The Right Way to Watch Star Wars

Like every other responsible uncle on the planet, I have been faced with a dilemma: how to expose my beloved nephews to the Star Wars films.

If they'd been born before the prequels it would have been so simple, but obviously that's no longer the case. Sure, I could just ignore the existence of Episodes I through III, as so many of my friends have done, but that seems weirdly dishonest. It's taking the easy way out - and as a responsible, dedicated, upstanding role model that lives 1400km away and sees them a couple of times a year at best, that's not the lesson that I want to teach the boys.

Like you, I long believed that I had only two options: release order, or numerical order. Numerical order has the problem that it involves watching three terrible films before getting to the good stuff, offering seven-plus hours in which my nephews could decide that they wanted nothing to do with Star Wars and, by extension, their uncle.

Release order would work except that the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the films have been tinkered with so that Hayden Christensen appears as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi instead of the late Sebastian Shaw, which is utterly baffling if you've not seen the prequels (“Uncle Andrew, why is the creepy-looking man standing with Ben and Yoda? Is he going to touch them in a bad way?”). As with so many things about the “special editions” (Han shot first, alright? He ALWAYS shot first) George Lucas' improvements do nothing but ruin stuff.

It might seem an intractable problem – but there is a solution. And it is inspired. And it is The Machete Order.

The SW fan and incomparable genius Rob Hilton first put this forward on his blog Absolutely No Machete Juggling over a year ago, and despite my being a big ol' nerd it's taken this long to come to my attention – and when I mentioned it on Facebook I discovered I was not alone in having missed it. And so, as a public service to the nation's concerned and nerdy uncles and aunts, I provide it to you. You're welcome, Australia.

So, what does Hilton suggest?

The viewing order goes like this:

A New Hope (episode IV, the one people mean when you say “Star Wars”), The Empire Strikes Back (episode V), Attack of the Clones (episode II), Revenge of the Sith (episode III), Return of the Jedi (episode VI).

Basically you have the original trilogy with a big two-film flashback at the cliffhanger at the end of Empire. And no Phantom Menace at all.

Not. At. All.

The reason is twofold: one, no matter which way you cut it, The Phantom Menace is a shit film. And two, because if you take the line that the story of Star Wars is principally the journey of Luke Skywalker, there is absolutely nothing in it that is necessary.

What's more, you lose all the things that you hated about the prequels. Endless political manoeuvring between the Trade Federation and the Galactic Senate? Gone. Podracing? Gone. Jar Jar Binks? Gone. Midichlorians? The whole Gungans-vs-the-Naboo nonsense? Jake Lloyd as the adorable tow-headed “yippee!”-shrieking Anakin Skywalker? Wonderfully, magnificently gone. You do lose some stuff you liked – Darth Maul was a triumph of set design, if barely a character, but it's a small sacrifice for a world in which Jar Jar gets about 20 seconds of total screen time in the whole epic story. One well timed sneeze and he's not there at all.

There's nothing in Episode I that's vital. And it actually makes things work better, especially in terms of the development of Anakin's character.

Without Episode I, the first time you see Anakin he's in a lift with Obi-Wan going to see Padme after the attempt on her life. He's nervous. He's creepy. He loses his temper with his mentor and is clearly barely holding it together as he clumsily makes a pass at an old friend he hasn't seen in a decade, and because you don't know that Padme was a good deal older than Anakin, there's no creepy age gap stuff there: they seem like long-parted childhood friends, one of whom has been disturbingly obsessed with the other.

That this person could turn into a twisted, evil despot seems perfectly plausible: in fact, it's a wonder Amidala doesn't take out an AVO after their first meeting. (“She covered that camera,” he whines at one point, “I don't think she liked me watching her.” Seriously, something ain't right with the boy). And the fact that you don't see Padme and Anakin interacting before this means you can imagine some sort of deeper connection between the two that might explain her falling in love with him in Episode II, rather than establishing that actually no, there was no chemistry at any point.

