I was in a client meeting this week that turned into a geekfest of sorts (as is wont with us web guys) and my client said something that I had not really considered before in relation to his son: the differentiation in the view of the six movies that we know as Star Wars.
For me, in my mid-30's, I experienced Star Wars - albeit not all in the theater (I saw RotJ with popcorn when I was seven) - as a wonderful trilogy, an arcing coming of age story of the development of a boy turned man who eventually knew the truth of his past and confronted his father. It was a story about Luke Skywalker. Re-watching this tale on VHS (over and over) only reconfirmed this reading.
When I was out of college and saw Episodes I-III, I saw it as an origin story: these are the tales that lead to the story of Luke Skywalker - and the coolest part is we see how Anakin grows as "The Chosen One" and (we all know) turns to the Dark Side to become Darth Vader. Oh, how wonderfully complex and nuanced! I just about literally drool over the presentation and resolution and composition.
But kids growing up now - or from slightly-pre-1999 on - see this basic culturally-relevant, pop-culture reality in a completely different way. Instead of starting with Episode IV and mulling over it for years, they start with Episode I, with Anakin. And that transforms everything.
In the generation quickly slipping just past me, there is an understanding that these six movies are a tale of Anakin Skywalker turned dark to Darth Vader, his interactions with his son, and, finally, his death. For them, Star Wars is the life story of Darth Vader.
The story had to be told (maybe without Jar Jar), and the younger generation will still get the overriding themes, but when I watched Episode IV, I was watching the beginning of the redemption of a villain. When they do, they begin with some level of empathy and understanding of who this masked man is.
Neither one is right, but I would argue that the original presentation provides a more dramatic experience, and would argue that: if you have children or know children being introduced into the Star Wars cannon, do IV-VI first and then present them with I-III.
And one day, when Lucas realizes the world will not actually end in 2012, perhaps we can look forward to some VII-IX with Leia and Han's kids, and we can all - once again - be children in awe watching this saga unfold.