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A New Order (to watch the movies)

Luke Skywalker carries Yoda on his back during Jedi training in
635848291802658806 luke and puppet yoda chilling on the swamp planet dagobah. photo lucasfilm ltd..jpg

It’s that time.  We’re closing in on the release of the first new Star Wars film in ten years, and that can only mean one thing.

Han shot first.

OK, now that we’ve got that settled, we can focus on the other one thing:

What order do I watch the Star Wars movies?

A worthy question, with many answers.  Here are some of your options:

Release Order – Episodes IV, V, VI, I, II, III: Watching the movies the way they were introduced to us all when they came out, so it must be the best way, right?  It’s always great to start with the best movies before moving to the inferior prequels, but we can do better.

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Episode Order – Episodes I, II, III, IV, V, VI: Seems like a natural fit.  This is the way George Lucas always intended us to see the movies, so it must be best, right?  Well, Lucas doesn’t have the best track record for making good decisions about his masterpiece, so let’s pump the brakes before queuing up Episode I on the flat screen.

Take a lesson from Yoda.  We must “unlearn what we have learned.”

So, let’s take a different path, shall we?  Here’s an order that will tell the story in a unique way, skip the stuff we don’t need to see, and create a great experience for any kids, young and old, that are seeing the movies for the first time.

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It’s called Machete Order, named after the blog that introduced this theory of watching the franchise and outlines it best. Here’s how it works.

The films are watched in this specific order:

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

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Here’s how the author of the theory best defends his Machete Order theory:

Putting the prequels in the middle in general (which a commenter has pointed out is called Ernst Rister order) allows the series to end on the sensible ending point (the destruction of the Empire) while still beginning with Luke’s journey. The prequel backstory comes at the perfect time, because The Empire Strikes Back ends on a huge cliffhanger. 

Narratively, it’s just like a movie that starts with a big opening, then fades to “2 years earlier” for most of the movie, until it catches up with the present time and concludes.

Wait, What about Episode I – The Phantom Menace?Skip it, not just because it’s pretty awful and it means very little Jar-Jar Binks, but mainly because it’s not relevant to the plot of the entire saga.  You can jump right into Episode II and not even skip a beat.  Character development remains intact, and any minor roles from the first movie are extinguished before the second.  That’s even more so when watching in Machete Order, it cuts the fat and starts the story in a great spot after Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

L to R: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Han Solo plan their next move onboard the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

The one that started it all.  It tells the story of a young hero named Luke Skywalker raised on a desert planet by his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, who meets a family friend Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi and smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca on their way to save a princess from the Galactic Empire and its evil lord Darth Vader.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Darth Vader shares some sobering news on Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

The second act where the story and the characters face a dark fate and reach their largest conflict.  Luke, Leia and Han lead the Rebels against the Empire as Darth Vader continues his quest to bring down the Alliance.  Along the way, we meet new characters like Lando Calrissian, bounty hunter Boba Fett and the lovable, sage creature Yoda.  Luke learns the ways of the Force before leaving to save his friends and meeting Darth Vader for an epic duel in Cloud City.

Am I forgetting anything?  Oh yeah, just the biggest twist reveal of the century.  Now seems like a great time to go back to the prequels and learn more about the dark lord.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Anakin Skywalker (left) and Padme await battle in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones.

We’re going back in time, 20 years before Episode IV.  Attack of the Clones drops us into a universe teetering on civil war. Young Jedi Anakin Skywalker (that name sure sounds familiar) and an younger Obi-Wan reunite with Padme, a senator in the Galatic Republic. After Padme narrowly escapes an assassination attempt on her life. she and Anakin fly back to her home planet of Naboo. This introduces the audience to Anakin at a time when his confidence is high and his Jedi powers are maturing. In this chapter, Skywalker is being tested and pulled by the three major forces in his life:  1) His blossoming love for Padme, 2) His mentor Obi-Wan, Yoda, Mace Windu and the Jedi council, who he believes are holding him back, and 3) Senator Palpatine, who sees his jealousy and anger as a strength for Anakin, and the source of his immense talent and power as he moves closer to the dark side.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Obi-Wan Kenobi (left) and Anakin Skywalker draw their lightsabers in their fight against Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Three years after the start of the Clone Wars, Revenge of The Sith starts with Anakin struggling to find a way to protect his loved ones and realize his immense potential.  His growing alliance with now-Chancellor Palpatine is leading him down a darker and more aggressive path.  As Anakin falls deeper under the influence of the Dark Side, Obi-Wan and Padme try their best to stop his descent.  Things don’t go so well.  The heartbreaking turn of Anakin Skywalker’s helps to tie up the backstory that we learn at the end of Empire Strikes Back and the solemn tone helps to set us up for a tale of redemptions in the sixth episode.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Jabba the Hut with Princess Leia in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  Things end badly for Jabba after this.

Fast forward about 30 years – back to find our heroes Luke, Leia and Han overcoming several battles and trials between the Rebels and Galactice Empire, meeting some lovable furry Ewoks along the way.  It all leads up to one final battle, in which the Death Star meets its match and Luke confronts Darth Vader once and for all.

Why the Machete Order?

Here’s 5 more reasons why I think it’s the best way:

  1. The Machete Order plays more like a TV season arc, or a novel, breaking up the action and retaining key plot points to reveal them in a more non-linear feel.  Think Pulp Fiction meets space opera.
  2. The order also gives you a chance to savor the cliffhanger from Episode V and answer the questions through flashback and backstory.   How did Darth Vader come to be?  Why did Obi-Wan hide the truth from Luke?  What mistakes were made before Episode IV?
  3. By skipping Episode I, there’s a more clearly defined parallel between Anakin and Luke.  We see more similarities in the two that help to tie the story together and make it more cohesive.
  4. Anakin and Luke share many similar attributes that are easier to identify in this new transition of Episode III to VI.
  5. If you can eliminate a full movie (Episode I) from a six-movie franchise and the story still makes sense, that can’t be a ringing endorsement for The Phantom Menace.  I just gave you back 2-plus hours of your life.  No Jedi mind trick required.

What do you think?  Have you tried this order of watching the Star Wars movies?  What order do you prefer?  Is Jar-Jar Binks the worst thing about Episode I?  Tell me why I’m nuts and share your favorite Star Wars memories in the comments.

Ten Days of Star Wars logo

May the Force be with you.  Always.

Cory O’Donnell is Digital Engagement Editor for The News-Press. His favorite Star Wars movie is Empire Strikes Back – and his favorite character is Han Solo, with R2-D2 a close second.
You can connect with him onFacebook or via Twitter @CoryODonnell.

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