Furthermore, you actually have a far more clear setting for the films without all the Episode I stuff. You know that a bunch of planets want to leave the Republic and that a war is brewing. You don't know that it's based on a complicated trade dispute, and that's fine because nobody could possibly care. The Senate are trying to hold the Republic together against external forces. Fine.

So, what bits are confusing?

  • Well, without Episode I you don't know that Anakin made Threepio, which means that when he's greeted as “the maker” it seems odd. But there's only the one reference and in any case the idea that Anakin made Threepio was, let's be clear, pretty fucking stupid anyway. So that's fine.

  • The former slave Anakin goes to see his previous owner Watto about his mother – all of which is established in their brief conversation where he explains he sold her to a farmer. No confusion there. Also fine.

  • Palpatine talks about Darth Plagueus being able to manipulate midichlorians to create life when he's rolling out his trap for Anakin. The context explains all you need to know – in fact, you could even just assume he meant “mitochondria” (the little energy factories in your cells), which would make even more sense. So again, that's fine.

  • You don't know the ins and outs of Qui Gon Jinn, although the only thing you need to know is that he was Obi-Wan's master. Which is made clear when Yoda says that he'd learned to communicate with “your old master, Qui Gon Jinn” at the end of Episode III, which is the one and only time knowing who he is would be necessary. So, again: fine.

  • Without Jinn and Maul we lose some of the nuance about the relationships between masters and apprentices in the Jedi and Sith, but it makes no difference. We don't need to know that Darth Sidious was master to Darth Maul before Count Dooku; we also don't need to know that someone other than Obi-Wan started training Anakin.

…and that's it.

As far as kids watching the film goes, it also makes clear that Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor are the same person: they dress the same, they both have beards, there's none of the clean-shaven tunic-n-rats tail look from Episode I to confuse matters.

And it actually works better for making the parallels between Luke and Vader resonate more deeply. Watch the original trilogy all the way through and you end Empire on a big downer – Luke's lost his hand, Han's in carbonite, the Rebels are in retreat – and then the gang's all back on Tatooine in Jedi, Luke's making some implausible sounding threats, and there's an insane plan to rescue Han in place that doesn't actually appear to make sense.

But with machete order it suddenly gets awesome. Not only is there a two-film gap before the cliffhanger starts to be resolved, but we've just seen Anakin get seduced by the dark side. So when we find that C-3PO and R2-D2 have been callously given to Jabba, we don't assume that it's all part of a cunning and unnecessarily complicated scheme. Luke's motives seem opaque – and even more so when he appears in Jabba's palace (dressed in black, as per Anakin – and with a silhouette that could be Vader), force chokes a guard and starts issuing threats. We don't even know if the group are still together: for all we know Leia, Lando and Chewie have their own agenda.

The machete order also raises the stakes for the Rebellion in that it shows just how devious and powerful the Emperor is – he's taken over the entire galaxy rather than just being Vader's direct supervisor – and Episode II and III makes clear that Yoda, for all his X-wing-raisin' superpowers, is completely fallible.

Similarly, with the prequels we see Obi-Wan more like David Brent in The Office, trying to be both a friend and a boss and failing miserably at both. He's doing a bad job of mentoring Anakin and it's making his apprentice resentful and angry – again, drawing a throughline to the creature Vader would become. We don't need to know that Obi-Wan had daddy issues with Qui-Gon; all that matters is that Anakin needs a short leash and that Obi-Wan's incapable of controlling him. We don't have to rely on Obi-Wan's “I thought that I could train him as well as Yoda. I was wrong”: we actively see him fail.

Return of the Jedi is no longer a magician leading an army against another magician with an army; it's a bunch of flawed characters making a probably hopeless last-ditch effort against an established government – one with endless resources that's lead by an evil tactical genius. Which also makes the huge celebrations around the galaxy that were added into the Special Editions make sense: it's clear that this is more than a single military victory; this is the end of a dictatorial regime.

There's also a resonance with Vader's defeat of the Emperor: it's not just a sudden change of heart because his kid's getting electrocuted; it's a realisation that the moment he turned to the Dark Side – when Palpatine was riddling Mace Windu with force lightening – was based on a lie.

