Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Star Wars Machete Order


         The Star Wars Machete Order, as introduced by blogger Rod Hilton, addresses some of the major problems of watching the prequel and original Star Wars trilogies. It calls for watching the films in the following order: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and finishing with Return of the Jedi. For the numerically inclined, it looks like this: 4, 5, 2, 3, 6. 

But what about Episode 1: The Phantom Menace? The film introduces a young Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the Star Wars universe in general. You can safely skip over the entire film without significantly detracting from the rest. Qui-Gon Jin? Only ever mentioned two more times as a throwaway line and an excuse to explain why Obi-Wan becomes a force ghost. All of the stuff about Anakin on Tatooine? It’s all re-introduced in Episode II. When Anakin first meets with Padme, she fondly recalled their earlier adventures. Anakin makes it abundantly clear that he’s been lusting after her in the ensuing years, but Padme still seems him as the young boy she once knew.  The quick re-introduction provides all the background for their relationship that you need—especially as his infatuation blossoms into some seriously stalker-ish behavior later in the film. Anakin similarly mentions that he left his mother behind when he joined the Jedi order and he still misses her. This presages his nightmares and desire, later in the film, to find her back on Tatooine. The film even introduces a new villain, Count Dooku, and a new threat, galactic civil war, to replace the groan inducing trade negotiations of Episode 1 (millions of nerd voices cry out in terror every time they are mentioned). Nute Gunray appears in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but is largely shunted to the background. The Machete Order also blessedly removes Jar-Jar Binks as a prominent character. Instead of the bumbling idiot of The Phantom Menace, he becomes a member of Padme’s entourage. In this limited background role, the features that made Jar-Jar so annoying in Episode 1—his stupidity and horrible accent—are dramatically reduced. His reintroduction to Anakin and Obi Wan is brief and merely indicates that he too shared in their previous adventures. Removing The Phantom Menace doesn’t detract from the Star Wars saga in any meaningful way. 

The greatest strength of the Machete Order is that it keeps the focus of the movies on the story of Luke Skywalker. His story drives the narrative arc of the original trilogy. He goes from a frustrated moisture farmer—all he wanted to do was go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters—to Jedi knight and a hero of the Rebellion. Luke’s character is very clear from the beginning. He’s a conscientious, hard-working young man who dreams of a better life for himself. He constantly puts the needs of others ahead of his own. He has remained on Tatooine to help his uncle on his moisture farm while all his friends have left. He risks his life to save Leia, a woman he has never met. InEmpire, Luke cuts short his Jedi training to save Leia and Han, even though he knows he’s walking into a trap set by Darth Vader. Along the way he meets up with his long lost sister, Leia, a roguish smuggler, Han Solo, and a big walking carpet, Chewbacca (who thanks to the death of the Extended Universe no longer dies being crushed by a moon).  There are space battles, lightsaber duels, and some gorgeous cinematography along the way. 

The Machete Order cleans up your mess George!

The Machete Order also preserves the truth of Darth Vader’s identity until he reveals it to Luke at the end of Empire. Watching the films chronologically diminishes the surprise of Vader’s revelation. (Note I’m writing here in terms of preserving the dramatic tension, everyone and their mother knows about the Luke-Vader relationship.) Until this moment, Vader has been the unquestioned villain of Star Wars. He relentlessly pursues Leia, the rebels, and finally Luke. The revelation that he is Luke’s father adds a shade of complexity to the character. By following Empire with the second and third films, the new trilogy serves as an extended flashback, comparing the different paths taken by father and son. In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s path towards the dark side of the force is clearly laid out. Traumatized by his experiences in slavery and the death of his mother, he seeks to protect himself and his loved ones, whatever the cost. He becomes increasingly obsessed, especially in Revenge of the Sith, with his own desires. He wants to become a Jedi Master and is incensed when the Jedi Council refuses to promote him. He wants to protect Padme, his wife, even at the cost of every other Jedi in the universe. Anakin speaks of bringing order to his empire. What began as a desire to protect his loved ones becomes all about himself. 

This order of the films also makes it abundantly clear that Anakin is not particularly bright. He places incompetent officers, like Admiral Ozzel, in positions of authority, killing them when they predictably fail. He is easily manipulated by Emperor Palpatine, makes impulsive decisions, and his incredible powers with the force lead him to be overconfident in his own abilities. He duels with Count Dooku only to lose an arm. He’s easily goaded into killing Dooku by Palpatine—immediately noting “I shouldn’t have done that.” In scenes featuring Palpatine or others in positions of authority, Anakin frequently stands to the side staring—the Palpatine-Mace Windu confrontation or when the Emperor is shooting Luke with force lightning are two prominent examples. Only the pleading of his own son reawakens the humanity within him. It is Luke who finally pushes Anakin to kill the Emperor. Using these two films as an extended flashback also sets up Anakin’s redemption in Return of the Jedi as we see what drove him to the dark side and what brought him back. 

In the Machete Order, Palpatine’s brilliance at manipulating Anakin, the Jedi, and the Galactic Republic becomes abundantly clear. He’s playing chess while the rest of the Galaxy is sitting on the ground eating dirt. The new trilogy shows Palpatine’s ability to enact several plans at once, allowing them to develop, and then picking the one that is most advantageous to him. In Revenge of the Sith, he sacrifices Count Dooku, until then his most powerful ally, in order to bring Anakin over to the Dark Side. He controls both sides of a galactic civil war and kills the leaders of the Separatist movement, who had followed every one of his orders in order to consolidate his own power. Palpatine successfully manipulates the Rebel Alliance into attacking the presumably unfinished Second Death Star. At the end of Return of the Jedi, he seems ready to either have Vader kill Luke and eliminate the biggest threat to his own power or have Luke kill and then replace his father as Palpatine’s puppet. Only Luke’s pleas to the little goodness left within Anakin foil Palpatine’s plan. For all of his foresight, he couldn't imagine Darth Vader tossing him down a conveniently located ventilation shaft. 


The Jedi, meanwhile, come out looking rather badly. Episodes 2 and 3 highlight their glaring incompetence in perceiving the Sith threat and Obi-Wan’s utter failure as Anakin’s teacher. Obi-Wan spends more time trying to be Anakin’s friend than his instructor. Anakin frequently disobeys Obi-Wan’s instructions, but gets away with it because his superior skills overcome his initial stupidity. As Anakin becomes increasingly encased in the web of Galactic politics, the Jedi fail to recognize his vulnerability to the powers of the Dark Side. He is frequently angry, frustrated, and desirous of praise and promotion. After refusing to grant Anakin a promotion to the rank of master, the Jedi Council attempts to cajole him into spying on Palpatine, not realizing they’re playing exactly into the chancellor’s hands. Only when it is far too late does Mace Windu sense a plot to destroy the Jedi. Once they realize their mistake, Yoda and Obi Wan attempt to turn the tide—not recognizing that it’s too late. They flee, waiting for another opportunity this time to use Anakin’s children to overthrow the emperor. By hiding Luke’s true parentage from him, Yoda and Obi Wan repeat the same mistakes they made with Anakin while trying to settle a twenty year old score. Luke, however, cares more about others, especially Leia and even his father, to be seduced by the Dark Side. His desire to confront the Emperor and belief in the goodness of his father wins the day over Yoda and Obi Wan’s cynicism about Vader’s true character and motivations. 

The Machete Order represents the best that the Star Wars films have to offer. It features an appealing lead character, a complicated villain, space battles, and charming rogues. It blends the two trilogies together, using them to enhance the story of Luke Skywalker and brings thematic order to George Luca’s cinematic empire.