Since two Star Wars movies have appeared since I wrote Extreme Machete Order with a Twist in 2014, it’s time for an update. There is one amendment, but most of my thoughts haven’t changed.
“What order do I watch the Star Wars movies in?” This is the eternal question since 2005, and there are many ideas of how to do this out there, especially for those who haven’t seen them before. Those of us who are old enough watched them in the Release Order, and I daresay the consensus is this stinks (to put it nicely). The problem with the Episode Order, watching them from 1-6, is the main dramatic surprise of episode 5 is ground into the dust long before we arrive at that point in the story. Also, watching in Episode Order tempts the neophyte to give up on the series three+ hours in, because the movies to this point are abysmal (I would wonder why the MST3K guys weren’t at the bottom of the screen). Since a lot of my congregation and the next generations of my family will be addressing this question, I have discovered an order that makes sense.
The Machete Order has been floating around the Internet for a while: watching episodes 4 and 5, then inserting the Prequels before finishing with 6. This makes a lot of sense as far as pacing, for at the end of 5 we can take a digression to see the full backstory of how this came about.
With the release of Rogue One, I’ve increased the length of my machete. This movie adds much to the canon, and is a pretty decent movie in its own right, the best one made since Return of the Jedi (1983). I would watch it again on my own, by a copy for my library, as well as put it in my next binge.
My solution for the first time viewer is now:
pre-IV Rogue One
IV A New Hope
V The Empire Strikes Back
Weird Al Yankovic The Saga Begins
III The Revenge of the Sith
VI The Return of the Jedi
The Phantom Menace is not only a disaster from the beginning, but has nothing to add to the larger story other than trivia. Episode 2, Attack of the Clones, has some good footage in the second half, but one has to endure two incredibly boring and largely irrelevant stories to get there: the creation of a clone army, and the least believable romance in the history of the universe between Anakin and Padmé. All the plot elements from Attack of the Clones are best left to references in Revenge of the Sith. Plus, the only story that really matters to the whole, how Palpatine seduced Anakin to the Dark Side, is told completely in Revenge. This story sets up Luke’s inner conflict in Return of the Jedi beautifully, and makes Darth Vader’s evolution more credible as the story winds to its ending.
As far as VII The Force Awakens, I have mixed feelings. Perhaps later episodes will salvage something once we see where the story arc of Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, etc. takes us, however, as it stands it doesn’t make much sense. There are plot holes you could drive a Death Star through, and although I like the good characters, Kylo Ren is an awful villain, more pathetic than menacing. The super weapon is a rehashed Death Star, which means the Dark Side is Lawful Stupid: couldn’t they come up with something less vulnerable, not to mention less costly? A simpler weapon that’s an improvement which is easy to mass produce would make more of a difference than a big, vulnerable, hyper-expensive, one-of-a-kind bomber that can only be one place in the Universe at a time. Clone a few million more Stormtroopers and give them better pop guns and you might conquer the galaxy more easily. (It’s a good thing I’m not an evil overlord…)
Trying to rule through terror is an ultimately futile enterprise. Unless you build a loyal populace through positive motivation, a regime will always on the defensive, always a target. Palpatine didn’t learn this even with his superpowers (neither did the Soviet Union). Seduction is a better way to corrupt and control people. By the way, Kylo, your adored evil grandfather turned back to good at the end of his life, which is why he isn’t there to help you. I guess the Force ghost of Palpatine doesn’t want to have anything to do with you, he never tolerated fools. Snoke is a pretty lame tyrant as well: he didn’t Force choke or cast lightning bolts, or at least I don’t remember him doing it. Snoke is less effective than smoke.
When the next two episodes arrive, we’ll see about this story arc. It still could be redeemed.
Why Weird Al? Lucas had a great sense of humor in episodes 4 and 5 which he forgot when making the Prequels (what else explains Jar Jar?) After the dramatic climax of Empire Strikes Back, Weird Al unpacks the points of the first movie in three minutes better than Lucas did in 2+ hours. It’s a wonderful refresher for the palate before diving into the unmitigated darkness of Revenge of the Sith after the great calamity at the end of Empire. It also presents the only thing important to know from episodes 1 and 2: Anakin’s compelling ambition to excel on his own terms.
I call it the Extreme Machete Order with a Twist. If you haven’t watched Star Wars and are ready for a binge, take it this way. If the magic really gets you and you can’t resist, then go back and see episodes 1-2, for you’ll have the stamina to pick through the rubble for the rare good bits. Same goes for episode 7. Granted, we love the series in spite of the fact throughout it has plot holes big enough to drive a Star Destroyer through, and Lucas is an uneven storyteller at best. This order gets you through the quality parts of the series in 10+ hours, without enduring 4 added hours of painful nonsense.
Star Wars is a fantastic story that gives us great iconic figures in Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. All that said, George Lucas is a mediocre storyteller who gets lucky on occasion, the next episodes of Star Wars are likely to be on the level of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the greatest story of the 20th Century is The Lord of the Rings.