Before I had kids, I knew EXACTLY how I was going to show them Star Wars. I was going to start with A New Hope, because that sets up the world more elegantly than anything else, explaining what the Force is, and what Jedi are, and even what a lightsaber is. I was going to end with Jedi, because that is a satisfying conclusion. I certainly wasn't going to open with the prequels, which spoil both "I am your father" AND the identity of Yoda. No, I was going to treat the prequels like an extended flashback between ESB and ROTJ.
Then I had my kids, and their unique personalities and preferences totally @#$@##$ed up my plan. And it was awesome.
First of all, we're gonna have to wait on AOTC and ROTS. At three and five, they're way too young for the violence of ROTS, and frankly, even AOTC goes over the top for the little ones (for my taste, as always YMMV). My son and I have great times together, and I don't relish the thought of showing him the movie where the little boy and his dad have awesome adventures together, "Get 'im, dad!" right up until the point where the dad is decapitated by the good guys, credits. So those are out for now.
Also, when I showed ANH to them, it didn't QUITE hold their attention. In a world with Pixar movies and where the pace of SW has become dominant, what was once considered a movie that rushed by FAR too fast is positively glacially paced today. ANH takes quite some time to show us Luke, and after the initial Tantive IV fight, there is a lot of talking before more action. Lots of exposition, lots of characters being introduced, lots of world-setting-up, which is a little much for them. They're used to a little more hand-holding.
They enjoyed ANH, but it wasn't gripping them. ESB, however, they LOVED. My three year-old daughter was totally absorbed, giving a constant running commentary that was a hysterical (to this proud papa) mix of "wow, that's what it looks like to her" and "hm, she's right, I never noticed that." Luke goes in the bacta tank to wash off after being covered in snow. Then he jumps off an AT-AT and -- she sighs heavily -- gets himself all covered in snow again. Luke leaves the ice planet but how can he? His ship is all wrecked! And the big bear makes funny noises because he's stuck to the ladder (which is why he cries when they shut the base doors at night). And she also narrated the action scenes breathlessly. "Can he do it? Can he do it? Is he gonna do it? HE DID IT!"
They were suitably sad when Han got frozen ("when you're a block you can't talk") and needed reassuring that he'd be okay. Spoilers are the rule in our house, because they can't handle the suspense if they don't know it will work out in the end. We DID preserve "I am your father," though, and I had to ask the kids to pay particular attention to the dialogue at that moment so they wouldn't miss it. Then they were very sad. "Why is his father a bad guy?"
It's funny, after years of accepting the popular view that the prequels didn't NEED to be made, for artistic purposes anyway, my kids clearly thought they were the most important part. Defeating all the bad guys is important and all, but what they REALLY wanna know is -- why is Luke's dad a bad guy? How does a thing like that happen!?
Then ROTJ completely redeemed itself for me (I've never been its biggest fan). I don't know that I've ever seen either of my kids enjoy a movie moment as much as they enjoyed seeing the ewoks attack. When 3PO (the guy that owns R2, Seeyagreepo) says "Were you looking for me?" and the Ewoks emerge from the bushes, my kids literally leapt up, jumped forward and started whooting and cheering. They were SHOCKED and delighted. It was awesome. Then they cheered just about everything the ewoks did. And then, of course, they were worried about Luke getting off the Death Star in time, and then they loved seeing fireworks and all the different places celebrating the end of the bad guys.
It's funny and surprising seeing these movies from their perspective. The ewoks and the prequels, two features of SW that I (an OT die-hard) have always considered George selling out for merchandise and making lesser movies as a result, make a lot more sense to me now. They were exactly what my kids focused on.
I've let them watch TPM because it has the pod race and a little boy who beats the bad guys (and I felt SOME satisfaction as a smug OT purist that the movie with the more up-to-date special effects and the little boy and the cool race didn't hold their attention as much as ROTJ, because what really kept them focused was wanting to see if the evil empire would be destroyed and what would happen with Luke's dad -- you know, the STORY). And eventually they'll see AOTC, though I may still have to "accidentally" hit "skip scene" on the remote when Anakin starts talking about killing "the women and the children" in the sandpeople camp. But I do think they'll have to be much older before they see ROTS, what with the whole "let's watch Anakin get his limbs chopped off and burned alive while he screams 'I hate you' at his friend" thing.