As a father, I have to ask myself some hard questions about how I’m going to raise my son. How hard should I be on him to keep his room clean? Should I let him play as many video games as I did when I was a kid? Should I let him play with toy guns? When should I teach him how to fight? Most importantly, when do I introduce him to “Star Wars”?
Perhaps equally as important, in what order do I show him the films?
My son is 5 years old, so this has been a subject of heavy debate for approximately… exactly 5 years. I have been arguing about this with my friends, family, boss, and co-workers since the boy was conceived. At first glance there appear to be only two choices: Release Order or Episodic Order, right? Wrong.
Enter Rod Hilton’s “Machete Order,” which points out the flaws in both of these approaches. As Rod explains, the problem with starting with Episodes I through III is that it ruins the surprise that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, which is huge. So watch them in the order they were released, right? Wrong, and I’m going to quote Rod directly here: “Unfortunately, Release Order is an instant failure, and the reason is a single shot.”
What shot, you ask? Why, it’s the shot at the very end of “Return of the Jedi,” where Obi-Wan and Yoda’s infinite life force appear to Luke and gaze upon him approvingly for restoring order to The Force and bringing about the fall of the Empire.
“But Justin, why would that shot ruin anything?”
Simply, because that shot no longer exists. See, when Lucas re-released the original trilogy in the late-90’s (early 2000’s?), he CGI’d in a bunch of things that were part of his “original vision” that he was unable to include in the original films due to special effects limitations inherent to the era. Such examples include extra creatures in the background, some sweeping aerial shots of different cities, and a super-shitty song that’s uncomfortably inserted in the middle of “Jedi.” Along with this effort of realizing his imaginings (and adulterating the most revered sci-fi trilogy ever created), he struck Hayden Christensen’s ghost into the shot with Obi-Wan and Yoda, which means that if you watch the series in Release Order, you get to the very ending of the third film and you have no idea who this shaggy teenager is that’s smiling at Luke while hanging out with Yoda and Obi-Wan.
Hilton presents an alternative suggestion, that he has dubbed “Machete Order.” Machete Order is viewed IV, V, II, III, and IV.
“But Justin, Episode I is missing.”
Why yes, it is, isn’t it? Many super-fans believe that Episode I is a “failure on every level,” as Hilton puts it, but I liked it. I saw it twice in the theater, I thought the pod-race was fun, I liked seeing Little Darth/Anakin as a kiddo, I liked that it was revealed that he built C-3PO, Liam Neeson is bad-ass, Ewan McGregor is fun to watch as young and beardless Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul is a super bad-ass. Jar-Jar did suck… I never liked him. So, obviously I do not believe that Episode I is a “failure on every level,” but Hilton does make a good point and note that virtually every character in Episode I is either killed or removed before it ends, or established in a later episode. So in the context of the entire story, Episode I can very successfully be removed and remain unmissed.
So Machete Order is what I decided to roll with. Now, I have taken great care to show Bryce very little of anything that had to do with Star Wars because I wanted to control his input. I didn’t want any of the “common knowledge” that Vader was Luke’s father and Leia was Luke’s sister to spoil my boy’s viewing experience. This past week we worked our way through the series, and here’s how it went:
Episode IV: A New Hope –
My boy was riveted from beginning to end. He wasn’t even into “The Avengers” as much as he was into IV, and he LOVES some Avengers. I was pleased. He loved “Dark Vader” and the “life savers”, and he kept calling Luke “that guy that fought Dark Vader,” but he totally got good vs. bad, save the princess, spaceships are cool, lasers are awesome, and light sabers are the best thing ever.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back –
Again, riveted. He loved the snow scenes, he loved the fight scenes, and he learned that Vader is Luke’s father. The father reveal did not have as thrilling of an impact on him as I would have thought, but he was still WAY into it and when it ended he turned to me and said, “How can Dark Vader be that guy’s dad?”
I then explained to him that we were going to learn how in the next movie, which, per Machete Order, is “Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” (By the way, for anyone who wants to learn a Jedi-exercise in patience, try explaining what a “prequel” is to a five year old.)
Episode II: Attack of the Clones –
Whoa. How boring is this movie? Other than the chase scene at the beginning, there’s about an hour of lovie-dovie boringness until something exciting happens again. There’s small nuggets of excitement while Obi-Wan is inspecting the clone army and meets Jango Fett and it’s kind of cool to see little Bobby Fett, but try explaining that to a five year old… he just kept asking me when we were going to see Dark Vader.
