Friday, August 9, 2019

Green Phoenix - The Machete Order

Image result for star wars
I am a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise. Despite the many issues in the prequel trilogy as a result of George Lucas in his later life and the strange decisions of the Disney trilogy (ahem...The Last Jedi...ahem), this series remains a quintessential part of my childhood and a tie between mine and my parents' as well.

But with that fascination, there comes a critical question which must be asked, especially if you decide to introduce someone to the new series.

What Order Do You Watch the Star Wars movies?

In today's editorial, I will explain my preferred watch order and what I like about it.

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The Eternal Question

When I was growing up, the question of which order to watch the original and prequel trilogy was rather a moot point. Since Episode 1 wasn't released until 1999 (20 years ago...Jesus Christ), I had already been introduced to Star Wars in the manner that my father was as well, which in the Stars Wars fandom is commonly referred to as Release Order.
Release Order: 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3
This method is a very strong order to watch. It is the way that George Lucas felt was necessary to introduce us to the series as a whole (though he would later espouse that the next order was better, following the prequel trilogy's release). This order also preserves the Darth Vader and Yoda reveals, but it does spoil the Emperor and Twins reveal and it starts strong but ends dark and depressing with Revenge of the Sith.

But following the release of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, a new way was introduced, what is called Episode Order.

Episode Order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Ironically, despite the largely negative opinion that the prequel series is held to by the general community, Episode Order actually provides quite a few benefits to the viewing experience that are missed or less explored in Release Order. We receive a reveal about the Emperor (though Phantom Menace does make it fairly obvious who the Emperor is. And it ends triumphantly with Return of the Jedi. But it also starts weakly with the slow and plodding Phantom Menace and we miss out on many important connective clues between the narratives because we aren't introduced to the main character of the saga until A New Hope.

But I can already hear you saying, "Hey! Those orders seem pretty cut and dry. What other way could you watch the original and prequel trilogies?"

Well...

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What is the Machete Order?

Introduced in an article by No Machete Juggling on November 11, 2011, Machete Order is presented as an alternative to both Episode and Release Orders, containing all of the benefits and removing many of the flaws.
Machete Order: 4, 5, 2, 3, 6
In essence, the idea behind Machete Order is to begin with the first two films in the original trilogy, then following the battle between Luke and Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back, we go back in time and watch the fall of Anakin Skywalker in the second and third prequel films (skipping Phantom Menace), before wrapping up with Return of the Jedi.

When I was first introduced to the order, I thought probably much like you do. That's pretty confusing. What makes this order so much better than the others?

Obviously making this article would suggest that I have reasons and I most certainly do!

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Why the Machete Order is Awesome!

It should be noted that I actually made a video back in 2015 (before The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) about this subject and gave 8 reasons why I believe that the Machete Order is superior. Feel free to watch the old video, and I do apologize for the generally low quality presented.


  • No Phantom Menace

Hating on The Phantom Menace has almost become a prerequisite in the somewhat vitriolic Star Wars fandom. And while I do not hate The Phantom Menace, I definitely notice its weaknesses compared to the rest of the series. It really does feel like the black sheep and severely disconnected from the greater Star Wars story (Luke's story).

So The Phantom Menace's exclusion in Machete Order is based not in the near-unanimous hatred of the film, but in the general necessity of balance and the presence of superfluous information. Everything introduced in The Phantom Menace is introduced better in later episodes. And by removing Episode 1 from its central position in the franchise, we put a stronger focus on the overall narrative at play, removing some of the slow-plodding political elements introduced in The Phantom Menace.

  • The Diminished Role of Jar Jar Binks
Jar Jar Binks is an unfunny goofball in The Phantom Menace. While I never really hated him with the same venom as the rest of the community, as I was only six when Episode 1 was released. But as I have aged, his humor has gotten less funny and more distracting with every viewing.

But Jar Jar holds a critical importance to the narrative overall. His manipulation by Palpatine and the political elements in Episode 2 help to unintentionally lay the groundwork for the rise of the Galactic Empire. By removing The Phantom Menace and introducing people to Jar Jar in Attack of the Clones, we are introduced to a well-intentioned but inexperienced politician is who tricked by greater powers into betraying the ideals of the person he supports above all.

Machete Order transforms Jar Jar into a tragic character. That is amazing in my mind.

  • The Rise of Emperor
Throughout the original series, the Emperor of the Galaxy is mentioned in hushed whispers and his power is felt in every moment. In the prequel series, they attempt to make the identity of the future Emperor a secret, a twist in the same vein as the revelation of Darth Vader's true identity.

Image result for emperor palpatineEpisode 1 ruins this. It is incredibly easy to uncover who the Emperor is in Episode 1, which makes the reveal of Palpatine as the Emperor in Episode 3 doesn't really hit. The reveal to the characters should also be a revelation to the audience.

If we watch Release Order, we meet the Emperor in Episode 6 and learn his name is Palpatine.

In the Episode Order, we meet Palpatine in Episode 1 and its super obvious that he is evil.

In Machete Order, we hear of the Emperor and see him in a fuzzy hologram, but he is otherwise a mystery. After Empire Strikes Back, we go back to before the Empire in Episode 2 and meet the kind and charismatic Palpatine, who is friendly to everyone but people are concerned about his political influence. So his reveal as the ultimate evil of the franchise in Episode 3 becomes a shocking twist, showing the audience how manipulative and calculating he truly is; just in time for his return in Episode 6.

