Star Wars: Machete Order

Ever heard of Star Wars: Machete Order? It turns out the movies make much more sense if you watch them IV, V, II, III, VI. Yes, Ep. I is missing.

The plan is to watch one movie every other week until we’ve gone through the whole Machete Order, and then finish with Ep. 1 if we’re nostalgic for podracing.

That was the plan. How did it turn out?

I hadn’t watched the Star Wars movies since high school—neither the original trilogy nor the prequels. So this was an excuse to watch them again, and to try out Machete Order, which seemed interesting.

(Note: I’m just talking in this blog post, so it’s all full of spoilers. And whatever its other flaws, the Star Wars series has some good spoilers, in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid them. Which you probably haven’t.)

How can you ensure that a viewing keeps the Vader reveal a surprise, while introducing young Anakin before the end of Return of the Jedi?

Simple, watch them in this order: IV, V, I, II, III, VI.

[…] George Lucas believes that Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, but it is not. The prequels, which establish his character, are so poor at being character-driven that, if the series is about Anakin, the entire series is a failure. Anakin is not a relatable character, Luke is.

This alternative order (which a commenter has pointed out is called Ernst Rister order) inserts the prequel trilogy into the middle, allowing the series to end on the sensible ending point (the destruction of the Empire) while still beginning with Luke’s journey.

Next time you want to introduce someone to Star Wars for the first time, watch the films with them in this order: IV, V, II, III, VI

Notice something? Yeah, Episode I is gone.

[…] Every character established in Episode I is either killed or removed before it ends (Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, Chancellor Valorum), unimportant (Nute Gunray, Watto), or established better in a later episode (Mace Windu, Darth Sidious). Does it ever matter that Palpatine had an apprentice before Count Dooku? Nope, Darth Maul is killed by the end of Episode I and never referenced again. You may as well just start with the assumption that Dooku was the only apprentice. Does it ever matter that Obi-Wan was being trained by Qui-Gon? Nope, Obi-Wan is well into training Anakin at the start of Episode II, Qui-Gon is completely irrelevant.

As I mentioned, this creates a lot of tension after the cliffhanger ending of Episode V. It also uses the original trilogy as a framing device for the prequel trilogy. Vader drops this huge bomb that he’s Luke’s father, then we spend two movies proving he’s telling the truth, then we see how it gets resolved. The Star Wars watching experience gets to start with the film that does the best job of establishing the Star Wars universe, Episode IV, and it ends with the most satisfying ending, Episode VI. It also starts the series off with the two strongest films, and allows you to never have to either start or end your viewing experience with a shitty movie. Two films of Luke’s story, two films of Anakin’s story, then a single film that intertwines and ends both stories.

To spoil the conclusion, Machete Order does have some good points, but the biggest takeaway was that Episode II, Attack of the Clones, was just awful, and that Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, was almost as bad. If you’re looking to introduce someone to Star Wars for the first time, all the heart’s in the original trilogy.1 Conversely, an action / special effects fan may enjoy the prequels more.

Did Machete Order work? Well, sort of. It doesn’t feel too weird to insert the “flashback” movies II and III after V, which ends with Lando and Chewie going off to find out where Boba Fett’s taken the frozen Han. VI is pretty clearly a bit later than V anyway2, so the break before we come back is reasonable…though I did have to remind myself where we were at the opening of VI with Artoo and Threepio on Tatooine.

In terms of improving the story, well, yes: the reveals of Darth Vader, Palpatine, and Leia are all preserved here, and Darth Vader’s “it is…too late for me, my son” is a little more immediate. The biggest impact, however, was Yoda:

Watching the films in the Machete Order gives greater understanding of Yoda’s troubled past. When he warns Luke “Do not underestimate the power of the Emperor”, you realise he is speaking from experience. It’s is a level of reading that would otherwise be missed. As his defeat at the hands of the Emperor happens only one film prior, his words bite with a bitterness that would be commonly overlooked in the more familiar chronological running order.

(from David Pallant at Den of Geek)

I suppose I was thinking about this already, since I saw this site beforehand, but it really did work. Before it was just a way of introducing the emperor—up till now, Yoda had always been saying “beware of the dark side”. Now, it’s Yoda’s own personal failure.

Everything else, though, didn’t really add anything. The switch to the gleaming technology and large-scale battles of the prequels from the gritty, localized action scenes of the originals felt jarring in a style sense, even with an in-universe explanation of “well of course the rebels have to make do with used ships!”. The original trilogy has worn a little thin as we’ve all grown up, but it still carries a childhood nostalgia and a hint of magic.

By contrast, the prequels felt completely atrocious. Episode II has some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard, along with some of the worst decisions in-universe (specifically Padmé’s decision to go “rescue” Obi-Wan) that were mostly forced for plot purposes. Episode III does slightly better in the dialogue department at the cost of every piece of the plot seeming contrived, and not actually convincing me that Anakin would have fallen so quickly to the dark side.

The “Order 66” scene in Episode III is still sad for me.

A major problem with II and III is the writers trying to be funny. During the final battle in II, C-3PO’s only real purpose is to run through a string of puns. Yes, seriously: puns. IV-V-VI had their amusing moments, but most of them came about naturally in the course of events. II felt like a comedy routine at times.

The end of III is very much set up to lead into IV…but more so for people who’ve already seen IV. I don’t think it would ever make sense to watch IV-V-VI-I-II-III deliberately, because I-II-III have no heart. Chronological order might actually fare okay (I-II-III-IV-V-VI), though to the detriment of all three spoilers. Maybe I’ll try that next time.

We didn’t rewatch Episode I; it’s not part of Machete Order. After II and III, I wonder if the dialogue and plot will feel that forced, or if I was actually a better movie (on its own, anyway). II was enough to unveil Jar Jar; that probably will annoy me all the way through.

Star Wars: Racer was a great game, though.

One last thing that affected my viewing of the movies was the webcomic Darths & Droids, which reimagines the events of the movies (in chronological order) as a tabletop RPG group. It…does explain some strange aspects of the setting and story, especially in the prequels. And it’s occasionally hilarious.

Verdict: Machete Order is good if you’re trying to tell the story, but II and III just don’t fit in with the original trilogy, and aren’t that great on their own unless you’re looking for action. The Yoda thing is nice but not worth the cost of the rest of the two. Stick to IV-V-VI for story, and perhaps chronological order for whole-series rewatching.

Our musical guest tonight is the Max Rebo Band, live from Jabba’s palace:

  1. I’ve tried to keep the issue of which release of the original trilogy is the best one out of this article. I grew up on the Special Edition, which has a few added scenes, different songs in Jabba’s palace and on Endor at the end of the movie, and Han Not Shooting First. I didn’t quite get everyone’s frustration with the Special Edition until I saw the next round of re-releases, which edits Hayden Christensen (teenage Anakin) in with Alec Guiness (elderly Obi-Wan) and Yoda (at 900 years) at the end of Return of the Jedi, which both looks silly and doesn’t make much sense. So, if you can get your hands on the original versions, that’s what I recommend overall. Though I do happen to like the new songs better. ↩︎

  2. Between V and VI is one of the first good Star Wars books, Shadows of the Empire. ↩︎