On May 23, just days before the start of the Star Wars Celebration IV at the L.A. Convention Center, I attended a six-movie Star Wars marathon. The commemoration began with the screening of George Lucas' sci-fi trilogies, and so I survived not only 17 hours of balls-out, back-cramping Star Wars but also fulfilled a 10-year ambition to watch Lucas' complete vision from beginning to end on the big screen. When it was over, I wanted to cry and I wanted to sleep, but, most of all, I realized I had discovered a higher level of appreciation for his creation of the galaxy, far far away.

Now, I've always loved the classic trilogy, but I'm not so hot for the dumbed-down Star Wars tripe that Lucas has been pimping for a decade now, from the special-edition versions to which he keeps adding to the prequel trilogy that proved that Lucas understood Star Wars less than its fans. But maybe I should start at the beginning of that day ….

9 a.m. I've slept maybe five hours, which is a fine way to start a masochistic six-flick experience. Episode I: The Phantom Menace starts. I'm prepared to be again underwhelmed by Lucas' alleged genius.

11:10 a.m. Credits roll. Phantom Menace, I decide, is still a comically silly piece of filmmaking, punctuated by wondrous special effects and a lightsaber finale that continues to rouse audience cheering.

11:40 a.m. Episode II: Attack of the Clones begins. Amazingly, the crowd applauds Hayden Christensen's first appearance as Anakin Skywalker, though they ignore him afterward. It becomes apparent that, almost universally, it's acceptable to snicker or sigh at the prequel characters of Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala and Jar Jar Binks, but it's forbidden to deride Obi-Wan Kenobi (despite Ewan McGregor's ever-changing accent) or the digitally animated Yoda, whose performance is the most convincing, no matter the scene.

2:01 p.m. Credits wrap and I head outside for sun. I notice there are only about seven fans here "dressed" for the occasion, meaning as Star Wars characters. I kind of expected the place to be filled with Jedi, storm troopers and Boba Fetts. Instead, all I can see is one storm trooper and one Imperial Navy officer sharing a pizza in front of the concession stand.

2:30 p.m. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith rolls. Personally, I think it's the best of the prequel trilogy. The dark slant reminds me of The Empire Strikes Back and the best moments of Return of the Jedi. Highlight of the screening: Padmé, upon confessing to Anakin that she's pregnant, asks him what they're going to do. Someone in the audience shouts, "Use birth control!" I have to admit, it seems reasonable, given the fact that she's a senator with access to a health-care program more advanced than our own.

4:50 p.m. The prequel trilogy is over. After watching the films in order, I think that I better understand what Lucas wanted to do with the movies. Unfortunately, he's a piss-poor director and was incapable of achieving his ambitions. Maybe that's why he hired other directors to take on Empire and Return. If he hadn't, maybe the Star Wars franchise would have died years ago.

years ago.

6:10 p.m. Greedo pops off the first shot in A New Hope (the 1977 movie that started it all), an offense no Star Wars fan has ever forgiven. The room fills with hideous boos. Finally, a fan shouts out, "I still love Star Wars!" and we all laugh, because it's true for every one of us.

8:55 p.m. We're well into The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, the colorful tweaks Lucas gave Bespin are kind of cool, but the coolest thing about this movie is how it looks — awesome. Irvin Kershner is such a visual director compared to Lucas, who always manages to frame a scene in the least dynamic manner.

12:30 a.m. Near the end of Return. Luke declares, "I'll never turn to the Dark Side … I'm a Jedi, like my father before me." The room roars in triumph. This is the moment that all these movies have been leading up to. Later, when Christensen replaces Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker's ghost, we cheer despite the annoying switch. Somehow it works when you accept the series as Lucas now presents it, which, aside from making you feel dirty, is remarkable for its originality.


12:55 a.m. I head out the door, ready for my bed and recuperation. But I promised a revelation about George Lucas' understanding of the Star Wars phenomenon, so here it is: Never mind his shortcomings as a director and screenwriter, Lucas produced a movie series that follows a complex, cohesive storyline. While portions of the films often appear childish or video-gamish in presentation, the man accomplished his grand cinematic dream. It could've been better, considering the 16 years we waited for the second trilogy, first prequel. But Lucas created another world that inhabits the imaginations of countless fans, with more to come. Star Wars isn't just a movie series, it's a state of mind.

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