Last month saw the 30th anniversary of the most successful film saga of all time and, arguably, the best.
Episodes IV through VI are widely regarded as modern classics of both film and fairy tales but what people don't realize is that Episodes I through III are every bit as relevant, engaging and amazing as their predecessors and should be regarded as classics.
Unfortunately, between the years of 1983 and 1999, American audiences forgot what it was like to see a new Star Wars movie. They spent 16 years watching special effects grow beyond what the classic trilogy had to offer but were able to foster a love for the films that went above and beyond worship. (Take my word for it. I spent more nights camped out for Star Wars movies, both new and old, than most people spend camping in the wilderness in a lifetime.)
On May 19, 1999, American audiences were graced with the first new addition to the Star Wars saga and most couldn't look past the state-of-the-art visual effects and Buck Rogers-style acting that had been just as prevalent in the classic trilogy to see a story that hearkened to the very core of religion and mythology and offered lessons that even Jesus would be hard pressed to get a ten-year old to sit through.
Nerds like me helped catapult the Phantom Menace up to one of the highest grossing films of all time and each time I saw it in the theatre (70 in total (no lie)) it grew closer and closer to the heart of the classic trilogy. But where did it fit? How did it connect aside from the common characters? Were they ever going to unravel the mystery of the Sith?
Six years and two children later, I was able to see the final chapter in the Star Wars saga unfold in a theatre and I watched the galaxy unravel.
More than anything, the prequel trilogy showed me how a good person can turn to totalitarian evil with the most benevolent of purposes and it's an important lesson. It adds to the gravitas of the classic trilogy and highlights all of the redemptive themes we find most appealing about the classic stories in mythology in religion. The prequels offer a view of people willing to do the most horrid things in the name of good and it's a personality type we're finding more and more common in politics today.
But most of all, the prequels give me a platform to talk to my kids about all of the altruistic lessons one could ask for. My son loves watching the movies (all six of them) almost as much as I do and constantly asks me about these lessons. Since I'm what Bill O'Reilly would call a "secular progressive" and I don't go to church, Star Wars offers something for my son and I to discuss practical "sermon-on-the-mount" types of issues with the understanding that it's just a movie.
One of the best lessons I feel that the prequels helped me teach my son was to be nice to people and things and creatures that you may not like or that you may find annoying. Jar Jar saved the day and the only reason he was able to do so was because of the kindness of Qui-Gon Jinn.
That's something we could all strive to do better
People argue about the disparities between the two sets of trilogies, but because my son sees the films (and their lessons) through the eyes of a child born after the release of five of the films, he can't tell the difference in time between Episode III or IV. All he sees is Star Wars without all of the geeky baggage we've attached to it.
Maybe we should all have the wherewithal to watch the films with that sense of wonder instead of a critical eye aimed at special effects and Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen's performance.
That's what I do and it's provided me with endless enjoyment, contemplation and discussion.
Go back and check out the prequels. Watch them with your kids. See them through their eyes and you'll have an appreciation and understanding for them that you never thought possible.
(Bryan Young blogs daily over at the official This Divided State blog. And for more proof that he loves the prequels: He named his son Anakin. No lie.)