Movie Monday: Star Wars Machete Order

Welcome to Movie Monday. Every week I’m going to be writing about a movie I recently watched. It may be a movie I’ve never seen before. Or like this week, it may be movies I’ve seen literally hundreds of times.

Over the weekend I decided to watch the Start Wars movies with my son in what is being called ‘Machete Order’. Basically you watch A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and then watch the second and third prequels before finishing off with Return of the Jedi. You don’t watch The Phantom Menace at all. You can read the original article about this here. Since you can (and should) read the article, I’ll try not to rehash what he’s already said about it. Instead I’m going to talk about this set of movies and my reaction to watching them in this order.

I watched the Special Edition versions because those are the ones I own. I have not yet been subjected to the Blu Ray blinking Ewoks and the like.

Episode IV: A New Hope

The original Star Wars movie remains one of the best made sci-fi action movies of all time. While George Lucas took much of the plot from other sources, no one had done a movie quite like this. Watching the first twenty minutes of it, I’m still surprised by the amount of screen time we get with non-humans. It’s a gutsy move to put two robots on your screen, one of whom only beeps and whistles and expect the audience to care about them.

A New Hope succeeds because of what one of my friends calls “perpetual peril”. Each new situation leads to a new more dangerous situation for our characters. It’s a difficult thing to pull off and the Star Wars movies do it again and again. For example, when our heroes are on the Death Star, they go from rescuing the Princess in the detention area to being trapped in the detention area to being trapped in a garbage pit to being trapped in a garbage pit that’s crushing them. It’s exciting no matter how many times you watch it.

Yes, some of the Special Edition stuff sucks. Greedo shoots first and the Jabba the Hutt scene (which I refer to as ‘the gratuitous Boba Fett scene’) are significantly annoying but what they did with Mos Eisley and some of the shots in the Death Star battle make up for that in my opinion.

Episode V: Empire Strikes Back

Anyone who is making a sequel needs to look at Empire. Empire hits every sequel button just right. We have the same cast of characters. They’ve grown and changed a little since last we saw them but not too much. We’re introduced to a few new characters. And perhaps most importantly, the characters are thrown into entirely new situations. The reason Empire Strikes Back works so well is that they don’t need to take time introducing the main characters. That means they can get straight into the plot.

This also means that when they do need to introduce a character, they can take their time. The introduction of Yoda is still one of my favorite Master/Apprentice sequences from any movie. This is the movie where we see Luke grow from a whiny teenager into a hero. And yet, he doesn’t do everything right. He’s still impulsive. Even after he knows Yoda is a Jedi Master, he still doesn’t listen.

The ending of Empire is one of the all time best cliffhangers. We get the revelation of Darth Vader. Everyone’s favorite scoundrel, Han Solo is captured and frozen. And really, the Rebel Alliance got their butts kicked throughout this movie. It’s not easy to take the absolute victory from the first movie and turn it into something minor, but they manage to do exactly that.

The Special Edition stuff in Empire isn’t annoying at all really. Suddenly Cloud City actually looks like a city. Before the Special Editions I would have said that like 50 people lived on Cloud City. Also, at least in the DVD set I have, the scream that had been added to Luke’s fall is thankfully gone.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Following Empire Strikes Back with Attack of the Clones works for a number of reasons. First, it delays the resolution of the cliffhanger. Second, now that we know who Darth Vader is, we’re actually interested in how he becomes Darth Vader.

The opening crawl does a good job of letting us know what’s going on. While we initially have no reason to care about Padme and the attempts on her life, once Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker enter the story, it suddenly matters. Anakin comes off as a bit of a dick throughout the movie. What’s interesting is that having just watched Luke for two movies, we can see that being a whiny, selfish, impulsive guy must run in the family.

One thing that gets overlooked in the prequels is Ewan McGregor’s fantastic performance of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I totally buy that his Obi-Wan eventually turns into Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan. And having already met Obi-Wan in the first two movies, it’s nice to see him in action in his younger days.

