Is the Machete Order, which jumbles up the Star Wars movies and omits The Phantom Menace, the perfect way to enjoy the series? David gives it a try...
Published on Apr 3, 2012
“I'd always envisioned it as six movies. When you see it in six parts you'll understand that it really ends at part six.” – George Lucas (1997)
It has never been made official that the Star Wars films have to be watched in chronological order, from Episode I straight through to VI. George Lucas has said that the sixth part is ultimately the final piece of the puzzle, but what is the best way to reach this concluding chapter? It is sometimes assumed that watching in numerical order is the best way, but as we demonstrated last year, watching the prequels before the originals works well, too.
Personally, I feel that watching the Star Wars movies from Episode I through to VI doesn’t work. The story feels disjointed, tension builds haphazardly, and the overall experience is messy. I used to be a fan of the original trilogy, but the prequels, since their appearance, had left a bitter taste that was hard to ignore.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across this article, that promised to improve the viewing experience of the entire saga by changing the order of the films. Though slightly sceptical, I was intrigued. Could Star Wars regain its magic?
This particular arrangement of Star Wars episodes has been christened the Machete Order. To summarise, it chops out Episode I completely, and encourages the viewer to watch the films in the following order: IV, V, II, III and finally VI.
I decided to give it a go to see if the Machete Order could resuscitate this once great franchise for me. For five consecutive mornings I pulled shut the blinds, sat down on the sofa with my pet tortoise, Monty, and let the iconic titles roll. I must say to a large extent it has allowed me to overcome my differences with the saga, and appreciate the web of storytelling that George Lucas had spun throughout it. In fact, by the end of Episode VI, (the fifth and final film I watched), Return Of The Jedi, I was a firm believer that this was story that George Lucas had been trying to tell.
It really did make me wonder, would George Lucas actually approve of the Star Wars Machete Order? There are five benefits to the Machete Order that I believe would sway his opinion...
The phantom elephant
Before starting the Machete Order, I was concerned that by omitting Episode I, The Phantom Menace, I might feel like I was missing out, and just ignoring the elephant in the room. Lucas made it, so surely it is meant to be there? Well, thankfully, because the story now starts with Luke, and Anakin’s backstory is now told as a flashback, the elephant in the room is neither present nor noticeably absent. The story just tells itself without a need for Darth Maul or pod racing. This is probably because all the story elements of The Phantom Menace are either resolved by the end of this movie, or reintroduced in Episode II, Attack Of The Clones.
The double downer
Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in my Machete Order marathon, ends with Luke losing a hand, Han Solo being frozen in carbonite, and the evil Empire appearing indomitable. How can Luke be expected to defeat his dad now? His dad is evil, you don’t know how he got that way, but when he intentionally cuts off his own son’s hand, you know there must be something truly messed up in his past. If you tried to guess, at that point, how the series might end, you could be forgiven for assuming that they’d join forces, strengthening the Emperor’s manipulation through the bond of the Skywalker family. A happy ending is unlikely.
It is then that you watch the extended flashback. Episode II and III chart Anakin’s rise and fall, from Jedi to Sith Lord. By the end of it, even when he screams “Noooo” at the death of Padmé, you cannot see past the betraying child-murderer whose pursuit of power is selfish and ultimately tragic. That is when you would doubt a happy ending the most. How could someone who murders children and kills his own wife – albeit by accident – find redemption? The answer is simple: they can’t.
Then there is the Emperor. Until this point, the main thread of the story has dealt solely with Luke’s battle with Vader, but to reach a truly happy ending, it is clear that he will also have to defeat the puppet master himself, the Emperor. Seeing the Emperor’s true powers of corruption, the execution of Mace Windu, and the very creation of Vader raises the stakes and makes the challenge ahead for Luke in Episode VI, Return Of The Jedi, the biggest mountain to climb in the entire series. Think Mount Everest, but bigger.
The hubris of Yoda
Yoda is powerful. He can lift a spaceship that is 50 time his size; he can sense the revolution of the clones quicker than any other Jedi (and survives as a result of it) and he is the only Jedi that can catch lightning bolts. While Luke is Darth Vader’s equal, Yoda is the Emperor’s, and so when the Emperor defeats him at the end of Episode III, Revenge Of The Sith, he becomes the greatest failure in the entire saga.
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.
The realistic redemption
With the dawn of the prequels, Lucas tried to make people believe that the story has always been about Anakin’s redemption, rather than Luke’s heroism. In the normal order, it can feel like it has just been hammered onto the beginning - almost like Lucas is trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
The Machete Order actually facilitates Lucas’ intention, and works as a story of redemption. To the viewer he is initially an intimidating antagonist. After Episode V, the viewer may hope that the flashback reveals a weakness, or an element of goodness in him, but by that time the flames have peeled the skin from his bones, he has become a monster and a slave to the Emperor’s will.
In the traditional I to VI viewing order, there are two reasons for this monster changing his ways and killing his master of over 20 years. One is that the Emperor is electrocuting his son – that Skywalker bond we expected only with a slightly different outcome. The second is that minutes earlier the Emperor had betrayed this 20-year trust by asking Vader’s own son to kill him.
Through the Machete Order, there is also a third reason for Vader’s change of heart; there is clear duality between the Emperor’s electrocution of Mace Windu and his attempted murder of Luke. The brainwashing of Anakin, that occurred through shock when Windu was electrocuted into the Coruscant skyline, is washed away. The real realisation for Anakin, now Vader, is that Emperor Palpatine has been the bad guy all along, and as remembers the original incident - he realises the side he picked all those years ago was the wrong one. His subsequent self-sacrifice is the price he willingly pays for correcting the atrocities he committed over the previous 20 years of oppression, which began with one foolish decision decades ago.
The ecstacy of equilibrium
I remember as a child watching Star Wars, the ending always seems bigger than necessary. This became even bigger with the remasters. Yes, the Emperor had been a very, very bad man. But did the entire universe need to celebrate? With just the originals, or even watching the episodes in order, the ending seems more than necessary.
With the Machete Order, the control of the Emperor over the universe feels absolute and tyrannical. His knowledge of the dark side of the force is insurmountable. The end of the Emperor is the greatest day for the universe in 30 years; it gives justification to the scale of the celebrations that follow.
In the traditional order, the story is filled with so many peaks and troughs that it is hard to tell how bleak the Alliance’s hopes are in a dynamic way. The tension and drama builds and resolves so frequently that, by Return Of The Jedi, defeating the Empire really does just feel like just another George Lucas MacGuffin.
Through the use of the double downer in the Machete Order, the mountain that Luke and the Alliance must climb in Episode VI is easier to appreciate. Defeating the Empire and the Sith is what the five films have been building towards. As a result of this, the celebration comes across as proportionate.
Aside from omitting one of the films that he strived to bring to the big screen, I believe Mr Lucas would find the order agreeable. By establishing each film as an episode in a story, there can be no arguments against the possibility of creating a workable Tarantinoesque cross-narrative film series. Just as he is able to remaster his films, we as viewers are also able to redefine the way the story is told. Whether it makes it better is ultimately a matter of opinion.