Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How and Why I Watched the Star Wars Prequels: An Embarrassing Anecdote

Before I can share the story of how I watched the Star Wars prequels, first I need to speak briefly about my history with the Star Wars franchise so that you might better understand why I deserved my punishment.

It would have been at my 3rd birthday that I received my first two Star Wars toys (R5-D4 & Yoda); I bought my third with birthday money (Dengar). I memorized the book & tape versions of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back from the children's cassette collection in my house. Star Wars was the first Marvel comic book I was a fan of. Even after I stopped playing with the toys, I kept filling gaps in my toy & comic collections. I went to the theatrical 'Special Edition' re-releases.

Then came college. I made a conscious decision at that time to set the Star Wars films aside because I felt I'd watched them too often and needed a break so that when I watched them next, it would seem more fresh to me. Still, I'd made no conscious decision about the forthcoming movie The Phantom Menace. I couldn't quite wrap my head around the idea that there would be an actual brand-new Star Wars movie, but I was intrigued. Except... I was a college student who worked every evening of the week and I'd moved to a new city where I had no friends. I had no one to see the film with nor much free time in which to see it. I never decided "I'm not going to watch it," but it quickly became clear I wasn't going to see it in theaters. Heck, I didn't even see the trailer (though I recall hearing about all the people who went to Meet Joe Black so they could watch it). As the online reactions came in, I began to think I'd done right to keep away from the film; people on the internet claimed it was plagued by juvenile comic relief and flat dialogue. And I came to realize then that I was okay with moving on from Star Wars. As a teenager, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life and in my listlessness, I had time to indulge many obsessions. However, by '99 I was heading towards my career and becoming passionate about that - some of my old obsessions had to be let go, and Star Wars wound up among them (comics & old-time radio were spared).

I became so detached from Star Wars that when the film Attack of the Clones came up somewhere in my online travels my immediate reaction was, "Huh, they're still making those?" The mocking reception The Phantom Menace received had all but convinced me it would be ridiculous to continue the intended prequel series. Some time after that, I began to openly jeer at Star Wars. I don't recall much of what I said, but one point I made to my friends was they had had to suffer through watching the nadir of the franchise unfold on the big screen, while I had been spared. I don't know how obnoxious I might have been on that point, but (as this anecdote will bear out) I definitely struck a nerve.


Thanksgiving weekend, ten years ago: My sister and I had been visiting my brother and his wife and just finished the long drive home. It was late afternoon of Thanksgiving Monday, meaning I would be back to work the next morning. I returned to my apartment to find a message from my friend Alex, wondering if I would like to watch movies with he and our friend Craig.

An invitation to watch movies with Alex was not to be discarded lightly. Besides enjoying the company of my friends (especially with the return to work looming), Alex owned a digital projector and thus offered the best home theater option of our group. For me to refuse an invitation to Alex's, I would have to be either very busy or the movie would have to be very lousy. I phoned him up and he confirmed the evening's plans: "Do you want to see Willow and THX-1138?" I answered him honestly: "I don't really want to see Willow again but you know, I've always been curious about THX-1138." Great; Craig would be at my apartment soon to ferry me over to Alex's. If there were any hints in Alex's tone of voice - any suggestion of deceit or mockery - I completely failed to notice.

Craig arrived and we began the trip to Alex's. "It should be interesting to see THX-1138 anyway," I remarked. I didn't understand why Craig was smiling so broadly, but then he'd always been a gregarious John Banner-like fellow. Anyway, Craig had to make a detour and run an errand before we could reach Alex's and we talked about many things during the trip. At last, we arrived. Alex had already darkened the room, lowered the screen, turned on the projector and paused the film before its opening credits.

Now, that was unusual for Alex. When you went to see a film at Alex's you first had to get through the pre-show; Alex would have an image from Something Awful he wanted you to see or an article from Slashdot or a gif at YTMND. Much like the olden days when films were preceded by newsreels and cartoons, there would be some pre-entertainment entertainment. But not on that night. And how strange that the film was on a DVD (not a computer file) and the DVD already loaded and begun to play, rather than waiting on the DVD main menu.

I tell you all of this so that you might appreciate both my naivete and the amount of effort my friends indulged in.

Alex unpaused the film.

"Was THX-1138 a Fox film," I wondered to myself. "I guess so."

"Ah, Lucasfilm - of course."

Now I exclaimed something aloud; either "What?" or "Oh, no!"

I looked to my friends for an explanation and they were quick to provide it: "We're tired of you lording it over us because you've never seen the prequels, so tonight we're watching them!" They had even gone to the expense of rentals just to pull this off.

And so, I watched the first two Star Wars prequels. They definitely weren't great movies. And yet, I had to admit I could still claim I had an advantage over my friends: at least I was seeing those films for the first time - they'd witnessed them before and now had to watch them again. Regardless, I had learned a lesson about controlling my pride and for that, I do genuinely thank my friends. Even if they did make me sit through those movies.

I don't know why I'm reminded of this anecdote now, but anyway everyone - enjoy that new Star Wars movie!

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