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August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
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Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
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Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

The Star Wars sequence for kids

This is a long-standing question for Geekdads of all kinds: 1) WHEN do you introduce your children to the Star Wars movies and 2) In what sequence should you show the films?

Different generations have generally experienced the films differently, often with different judgments as to their value, as George Lucas explains in this interview:

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The dilemmas may seem obvious, but let me explain. There are two dominant schools of thought on the issue. In the first, you present the films in their strict production order, i.e., the original trilogy first and prequels I-III later. (Since most parents who love the Star Wars films experienced the films in this order, that’s the overwhelming favorite.)

The other, minority view, says that you should present the films in their narrative sequence, beginning with Episode I and continuing through to VI. This is often disregarded out of hand, but there are several arguments for it:

  • This is the order of the story as Lucas conceived it, and which he’s generally endorsed;
  • It’s easier for a child to understand a story told from beginning to end, rather than one with an extended flashback;
  • The prequels, especially the first two, are targeted for small children. Do you really want to wait until your son or daughter ages out of the period where The Phantom Menace is totally awesome?

There’s a third position, which holds that the three prequels are apocryphal perversions of the original trilogy and best kept away from children at all costs.

Let me make the case for an alternate sequence. Tell the story according to the age-appropriateness of the films. Essentially, you make the trilogy a big parallel montage, matching archetypes across different times, generations, and places — kind of like LOST.

On this theory, you begin with Star Wars IV: A New Hope. It’s the best stand-alone movie in the series, and if your kid isn’t into it, it’ll probably take a while for them to be into the rest.

Then, jump to I: The Phantom Menace. You can explain that this is the story of Luke’s father Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and C-Threepio. No spoilers necessary!

From here you can go to either II or V, depending on your child’s relative interest in either story, or which of the two DVDs you have ready at hand. You can even wait one-to-three years (as we who saw the films theatrically had to) for your son or daughter to age into them.

Then you introduce them to the Indiana Jones movies, as is right and just.

Finally, you show them VI and III, terminating both trilogies simultaneously, showing how Luke and Anakin make different choices, and how Anakin/Vader is finally redeemed.

You can work in the Clone Wars cartoons, the Lego Star Wars games, as well as the novels, encyclopedias, etc., as appropriate, based on your child’s approximate level of interest.

Alternative solution: you watch the movies as I’ve done with my son, haphazardly depending on my mood, and letting them tag along (covering their eyes as needed), trusting that they’ll sort it out for themselves later. Easy, and has as much to recommend it as most other approaches.


Sorry, my kids are going to be on the Harry Potter (books) – Hobbit (book) – Harry Potter (movies) – Hobbie (movie) – LOTR (book hopefully first but that’s a long way off) track. By the time we’re all done with that, they’ll be 30 and if they really want to watch Star Wars they can watch it in whatever order they like. 🙂

Nathan says…

Or you can pretend that I-III never happened, since they are truly awful movies, and ignore them altogether. I mean really…good luck getting your kids into The Phantom Menace. If there is anything kids love it’s trade disputes, treaty signing, politics and a story line that implodes in on itself like a dying star.

Jonathan says…

You said what I came here to say. I’d only add that ROTJedi is borderline too-sucky-to-bear. And that the Clone Wars should be killed.

Tim Carmody says…

Jedi has flaws, but man, it has its moments, too. I don’t know if I’d want to live in a world without Han’s rescue from Jabba the Hutt, Yoda’s death scene, the speeder chase on Endor, or Luke’s confrontation with Vader and the Emperor.

This is such a great piece of writing! Reads like something funny from the New Yorker (no really, something actually FUNNY from the New Yorker). “Then you introduce them to the Indiana Jones movies, as is right and just”—ha!

I’m caught between this generational concern. Born after the theatrical release of Return of the Jedi, I experienced the original trilogy entirely on VHS. This meant rewinding and rewatching my favorite parts, and fast-forwarding through boring sequences (Cloud City).

My galaxy far far away is a jumble of scenes in the same world, not a sequence of events. I can’t recall the first time I watched a Star Wars film, much less which one it was. I don’t remember finding out Darth Vader was Luke’s father — that’s as basic a piece of information as the color of the sky or my own name.

I expect it will be the same for children of this generation: an assortment of somewhat-related situations, remembered more for their ability to instill wonder than anything about their plot.

I’m not even positive I knew that Indiana Jones and Han Solo weren’t the same person.

You have just made me excited to have kids. I remember in my viewing of Star Wars, the first I saw was Empire Strikes Back, as it was showing on PBS for some reason. Which now seems like starting Battlestar Galactica (2004) at season 1 episode 1 instead of the miniseries, which I did. But I think I could really get behind showing it I-VI, just to see how the story actually flows. Seriously great post.

That Darth Vader is Luke’s father feels like knowledge that seems an essential part of my make up as well.

My first concrete memory of watching Star Was is: sliding the tape in the popped-up receptacle of the Betamax machine, pushing down on the big play lever, hearing the satisfying clunks of machinery and listening to the belts whir, my older brother reading me the opening crawl as the score thundered as best it could from our TVs tiny speakers.

Certainly not the first time I saw it, but my earliest remembered viewing.

And as a little kid, the Star Wars Storybook, with accompanying record, was an equally important part of my experience. Because of the narration of the book, for a year or two I was convinced that the name of Luke’s Homeworld was “Tatooine Below.”