  • Starts Strong, Ends Strong
This is a real easy strong point to explain. Both Release and Episode Order have issues when it comes to narrative pacing. Watching Release Order, we are introduced to the universe in A New Hope and end on the super depressing Revenge of the Sith. This is really unsatisfying, even if we know it ends well from seeing Episode 6 before it, it still leaves the audience unsatisfied.

But Episode Order begins with The Phantom Menace. It might end strong with Return of the Jedi, but to get to that high note you have to slog through the entire prequel series without any context to its connection to the overall Luke story.

Machete Order begins with a great introduction to the series with A New Hope introducing us to Luke, it follows through his journey and flashbacks to give us a narrative and thematic link to Darth Vader before we culminate both characters story triumphantly in Return of the Jedi. It's poignant and beautiful and fulfilling to the view for an audience.

  • The Tragedy of Yoda
Yoda in the Star Wars saga is one of cinema's great narrative subversions and a key element of the thematic message of the series overall. His presence in the series needs to remain strong. And Machete Order does so much work to help improve his narrative presence. In the original series, we are shown his wisdom and power but he speaks of the Empire with fear and frustration. 

Image result for Yoda
By watching Episode 5 before going back in time, we preserve the reveal of Yoda's identity, which is a crucial lesson for Luke to make.

But then we cut to the prequels and see Yoda in the prime of his power and strength. Yet despite all of this strength, we see his pride and uselessness as everything he has worked to preserve is destroyed around him. He tries in vain to oppose forces, yet is blind to the sickness within his own order that ultimately leads to its own destruction.

The Machete Order transforms Yoda into a tragic character, one whose pride and power blinded him and left him powerless to oppose the Emperor, and makes his frustration with Luke in Episodes 5 and 6 have greater context.

  • Anakin's Romance & Redemption
Hayden Christensen is kind of all over the place with his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. This is not his fault, as Christensen is actually a very strong actor. He just doesn't work with George Lucas' directing style. In fact, that is fundamentally a major issue with most of the characters in the prequel series, their actor's weren't directed well.

But a key element of Anakin's story is dependent upon a realistic and sympathetic romance with Padme. This is hampered by The Phantom Menace, as we have to deal with a 9 year old and a 14 year old supposed to be having romantic dialogue.

Yuck.

Instead, lets introduce Anakin and Padme when they are both ostensibly adults and any age difference can be ignored. This makes their relationship much easier to understand and thus the fall of Anakin due to Padme all the more realistic. It doesn't fix the unnatural elements and lack of chemistry in Episode 2, but lets improve what we can, right?

But the Machete Order adds another strong element by thematic tying Luke and Anakin's stories together. By making obvious what the series intended to make sub-textually. We see the rise of Luke as a Jedi in Episode 4 & 5, then we learn of Luke and Vader's connection at the end of Episode 5. 

Following the reveal, we go back and we watch Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader, falling to the Dark Side. Then when we go back to Episode 6, we see Luke dressed like Anakin in Episode 3, choking people like Vader. Suddenly the fear of Obi-Wan and Yoda that Luke might be turned seems more real because we just watched the path his father took and are watching Luke make all the same moves.

This anxiety grows through Episode 6, until Luke's triumph over the Dark Side provides catharsis and is rewarded with the redemption of Vader as well.

  • Narrative Balance
This is a subtle improvement and one that only a cinema nerd like me will probably take notice of, but I still feel it was important to note. The Machete Order has a really pleasant and appealing structure to it. We have two films introducing us to the Main Characters, the Conflict, and the underlying thematic struggle.

We then cut to two films who provide greater context for that first two films, and strengthen that underlying thematic struggle even further. We then return to the original cast and resolve the conflict and the thematic struggle, merging both narratives together and resolving them in a single magnificent duel.

Perfection. Sheer perfection that makes my inner movie nerd (which looks very much like my outer movie nerd, in point of fact) just goes nuts over it.

  • All the Twists
A key element of the Star Wars experience lies in the narrative twists. The death of Kenobi, the secret of Vader, the Skywalker twins, the identity of Yoda, and the identity of the Emperor are all crucial pieces of the story. Yet in watching either Release and Episode Order, viewers will miss out on several of these twists or otherwise be introduced to them in a weaker state.

Image result for i am your father
Watching Release Order, we experience the death of Kenobi, identity of Yoda, and the secret of Vader, but we receive a spoiling of the Emperor's identity in Episode 3, and an inferior reveal of the Skywalker twins.

Episode Order definitely loses outs worse though. In Episode Order, you miss out on the Secret of Vader and the Identity of Yoda, the Skywalker twins reveal means nothing because you have no context for who Luke is in the first place.

But in Machete Order, you get them all. Every single twist is kept and the addition of Episode 3 before Episode 6 gives the audience a last minute surprise of a much better Skywalker twin twist before it is confirmed in Episode 6.

All in all, this is my favorite reason why the Machete Order is superior.

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Conclusion

The Machete Order is not without its flaws. The relationship between Anakin and C-3PO in Episode 2 and the story of Shmi Skywalker is rather out of place without Episode 1 for context. But this is minor flaw and the audience can quickly catch up with any confusion that they may have.

And of course, the removal of Episode 1 isn't to say that you can't watch it at all. But rather that it should be treated as supplemental extra content (like SoloRogue One or the Clone Wars materials).

But despite these flaws, Machete Order helped to give me a much deeper appreciation for the Star Wars series and in a post-Last Jedi world, it is a bright spot which I will gladly share with as many people as I can.

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