By Nathan Smith
In which the author attempts to view George Lucas’ six films series in a new light- at the same time.
Several weeks ago, a YouTube curiosity called Star Wars Wars started to make the usual rounds on the blog circuit, but this one seemed to stand out from among the supercuts. Most folks online seemed to treat it like a trippy joke, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Created by Marcus Rosentrater, a filmmaker and animator for FX’s Archer, Star Wars Wars: All Six Films At Once (Full-Length) super-imposes all six Star Wars films atop one another. It appears he’s added a certain amount of contrast and saturation, and some films take more focus than others, so it’s not just all six films playing at the same time. Still, watching the entire saga unfold in two-and-a-half hours is quite an endeavor. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been attracted to completely unnecessary feats of cultural strength, whether it’s Chuck Klosterman watching VH1 Classic for 24 hours straight, J. Hoberman projecting White House Down and Lee Daniels’ The Butler at the same time, or Matt Singer watching the hulked-out Ultimate Marvel Marathon. It’s not just about bragging to your Film Twitter friends; the endurance and exhaustion involved can reveal strange new insights into our popular culture.
Growing up, Star Wars was crucial to my identity, so much so that I got my first wallet simply to carry around my Official Star Wars Fan Club membership card with me at all times. But it bums me out to no end that I can’t unsee Star Wars, that I’ll never know the experience of seeing those original films for the first time. Watching Star Wars Wars wasn’t just about pushing myself to the edge, it was about seeing movies I had seen a million times before in a new light. Maybe it’d reveal something new about these movies and my memories of them, or maybe it could reveal something new about me. And so I entered Star Wars Wars: All Six Films At Once (completely sober, I might add).
One of the most interesting realizations I had while watching Star Wars Wars, one that came early on in my viewing, is how surprisingly similar the prequels and originals are. I’ll ride for the Star Wars prequels until my last breath, but for those who don’t appreciate Lucas’ later additions to his original trilogy, perhaps their most defensible quality is their narrative structure. Put the trade embargos and intergalactic politics aside; what other director has so successfully tied together six separate films into a single story over a span of decades? Read: none. No wonder Star Wars was the first outside intellectual property that the Lego Group latched on to; as critic Jürgen Fauth put it, the prequels are placed by Lucas “into the overall puzzle with the satisfaction of a wunderkind showing off his superior Lego skills.” It’s fashionable to dismiss these films. No, it’s a requirement. Hating the prequels is viewed as a more authentic badge of Star Wars fandom than that Official Star Wars Fan Club Card I wouldn’t be caught dead without in middle school. I used to hate them, until I realized that I couldn’t love myself until I loved the prequels (I can’t separate Star Wars from myself. It’s a problem.) But in some sense, the prequels are a bigger and better manifestation of what Colonel G. Lucas set out to do in the first place. Star Wars is nothing if not a space opera, and the saga of the first Skywalker is baroque to the bone. In his defense of Revenge of the Sith, Fauth says that:
Star Wars does not care for subtleties: this is cinema that projects eternal archetypes on a very large canvas and combines them with 1930s sci-fi serials, the ideas of Joseph Campbell, the history of Rome, Eastern philosophy, and visual clues swiped from Akira Kurosawa into a techno fairy tale dressed in cutting-edge visual effects.
If the original trilogy was a spaghetti western set in space, these films are Cirque de Soleil: gilded, gold-plated, and grand. Joseph Campbell, meet Celine Dion. Like the greatest operas of our time, from Der Ring des Nibelungen to The Days of Our Lives, the prequels fully expand on the familial drama of the originals. The acting may be wooden, the dialogue Velveeta, but it’s Star Wars. It’s literally about wars in the stars. Eloquence shouldn’t be the highest on our list or priorities. The series has always been more interested in scope than subtlety. I wouldn’t be writing this if not for Star Wars. I grew up on a diet of Darth Maul underwear and Jar Jar Binks bed sheets, so maybe I’m a bit biased, but be careful: the blast shield of your youth might have blinded you to quality.
If narrative is what gives the prequels purpose, then what use does Star Wars Wars: All Six Films at Once have? When talking about all six Star Wars films, not just the first three episodes, the emphasis seems to lie on narrative: we talk about characters, plot, and themes, but rare is it that we treat the films like actual cinema. These movies so perfectly embody all that Hero’s Journey jizz jazz that they’ve become more myth than movie. Star Wars belongs as much to English teachers as it does to fanboys. They’re an exercise in storytelling, not cinema, right? The conversation never centers around Lucas as filmmaker. He’s not even a businessman, he’s a business, man. It makes sense to some degree, seeing as most of his contributions to culture have been in licensing and technology, but for an artist so invested in “pure cinema” as he was at the start of his career, it really doesn’t.
That’s where Star Wars Wars comes in. Treating each film like one picture in a collage, Rosentrater strips away their narrative structure. Other than a few stray lines that slip out here and there, there’s no point in trying to follow the dialogue of any single film. Your attention shifts into hyperspace. Star Wars Wars forces us to reckon with these movies as movies, as canvases of color and light, not as cultural artifacts from our childhood. Most viewers will focus on the admittedly psychedelic qualities of the piece, but you don’t need to be under the influence to appreciate this internet-only art installation. These films are a visual delight, thousands of details unfolding in a single scene (imagine if Tati took on Coruscant…). Every frame contains stories untold, we just happen to be following the Skywalkers’.
If you’re familiar enough with the six films, Star Wars Wars’ visual combinations recontextualize the story. About 45 minutes into the film, three scenes link up: in Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan visits Kamino and learns of the Clone Army; in Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine tells Anakin how he can cheat death; in Episode VI, the ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke the truth about his father and sister. These scenes aren’t ones that stand out on their own as crucial, but they provide invaluable set-up. They are cruxes within the series. By linking these moments, we see how each trilogy mirrors and reflects the other. At certain points, characters from one film exist inside characters from another. New conversations arise, locations and lightsabers meld together, the battle between good and evil flows forever.
One of the most breathtaking moments in Star Wars Wars occurs at the very end. As credits from several films roll at once and the names of each person who brought us this saga hang together, united in space, Anakin and Padme themselves unite, locking lips and joining hands in a love that, though poorly-acted, echoes across the stars. The description for Star Wars Wars claims that each film “battles for our attention,” but at a certain point, they join together. An infinite number of stories and stars transform into a single brilliant ball of light. Rosenstrater serves as a sort of film game DJ Screw, remixing films we know all too well. Yes, Star Wars Wars gets tiring and overwhelming, but it’s beautiful in how much it reveals. Now THAT’S what I call podracing.
View more stills from Star Wars Wars here.