Once we get to the coliseum scene, the movie is non-stop bad ass from there onward, and that was when Bryce got a little bit more forgiving that we hadn’t seen Anakin as Vader yet. I almost didn’t have the heart to tell him that we still wouldn’t see Anakin’s transformation for another movie yet.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith –
Awesome. This is the first of the prequels that really looks like one of the original films. There’s lots of stark contrasts, there’s a lot of Storm Troopers, and there’s a ton of light saber bad-assery. After watching this again I really think we could have skipped Episode II as well as Episode I, because you get a good feeling for all the important elements of the story and all the satellite elements are pretty effectively told through exposition or by picking up context clues. You really don’t need I and II to understand the opposing politics between the Republic and the Federation. In III you get to see the closeness of Obi-Wan and Anakin, you understand that Anakin and Padme have a forbidden marriage, you understand that Anakin fears the loss of Padme more than anything, and you understand that this fear is ultimately his undoing.
In fact, the “It’s twins” reveal is superior to the reveal in “Jedi.” After watching “A New Hope” and “Empire”, you know that this is ultimately what the story is leading you toward because in “Empire” we just learned that Vader is Luke’s father, but there’s still a twist! In III Padme lies dying of a broken spirit after Anakin has sworn allegiance to Darth Sidious and slaughtered every Jedi, young and old, that was within reach of his light saber, and it’s discovered that she is carrying not one child, but twins. As she lay dying they pass the first born, the boy, to her and she says, “Luke,” then they pass the second, a girl, to her and she says, “Leia.”
“Whaaaaaatt?!?! Luke and Leia are brother and sister?! But Luke and Han were in a love triangle with her in ‘Empire’! She even kissed him! Wow! So THAT’S what Yoda meant when he told Obi-Wan that there ‘is another.’”
Excellent. Perfect. Seemingly, meant to be. Next up? Jedi.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi –
I’m pretty sure that I saw “Empire” in the theater, but I was probably a little younger than Bryce is now so I don’t remember much from that particular experience. I do, however, vividly remember going to see “Jedi” in the theater and going freakin’ bananas over it.
“Jedi” is the perfect place to pick up after Episode III. It’s a seamless transition from III to “Jedi” with the exception of one scene, which is the “What do you remember about your mother?” scene where Luke approaches Leia and reveals to her that they’re siblings.
The problem with this scene is that we just saw Padme die almost immediately following Luke and Leia’s birth, we saw the funeral, and yet Leia goes on and monologs about how she “doesn’t remember much,” but she died when Leia was “very young,” but she remembers that she was “sad a lot.” C’mon Lucas… how 21 years is not enough time to draft a bulletproof script for III, I’ll never know.
What this scene also made me realize is that the twins reveal in Jedi is really anticlimactic. After foreshadowing it in “Empire,” they just kind of drop it on you in “Jedi” without creating much of a dramatic moment. It’s pretty much Leia asking Luke what’ s bugging him, Luke says Vader is his father, she’s like “Whoa,” and Luke says, “There’s more, you got some power.” She’s like, “What?” Luke’s like, “Yup, the Force be strong in my family. My dad has it… I have it… and… my sister has it.”
Not a bad scene at all, but the reveal was definitely more powerful in III, and for that I am affirmed in that III belongs right before “Jedi.”
As for the rest of Jedi, Bryce loved the Ewoks (c’mon, I love’em too), he seemed to understand the complicated attachment that Luke had to Vader a lot better than I did when I was his age, and his take on the fall of the Empire was, “Their planet blew up again.”
To further validate my decision to introduce Bryce to Star Wars in Machete Order, in the final “Jedi” scene where ghostly Hayden Christensen appears (which I thought he might not even notice), Bryce turns to me and says, “Look! It’s young Dark Vader again! He’s good now!”
All in all, I am very happy with Machete Order as far as my son’s introduction to Star Wars is concerned. I preserved both twists for him and he REALLY digs Star Wars now. We did watch Episode I after “Jedi” and he liked the pod-race scene and the final fight scene with Darth Maul, but he paid attention to Episode I the least of all the others. Though, he’s been running around the house Darth Maul-ing me with his Donatello Ninja Turtles bo staff non-stop since we watched it, but I am very proud that he couldn’t have cared less about Jar-Jar.
I think I and II are fun to watch for backstory purposes and to see some cool scenes with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, but for marathon purposes I stand firm that I and II can be left out altogether. My recommendation is to watch in this order:
IV, V, III, VI
Thank you, Rod Hilton, for introducing me to Machete Order. I hereby dub the order of IV, V, III, and VI “Min-chete Order.”
Here is a comparison between the original ending to “Jedi” and the new ending to “Jedi.” Now that I see it, I remember being very confused regarding who the strange old man was that’s next to Yoda and Obi-Wan. I believe it was explained to me a dozen times that it was “good Darth Vader”. In both versions the third man is Anakin, but in the newer version it’s a recognizable Anakin.
References: “Star Wars: Machete Order” by Rod Hilton