In addition to my regular movie-watching schedule, and by schedule I mean "whenever I get around to it", I've been re-watching some serial movies back-to-back to see how well they stand up now after a few years have gone by.
Star Wars - Episodes I through VI
I'm not going to attempt any sort of 'review' of the films, pretty much everyone has seen some or all of these films. This is just a dump of the thoughts that I had after watching all the films again.
I had to watch them in event-chronological order instead of release order. Otherwise I probably would not bother watching eps I, II, and III ever again. I just have this darn 'completeness' urge that is not easy to ignore.
And, sure enough, the series is how I remember it. Eps I and II stink, III smells (except for the Jedi temple aftermath and the bit when Kenobi cuts off Anakin's legs and arm), ep IV (A New Hope) is great, V (Empire Strikes Back) is awesome, and VI (Return of the Jedi) is pretty darn good until the Ewoks show up and ruin everything.
I will admit, though, I found some of the politics of episodes I - III are interesting, as it shows how the soon-to-be emperor sets himself up for that position. The political maneuverings, how Palpatine foments a schism, leads it through his minions, and at the same time uses the existing government to crush it out. Invent crisis, provide solution, take absolute power.
I also liked how at same time he engineers wiping out all the Jedi, effectively establishing balance by reducing the number of Jedi vs. Sith to two vs. two by the time he becomes emperor, using the very forces he had engineered to support the Jedi in the clone wars. Those pairs being Yoda and Kenobi vs. Emperor and Vader.
So yes, I did enjoy a few aspects of the eps I-III storyline, I liked the wheels-within-wheels politics and manipulations. But the bulk of those movies just stank compared to the original trilogy. I don't know if it is even possible to extract the best of the core story without the junk surrounding it.
One might lament that, as awesome as the special effects for Star Wars (A New Hope) and Empire and Return of the Jedi were at the time they were released, they might sort of look dated (on an effects level) compared with eps I-III. Actually the effects still look good. I do realize they've been tinkered with and cleaned up over the years for the multiple re-releases, but the edited-in segments with CGI-only effects in the re-releases really stand out compared with the model shots. Actually, eps IV-VI look less cluttered - there's less ships in the space shots. The space battles in eps I-III have so much going on it becomes a blur. Admittedly puppet Yoda is kinda weak compared to CGI Yoda. However, if ANH, ESB and RotJ were made after eps I-III they probably would not have been near as good as they are.
One really glaring thing about Darth Vader. In eps IV-VI he's a straight-up bad ass. How did he go from being the annoying kid in ep I and the whiney bitch in eps II and III to bad ass? The animated Clone Wars series can't answer that -- those take place chronologically between eps II and III. Odder still - the Anakin in the Clone Wars series is nowhere near the whiney bitch he is in ep III. He's actually likeable. It is a shame the Anakin in ep III wasn't anything like his Clone Wars persona.
I'm not even going to address the "C-3PO built by Darth Vader / R2-D2 doesn't get his memory wiped / Obi Wan doesn't even acknowledge knowing them" issues.
Star Wars, as a whole, is a stronger series with just episodes IV through VI. Eps I - III dilutes the greatness of the series. At least the animated Clone Wars series is a good addition. Much better than The Star Wars Holiday Special.
Edit April 2012
I just read this article about a proposed order to watch the films referred to as "The Machete Order".
The proposed order to watch the films is IV, V, II, III, VI, and don't watch I.
I watched the original release order of IV, V, VI, I, II, III. I've re-watched them in the sequential order of I, II, III, IV, V, VI. I didn't like either way. The proposed "Machete Order" might just work for me. The article makes sense. One day I may just have to try watching them in this order and see if it improves the experience.
Edit: September 2012
Watched the series in Machete Order. It's okay. I don't know how well it would do for someone who has not seen any of the films, I have trouble imagining it because I've seen the series too many times.
Not watching episode I doesn't hurt anything. There's only a couple of references to things in episode I in eps II and III and they aren't really significant. I think one of the advantages to seeing it in Machete Order, aside from almost no Jar Jar Binks, is ending on Return of the Jedi right after seeing Revenge of the Sith. The chapter parallels are a little more obvious. Unfortunately no viewing order cancels out Ewoks, and ending on ep VI still leaves that lingering Ewok smell.