There is a period in every geek, nerd or dork's life when he or she has to grow up. You still remain a geek, nerd or dork, of course, but growing up sort of happens. Things like meeting a special someone, for example, sort of happen. And unless you meet on the floor of a comic convention admiring each other's cosplay outfits, the odds you will have to share whatever it is you geek, nerd or dork out over with that person. It's a big moment in a relationship, because part of you knows inside that if they can't accept or learn to love whatever your geeky, nerdy or dorky obsession is, how can they possibly be the right one for you?
For a lot of men (or perhaps one should say "boys" in this instance), that obsession is Star Wars. Okay, maybe it's not an obsession for everyone, but at one point in almost (most) every boy's life, he becomes crazy about Star Wars. You might be inactive in your Star Wars fandom for a time, but that will never change how you feel about these movies, or how quickly you will defend them.
My obsession with Star Wars catapulted when I was about 10, a couple years before Episode I came out. I began reading Star Wars books, blew my allowance on Star Wars toys and even tried to orchestrate a Star Wars theatrical play with my classmates during recess in the fourth grade.
My love of Star Wars carried on naturally through the release of Episode III my senior year of high school, when I worked at the LEGO Store at the mall and sold countless Star Wars LEGO sets (and bought a few for myself, admittedly). I'm not as active in my love of the franchise anymore, but that has no bearing on my absolute love for the films, excitement for the new ones, and my total fan allegiance -- and I suspect many others feel the same way.
So if someone we know hasn't seen these movies, it's troubling -- deeply troubling. And if that someone is someone we might consider spending the rest of our lives with, that someone just has to like Star Wars, or at least understand it and not dismiss or belittle it and its contributions to humanity's collective imagination.
An on-the-nose depiction of this sentiment appeared in the Season 4 premiere of How I Met Your Mother, in which the main character, Ted, learns that his then-fiancé has never seen Star Wars. He says she has to watch it, and determines that if she doesn't like it, there's no way he can marry her. She endures the first film and doesn't like it, but she lies to Ted and tells his friend Marshall that she's prepared to pretend she likes it for the rest of her life. It's supposed to be sweet that she's willing to do this for Ted, but then they don't end up together.
The thought never occurred to me that I should probe into whether or not Mollie had seen Star Wars, (I plan to marry her regardless, though it would be nice if she at least supported my Star Wars fandom), but then a couple of years ago, well before our engagement, she volunteered this confession, then suggested we watch all the movies together.
Watch. All. The. Star Wars. Movies? Together?
And she meant all six of them. She didn't even want to be spared of the prequel trilogy.
After a failed attempt (we watched just two right after she suggested the idea but then stopped), we got back on track to watch all six in advance of The Force Awakens coming out this week, like many of you are probably also doing right now.
When we told our friends and family that we were watching all the movies together, they all had one perfectly understandable question for us: What order will you watch them in?
In my mind, there was only one film that we would be starting with -- Episode IV: A New Hope. You have to experience it where it all began to understand the phenomenon. After discussion with my then-roommate -- my closest Star Wars brother in arms -- the kid I sat and built LEGO X-Wings and TIE Fighters with in his basement 16 years ago and who will be with me Thursday night for The Force Awakens -- suggested an order that he read about online: IV, V, I*, II, III, VI. ( Episode I is optional). If you know the films, you know this order is truly inspired.
Before we started watching, I had to find out what Mollie knew already. She was familiar with character names like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, as well as Darth Vader. Also, Obi-Wan Kenobi was an alien. When I explained that he wasn't, I asked her to describe him. She called him a little guy who is like "the Dobby (from Harry Potter) of Star Wars."
Master Yoda has never heard a more debasing comparison.
I also had to take a moment to silently curse pop culture when she told me that she knew Darth Vader's "secret." The line "I am your father" had become such a canonized movie quote, thereby ruining one of the greatest twists in movie history for those who barely know anything about Star Wars -- and don't speak German ("vader" means "father"). There was another twist she didn't know about, but had it ruined by the surge in Star Wars posts on Facebook just before she was set to discover it. I was devastated; the payoff would've been huge given the order we were watching the movies in.
All that aside, I was intrigued at what she would be drawn to, what her takeaways would be, what her perceptions of the characters and other elements of the story would be, and how well the film would hold up over 35 years to someone who has seen similar things that are more visually impressive, someone who no longer has a completely unblemished child-like sense of wonder.
So I took her on as my padowan learner to begin our journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As of this writing, we still have Return of the Jedi left, but here are the big takeaways from the experience thus far:
Be patient with someone who has never seen Star Wars
Like, really patient. Mollie has no idea how children are able to follow these story lines. The prequels especially are full of political intrigue and power moves. If you start to ask yourself why stuff is happening in these movies, you will end up confused. The action/interesting parts of Star Wars often overshadow or distract from the details.
Plot aside, there are also 500 kinds of aliens, planets and spaceships in this franchise. Mollie could not tell the good guys from the bad half the time, which becomes even harder to do in Episodes II and III. I took for granted that I had spent my whole childhood learning what things names were through books, toys and whatever else. Not once in the movie (I'm pretty sure) is an AT-AT, for example, called an AT-AT. They're called Imperial walkers. How did I learn that?? Unless you engulf yourself in the mythology of the Star Wars universe, you will be confused, so you need to be patient with someone who has no concept of these things.
Star Wars has a lot of religious and philosophical ideas
As a social worker, Mollie pointed out throughout the films moments that Jedi wisdom sounded awfully similar to concepts in social work, but she also noticed that the Force is an analogy for God, or a divine presence. Her keenest observation was that in the same way the Force can be used for good or evil, so can divine belief, such as what we see today with religious extremism.
It's easy to criticize the Star Wars films for thematic simplicity, and take credit away from George Lucas' genius for choosing to focus on basic platitudes of good and evil rather than moral complexity. But there's universality in these ideas, and what makes Star Wars have such broad appeal is this focus on fundamentals.
Darth Vader is the main character of the entire Star Wars saga
If you've never thought of this before, then watch the films either in episode order or the IV, V, I, II, III, VI order we chose. Obviously the prequels are all about how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, but when you weave them with the original films, you see that the whole series is about him all along. In fact, Mollie wishes we could watch IV and V again now that we've seen all the prequels and she knows the man behind the Darth Vader helmet, and I would agree. It's illuminating, frankly, and it makes me all the more interested in the direction of Episode VII and the films to come in terms of how they will fit with the overall saga's arc and themes
R2-D2 and C3PO are the heart and soul of Star Wars
The misadventures of everyone's favorite astro and protocol droids often distract from the exciting parts of Star Wars, but they represent everything that's lovable about these movies. (Chewbacca too, I should say.) Without them, Star Wars would be kind of hollow, maybe even arrogant. I could tell Mollie was keeping tabs on them, and enjoyed the many ways they pop in and out of the six movies, even if sometimes out of nowhere.
There are a lot of bad components in Star Wars , but …
I love the movies and I will defend even Episode I, but you notice a lot of bad storytelling choices in all six films, even if you are new to the series like Mollie (unless you're a kid). Romance, character development, dialogue, transitions -- George Lucas is not a brilliant filmmaker he's just an incredibly imaginative one who knows how to inspire his audience and that sticking to the fundamentals of storytelling and universal ideas is how you create a pop-culture phenomenon.