I was born on May 4, 1994, 17 years after moviegoers worldwide were first introduced to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Darth Vader. But while that fateful day is known to many as Star Wars Day ("May the Fourth be with you," etc), in my nearly 23 years, I had never seen a single episode—until one weekend, when I decided to change that.
I chose to watch all of Star Wars in a period of three days because I felt like I had spent my entire life ignorant of a global phenomenon, and I wanted to know what I was missing. Star Wars had somehow passed me by, so I decided to catch up to it and give it the time it seemed to deserve—932 minutes, to be precise. When it was all said and done, I learned a lot more about myself than I thought I would.
My weekend, in one Snap.
One of the most intimidating things about starting a new franchise decades late is figuring out where to start. With three prequels that came out 16 years after the original trilogy ended (confusing, I know), Star Wars offers two divisive options: watch the films as they were released chronologically, or watch them in episodic order. A bonus option two Sweet staffers pleaded with me to consider was to skip the prequels altogether and just savor the original series, along with last year's The Force Awakens.
I decided to mimic the experience of an OG Star Wars fan and watch the films in the order they were released over the last 40 years—all in one weekend. This is what I learned.
Life Lesson No. 1: Faraway Galaxies Aren't All That Different From Our Own
Up until now, I had lived my life thinking Star Wars was an action movie to its core, a film filled with exploding spaceships, intergalactic battles...and not much else. But really, it's a complex universe: Jedi struggle with right and wrong, droids demand sympathy, and Yoda can dole out some surprisingly applicable advice. Star Wars' popularity has persisted not just because its story is complex and developed, but because it has a deeply human element at its core.
Life Lesson No. 2: Tragic Backstories Reveal Themselves in Due Time
Instead of heeding the advice of my coworkers and ignoring the existence of Star Wars episodes I, II, and III, I watched them all, eager to learn more about the galaxy that had overcome Darth Vader's fascist government. While the prequels may not have offered as epic a tale as the original trilogy, they revealed a backstory that shifted my previous conceptions of the franchise.
Darth Vader's famous line, "Luke...I am your father," is easily one of the most recognizable phrases ever uttered in film, to the point that one of Star Wars' greatest plot twists is not even a surprise to a first-time viewer. That, combined with his easily imitated heavy breathing, turns Vader into a caricature of himself, but viewers don't even realize how tragic his backstory is until it's revealed in the prequels, at which point they are left with a crisis of conscious as they reconsider their feelings about the super villain. There is a dark side, of course—but good and bad isn't always black and white.
Life Lesson No. 3: There Is More Than Meets the Eye
R2D2 and C3PO are instantly recognizable and instantly lovable.
When movies become phenomenons, they are dissipated into their most quotable bits, their hummable scores, and their iconic characters. As an outsider, it's easy to look at a franchise and see an impenetrable fandom, when really, it's much greater than its action figures, cosplays, and Lego sets. The same pop culture crazes that help us celebrate our favorite stories also work to reduce them.
For example, people who never got into Harry Potter might just see a franchise summed up by a bunch of wand-waving, Daniel Radcliffe looking angsty, and the occasional appearance of a guy with no nose. For those who never took up The Lord of the Rings, it's a tale composed of short men with hairy feet, Sir Ian McKellen donning a long beard and robe, and a creature whose only line seems to be, "my precious." Any fantasy world is going to seem impenetrable until you give it some time and an open mind—then you might just discover an amazing new adventure to explore.
Life Lesson No. 4: Revolutions Need Revolutionaries
In today's political climate, nearly every film, book, and album seems like fertile ground for social commentary—and Star Wars feels particularly relevant. A galaxy filled with corruption and an empire that spreads its fascist doctrine through violence and trickery? Thankfully, it's also a saga about the heroes who fight to defeat that corruption.
People will always turn to their favorite fantasy worlds when they need help processing reality, whether those fantasy worlds provide inspiration to fight back, or simply echo contemporary sentiments (cue Princess Amidala's all-too-real line: "So this is how liberty dies—with thunderous applause"). Star Wars is about revolution and justice, and when the protagonists of the story are the ones fighting against the dark side, it's just enough to feel like maybe, if you channel the strength of your favorite characters, you can defeat your own dark side, too.
Life Lesson No. 4: There's Nothing Like Seeing an Old Friend
My fellow Sweet staffers were not too keen on Jar Jar, but I found him oddly endearing.
I never thought that I would care so deeply about Star Wars, but emotional attachments formed quickly. Upon finishing the seven movies, I regretted that the witty, capable Princess Leia wasn't one of my role models growing up, I buzzed with excitement after seeing Han Solo return in Episode VII, and I shivered with anticipation knowing that when Episode VIII arrives next year, I will be in the theater waiting to see what our hero Luke Skywalker has been up to. I'll be happy to catch up with Chewie and R2D2 and C3PO, too.
I may have spent years of my life immune to the thrill of hearing the "Imperial March" and unable to identify exactly who Anakin Skywalker is, and I may have never understood the controversial feelings on Jar Jar Binks or the joy of the Ewoks—but now, I understand. The force is with me. And for those of you who may be uninitiated, like I was, it can be with you, too. Just don't forget to tell your friends that you're going to need to disappear for a while.