Review: Star Wars Machete Order

May 3, 2013

May the Fourth be with you!

One of the nerdiest debates you can get involved in is about what order you should watch the Star Wars movies.  Release order, episode order (decried because it ruins the surprise of who Luke’s father is), or no prequels at all.  Then there are some more creative reorderings.  Last weekend a group of us sat down to test out the highly-regarded Machete Order.  (This link goes to a long post, but it’s worth it if you have any interest at all in reading a well-articulated discussion about Star Wars and the joys and problems of its film incarnations.)

Machete Order is this:  Episodes IV, V, II, III, VI.

Shocking, the first time you see it, isn’t it?  You watch IV and V, then break for a huge flashback about how everything got this way, then get the grand finale.  And you skip Episode I entirely.  For an orthodox fan like myself, skipping Episode I has the great benefits of leaving out Qui Gon, who doesn’t really have an impact on the rest of the story; leaving out midichlorians, which fill so many of us with a burning rage; skipping most of Jar Jar, because of course; and leaving out 8-year old Anakin, which means you don’t spend the rest of the movies trying to ignore the fact that Padme started out as Anakin’s babysitter and there’s this faint inappropriateness about their entire relationship.  So we all totally wanted to give this a try, coming to it with as clear and open minds as we could manage.  How did it go?

My biggest conclusion?  You don’t even need Episode II.  Just slide straight into Episode III and save yourself a couple of hours.  I’ll get to that in a second, after a couple of other thoughts.

It was the hardest thing in the world, not immediately putting on Return of the Jedi after Empire.  I had to physically restrain myself from reaching for the Jedi DVD rather than Attack of the Clones.  I’ve gotten to a point where IV, V, and VI all feel like one movie to me.  Breaking that habit was hard.

It’s so interesting to me as a writer that Episode I really is superfluous.  It’s a prologue and little more.  Darth Maul never gets mentioned again, Qui Gon barely gets mentioned again.  Pretty much nothing that happens has an impact on the rest of the series, except it moves a few pieces around to get them into position for later events.  Why not just start with those pieces in the right place to begin with?

Turns out, the same is true of Attack of the Clones.  I hadn’t seen this in ten years so coming to it fresh was interesting, because I got to really study it this time.  And it’s also just moving pieces around, and nothing the characters do has an impact on the later story.  The best thing in it is the giant Jedi battle — but that gets drowned out by the giant, messy droid v. clone trooper battle that happens right after.  Sound and fury, man — you know the rest of the quote.  Also, the Anakin/Padme relationship is totally creepy in this one.  He’s a clingy stalker kid — and then she just decides to fall in love with him for no particular reason.  WTF?

Revenge of the Sith pretty much reiterates everything that happened in Attack of the Clones.  Separatists, check.  Droid army, check.  Clone army, check.  Conspiracy, check.  Anakin filled with ambition and rage, check.  But if you start with Revenge of the Sith, you don’t have to try to forget about how creepy the Anakin/Padme thing has been up until now.  They’re just two people in love and you buy it and it’s great.  Also, the battle above Coruscant really is one of the most impressive set pieces in the series.  Think about the cliffhanger of Empire, flowing into that — ooh, yeah.  It says, “You thought the war between the Rebel Alliance and Empire was bad?  This is what the war to try to save the Republic looked like.”

The very worst thing about just watching Revenge of the Sith:  Padme does absolutely nothing in this movie but sit in her room and brush her hair.  Seriously.  It’s so frakking aggravating.

My second biggest conclusion is the prequel movies suffer from being watched in close proximity to the originals (in my humble opinion).  Take the big battle on Geonosis at the end of Clones.  Compare that to the Battle of Hoth.  The Battle of Hoth has story — impossible odds, damn scary walkers.  You see the faces of the people involved, the desperation of the Rebel soldiers holding the line, the grim satisfaction of General Veers in the AT-AT.  Compared to that, Geonosis is little more than someone smashing a bunch of toys together.  The charm of Han and Leia bantering in Empire versus Anakin creeping on Padme all the way through Clones.  The fact that the prequels have so many scenes of people sitting around talking.  A measurable percentage of these movies is people sitting around explaining the plot.  Near as I can figure, the original trilogy has maybe 4 “sitting and talking” scenes — three of them briefings before battles, plus the scenes in the Death Star in Ep. IV, which don’t really count because Vader gets to Force choke someone, which is ever so exciting, isn’t it?  Putting these movies in such close proximity only highlights the weaknesses of the prequels, I’m afraid.