You also preserve the two big character twists: Palpatine being the Emperor is still not clear, since no-one calls him “Emperor Palpatine” in Empire (and you don't get that idiotic duh-duh-DUH! close up of Palpatine in Episode I when Mace Windu ponders where the second Sith Lord could be), and – most importantly – you don't know that Vader is Luke's father. In fact, you get a bonus twist since you find out that Leia is Luke's sister well before they do, with the bonus of having two complete films between that revelation and their weird incest kiss.

The things you lose deserve to be lost and those clumsy references to the earlier films suddenly have subtlety and resonance. It not only works, it works BETTER than any other viewing order.

Machete Order. The only way to watch the Star Wars films with your nephews. Hilton, you're a genius.

Now, how to get Caravan of Courage in there…

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27 comments so far..

  • ebbed's avatar
    Commenter
    ebbed
    Date and time
    Tuesday 15 Jan 2013 - 5:09 PM
    Am doing this next long weekend
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  • enpassant's avatar
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    enpassant
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 1:23 AM
    I had always thought that Phantom Menace was the worst of the prequels, but then having shown it to my boys, have come to the realization that its actually Attack of the Clones that is the worst Star wars Film. I can only think it had to do with my expectations of when I went into the various films. They had been badly lowered by the time I saw attack of the clones so I didn't come away disappointed. Unfortunately revenge of the Sith while being the best of the prequels is a bit scary compared with the other films so the 6 year old that had loved the rest may not be up to watching Anakin catch on fire (particularly if they have watched the Clone wars animated series and come to really get to know Anakin).

    As to the Phantom Menace, sure Jar Jar Binks is near unwatchable, the pod racing scene goes on for too long and numerous other flaws, but there seems to be to be a core movie there that is actually pretty enjoyable. The opening scenes are great, the Darth Maul fight at the end is awesome with musical accompaniment that rivals the original themes, and completely breaking the mold being largely choral. On top of that seeing it through the eyes of a 7 year old the jar-jar binks is a bit of fun. One that while I can't like it now I may also have liked had I seen it at the same age.

    Now as to attack of the clones, it is severe boredom for a good half the film. "When is this going to end?" my small avid Star Wars fans where asking as Anakin and Padme slowly, woodenly and unconvincingly expressed their forbidden love and Obi-wan spends some time in the Jedi Library and speaking to some unconvincing CGI. While the fight in the Genosis arena is ok, and so is the arrival of the clone army, and Obi-wan's fight with Jango Fett, that's about all that is good about it. I still find Yodas, green ball of frenzy thing ludicrous and indeed the whole encounter with Count dooku disappointing compared to the Darth Maul
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  • Gilead999's avatar
    Commenter
    Gilead999
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 6:14 AM
    To be honest there were so many things in episodes I,II,III that unraveled so much of the 2nd trilogy. Episodes I, II, III were all a pile of steaming sith.

    First of all, George Lucas should have been publicly executed for creating Jar Jar Binks. Actually, make that for the first trilogy.
    The plot was just an epic failure to begin with and just got lost in a corn field by the time episode III swings around. The written prologue to all three pictures reads like it was hastily put together.
    Basically, he tried to beguile us with some fancy cgi - the pod race in episode I is pretty awesome, though so long winded and pointless.

    Seeing Anakin grow into a whiny bitch just made Darth Vader (the baddest dude in the universe) a complete joke. Hayden Christensen is the worst actor ever and by the time he transformed into Darth Vader at the end of episode III screaming "Nooooo!" at the death of Padme I was pissing myself!
    Besides, how is it that he was supposed to be this 'chosen one', when Luke Skywalker eventually comes to save the day? The whole thing about the Force being governed by these midiclorians or whatever the fuck they are is just ridiculous - Lucas made something that seems like a religion, more science and less spiritual - if that is the case, how can someone like Yoda have a really high reading of midiclorians when he is such a small dude - that refutes Lucas' own science.

