The original plan was simple: Star Wars: The Clone Wars wrapped up with “The Lost Missions,” and some friends and I thought it might be a good idea to marathon the series. My house had been the place to marathon movies even before I bought my first video projector (an Epson Powerlite 710) in 2012. Once I had a 106” screen hanging in my basement, movie marathons became a monthly occurrence.
I’m fortunate to have a group of friends who are actually Star Wars guys like myself. We’d watched the six live-action Star Wars movies in one sitting at least twice in my home theater (and all of the 1980s Ewoks cartoon along with the two made-for-TV movies once on a regular TV), so it only seemed natural that we would watch all of The Clone Wars together.
The only hiccup in the plan was I got engaged and moved three hours away because of the job of my then-fiancée (now wife, so it was worth it).
The move and subsequent purchase of a house put off the proposed Clone Wars marathon until life settled down for me somewhat. I tested the waters with my friends Coach, Andy, and Paul–they all still wanted to do the marathon and were willing to drive the three hours to pull it off. But by that time, we’d entered the back half of 2014, and I was already starting to think about rewatching all of the canon Star Wars films and television series in 2015. I brought the idea up to them, “Hey, what if next year we watched The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, The Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith, Rebels, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi leading up to the release of The Force Awakens?”
And so, over the course of three weekends, we did.
The first marathon took place in the middle of March of 2015. My friends arrived Friday night and we watched The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones before heading to bed. The next morning, we watched the first volume of the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars micro-series (I know it’s technically not canon, but I enjoy it) before digging into Star Wars: The Clone Wars (in a slightly modified chronological order). We watched it until midnight, went to bed, and repeated Sunday morning until about 5:00 PM, which put us to right before Season 3’s “Heroes on Both Sides.”
Let me tell you: the early episodes of The Clone Wars are hard to binge watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Clone Wars, but the first couple of seasons rely heavily on Jedi action with minimal focus on story. It’s not bad, and it works fine in increments of maybe three hours or fewer. But watching it in stretches of nine hours and longer felt akin to getting hit over the head repeatedly. At a certain point it lost the fun factor as it became a loop of explosions and Jedi leaping from high things. By the end of the first marathon, we were all a bit shellshocked. Paul upfront said he was tapping out and wouldn’t do the next marathon (at a certain point, he left the first marathon and went on a 19-mile walk/run through my small town), and I had serious doubts about my ability to complete a second weekend.
Fast forward to September of 2015. I’d gotten married over the summer, which meant the second marathon had to be quite a bit later than I would have planned otherwise. Coach and Andy drove up again, but you could tell going into it that all of us were dreading a repeat of the first marathon.
We didn’t need to.
The second half of The Clone Wars, with its longer episode arcs and much improved character development, made it a whole lot more fun. From Friday night until Sunday afternoon, we binged the back half of the series, and it was a much more enjoyable ride, feeling like we were watching mini-movies instead of action highlight reels. Sure, Coach pinched a nerve in his back from too much sitting (his wife would later give him a hard time for being the only person to injure himself just by watching Star Wars), but other than that it was a great time. The entire crew of The Clone Wars deserves heaps of praise for what they accomplished with that show and how they took a simple kids’ cartoon and turned it into what I feel is essential viewing in context of the Star Wars movies.
Our third and final marathon took place the first weekend of December 2015. Paul had hoped to make it since we were through The Clone Wars, but things popped up and he couldn’t join Coach, Andy, or me for the last leg. The other guys arrived Friday night, but we didn’t watch anything; instead we just hung out and enjoyed a few adult beverages. The next morning, we watched the second volume of Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars micro-series before viewing Revenge of the Sith and as much Star Wars Rebels as had been released (at that point, the last episode was Season 2’s “Future of the Force”). Unlike The Clone Wars, these early episodes of Rebels work really well in a single sitting, and Season 1–which drove me crazy with its pacing and perceived “filler” episodes when it aired–played a lot better knowing what was coming up. Even Season 2, which has felt like it was treading water at times, played better right on the heels of the first season, and especially knowing how little things from Season 1 came back to play major roles at the end of the season. In this format, I felt a lot more connected to the Rebels characters than I had before, and it was actually a bit jarring to switch to A New Hope without having the fates of the Rebels’ heroes resolved.
Unfortunately, we had no choice but to power through with the Original Trilogy, which pretty much made me forget about Rebels as soon as “A long time ago…” appeared on the screen. We finished up with our classic heroes on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and oddly enough, I felt less connected to them than I did all the other characters from throughout the marathons. With days spent with the prequel-era characters and most of a day spent with the Rebels crew, six hours with Luke, Han, and Leia didn’t feel like enough to get to know them as well as everyone else.
However, by the final scenes of Return of the Jedi, the weight of everything that came before–the prequels, The Clone Wars, Rebels, A New Hope, and Empire Strikes Back–came to bear. More than any other time that I’ve watched that movie, it felt like the book had come to a close and the story was over. It was an emotionally satisfying journey, and for the briefest of moments, I felt like I didn’t need any more Star Wars.
A really brief moment. We started watching trailers for The Force Awakens on my big screen, and the book was reopened.
In a couple of days, I’m driving the three hours back to my hometown. I’ll be crashing at Coach’s house that night, and the next day, he, Andy, and I will be getting in line at the theater where I saw all of the prequels. Paul will be joining us when he gets off of work. My Journey to the Force Awakens was spent with friends, and as we prepare to enter a new era of Star Wars, I’m beginning the next journey with one of the most important things that Star Wars has represented for me: friendship. May the Force Be With You All. See you in line for the movie.