A long time ago.
Return of the Jedi, I believe, was the second movie I ever saw in the theater. Catching Episode III today was the final bridge connecting a narrative that has spanned most of my life.
Star Wars was the stuff that spawned countless Lego and erector set creations and motivated hours of playground games. Luke and Leia (so pretty, so badass) and Han were some of my first heroes, at least the first from outer space. Moreover, those were extremely formative narratives about good and evil, how fear leads to hate, hate to anger, anger to suffering (thanks, Yoda), and how truth and love are the only way to go. Musings on the Force, whatever it may be, probably guide my spiritual philosophy as much as anything. The series, at the very least, is a damn good primer on Buddhism.
I think most agree that Episodes I and II were wasted opportunities for George Lucas. We weathered the obnoxious jabberings of Jar Jar Binks (not to mention the racist undertones) through two mediocre films. We rolled our eyes at ridiculous insertions of virgin births and other not-so-thinly veiled allegory. Revenge of the Sith had its own obvious flaws, not least of which was Padme Amidala's frailty. She's a Senator for god's sake, and she spends roughly equal parts of the movie brushing her hair, swooning over Anakin (which I can't exactly fault her for, but I did want to wretch if she escalated the dialoge of 'no, I love YOU more' one step further), and blathering about going back to Naboo and decorating the baby's bedroom (what?!). Lucas has a knack for stunted, trite dialogue, but nobody ever claimed the movies to be advanced in that aspect. The special effects, while visually stunning, have a tendency to go too far--and then the tower falls into the pool of lava! and they're still fighting! but there's a lava fall coming up! and they're jumping! and floating in the lava river! and still fighting!--you get the point. Don't even get me started on the silliness of the Frankenstein homage. If Lucas gave us one gift, it was keeping Jar Jar's cameo brief, and mute.
Eyerolling aside, though, Episode III did very well what it needed to do--connect the dots and tell us how the galaxy ended up as we've known it. I understand familiar characters in a better way--why Yoda's hanging out in Dagobah, and why Obi Wan is kicking it in the Tatoine desert. Anakin starts out having a bad day, and ends up far worse than anyone could have expected. We know why Darth Vader is, as Obi Wan describes it, 'more machine now than man.' We see the twisted soul behind the black plastic suit.
The parallels to the current political situation are as ominous as the first strains of trombone John William's Darth Vader march, and not nearly as heavy-handed as some of Lucas' other thematics. A war against an elusive enemy who nobody seems to be able to find? A consolidation of power in a time of war? A 'with me, or you are my enemy' mentality? Fascism happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It happened this century. It can happen again.
I have to admit I got into it. I was riveted for the last two hours of the movie. And I was sad when it ended, not only because the galaxy had descended into such darkness and turmoil. The grand arc of that narrative was complete. For all of its shortcomings--its simplicity, bad acting, and gaudy hairstyles--there will be no more Star Wars. What happens now?