So a new Star Wars movie is in theaters, in case you didn’t know. And even if you didn’t know you would know, because everyone’s posting their newly re-ordered lists of the movies, all the way from “Holiest of Holies” down to “Shit Sandwich”. In fandom, there are few activities that matter more than debating the best and the worst. Assigning importance signals to others that you’re a true fan, makes you feel like an active participant in the decisions of rich movie executives, and gives you something to do at work. As a fan, I’ve been doing this for most of my life: what are the best toys, the best books, the best characters, the best ships? All this time and energy spent makes one feel like the bearer of some great essential knowledge, a curator of appreciation. And when a new generation of fans come along, you feel a responsibility to help them appreciate the best elements. Correctly.
This responsibility is even greater with your own kids; I’ve spent many cumulative days just pondering the stories and movies I love and wondering the best time and circumstance to share them my children. And when it came to Star Wars, I wanted to make sure they got the full impact of the stories and the characters, in the right order. So when my son came home from preschool talking about Dark Vader’s Star Whores, I knew we had to course-correct. As early as seemed reasonable, we watched the original trilogy and had long conversations about the relationships between these characters and how their arcs took them from being one kind of person to another. Then we dug into the prequels and books about the expanded universe.
“Hey Kids, have I ever told you about Luuke, the evil clone that the Empire grew from Luke Skywalker’s severed hand?”
To me, it seemed like the right way to do it: learn about Star Wars in the same order that our culture did, to understand why it stuck and what the new storytellers and artists were building on. But the more we talked about it, the less I wondered what was right or wrong. It just became about sharing something I loved and enjoying their new perspective. And when I think about the order in which I was exposed to Star Wars, I wonder why I ever thought it would matter.
Probably my first exposure to Star Wars was the toys. After my parents got divorced, I spent the time after school with a babysitter whose entire basement was just a huge mess of toys, sticky juice spots and crushed crackers. They had so many toys I can remember with disgusting clarity, but important to this story was a Darth Vader carrying case full of little action figures and a larger Jabba the Hutt. I was especially fascinated by Jabba and informed my friend that this must be a character from Dune (a movie I had seen way too young, that seemed designed to induce vomiting). He told me no, that was a He-Man villain called Slug Butt Man. Considering the names of He-Man characters I knew, this rang true.
Pictured (Clockwise): Moss Man, Snout Spout, Stinkor and I want to say…Mason?
Next, I watched Spaceballs at a friend’s house. I laughed until I cried, didn’t understand half of it, and had no clue it was spoofing anything else.
Then came the fateful day when I walked in on my uncle watching a movie where a guy was hanging upside down in an ice cave. Then the guy grabbed a laser sword and killed a polar bear, all while upside down. My uncle told me that was Luke Skywalker, which made sense because he was walking on the sky (of course, at the time I was also obsessed with the video for Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling”).
A few more years passed and my mom remarried. My step-dad and I were watching TV one Saturday night and the movie of the week was Return of the Jedi. While I loved every minute of it, I was confused by several elements. A few questions in, my step-dad stopped and said, “Wait a second, have you seen the first two movies?” To which I replied, “THERE ARE MORE??”
The next weekend we rented A New Hope, and the weekend after that we rented The Empire Strikes Back (it turned out Luke WASN’T dancing on the ceiling). And I was so bummed about stopping after the down ending of Empire that we watched Return of the Jedi again. This time it was even better, because I knew who the characters were and how they knew each other and what they were doing.
Watching movies became our bonding experience, and over the years my step-dad introduced me to all the movies he loved the most. With each movie he’d tell me how it had impacted him and what he liked about it. He truly enjoyed my enjoyment. Now that I find myself in that same position, I realize what a privilege it is.
But I’ll still make my lists, and I’ll still debate. Now my kids can, too. Because in fandom, there are few activities that matter more than debating the best and the worst. Assigning importance starts a conversation. It makes you process your own emotions and understand why you’re a fan. It helps you figure out how to pass on that love to the next wide-eyed generation of nerds.