“Why do you watch them in that order?”
It’s a question I get, often, when I explain my method for watching The Epic Saga. Over the last year, gearing up for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I have had a lot of time to think it through, try various methods, and settle upon the best.
I must first mention that were it not for the Machete Order, I wouldn’t have ever started cutting and pasting… so kudos to you guys for the inspiration. For those that don’t wish to read a bunch of bloviation, here is the Order: Episode I, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode II, optional segue through the Clone Wars, Episode III, and finish with Episode VI. And now, for those who care about the bloviation, here is why:
Like many Star Wars fans of my age, old enough to watch the Original Trilogy and wait decades for the Prequel Trilogy only to be completely let down, I am not a big fan of Episode I-III. This is where my challenge begins, or… “How do I make Episode I relevant?”
In the Machete Order, The Phantom Menace is left out completely. While I understand the sentiment, that it is largely irrelevant to the story of Luke Skywalker, I also felt that there must be a way to make it relevant. It has characters we all know and love, actors who we have loved in other roles, the best light saber duel in any of the six films AND pod racing all set in a visually stunning world that was impossible to create in 1977. It’s worth salvaging, no?
In my first attempt at a preferred order, I placed it at the end of the whole shebang (going in episodic order two through six first). I thought maybe it would serve as a good P.S. to the other five films. I was wrong… It felt horribly out of place, worse than I remembered. It seemed more irrelevant.
When I eventually decided to watch it again, and jumped over the other two prequel films, I felt enlightened. At the end of TPM, things are on the upswing. Anakin is the Chosen One. He is a young boy surrounded by Jedi Knights and apprenticed to Obi Wan Kenobi. The Naboo and Gungans have come together. The Trade Federation is in deep poodu for their invasion. The outlandish plot hardly seems to matter anymore, it feels good. And then you jump 40 years into the future…
But before we go 40 years in the future, let’s just scream over how ridiculously complex the plot of TPM is. AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!! The senator of Naboo has tasked the Trade Federation with blockading Naboo through a “tax dispute” all while being a secret Sith Lord. This was in an attempt to become Chancellor? It was just a happy coincidence that Qui Gon found Anakin as he escorted Padme off world? It’s just a happy coincidence that she made it off world? Now, 40 years in the future…
A New Hope is a complete MIND FRACK as a result. Pretending to have never seen it, I was blown away… Why are we back on Tattooine? Wait… Obi Wan is hiding out? Everyone else is dead? There’s an Empire? Luke Skywalker? That big bad dude dressed all in black killed Anakin?!?!?! How in the Hell did everything go this far off the rails?
I watched the movie rooting the whole time for Anakin’s son to make right what those bastards did to his father, that cute little kid with the pod racing skills. And, KABOOM!!!! Luke does it, boy howdy.
And, just like that, the Galaxy is back on the upswing. Luke has lost everything, yet somehow found his calling. Han has gone from pirate to war hero. Leia is a total bad ass. They are all surrounded by an army of folks ready to get rid of these evil bastards that killed Anakin and took over the Republic/somehow turned it into an Empire.
So we jump ahead a little while, a few years, and find Luke and crew on their new base. That village happens to be like a steam punk Santa’s Village surrounded by vicious bumbles and giant horse kangaroos that reek. Life is good despite being frozen and surrounded by smelly beasts… and then that jackass that killed Anakin shows up with his Port of Oakland cranes that can walk and… scattered again are our devoted heroes.
Also, SPACE SLUG in an asteroid!!!!!!
Also, YODA! I was afraid he was dead. But he’s hiding, too. Are he and Obi Wan all that is left of the Jedi? How and why? That big black dude scares Yoda enough for him to go into hiding? And, that big black dude’s master looks familiar, but I am not sure who he is. I want to say it’s that damn Senator from Naboo, but geez he got super old really fast if it is him.
Slight segue… Lando Calrissian. Whenever I order a coffee, I ask for it “Lando Style.” Smooth and black. I feel like, the only downside to this new viewing order is that it ruins my reason for calling my coffee by this name. I have done this since before there was a Prequel Trilogy. I’d always say, “If you were the only black guy in an entire galaxy, you would have a drink named after you, too.” Dammit, Mace Windu!
