This is another look at the strange aspects of watching these films with my children. After my last post I was determined to hold off and use the machete order to my advantage, that my children's experience would be the best possible introduction to the series, and that I would simply rewatch A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back until the VHS for Episode II arrived and we would watch that - giving me time to sort out the fact that I didn't want to spend £15 on a VHS copy of Episode III and that it was a 12, with Episode II a PG, whilst the original trilogy are all U rated.
It was not to be, of course, as the Boy had already seen the third video in the box and had decided on his own plans. The night we were due to go back to reading stories rather than watching films he decided to up the ante by putting the VHS in himself and being very excited. It was his face that did it. How could I possibly refuse his earnest visage when he looked up at me and asked to watch the next video? So, I have failed, no machete order, we have watched Return of the Jedi, easily my favourite film of the lot, and it was two nights later that Attack of the Clones arrived.
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Full disclosure here: I totally love Return of the Jedi. The first of the Star Wars films that I actually remember seeing was the bad taped-from-TV version we had of Empire Strikes Back. My brother loves that the most and there was something about the reds and blacks of the sequences around the cloud city that stays with me even now, not so much the special effects but the hint of a stormy and moody sunset that are evoked by the bad matte paintings that actually remind me of some of the concept art I remember being associated with sci-fi when I was growing up. No, the first time I remember seeing Return of the Jedi was at our next door neighbour's in the late 1980s on an equally bad quality taped-from-TV video. All the colours were dark, the sequences in the woods on Endor were virtually all black, and the sound quality was appalling. But I was captivated more by that (my friend had AT-STs on his duvet cover) than by our own films. This may have been an age thing but the two stories sitting neatly side-by-side clearly had something for me. At the time I hated long music, anything more than three minutes I found too boring, and long films, whilst I was happy to sit through them, were just a bit too long between the good parts. Return of the Jedi has half the film devoted to a battle sequence. Three separate battles rolled into one. Lovely.
However, both of my children enjoyed Empire Strikes Back a great deal and were very invested in the story of how Darth Vader had ended up being Luke Skywalker's Daddy. They were much more interested in learning about that, and the characters of Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and Obi Wan. So I assumed that they would find Return of the Jedi boring and a bit pants, like most of the people I know, and the weakest film of the original trilogy. I can see the argument, it makes a lot of sense: the big thing in Empire Strikes Back is that the baddies win. There's much better lighting, Han Solo takes a dive, there is a love story that even my daughter can follow and the menace of Darth Vader is palpable to the point where the big reveal is just soul-crushing but exciting and shocking at the same time. The dialogue is sharper, the comedy better placed and there's the battle of Hoth. In the special edition version there's a decent wampa, improved sound and the Imperial March blasts out of the combi nicely.
Nevertheless, the Boy was similarly captivated by Return of the Jedi and we ended up watching it over two nights like the others. I was surprised, now that I am an adult, just how little the famous scenes of Leia in the slave get-up appear to take up the plot - and how little of Leia you actually get to see. In Friends and popular culture (and photographs from film conventions) this part of the story is what seems to get peoples' imaginations. I recall that, at University, I did look for that part a bit more closely (having totally missed the significance when it was at the cinema in 1997 and before then). I also know that most people remember that part above all others. I think I can safely claim that my Boy was not interested in the titillation of that part, and I can also say with conviction that I didn't find it titillating either. What I do find interesting is the change in Leia's character.
In A New Hope Leia is generally portrayed as being feisty and a template for a decent female character who exists outside of beingv romantic sub-plot and male motivation - she displays agency, a back story of her own and plenty of sass in a male-dominated film. In Empire Strikes Back she retains some of the feisty part but generally plays second fiddle to Han and, ultimately, becomes a little less mistress of her own destiny. I understand that the Harrison Ford ad-lib of "I know" was unplanned, but it does a great deal to reduce the role of Leia to romantic sub-plot and character motivation (well, in the grand scheme of things, Leia is still better than most film females, I know, but it is a step down from her position in A New Hope). In Return of the Jedi Leia has much more agency, she is the one that wins over the Ewoks and fights to the last when the chips are down, and gets to return the line to Han in a much more condescending fashion - to which I do cheer a little.
Also, there's Mon Motha, the female leader of the Rebel Alliance (and the switch from Rebels to Rebel Alliance seems more pronounced now that I'm older, the Mon Calamari ships are noticeably absent from the first two films where the Rebels seem to have no capital ships at all and few aliens, despite aliens being heavily shown all around in a lot of scenes - I have to give credit to Lucas for that). Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I find Return of the Jedi a much more Feminist film than the other two and I think it benefits from that. I realise it technically isn't (none of the films pass the Bechdel test, but have plenty of dialogue for the women that is not caring and sharing but political and actually pretty realistic) but it is close enough that I feel okay saying it.
Long and the short of it is that the Boy loved it. When we sat down to watch Attack of the Clones I was struck by the clunky dialogue. Rewatching A New Hope brought home some of the appalling dialogue and the wooden delivery, unsurprising as the script was pretty dense in places, as well as some of the quite awful set-pieces like the poor duel twixt Darth Vader and Obi Wan in which nothing happens and Obi Wan dies. Attack of the Clones showed that Lucas had learned nothing from the other script-writers and that his script was even denser, more boring and packed with the kind of references that look good in an essay on democratic systems but poor in an adventure film. Worse, apart from the action sequence chasing an assassin, nothing much happens. Special effects and "digital storytelling" crowd out the characters who struggle manfully, for the most part, with a very lacklustre script and a green screen. Amidala is one of the worst bits though.
Anakin seems to show his rising lust and perviness by eyebrows that make him look like a sexual predator and dialogue that sounds forced and, well, a bit creepy. He watches her sleep, comments on her skin and makes remarks that are clumsy and almost evil. In short, he acts like a potential rapist. Which is fine, I guess, as he is going to become Darth Vader. Or, well, it would be if it weren't for the fact that, apparently, Amidala finds this rapist talk, creeping and outright insulting perving on her to be endearing and worthy of affection! Tellingly, we only got to the scenes round the lake before the Boy asked me to turn it off (a first in the run of films) and then climbed into bed. He did not ask to watch it on the following night and, the night after that, requested that we watch Return of the Jedi again instead.
We're now on our third run through of Return of the Jedi and I have revealed to him that it is my favourite film too. Even the Girlie seems to enjoy watching it (though she prefers Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope) and so it seems to be becoming a bit of a staple.
The upshot of all of this is that I am probably going to get the original trilogy on DVD and wait a bit before trying the new trilogy again. I was surprised by how much more noticeably boring and staid Attack of the Clones was compared to the original. Even Ewan MacGregor's frankly superb performance as a young Alec Guinness wasn't enough to save the film, the bit he carries alone with the cloners is probably the best part and, at the same time, the most boring.
In closing, I think machete order would work. I think if I ever manage to convince Anna to watch any of the films that is the order that will work best for her. However, my children have decided that the original trilogy, on VHS, is superior and I think I may agree with them. I am perfectly happy to watch A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and not bother too much about the second lot. I maintain that Revenge of the Sith is a good film, an enjoyable one, but with it being a 12 rated film I am hesitant about introducing it just yet. I also like the duel sequence in A Phantom Menace, along with the pod-race, but that's about it. By all means hurl abuse at me for this below!