The only time Attack of the Clones suffers is when it starts getting into the politics of everything. In A New Hope, there was one mention of the Senate being dissolved and that was it. We don’t watch Star Wars to watch West Wing in Space. The rest of the time, it’s a reasonably fun movie.

The one problem with watching it in this order that I noticed is that when C-3PO says, “The Maker!” upon seeing Anakin, it’s a bit strange though it almost just sounds like one of 3PO’s random outbursts. It still doesn’t explain why Padme and Anakin basically steal C-3PO. Really, the existence of R2-D2 and C-3PO in the prequels is more a distraction than anything else. Their ‘comic relief’ isn’t very funny and in a universe full of droids, it’s weird that these two particular droids would stick around so much.

The final lightsaber battle is good with the exception of Yoda jumping around like Sonic the Hedgehog. Again we get Jedis getting involved in battles where they’re simply outmatched. The movie ends with the beginning of the Clone War. It’s not really a cliffhanger and it’s not nearly as good as the first two movies, but it works well in this placement.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I would argue that of all the Star Wars movies, I like the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith the best. It’s one of the final battles of the Clone Wars. It succeeds in throwing us right into the middle of it and then putting our characters again into perpetual peril. Once they get on board the ship it’s just one perilous situation after another. I even buy the crash landing on the runway even though, since all ships levitate, there’s no reason for a runway. It’s like the end of the car chase in To Live & Die In LA where the cars are on the wrong side of the road an you don’t even notice.

Then we get bogged down with politics again, but not for long. Anakin is having visions of his wife’s death and it’s bothering him. He feels like he’s gaining so much power and yet, he can’t save his pregnant wife though admittedly she’s only in danger in his dreams.

The turning of Anakin to the Dark Side isn’t just because of the Emperor. Yoda, who is generally very wise, gives Anakin some spectacularly bad advice. Then the Jedi Council basically marginalizes him. They’ve got good reason and part of that is manipulation by Palpatine, but still, it’s an interesting choice to make it not entirely Palpatine’s fault.

General Grievous is a strange character who seems to be around more than anything to keep Obi-Wan Kenobi busy for a while.

When we get to the epic final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, it’s a bit absurd. There are parts of the fight I like, but it’s almost like the perpetual peril thing done wrong. This doesn’t take away from the final scene between them where they both feel completely betrayed.

And finally we have Anakin as Darth Vader. The scene where his helmet is put on for the first time is haunting. And having watched A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, we know where this path is going to lead.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

It begins with Darth Vader arriving on the new Death Star. I found that after watching the two prequels, I felt like Darth Vader didn’t really want to be there. I’ve probably watched Return of the Jedi more than any other movie I own. And it wasn’t until I watched them in this order that I felt that. Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi is conflicted throughout the entire movie, not just when confronted by Luke.

I had read in the Machete Article about Luke’s arrival in Jedi, but I was still surprised by it. Again, it’s a scene I’ve watched hundreds of times, but given the juxtaposition of this scene after watching Anakin go from Jedi to Sith, when Luke walks into Jabba’s Palace with his hooded robe and just chokes the guards, he’s looking more like Sith than Jedi. It’s a good moment that wouldn’t be there without watching the movies in this order.

Again, the Special Edition has enough good things that I can forgive the bad things. The song in Jabba’s Palace is terrible, but the ending sequence works much better, even with the horrible music. (I’m a fan of the Ewok Celebration Song from the original.)

Return of the Jedi isn’t just the end of Luke’s storyline. It’s the end of Darth Vader’s. Watching the movies in this order, you see this a lot clearer. Also when Luke burns Vader’s body, I was immediately reminded of Anakin on the lava shores of Mustafar.

I found you lose almost nothing by getting rid of Episode I. Or more to the point, you gain more than you lose. Without Episode I, you have no child Anakin, no strange virgin birth, no midiclorians, almost no Jar Jar Binks, and all you really sacrifice is a pod race that  goes on too long and a lightsaber battle (like there aren’t enough of those).

Final Thoughts

If you encounter someone who hasn’t seen the Star Wars movies and wants to, I highly suggest watching them in this order. Not only will it be a better experience for them, it’ll be a new experience for you.

–          Jack Cameron