When The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, my brother, only being a month old at the time, was admittedly too young to understand how much Star Wars meant to my dad. Naturally, as the older sibling, I had a responsibility to do what first-graders do best: Ask my dad so many questions about his favorite thing that he stopped making me watch it with him.
I’m not sure how long it took me to get to the most important question of all, but I do remember my father’s very tired, granted brutally honest response. “Why aren’t the movies in order?” I asked, noting that Episode 1 came after Episode 6 for some reason.
“Because George Lucas said so,” my dad said. And that was that.
It would take me a few years to come around — I eventually became the favorite child again when I approached my dad asking to start watching Star Wars “from the beginning.” I was still a little annoyed when we started with Episode 4 and not 1, but my dad was letting me watch movies on school nights. I had to take what I could get.
Imagine my devastation when I got all the way to Episode 2, begged my dad to watch “the next one,” and discovered something so horrific my tiny child brain almost couldn’t comprehend it: Episode 3 did not yet exist in 2003. You mean I have to WAIT FOR A NEW MOVIE TO COME OUT?
I survived. But barely.
Years later, as I learned to analyze stories and think more critically about the way different chapters in a larger saga fit together, I finally understood the true value of George Lucas “saying so.” Telling stories chronologically works. Telling different parts of a story out of order, letting the pieces fit together like a puzzle after the fact? Now that’s something truly special.
I call this “backward storytelling magic” — the richness and wonder that’s added to a story when information from the past fills the spaces between the lines. Finding out Darth Vader is Luke’s father in Empire Strikes Back for the first time is absolutely shocking. Watching Revenge of the Sith and finally understanding how Anakin became the menace on that platform? The “I am your father” moment isn’t just shocking. It’s heartbreaking.
Seeing Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex reunite in Star Wars: Rebels, then seeing their final battle together years earlier in The Clone Wars? Everything hits different.
We’ll get more and more examples of this as more Star Wars stories fall into our hands. The High Republic will eventually show us exactly how the Jedi became the sort we know from the prequels. Upcoming books will show us even more of Ben Solo’s early life and why his fall was hurtful enough to break a family apart.
Star Wars is too big of a universe not to go back in time and use new stories to fill in gaps left by the old ones. And that’s a good thing. When we go backward, we make new discoveries. We come to appreciate more what we already had. Stories aren’t just stand-aline things, they weave together and create something much grander than we can comprehend.
With each new installment to this universe, the more you and I can protect our future children from having to wait for the next Star Wars.
As for the “out of order” question — well, it really is because George Lucas said so.
One day, when they’re older, they’ll come to understand the magic just like the rest of us.
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