I remember seeing the 1977 Star Wars repeatedly at my grandparents’ house (the part where Darth Vader chokes the rebel officer used to freak me the hell out–loved the movie anyway, or because because of that.) I was just old enough to see Return of the Jedi in theaters (possibly in second run, 1984 would be just about right). I was in my teens, however before I saw Empire Strikes Back. So I knew about Darth literally years before I saw the reveal, and probably knew before I saw Jedi.

My girls are just about that age now, and I think it’s high time for Episode IV. I see no reason to bring in the prequels if and until they’re requested. (This may be a challenge, actually. I own Episodes ! and II, and none of the others. . .)

Looking back at the post, I don’t have any concerns about my 4 and 5-year-old daughters’ ability to understand flashbacks. They get things out of narrative order all the time.

Mark says…

The optimal order that I have figured out is IV-I-V-II-III-VI, treating the original trilogy as the main story, and the prequels as extended flashbacks. The weak point is having to sit through two prequels in a row, but it is hoped that the momentum will have set in by that time and will engender a bit of patience in that regard. IV introduces the setting, while I deepens it a bit and expounds upon what Jedi are about. V’s big revelation is preserved, and then you digress into II and III to see just how that came to pass. Those two set up the milder revelations of VI, which resolves the whole story very nicely.

Your Geekdads reference suddenly made me realize something I had never thought to ask in the 14 years that I have been baffled by peoples’ obsession with SW: is it a gender obsession? (Silly Saheli once again forgets to correct for the fact that her physics-based social circle is overwhelmingly dominated by guy?) Because I am someone who has *boxes* of books stacked away against the day I finally produce or find a child/chlildren to raise, and this Star Wars dilemma has never once occurred to me. I’m with Jennifer. My real dilemma is whether or not to give them my untouched Chronicles of Narnia, or maybe try to steer them to something that won’t make them wake up as an adolescent and realize, “wait a minute, that author was completely insulting my culture and religion.”

Tim Carmody says…

I’ll say this — both geekdads and geekmoms enjoy the Star Wars trilogies, but it’s 99.9% geekdads who would obsessively worry about something like the proper sequencing.

BTW, my use of the term “Geekdad” wasn’t intended to be gender-exclusionary, but to reference the terrific Wired blog of that name.

Saheli, this reminds me. I need to start on a Pride & Prejudice & Wookies mash up just for your kids.

Oh I wasn’t accusing you of being gender exclusive, just that it got me thinking. I think I subconsciously assumed that this was all a subtle way of your working out the dilemma as you yourself must be facing it shortly? 😉

That sounds like that will take time, so yes please, EC. 😉

I believe in starting off with the order of the original Trilogy (IV-V-VI), but I think in terms of kid friendliness, if you’ve got a 4-year-old, Return of the Jedi is the right place to start. Kids love Ewoks. They are the Care Bears of the Star Wars Universe.

My son (4 years old) has already seen some of the clone wars and has some clone wars legos. For him Anakin is the hero of the story. For that reason we are going with the original three when he is ready to start, because how much of a shit sandwich would it be to find out that the hero (in this case Anakin) turns out to be the bad guy (an especially rotten turd who slays younglings)? It would be like finding out that Indian Jones was actually working for the Nazis the whole time.

This is SO. FASCINATING to me. In a way it re-invigorates the shock/surprise of the series! I mean, that’s pretty amazing actually: to consume this whole gigantic media stream that’s telling you X is the hero… and then, *errrrrk*, suddenly X is a black-suited demon-cyborg. Cool.

J.K. Rowling really handled that bit correctly. But Guy, that’s not completely dissimilar to my experience with Indiana Jones. “Ooh, Raiders, awesome”. Prequel Sequel comes out. “Racist and demeaning, never mind .. “

Jaffa says…

I’m a firm believer in the ‘third position’. When I have kids someday, I wouldn’t ever want to subject them to the hideousness of the prequel trilogy. Episodes IV-VI in order, thankyou very much! Also, when the kid(s) gets older I’ll do my level best to conceal the existence of The Godfather Part III, Die Hard 2 and 4, the Lion King sequels and season 3 of the O.C.

Tim Carmody says…

Unfortunately, ALL FOUR seasons of The O.C. have become required viewing for standardized proficiency tests in my state. We can only hope that they change the requirements before my son hits junior high.

When I came to this pass with my kid, I advocated for IV-V-I-II-III-VI.

My main goal was not to ruin the surprise of TESB, which makes the saga what it is. In this order, your immediate hunger for knowing how Anakin possibly became Vader is satisfied, and ROTJ works better, because you see the parallels between it and ROTS and have a real fear that Luke will fall into the same trap his father did, killing the Sith apprentice and taking his place. The only thing spoiled is discovering the Emperor is a master of the dark side, but that’s fairly small as spoilers go.

What I hadn’t counted on was the osmosis of children’s social lives: My kid knew before he’d seen a single Star Wars movie that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. That made my careful plans kind of pointless, and so we saw them IV-V-VI, I-II-III. Oh well.

Shalambao says…

Wish I’d found this site before Dad made 3,5,and 9 yr olds sit through I and II, with the intent of taking them straight through VI. They were so bored I had to google all the best Star Wars Legos mashups on YouTube to even peak their interest in IV. CareBears of the SW Universe… if only we can get to you!!!!

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