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The New Continuity: How to handle prequels during movie marathons

John Mulhern

April 18th, 2012


Prequels are a big part of mainstream cinema these days. They can give additional insight to the original film(s), or even tell the story from an entirely new perspective. Either way, they can be a really engaging part of a broader story.

Alternately, they can also cause quite a debate when planning a series marathon: Should the films be watched in chronological order based on release, or based on the story itself?

This question came up when a friend posted on her Facebook page about what order she should watch all six STAR WARS films. Should she start with the original trilogy (Episodes 3-6) or the prequel trilogy (Episodes 1-3)? Many people were championing the original films first, but the answer wasn’t that easy for me to muster.

Sure, there is almost unanimous agreement that the prequel trilogy isn’t very good, and certainly not nearly as good as the original films. But to me, it seems like the series should be watched in sequential order anyway. When starting from Episode I, the chronological story plays completely differently. That first series is about a boy, the subject of a prophecy that leads to his downfall; in turn, the original trilogy broadens into a family drama about Luke facing the sins of his father while trying to become his own person beneath his Dad’s shadow. It’s an extremely deep concept, rather than just being about pure heroism.

Unless there is some specific storytelling purpose in which the film requires you to watch the original trilogy first, it should be watched in sequential (chronological) order. STAR WARS doesn’t have any such reason; the only thing that really changes (from a story perspective) is that some of the surprises in the original trilogy have already been revealed. Thanks to the wonderful effect of dramatic irony, being that we know the family bonds of the characters even though they don’t, the story works out anyway. It is an interesting plot device that can only be created if the prequels are watched first, though it works best if you have never seen any of the films before.

Most of us had already seen the original trilogy before the prequel series was even released, thus resulting in a strong bias toward the original trilogy. Additionally, this also means that we had no choice but to remember the series a certain way, making it hard to look at new things differently. But doing so can be enlightening since having already seen all that the series has to offer, the surprises are out of the bag, so watching it from Episode I makes perfect contextual sense. If you haven’t seen any of the films in a long time, it might surprise you. It certainly surprised me.

Aside from STAR WARS, THE HOBBIT keeps coming to mind. Much like STAR WARS, most of us will have already seen all of THE LORD OF THE RINGS films before the prequel is even released so we have no option as to the order that we initially  viewed them. At the same time, five years down the line, I can’t picture myself watching THE HOBBIT at the end of a Middle-Earth movie marathon. THE HOBBIT takes place first, hence, I will watch it first in the marathon.

The only reason I can think of to watch them in a different order would be if you were not planning on watching all the films together. I might be in the mood to watch just the original trilogy, with no plans to watch the prequels at all. Of course, that would be a completely different scenario, as watching six films is a serious time commitment. They can be enjoyed as two completely separate experiences in either order.

That is the beauty of cinema though, everyone taking what they want from what they watch. For many, pure nostalgia steers cinematic tastes and can be a compelling enough reason to watch a series in the order of release. But for me, I’ll follow it history book style, in sequential order.

What do you guys think about which order makes the most sense for a marathon? Do you have any other examples?

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  • http://kclose3.com/blog kacey3

    One reason I can see watching the original Star Wars trilogy first is if you’re watching with someone new to the series (for example, my son). If you watch the prequel trilogy first, it spoils the surprise that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. He’s been protected from the pop-culture effect of that moment and thus it would be all new to him.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thejohnmulhern John Mulhern

      Yeah, for your kiddo it could be better that way. For adults, dramatic irony makes the Luke’s father surprise work even though it had been spoiled by the prequel trilogy. But for your son, it might not play out that same way.

  • http://twitter.com/geekygrrl Alyssa

    You know, I’ve never thought about how watching the prequel trilogy first changes the story; BUT if I thought the person about to watch them was likely to give up on the whole thing part way through if they started thinking the movies were bad, I’d tell them to watch the originals first so they didn’t miss out on awesome movies because the Episodes I – III were “meh”

    • http://www.facebook.com/thejohnmulhern John Mulhern

      Makes sense. But I think if it was a pre-established, “we will watch all six films no matter what,” then that doesn’t matter. In the case of my friend, all six were going to be watched. 

      It’s certainly a point to keep in mind with certain viewers though, I’ve certainly known people who only accept the good stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Smith/532680270 Mark Smith

    But does the fact that that’s how they were released count for naught? Surely releasing 456 then 123 was devised by Lucas and that’s the way he intended it to be seen? Watching them sequentially does have an appeal, but watching them how they were released seems more appropriate and would surely work as a plot device in the same way that films often have ‘flash fowards’ at the beginning of a film and then work towards them after. It’s just on a grand scale! After all, you wouldn’t want to watch pulp fiction in sequential order! :)

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