Yesterday (May the Fourth) I had a lot of stuff going on, so I decided to dedicate today to the viewing of the Star Wars original trilogy. And not the "special editions," either; I own the DVDs that have the original theatrical cuts of all three movies, and I hadn't watched them yet.
I was born after all three movies came out, but my older brother's first movie in the theater was Return of the Jedi (he would have only been 1 year old). He was a gigantic Star Wars fan growing up, and my parents were happy to indulge his excitement by buying him the toys and, eventually, the VHS copies of the trilogy. Through all this, I was able to catch the fan train and became a big follower of Star Wars myself. In fact, when I was in grade school, my brother, his friend, and I often spent hours on our bikes on the parking lot outside of our house pretending that our bikes were X-wings. I've got a New Republic pin and everything - and this was before news of the prequels came out!
I enjoy the prequels for what they are: a flashback to explain some of the conversations and events of the original trilogy. I don't find a need to watch them as much as the original trio, but I don't hate them like other people do.
I can't really see any other trilogy (except perhaps Back to the Future) that excels as much in all three movies as Star Wars does. It avoids traps into which most trilogies fall, and establishes some good trends that other movies have followed.
In A New Hope, the story doesn't start with the beginning of the war - it throws us right into the middle of it. It even says it in the beginning scroll: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire." Do we see it? No - they just tell us it happened.
We don't really get origin stories, either. Movies like Spider-Man or Man of Steel require an origin story to establish the setting and characters. A New Hope doesn't really do that. It states technical terms and jargon that don't get explained. It even confused the actors when they were reading their lines. Actor Anthony Daniels, in an interview for the TV documentary The Real History of Science Fiction, said that when running lines with Mark Hamill, they both admitted they had absolutely no idea what they were saying - they just said it.
Both those points are great for the movie. They allow the viewers to understand that they've just been thrown into a new world, and they can catch up with the mumbo-jumbo in later viewings - something that theater goers did in droves back in 1977. Even without help of the prequels, fans have established a galaxy and physics from that original setting "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."
Character development is key as well. Leia isn't portrayed as a pretty damsel who immediately gets googly eyes for the nearest man that crosses her path and can't do anything herself. One of the first things she does on screen is use a blaster on a storm trooper. She's also got a snarky attitude, which is fun to watch.
Most people complain about Luke's portrayal, but I disagree. At the beginning, he's a whiny teenager - pretty much portraying every single teenager ever. We were all that age, and we were whiny when our parents made us do something we didn't want to do. He didn't maintain that whiny-ness the entire movie. He makes the plan to rescue Leia, shoots the blast door to prevent Darth Vader from using the Force to keep the Millenium Falcon in the Death Star hangar, and uses the Force himself to fire his proton torpedo into a 2-meter-wide exhaust port.
Then there's The Empire Strikes Back, which is better than A New Hope - and A New Hope was excellent! The reason is because it really rounds out the characters. Leia isn't just snarky - she is in command (and does have a lovable side). Han's gruff exterior reveals an interior that is loyal to his friends - and loving to Leia.
Luke is still being developed here, but that's the point of Empire - he's not ready yet. He's turned into a leader, but his Jedi skills need time (and Yoda). A lot of people aren't a big fan of Luke because of this - he is immature at times when it comes to his Jedi training - but he can't be the mature Jedi that he needs to be yet. It irritates people, but this growing period needs to be seen!
The other main reason Empire is awesome is that the Rebellion is defeated. That is a pretty big gamble - most movies show the protagonists being beaten, but then getting right back up and winning at the end of the movie. In Empire, the whole movie is about the protagonists being defeated! The Hoth battle is a total loss, the Millenium Falcon has tons of operational issues, Luke crashes his X-wing, Han's friend Lando betrays him to Darth Vader, and Luke is defeated in his first duel with Vader, who happens to be his father!
All of those things mean that Empire could be thought of as too depressing, but that is not the case. The gamble on defeat paid off in a huge way. Not many sequels can claim to be better than the original - most fail completely.
However, both Empire and Return of the Jedi live up to the original counterpart. Out of the two, I have always had a soft spot for Jedi. Out of the three movies, I've probably seen Jedi more than the other two combined, since it's one of those "bad day" movies that I might put on to make myself feel better - and it always does.
I love it for a lot of reasons. Luke finally lives up to his status as leader and Jedi, rescuing Han and his friends from Jabba the Hutt and bringing his father back to the good side, all while rocking the all-black ensemble. (Okay, if you hadn't figured it out by now, I've had a crush on '70s and '80s Mark Hamill since I was little. Everyone - including my mom - always preferred the bad boy Han Solo, but I always cheered the most for Luke Skywalker.)
People tend to bash Jedi for the Ewoks, wishing that the original plan of Wookies would have stuck around. But that would be ridiculous - why would the Empire build their new Death Star around a planet of a lethal alien race? The reason they built it around Endor was because they assumed the Ewoks were insignificant - an idea that ended up killing them in the end.
Jedi lives up to its massive expectations, and it always brings a smile to my face, especially after I’ve spent my afternoon and evening doing a marathon of all three, like I did today. There isn't anything that I would change (even though George Lucas has) and repeat viewings solidifies the fact that this is the best trilogy of all time!