So the past week or so has been a bit rubbish. I was laid out for several nights with a bad case of TMD. If you don’t know what it is, think about having your jaw dislocated except instead of someone/thing socking you in the mouth you have it because of tension. In short, my mood was not much improved and my sleep cycle needed a refresh.
So, as with most things in my life, I went to Star Wars for help. Because I am a massive nerd, thank you for just tuning in. I had been planning a run of the movies again because of the recent start of the Star Wars Tabletop I’m running. I wanted to get a feel for the narrative and see what made Star Wars…Star Wars.
Now, as many of my friends know, I have a particular order in how to watch the movies. There’s a lot of discussion in the fandom with how the movies are supposed to be viewed. Some will insist that the movies be viewed in the order in which they are released. So that’s Episode’s IV, V, VI, I, II, III, (and now, VII). Others will suggest to have everything run through the stories chronologically. So that means I, II, III, IV, V, and then VI and now VII.
A couple of friends of mine tried the latter version before. We sat down and prepared ourselves for a full day of Star Wars fun. The problem we ran in to was that for the first 7 or a 13 hour marathon we had to sit through the god damned prequels.
I know that I’m technically the age bracket expected to have enjoyed and appreciated the prequel movies as they were coming out. The last Star Wars movie before then came out in 83, a full three years before I was even born. But sitting through the movies were a goddamn endurance match. With the static acting on soundstage, the crap writing, the stimulus overload from CGI scenes and the only inherent driving force behind the narrative movies being ‘Because this sets up the original trilogy’ I couldn’t manage to be arsed to sit and watch.
We survived, wholly, by drinking and rifftraxing the entire prequels. We needed to, or else we were going to have to resort to something dramatic. By the time we got to the Original Trilogy, we were starting to get punchy and just burned out on the experience.
Some time later, I tried watching the movies the other way, by order of release. I watched the original trilogy, all went well, and then I get to Phantom Menace and…I just stopped. I didn’t really have the desire or urge to go through with it. I’d seen the best bits, and the prequels were, I felt, just really made to explain the best bits of the Original. So, I stopped.
The problem with watching it through either way, or at least one of the ones I keep noticing, is that the first trilogy shown diminishes the impact of the second trilogy. If you play the Prequels first, the imposing nature of Vader is diminished. Also, so is the major reveal of Empire Strikes Back. You also lose the shock of the connection between Luke and Leia. These were moments that made the series. By sitting through the prequels that explain EVERYTHING, Vader comes off as less imposing, the reveal is less shocking. It blunts the impact.
The same thing happens if you watch it in release order, simply on the grounds that Return of the Jedi ends on a definitive conclusion. The Emperor and Vader are dead, the Ewoks are YubNubbing while beating on the empty helmets of fallen (and possibly consumed) Imperials. The Galaxy is throwing off the shackles of its opressors. All is right in the Galaxy for the first time since the opening crawl of A New Hope. Finished, and end. And, as it turns out, the addition of Hayden Christensen as Anakin’s ghost in the newest release of Return of the Jedi kills it as, in the order we’re watching these films, we’d have no idea who the hell this guy is. This kinda tells us the order Lucas had intended we watch the movies.
Now, I want to take point out here that I’m not going to raz on anyone who enjoys the prequels and likes watching them. How I love the fandom is not how others should, and if anyone ever tells you otherwise I suggest you walk away from them without breaking contact. You do you, my friends, you do you.
And the problem I was having was that as a fan and as someone who writes Star Wars related materials for fan groups, I felt I needed to give the prequel movies a fair shake. I can’t ignore a full half of the franchise just to sate my own narrative snobby attitude. So, I needed to find a solution.
And that’s when I found The Machete Order. Conceived in 2011 by Robert Hilton, a blogger who specializes in computer programming. He created the order for much of the same reasons I was having difficulty watching the franchise of films. The order is thus:
IV, V, II, III, VI
So you have A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, then you have Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and closing it all off with Return of the Jedi. Intrigued, I sat down and watched the movies and…you know what? It helped.
One of the reasons that it helped was that it did something I didn’t realize was the problem. It put the story back on Luke, and not Anakin. With the prequels, and the addition of Christensen at the end of Return, it was clear what Lucas was doing. The entire series was now about the story of Anakin, his fall in the Prequels and his Redemption in the Original.
Except….that doesn’t really work. That takes A LOT away from the protagonist of the Original Trilogy. You’ve made the coming of age of a character that helped define two-three generations by this time in to the a side character for one of the major villains in cinematic history. And, again I’m going to be mean about the prequels, did it in a way that actually makes me less sympathetic about Vader’s redemption.
So, keeping the story on Luke is the best of all ideas. It’s the more tightly wound story (not to say it’s perfect. it isn’t) of the two. You have New Hope and Empire play as they normally would in the set up. Suddenly, you get to the third act of Empire. Luke abandons his training. We find out from Kenobi and Yoda that Luke is not the only Hope left, and that ‘there is another. Han is taken away by a Bounty Hunter. And then, of course, we get the grand surprise: Luke has been fighting his father this entire time.
