A movie marathon long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

As a longtime Star Wars fan, I’ve written countless articles over the years about my favorite franchise. The world doesn’t necessarily need another Ashley Pauls Star Wars blog entry, but here it is anyway! 

This past week, I had a chance to check off an item that’s been on my geek bucket list for a while now: watching all the Star Wars movies in a row, in chronological order. 

There have been countless debates about the “ideal” order in which to watch the Star Wars movies: the order they were released, the so-called “machete order,” etc. If I were to recommend the Star Wars movies to someone who’d never seen them before, I’d definitely suggest watching them in release order, starting with “A New Hope.” I think that’s the method that best allows you to experience the franchise as it’s grown and developed over the years. 

However, since I’ve already seen most of these movies numerous times individually, I decided that for my marathon, I wanted to watch them in chronological order, so I could experience the Skywalker saga as one giant story. 

I took a week of vacation from work, which allowed me to watch a couple movies a day and then spend time digesting them, rather than trying to power through all 11 Star Wars movies frantically in one weekend. I also wanted time to try out some new recipes from the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge cookbook I received for Christmas.

I’m sure this comes as no surprise whatsoever, but I really enjoyed the experience of watching all the Star Wars movies in a row. I’ve loved this saga for years, and re-watching the movies in this format just made me fall even more in love. 

What WAS surprising to me was how much I really enjoyed pretty much all of these films, except for The Phantom Menace. Yes folks, I’m confessing to actually enjoying the experience of watching two of the prequels!

While the Star Wars sequel trilogy has proven divisive in its own way (even though it’s my personal favorite era of Star Wars), few franchises have ignited a debate as heated and long-lasting as the Star Wars prequels. 

For some fans, the prequels were a deeply disappointing departure from George Lucas’ original trilogy. Others were excited by the new characters and opportunities for world-building. These fandom factions have been at war ever since, the battles amplified by online discussion platforms. 

When it comes to the prequels, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I certainly do not believe they are the worst movies ever made, and I actually liked many of the story beats Lucas came up with. However, weaknesses in the areas of directing, dialogue, and acting really drag these movies down for me. 

Even though during this particular re-watch I found myself getting antsy during The Phantom Menace and wishing I could move on to the other movies, I was quite surprised by what a good time I had watching Attack of the Clones, which used to be my least favorite Star Wars movie. Maybe this time it was just general high spirits (or maybe it was the large mimosa I drank beforehand). Whatever the reason, I had fun. 

I know this movie has some dodgy dialogue and a cringe-y romantic subplot, and if you can’t get past that, I understand. Personally, I found myself just embracing the plot’s plup-y, cheesy delights and overlooking most of the film’s weaknesses. Plus, it was cool to see all the Jango Fett scenes after The Mandalorian recently reintroduced Boba Fett.

Although George Lucas may not have succeeded in creating a universally-beloved masterpiece when he returned to his famous franchise to develop the prequels, I have to admire him for throwing caution to the wind and giving us a trilogy that was completely different in tone and style from the original movies. 

The prequels work best for me when I think of them as more old-fashioned movies, telling us a story from the Republic’s golden age. In old Hollywood black and white movies, sometimes the acting is more stiff and formal, and the dialogue is a little stilted. When I evaluate the prequels through that lens, they’re much easier to accept. They won’t ever be my first choice when someone suggests, “Hey, let’s watch a Star Wars movie!” But I’ve made my peace with them, and I’m very glad I included them in my marathon. 

And who knows? Maybe some night I’ll come home from work after a really stressful and crummy day and think, “You know what? I’m ready for some wacky Star Wars fun,” and then pop in Attack of the Clones.

During this marathon, I didn’t really uncover any new revelations when it came to the original and sequel trilogies, but that didn’t surprise me. I’ve watched those movies a bazillion times, and I love them all even more after re-watching them last week. 

I will say that I was impressed by how well the movies flowed together overall, including the stand-alones, Solo and Rogue One. Solo was a nice little palate cleanser after the more depressing Revenge of the Sith, and the bittersweet ending of Rogue One makes A New Hope even more powerful. 

Another interesting observation that I had is realizing how much my Star Wars rankings really do fluctuate over time. For ages, I said my favorite Star Wars movie was The Empire Strikes Back, but after hearing me talk nonstop about The Last Jedi for months on end in 2018, my husband told me to search my feelings and admit that Episode VIII had officially supplanted Empire as my favorite Star War. I resisted, but in the end…he was right. 

Once you’ve admitted publicly The Last Jedi is your all-time favorite movie, you learn to stop fearing controversy and just embrace the fact that people will give you grief. I have been lectured and fan-splained so many times about my love for the sequel trilogy, but I’m at the point where I just politely tune it out. If you hated the sequel trilogy and found it disappointing, I can respect that. Yet at the same time, I should not be shamed for loving those movies with my whole heart. 

As I mentioned before, Attack of the Clones has historically been my least favorite Star Wars movie, but it was the prequel film I enjoyed most during this particular marathon. Similarly, although typically A New Hope is my least favorite original trilogy film, this time I just found it so charming and fun, and it was my favorite of the originals. And as for the sequels, the one I liked most during this marathon was actually The Rise of Skywalker.

Different films speak to me in different ways at different times, and I think that’s actually pretty cool. It keeps the franchise fresh and interesting, and means I’ll likely never get tired of watching these movies, no matter how many times I’ve already seen them.

My main takeaway from my recent marathon was a sense of pure, simple delight — and that’s something I was in desperate need of after 2020. 

The Star Wars fandom (particularly online) gets so divisive sometimes that it threatens to suck away all the joy I feel for this franchise. Whether intentionally or not, other Star Wars fans have made me feel like garbage for my Star Wars opinions in the past. 

At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that it’s literally just a fictional franchise. If The Last Jedi makes me happy, there’s no reason for me to be afraid to admit it’s my favorite Star Wars movie. 

Overall, the Star Wars fandom needs a stronger dose of nuance when it comes to discussing these films. As a movie reviewer, I can look at Attack of the Clones and recognize that the acting is weak and the dialogue is definitely NOT Oscar-worthy. At the same time, as a fan it’s okay to admit there are parts of this movie that I enjoy. Both perspectives can be true at the same time.

Also, there really is no one right way to “objectively” view a movie. Sure, as fans we can often reach a consensus about what qualifies as good acting, directing, script-writing, etc., but different factors in a film will be more important to different people. For some, story and world-building is the most important element in evaluating a film. For myself, I can forgive a decent number of plot holes, if the movie has wonderful characters and elicits a strong emotional response.  

What I always tell people when I’m talking about Star Wars (or any franchise, really), is that there are so many movies, TV series, books, video games, etc. out there, and if something doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to analyze it, respectfully criticize it, and then move on. We don’t have to love every single thing in our favorite franchises.

As for Star Wars, I’m personally happy to take it all, even the parts that are more flawed than others. This franchise has sparked countless fascinating, in-depth conversations, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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