some additional allies to share the horror with Joe and me. I don’t know if it was their presence, or the odd progression of quality we subjected ourselves to with this marathon, but something made us completely lose our grip on reality around Episode IV/Episode V. It felt like being drunk.
I’m not going to go through and review the individual films this time, since if you live on planet Earth you’ve already seen them and you know that we watched three unbelievably terrible films followed by three unbelievably awesome films. If you want a breakdown of things that were wrong with The Phantom Menace, I highly recommend RedLetterMedia’s notorious Mr. Plinkett review. It’s over an hour long, but it’s hilarious, 100% accurate and it will give you a great appreciation for the craft of filmmaking and how George Lucas went nowhere near it when he made these movies. What I will do instead is try to describe the experience of watching them all in a row like this.
When we put up our reader poll to decide what order we should watch the two trilogies in, it was almost unanimous that we should watch the prequels first. While it made sense for the sake of story flow, I had been a little worried that watching so much raw cinematic pain would break us so badly that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the original trilogy (of which, due to the other poll, we watched the original, unadulterated versions. THANK YOU.) The counterargument was that ending with the good movies would help pick us back up after the suffering caused by the bad ones. Well it turned out you chose the correct order for us, because the latter theory was correct.
We began the marathon at 8:45am and it was, according to the timestamps on my videos, 3:40pm before we finished the prequels. This being a world of Star Wars supernerds, I’m sure someone else out there has done this marathon before. For the rest of you, switching from Revenge of the Sith to A New Hope was like spending all day with a roomful of screaming, coffee-drinking ten-year-old boys who had all forgotten their Ritalin and loved kicking grownups in the nuts, then going to a log cabin, turning off your cell phone, and getting a back rub from your spouse on a bearskin rug next to a fireplace.
It was like running a NASCAR race with a howler monkey attacking your head for seven hours, then suddenly shooting the monkey, shifting down to first gear with a loud grinding sound and leaving the track for a country road lined by fields of dandelions. It was like starving yourself for weeks on a diet that only lets you eat the green part of carrots while working in an office with a bitchy boss who dresses like a woman, screams like a man and looks like a bulldog, then going home for Christmas, getting every present you want, having a nice big turkey dinner followed by apple pie and inheriting so much money you never have to go back to work again.
It was like watching the Star Wars prequels followed by the originals.
Now for those of you wondering how we got our hands on the original cuts of the original trilogy despite George Lucas’ disturbing attempts to erase them from history – they actually were on the most recent DVD release of that trilogy. They were only on the bonus discs, not the main discs, and they were presented in 4×3 letterboxed, meaning you have to set your TV to zoom in order to view them properly because Lucas didn’t even bother to give three of the greatest films in history – which HE MADE – an anamorphic aspect ratio. They’re not on the blu-ray release at all, so if you shelled out money for that, sorry. You’re only getting the crappy redone versions where every shot is overcrowded with CG monsters, there’s a cartoon alien singing R&B in Jabba’s palace, David Prowse has been replaced by Hayden Christensen, Sarlacc has animated tentacles and Greedo shoots first. In other words, you got ripped off.
But we didn’t. We got to watch the movies as they were originally released (if smaller and with lower resolution), and it was sweet. I have to admit, it took a while for me to heal. We were more than halfway through Empire before I could feel my love of movies growing back. As Andrew put it, it was like the prequels had ripped our souls off a third at a time, and now the original movies were gently putting us back together.
In fact, Andrew had a few observations about the experience that were profoundly accurate. At one point, he compared the originals to a fine wine, and the prequels to grape soda – though Liz said that was an insult to grape soda. I suppose she’s right.
Now, continuity problems aside (why did Ben Kenobi claim he’d never owned a droid?), I have a surprising observation to make about viewing Star Wars in this way. Seriously, you’re not going to believe me, and even if you do, you’ll think it’s not worth it.
Here’s the rub: watching all six movies, prequels first, makes the final act of Return of the Jedi way more powerful. I’m not kidding. As awful as the first three movies are, they give you a context and a backstory for Anakin’s descent into darkness that adds a previously missing level of depth and emotion to his son’s attempts to win him back from the clutches of evil. For the first time, I found myself not only rooting for Luke, but also rooting for Anakin during those scenes. And when Vader picks up Palpatine and hurls him to a sparkly death, you feel the full weight of his decision, and all the years of pride, anger and hatred he’s overturning within himself to do that.
So is that worth it? Nah. As Joe put it, it’s going through seven hours of torture, then five and a half hours of recovery in order to experience a slightly cooler 20 minutes. So forget it. But trust me, it does help those scenes.
When I got home I couldn’t sleep so I decided to do some Googling and investigate the rumors of alternate fan cuts of the prequels. Apparently some people have been able to make them into actual watchable movies. I located the notorious Phantom Edit and Attack of the Phantoms, as well as another fan edit that cut all three prequels into a single three-hour movie. Someday I may give them a try, just to see if the internet has managed to fix what Lucas tried to give us. Maybe, just maybe, we do have some good stories buried underneath all that bantha feces. For now, though, I’m just incredibly ecstatic and relieved that this experience did not ruin the REAL Star Wars for me. In fact, real Star Wars saved me from madness yesterday. Give me 1977-83 George Lucas over his 1999-2005 counterpart any day.