I've been a fan of Green Lantern since I realized he was a superhero who wore my favorite color, and had it in his name (but he also appeared in Super Friends, which Green Arrow did not). He was a favorite action figure. When I got my first comics, they featured Hal Jordan, a reprint of his first appearance (Showcase #22), an old issue featuring Hector Hammond (Green Lantern #177), a reprint of the start of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow road stories (Green Lantern #76). At the time it was not cool to be a fan of Green Lantern. I learned this because I took my meager collection with me to a school activity period that I got to select as featuring comic books. All the other kids were wild about Punisher, a typical 1990s "gritty" character.
Eventually I got to read comics of a more contemporary kind, and the memorably surreal (in hindsight downright Vertigo-ian) first issue of Green Lantern Mosaic was among them, plus some Hal Jordan stories featuring the likes of Evil Star. But when I had the chance to read on a regular basis, it was at the time of Superman's return from the dead, which memorably featured the destruction of Coast City. I still have no idea why Green Lantern was a part of that story, because to this day the two franchises still have very little to do with one another. (Just one of the many things I would work on should I ever have the chance to write Green Lantern for myself.)
This led to Hal Jordan becoming Parallax. It was a memorable time for me. I had Mart Nodell, the creator of the original Green Lantern Alan Scott, sketch his distinctive lamp on the cover of Zero Hour #0, which was the end of the biggest Parallax story other than "Emerald Twilight," which saw the aftermath of Coast City's destruction as Jordan went on a rampage, obliterating the Green Lantern Corps, murdering the Guardians of the Universe, and absorbing the Central Power Battery, which was the move that ostensibly created Parallax.
Ron Marz then got to introduce readers to the "torchbearer" Kyle Rayner, who found himself in possession of the last Green Lantern power ring, bestowed upon him by the last Guardian, Ganthet. Kyle was my Green Lantern, at least in the sense that he was the first one I read with any consistency. For me, it was a really good time to be a fan of the franchise, although I was certainly aware that many fans were annoyed enough to carry a torch of their own for the "right interpretation" of Hal Jordan for years.
For me, though, this period inspired a different interpretation of Green Lantern lore. As other readers in the letters columns of the time pointed out, it was almost as if DC had turned this franchise into its very own Star Wars. Up to this point, Green Lantern has certainly been familiar as well as memorable. Along with the Flash, it was Hal Jordan's introduction that helped usher the Silver Age. Hal in fact appropriated Alan Scott's oath ("In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil's might beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"), which was just one of the many ways the mythology began to form around him. There was also Hal's unique origin, which introduced the entire concept of the Green Lantern Corps. Here wasn't simply someone who represented himself, but an entire legion of similarly powered heroes throughout the galaxy. It's still unique enough that I'm not sure wide audiences are ready to embrace it, one of the reasons why Green Lantern the movie turned out to be a popular failure (although of course reductionist and reactionary theory will have it that the movie itself was to blame).
Hal had been replaced as Earth's (or rather, Sector 2814) before Kyle, first by the impetuous Guy Gardner and then by the more cerebral John Stewart, both of whom were original candidates to assume Abin Sur's ring. Both remain key parts of Green Lantern lore. There's also Sinestro, Hal's worst enemy and former mentor, as well as former Greatest Green Lantern Ever. He's also the originator of the yellow ring of fear, which would later be appropriated by Guy Gardner (but ultimately replaced by alien DNA that transformed him into Warrior for a time).
Sinestro's the real key, and half the reason why I'm writing about all this right now. The part that made the Kyle Rayner era of the franchise seem like the DC version of Star Wars was that a lasting story in this saga had been reached, a flashpoint if you will. And half the reason why most fans are actually happy about it now is that Hal Jordan has since recovered from his bout of Parallax, all thanks to Geoff Johns and Green Lantern: Rebirth.
Before getting to that, it's worth going over the rest of Hal's story before this point. Following Zero Hour Hal had a shot of redemption when he sacrificed himself to save Earth in The Final Night. That still, incredibly, wasn't the end of his story. In Geoff's own Day of Judgment (finally being collected this year) he became the new host of the Spectre, DC's Spirit of Vengeance, the avatar of God's judgment, and in fact starred in an ongoing series in this role. DC had moved on, but apparently couldn't move past Hal Jordan as a featured member of its universe, even if he had been by some accounts been irredeemably ruined as a character by going the full Vader.
And to give you an idea of what I had at one time considered the cinematic version of Green Lantern, I would literally have made a trilogy of films involving the rise and fall of Hal Jordan, including the rise of Kyle Rayner as his replacement. In 1999/2000, I was pretty obsessed with this idea.
Green Lantern: Rebirth chronicles how Hal emerged from the spectre, as it were, of Parallax by revealing what Parallax actually was. He was the personification of fear, ensnared by the Guardians early on in the history of the Green Lantern Corps and trapped in the Central Power Battery. Parallax then becomes the source of the infamous yellow impurity, which for a time meant that Green Lantern power rings were literally powerless against the color yellow (which when coupled with Alan Scott's similar weakness to wood, led to the Big Bang Theory joke of being able to defeat both iterations of Green Lantern with a No. 2 pencil).
All of which is to say that Geoff reveals in Rebirth that what really happened during "Emerald Twilight" was that Parallax took hold of Hal Jordan following the destruction of Coast City, an event that made the hero formerly known for not having fear to be controlled by it. In some circles this has been dismissed as a classic example of a "retcon" (retroactive continuity), but it's really the first sign that Geoff really understood not just what had come before him in Green Lantern lore, but its infinite possibilities, most of which had never even been considered. His subsequent years with the franchise have been incredibly fruitful to this effect, including Sinestro's expanded significance and his recent activities post-New 52.
It's worth noting that in the pages of Rebirth are perhaps Black Hand's last pages as a laughingstock villain. If you need proof of how awesome he has become since that time and haven't been reading recent adventures, see Blackest Night for perhaps the definitive example.
Rereading Rebirth is an affirmation that Geoff absolutely nailed it. I was not a fanatical fan of Hal Jordan. I appreciated his sporadic appearances in Kyle Rayner's adventures, and his significance in Green Lantern lore, but when the stories moved on so did I. He never went away, though. In one guise or another Hal's story continued, and then Rebirth tied everything together, and "Emerald Twilight" if anything became even more significant in hindsight, the first part of a greater saga in some ways concluded by Rebirth.
The Green Lantern franchise has under the auspices of Geoff Johns expanded to the point where most comic book fans will no longer scoff at it. DC believed it had reached a sufficient level of respect so that general audiences might also come to appreciate it, get beyond the fact that Green Lantern contradicts most of what most people think about superheroes. Green Lantern offers its own version of Parallax, which may be part of the reason comic book fans themselves were reluctant to embrace it, but it does hit the key development of Sinestro when he puts on the yellow ring in the closing credits. I thought that alone would have enticed audiences to overcome any other objections, and realize what a grand saga Green Lantern represents, because they're all about grand sagas of a different kind with the Avengers cycle and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight.
If you're reluctant about Green Lantern yourself, start with Rebirth. It'll give you an idea of the grand scope, the rich history Geoff Johns brought together, the endless possibilities. Sometimes the only story worth telling about any superhero seems to be their origin, and that's part of why so many of the movies based on them do exactly that. Green Lantern has at least one more.