The best part of Machete Order is seeing the creation of Vader in Ep. III, then the opening scene in Ep. VI with Vader marching down the ramp of the Imperial shuttle.  It’s striking, chilling, and very cool.

So there we are.  Carrie Version:  IV, V, III, VI.  If you’re an orthodox fan who wants some kind of prequel experience without being driven insane by all the things in the prequels that piss you off, this gives you just enough of the whole Anakin/Padme relationship and formation of the Empire and death of the Jedi order to fill in the backstory of the original trilogy.

8 Responses to “Review: Star Wars Machete Order”

  1. Since the early 2000s I’ve had the idle desire to purchase a copy of Final Cut Pro and edit the prequels into a single good movie. (I’d probably leave out most or all of Ep I.) Every time I see Attack of the Clones I’m so sure there’s a good movie lurking in there somewhere. There’s too much whiny bull in it, too much standing around and talking, scenes that just go on and on and on and are crying out for tightening. But a lot of it is decidedly worth saving.

    From one SW nerd to another: thank you so much for doing this experiment.

  2. Michael Says:

    Speaking of the Anakin/Padme relationship, is any one disturbed by the fact that Anakin massacred a whole village of Sand people and Padme isn’t the least bit bothered by it?
    “He went on a homicidal rampage to revenge his mother, how sweet. Oh! look a hair brush…”

  3. ArcLight Says:

    There have been a lot of fan edits, but I’m not sure if anyone has combined the prequels into one film yet. Neat idea.

    Personally, I want to edit all of the ROBOT CHICKEN sketches into the films….

  4. smsand Says:

    @ Michael: What’s more disturbing? If you pay really close attention, you realize that it’s not until the Sand People massacre that Padme finally sees him as something other than whiny “Little Ani.”

    Think about it. The whiny “nice” guy had to commit wholesale slaughter before she could even fall in love with him.

    @Carrie: one of the things I love most about the Clone Wars series (other than the sheer awesomeness of Ahsoka. Oh, and Mandalorians!) is how it puts all the crap in ep. I and II into further perspective as it leads everything to the beginning of ep. III. Once you start seeing things from those perspectives, the prequels get a slight bit more bearable. Well, a slight bit….

  5. Dan Says:

    I’ve done machete order before and I love it. I wouldn’t drop II. Of those 5 episodes it’s the worst one, but there’s enough character development to make it worth it. There’s also a lot of decent back story in it–Bobba Fet, why there are clones/storm troopers, Obi Wan in his prime, Yoda kicking ass, etc.

    Episode II is especially good at establishing parallel’s between Luke and Anakan. For instance, Luke is arrogant in Empire and leaves Yoda and gets his hand chopped off in the Vader fight, Anakin is arrogant and attacks Dooku despite Obi Wan telling him not to, and gets his hand chopped off. Because of the parallels it’s more believable at the end of Jedi when the Emperor is talking to Luke that he could actually join him. That makes Jedi more compelling.

    Also, I think it works in the story to see a creepy Anakin–it makes the transition to Vader a bit more gradual. If you start with III, you could have the reaction that “of course he’s a bad guy.” Starting with II there’s doubt or curiosity as to how he could get there.

  6. Going from Episode 5 to Episode 2, I’ve noticed some things that I haven’t necessarily found in other reviews. For instance, going from the ending scene in Episode 5 to the ending in Episode 2, it’s almost a mirror image. Artoo and Threepio standing next to a couple held in embrace? Freaky. Also, as the series progresses in this order, we see increasingly incredible displays of the force and in very different ways. I recall watching Anakin slice and dice those slugs with such precision that it made me feel “Wow! Vader sure was a badass!” Overall, I feel the crispness of the prequel movies is dismissed due to that fact that not only is this a flashback, thus showing a visual difference between the movies is appropriate if not required, and in looking back to the time before the Empire, I’m sure it was a slightly nicer looking place to live. Remembering watching the series in episodic order, I always found it jarring seeing the refined quality of the prequel trilogy and then going into the ‘future’? and finding it somehow dirtier? what gives?

  7. carriev Says:

    Ooh, nice observation about the crispness of the “flashback” being a really nice change in tone…

  8. […] the prequel and original trilogy all in one sitting — but I have watched the Machete Order. (And here’s my review of it.) And again, it really does all feel like one story. Story and imagery from each film calls back to […]

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