Well, obviously… the end of the movie comes and man alive am I tattered. That dude is Anakin? Han Solo is an ice block? What the Hell is Luke going to do? Join his father? Hang with Yoda? But more importantly… How in the Hell did this all come to be? Anakin was the Chosen One! Flashing back, 25 years or so…
Full disclosure, Attack of the Clones is my personal least favorite of all Star Wars films. My dislike is entirely rooted in the story and the dialogue. Many Star Wars snobs bemoan the lack of practical effects, and while that may contribute to the wooden performances of some really talented actors, I honestly think we have a story that is too complex where it should be simple and too simple where it should be complex. For instance, the “whodunnit?” phase of the movie is crazy longer than it should be and conveniently predictable, all while feeling way over wrought. It’s like a Dragnet Episode shot as a film noir written by a High School Drama teacher with Jedi swapped in for Joe Friday and crew. Meanwhile, the Padme Anakin love story goes from “isn’t it cute, he’s still got a crush” to “married in Italian villa” with way too little build up. I’d prefer that the deleted scenes with Padme’s family and Anakin interacting were in the film and some of the “Jedi business” lawman stuff was cut out. Death Sticks?!?!?
All of that said, it’s very interesting to watch AotC shortly after ANH and observe how Luke and Anakin are so similar, yet so different. A key turning point for both comes with the death of the only family they have ever known. Anakin goes ballistic and starts cutting folks up left and right. Luke returns to the hermit wizard and asks him to teach him the ways of the Force. Side note, but I give all the credit to these different approaches to that hard ass Owen Lars. He didn’t let Luke think he was Chosen. He made that little crumb snatcher work for what he had, dammit!
Another interesting thing about this film is how different the ending feels compared to all of the others. You can see the beginning of Anakin’s deceit. In what should feel like an epic happy moment, the wedding of Luke’s parents… there is a sad undercurrent of hiding from the fact that you can’t have it both ways. Anakin tells many lies throughout the Saga. I don’t think any are more disheartening than the lies I found myself assuming he told himself to justify his desire. He is damaged in a way that no other hero is damaged throughout the rest of the Saga.
Now, this next part is optional but I did it. I have a two DVD set of the Clone Wars shorts that originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2003. They are a special kind of awesome. Additionally, there is the Clone Wars television show (also on Cartoon Network, starting in 2008) that had 20 minute episodes and ran for five seasons with an epic sixth half season only available on Netflix.
This will take a long, long time. Make sure, should you decide to explore the Clone Wars, that you get copies of the original series and that you read about the chronological order of the episodes that you can watch on Netflix (they were not released in chronological order). Also note that for a full chronological viewing of the entire Clone Wars series you should start by watching Chapters 1-21 of the 2003 series, then the 2008 series, and wrap it up with Chapters 22-25 of the 2003 series. If you do this you will a) not think Anakin sucks so bad and b) be treated to an awesome effect when the last chapter of the Clone Wars ends in the same dog fight that is the beginning of…
The Revenge of the Sith. This is easily my favorite of the PT. It still suffers from a lot of the convoluted story decisions that the first two PT films suffered from. It’s better parts are still the amazing visuals and, probably the second best light saber duel in all of the films. It had hints of the Star Wars mystique that didn’t exist in the other prequel films.
My personal favorite part is when Padme, dying, after birthing the Skywalker twins (Hey, wait a minute? Luke has a sister named Leia? Is it… Princess Leia? HOLY SHIT it is! Bail Organa, you and your wife did a bang up job with that young lady!) foreshadows Luke’s eventual point of view in Return of the Jedi… “There is still good in him.” Also, I love how the fall of Skywalker/rise of Vader foreshadows a vulnerability that we have yet to see (in this viewing order) in Vader.
Anyway, enough about the prequels… let’s jump to the end!
After viewing the movies in this order… Return of the Jedi is incredibly satisfying. The epic Luke v Vader saber duel is recast as the epic Luke v Palpatine duel for the soul of Anakin Skywalker. The whole Saga has a slight change in hue, it is not about the fall and redemption of Vader, or the Journey of Luke Skywalker… It becomes about a father, his mistakes and how the son he never knew went to insane lengths to account for those mistakes. In other words, there is no Fall and Redemption separate from Luke’s Journey. It is all one in the same.
Damn, Thursday night at 7:15 can’t get here soon enough! May the Force be with you!