    I appreciate the fact that people want to have entertainment for their kid's, but when Lucas changed things in the original trilogy like the 'Solo shoots first' scene in episode VI and Jabba Hutt no longer smoking his hooker in V, Lucas just alienated his audience big time.

    So disappointing and frustrating.
    However, in saying that I suppose it is important to view them all. But fuck you Lucas!
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  • Stranger's avatar
    Commenter
    Stranger
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 9:29 AM
    The best way to see SW is via fan based fixing of the initial 3 movies. You'd have to search for it as I don't know the details off-hand but a guy as completely re-mastered (so to speak) Star Wars with much more detail to ships etc and fixing a few scenes. It's really good. Empire and Jedi to follow.
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  • PigMan's avatar
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    PigMan
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 10:45 AM
    Just use the 'de-specialised' fan editions of the original films to introduce the series to your nephews. Readily available around the web, they've been revised time and again to offer the best existing AV possible with none of the Lucas tinkering whatsoever.
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  • frontie's avatar
    Commenter
    frontie
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 11:50 AM
    In Empire Strikes Back, Obi Wan referred to Yoda as "the Jedi who trained me" (or words to that effect). Then in Episode 1 we see that he was trained by Qui Gon Jinn. This veiwing order also eliminates that confusion.
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  • Ridgeblader's avatar
    Commenter
    Ridgeblader
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 2:44 PM
    The best way to view the Star Wars movies is as a child with your Dad and a packet of TV Snacks. The reason fans find the newer movies so bad is that they do not lie up to the expectations and the buzz you felt after viewing the initial movies as a child.

    The prequels are not that bad. They aren't as super awesome as A New Hope was but they all have their points. Suck it up and watch 1 - 6 you don't count like 24536. To all the George Lucas haters out there - he was bright enough to conceive the idea of Star Wars. Be thankful for what that has given us.
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  • sfan's avatar
    Commenter
    sfan
    Date and time
    Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 - 3:53 PM
    The very first film (A New Hope) the franchise should have stopped there.. the most recent films are simply money spinners to enhance the size of the wallet that belongs to George Lucas..
    Most serious Star Wars fans will agree that we all cringed at the most recent series of films as they lacked the quality of the very first film, the stories of those films lacked continuity and were obviously intended for a much younger audience.

    Lets hope the story does not come back and we can all appreciate A New Hope as the only Star Wars masterpiece!
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  • Shane Wells's avatar
    Commenter
    Shane Wells
    Date and time
    Thursday 17 Jan 2013 - 11:35 AM
    The first three films are just as cheesy and poorly acted as the prequals - but with the added drawback of rubbish special effects. This is cruelly exposed in the blu-ray versions of New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi which I had to suffer through this Christmas with my children. The only thing that makes these films vaguely watchable is the Darth Vader character. Harrison Ford gives a laughable, wooden and infantile performance. Carrie Fischer was on planet Diazepam and that moron Mark Hamill is weak, feeble and limp. His career just tanked after Star Wars – anybody seen him in `Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron’? Yeah, thought so. Those silly furry puppets are pitiful, particularly Yoda. If he is so clever why can’t than pin-head string a sentence together? “Me actor good, money much make!” All of the supporting cast are purposely bland and lacking in charisma to elevate the incomprehensibly, idiotic, vaudeville-blatherings of the three main characters. Hans Solo’s lines are remarkably asinine, like this gem “Look, Your Worshipfulness, let's get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: me”. If he has a mental illness the producers should at least work it into the story. This nerd-crack is no better, or worse than the last three films. They are all terrifyingly stupid.
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  • HisLordship's avatar
    Commenter
    HisLordship
    Date and time
    Thursday 17 Jan 2013 - 12:00 PM
    I've said it before, but the Luke-Leia kiss is only a "weird, incest" kiss in hindsight.

    We didn't know about the relationship at the time. The characters certainly didn't. Besides, Leia is just trying to get up Han's nose. She meant nothing by it. And Luke knew he was runner-up to Han in those stakes as well, so he plays it up a bit too.

    All good, clean, family fun all round.
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