And now, we break away from Luke. Now we go back to find out what the hell happened. I imagine that someone (either Kenobi’s ghost, Vader, or even R2) are having a flashback to the events of Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. These movies explain how we got here. From the rise of the Galactic Empire, to fall of Anakin and the Jedi, to the birth of the rebellion and all that connects to it.
Watching it this way actually made me pumped for the final act in Return of the Jedi. We were getting this build up where we meet Palpatine, who played everyone for suckers from beginning until the end of the prequels. We get to see Anakin’s slide down the slope (although it gave us such narmy results), it even raises the mystique of that random ass bounty hunter that hijacked Han-sickle and sold him off to Jabba.
It also does something that actually makes Revenge of the Sith better. By watching it in this order, you see the birth of the Skywalker Twins.
Wait, someone who has never seen the series says, ‘Twins?’
And then you find out the surprise, that Luke and Leia are twins. If you watch that sequence Chronologically, it gets weak after a while. It also makes the kissing between Leia and Luke in the first two movies squicky. If you watch it in release style, that scene is a non-issue because we already know about it. The birth scene becomes impactful because we’ve met Luke and Leia and oh my god they are related.
So by the end of the movie, you now have an idea of what’s going on and what is at stake in all of this. When we now get to Return of the Jedi, when we see Luke transform in to a Jedi Knight (made all the more shocking by the several hours since we’ve last seen him) and confront the Emperor, we know how dangerous Palps can be. Leia begins to realize her connections to the Force, and we revisit some of the locations in the prequels celebrating as the Galaxy now knows peace. We also know that the lie Ben gave to Luke in the original movie was such an egregious stretch
And that’s the original Machete Order. The list was made in 2011, back when there were only six films and we all assumed that that was all there ever will be. Several years later, Lucas sells Star Wars to Disney and suddenly the floodgates are drawn. Now we have Episode VII, and the promise of VIII and IX. We also get the first of the Anthology films: Rogue One. The order continues.
Episode VII’s place is obvious at the end. It addresses the resolved plot in Return of the Jedi and involves reuninting the characters of the Original Trilogy. It also does not mention the prequels at all. This places it near the end of the list, with VIII and IX following up behind it.
Rogue One is an interesting piece. Some people, following the format of the Machete Order, would place Rogue One at the very beginning. It makes sense, it leads in right to a New Hope. However, I would put it between Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi. The reason behind the placing is because it serves as a perfect bridge between the prequels and the original trilogy.
Rogue One involves characters like Mon Mothma and Bail Ograna, who we first meet in the prequels. Mothma will reappear in Return, as will a larger view of the Galactic Alliance/Rebellion. It also foreshadows the Death Star’s return and the fears that the weapon may be used to draw out the Alliance in to an unprepared battle (which happens)
What it also does, is reintroduce us to Vader. When we last see Vader in Revenge of the Sith, he is balefully screaming as he realizes he has lost himself and his love ones to the Dark Side. We next see him in A New Hope walking through the smouldering door after a raid. We don’t actually see him do anything until near the very end of A New Hope. Having Rogue One allows us to catch up to Vader and realize that he has become a pants-shitting monster that turned a hallway of rebels in to the scene of a lightsaber slasher flick. It returns us, the audience, back to the mindframe of what Vader is. He is the monster these people are afraid of and while, according to Luke and Padme, there may still be good in him it is definitely a long road paved in fear and dead men.
So, in final tally, Machete Order consists of:
IV, V, II, III, R1, VI, VII, VIII, IX, etc
Now, wait a minute. We missed one didn’t we? Where is Episode One? Where is the Phantom Menace?
According to Hilton, removing Episode One from the viewing list takes absolutely nothing away from the rest of the films. Aside from a last minute mention in Revenge of the Sith of Qui-Gon, nothing we learn in Episode One carries across the movies that doesn’t get reintroduced. The notion of Anakin being a slave doesn’t require us to see his upbringing. We see it when he visits the planet to find his mother. Jar Jar is a weird background character that has horrible consequences to the whole situation. Padme as Queen means nothing, because she was already a Senator and diplomat when we meet her again.
The only thing we leave out that I am reticent about is Maul. However, to be frank, the movie jobs him out. If not for the fans desire to see him again, he would have been a throwaway character. Maul was never seen or heard from again in the movies. The Jedi never mention the Sith until Dooku/Tyrannus tells them there is a Sith Lord running about. While if you want to watch Clone Wars and Rebels, you must watch Episode 1, if all you are focusing on are the cinematic movies then Episode One and Maul are superfluous
One of the Challenges of Machete Order is to make the movies fresh to people who haven’t necessarily seen them (or all of them) before. I’m old hat at this point, as are most of my friends. I’d love to sit someone down and marathon the movies in this Order to see what they notice and what problems there are. One of the things this Order tries to accomplish is to help make the story make sense with a clear beginning, middle and end without sacrificing any of the big reveals of either trilogy.
If you decide to watch the movies in Machete Order, let me know how you found it.