A year and a half ago, I married the most beautiful and wonderful woman in the world. the moment I saw her I
completely almost forgot all about Christina Hendricks, who is the world’s second most beautiful woman, if you rule out those who have passed away (and thus Audrey Hepburn). My wife, however, is not inclined to nerdy pursuits, and, bizarrely, had never seen any of the Star Wars movies in her life. She literally did not know that Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader. (And if you didn’t, I have no sympathy for you. You’re either too young to actually read, or old enough to not get upset about thirty or forty year old spoilers.) So, I decided to do what any good and loving husband would do, and experiment on her by showing her Star Wars in the Machete Order.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, one of the perennial debates in a world post-prequels is whether to watch Star Wars in order of release, or in order of episode. A gentleman with a dislike for juggling machetes suggested a third way of watching them: the Machete Order. Episodes 4 and 5, holy crap, Darth Vader is who? How did that happen? Episodes 2 and 3 and finally 6.
There are several arguments for the Machete Order, notably in that it skips a terrible film altogether, strengthens episodes 2 and 3, and preserves most of the series’ big plot twists. I do recommend reading through the original article about the Machete Order; the guy makes a lot of really good points, particularly in how Episode 1 really doesn’t add much to the mythos that the Star Wars universe isn’t stronger without.
So I tested it on my wife, one of the world’s last few adult Star Wars virgins. (I’m pretty sure children without access to enough food and clean water in Africa know who Darth Vader is.) I used her to get a vicarious first time experience and analyze the merits of the order.
She was initially unimpressed with A New Hope, and, y’know, I’m not sure I can blame her. It hasn’t aged as well as The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. It’s a little slow and a little dry. She liked Chewie and Threepio, though, and I knew I’d gotten a foot in the door when she smiled at the whole “Droids don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets” bit. ESB went better, and we had a little bit of confusion when we jumped back to Attack of the Clones. Revenge of the Sith was hard for her to watch, because she’s the world’s most gentle person, but we got through it and wrapped up with RotJ the next night…. which lead to the weirdest thing I’d ever seen: someone smiled at the sight of Hayden Christensen’s force ghost. But weird or not, I can’t help thinking how much more punch the scene has now, having watched it in the Machete Order, like a single, long story.
Now, some thoughts occur. Why is Ben (and presumably Yoda) an old force ghost instead of young, like Anakin? How much of my own good will comes from material outside the scope of the films, like The Clone Wars cartoon and Marvel’s Darth Vader comics? Both treat Anakin/Vader with much more finesse than Lucas ever managed. Is my spirit just broken by the prequels, and now I’ve come to accept it?
But all that aside, the Machete Order works. Episode 2 is still kind of a bad film, particularly in the last third of the movie, when everything but Samuel L Jackson is CGI. But Episode 3 isn’t actually that bad at all, and it’s poignant. It hurts, and it gives us a glimpse of why Vader is who he is. (Marvel’s new comics take that and run with it.) When we come back to the Return of the Jedi, we have a clearer picture of how we got here, and why the world is how it is. Having seen Coruscant, gangsters and bounty hunters fit in better. The Imperial design philosophy is given a sort of creepiness by the fact that we’ve seen it evolve from the Republic. And the Emperor has far more personality now that we’ve seen him come to power.
Something I’ve been ruminating over for a while is that my wife laughs at things I hated in Star Wars. The battle droids, for instance, and Threepio, who I’ve never been fond of. Things that were negatives for me were ways into the film for her. Whereas I look at the films with the critical eye of a writer and a theologian (and man, you want to talk about people who love to nitpick…) my wife came to the films with negative or no preconceptions and found them enjoyable. It makes one wonder… we want all our entertainment experiences to conform to the way we think they should go. To realism, or tone, or whatever. But sometimes reality has silly and stupid things that happen. Sometimes the tone of reality varies wildly: in the middle of fighting a piecemeal WW3 in the Middle East, we had a song and dance number for three hours on the streets of New York City last week.
I think back to Mass Effect, and the underwhelming ending of ME3. Should a terrible end ruin an entire series? Can a series overcome a terrible start like The Phantom Menace? Are we just too darn critical, when we should maybe relax and forgive things up to a point? (A point that stops well before Jar Jar Binks.) I’d love to hear your thoughts.