Movies

Watching ‘Star Wars’ With Someone Who Has Never Seen ‘Star Wars’ Is A Wild Experience

A couple of weeks ago a few friends and I were playing bar trivia at our local New York City Irish pub and, after, the topic turned to our lists of classic movies we’ve never seen. (I’ve noticed more and more, since the pandemic started, people have literal written down lists they are making their way through – as opposed to just rattling off a few titles off the top of their head.) Anyway, it got to one of our players who we will call Melina (because that’s her name) and she listed off a few titles that are good movies, but not entirely surprising that a normal human being hasn’t seen. But then added an addendum at the end, “Oh, yeah, I’ve also never seen Star Wars.”

In 2022, it’s hard enough to find an adult human who has never seen Star Wars. But what’s especially difficult is finding an adult human who hasn’t seen Star Wars but is also willing to, and wants to, watch it. So let’s back up a bit. Because “having not seen Star Wars” isn’t entirely true. She said back in 1999, as a kid, she saw The Phantom Menace, decided, “these aren’t for me” (yeah, that’s fair), then went on with her life never wanting to watch more. Now, the other obstacle are the Special Editions. Enough people had told her the original three movies are great, but it also came with the caveat that she might want to seek out the original cuts of these movies, which, as you may know, is pretty difficult to do. Well, she was in luck on this front because I have the original cuts.

(It’s gotten to the point where this is infuriating that the original 1977 Star Wars isn’t available. It’s a gorgeous movie. And the model work looks so much better than the now bad-looking CGI from 1997. To me, it’s insane that Disney paid all that money for Lucasfilm and their crown jewel movie looks like an ugly cartoon from 1997. I’d be embarrassed to show the Special Edition to someone who has never seen Star Wars and try to pretend, “pretty good, right?” Anyway…)

Watching Star Wars with an adult who hasn’t seen it is an absolutely fascinating experience. I suspect this experience is different than watching it with a child who is seeing it for the first time. A child is kind of seeing everything for the first time. But an adult is already coming in with preconceived notions and a knowledge about how movies are supposed to work. As for myself, I couldn’t help but revert back to what it’s like to watch this movie for the first time because it’s impossible not to think about what the first timer is thinking. In a way, I had never seen Star Wars for the first time. I saw The Empire Strikes Back first in theaters when I was five years old, then in 1981 finally saw Star Wars when it was re-released into theaters. So, on this night, I tried to make my brain process the movie as new, to get into that mindset. And when you take a step back from the monolith that is the Star Wars brand and only focus on the first movie, Star Wars (you know, the one that was nominated for Best Picture and didn’t have a subtitle of A New Hope yet), it’s a remarkable movie for someone to watch for the first time for a few reasons.

(As an aside, speaking of the chapter title of A New Hope, it really was weird at the time when everyone showed up for The Empire Strikes Back and it said “Episode V.” There was no internet to go and check why we had all just jumped four movies ahead in the story. I remember in first grade this was a big debate. Was Star Wars the fourth episode? Or were there three movies in between Star Wars and Empire that we just hadn’t seen. None of this was cleared up for us until the 1981 re-release of Star Wars.)

If I were watching Star Wars for the first time in 2022, as an adult, I would not expect Star Wars. It’s impossible to not have heard about the lore by now. I’d be expecting a very dense movie crammed with a ton of exposition and a lot of big battles that are very difficult to follow. In reality, it is a surprisingly simple movie. I kept thinking, if this were made today, it would be one of the offshoot movies or maybe a Disney+ show. In that the story is so simple, no one would deem it worthy of making a full movie. “Wait, so this movie just focuses on a few characters as they get into a few jams?” Star Wars as an entity sounds so complicated. There’s Jedi and all these powers, the Force, the Sith and all this backstory – and the movie Star Wars has basically none of that. The actual Force is used, what, like three times? It’s a movie about two robots, an retired man, a princess, an ape alien, and two morons who keep screwing up.

Even the final assault on the Death Star is simple. The models move slowly compared to what we are used to (remember, this isn’t the CGI Special Edition), but this is a feature. At all times you, as a viewer, know what the objective is and you know what’s going on. It’s fantastic. Compare that to the assault on Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens, there are so many ships zipping in and out of frame, and, in comparison, the objective is so complicated, you just kind of give up, “Whatever, they are trying to blow it up.” In Star Wars you know there is a small opening at the end of a trench and someone needs to shoot some torpedoes into it. And the pilots try it over and over until Luke finally succeeds. (Han showing up at the last second still gives me an adrenaline rush.) It’s a trick Top Gun: Maverick used to great success this summer: make sure the audience knows what’s going on and can follow your special effects. It seems like a simple rule, but I’m always amazed how many movies don’t do this.

What was Melina’s reaction? Honestly, she seemed pretty stunned that she liked it as much as she did. She picked up right way that there’s very little exposition in the original Star Wars and it just keeps moving along. She admitted, even after agreeing to watch it, her expectations were rock bottom, but couldn’t believe how much she liked it and wants to finish the Original Trilogy.

(A week later, she watched The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. I was going to address that here, but it’s also such a bizarre experience to watch someone watch Empire for the first time, for completely different reasons, that I’m just going to make it a separate post for another day.)

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