This post previously appeared on my blog, 'Absolutely No Machete Juggling'.
Wow, this Machete Order thing got big! After the post first “went viral” and got mentioned on Wired.com, I started getting around 2,000 visitors to it per day, which I thought was a lot. But then in the months before Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released, it blew up like Alderaan, peaking at 50,000 visitors DAILY. This year, over 1.5 million unique users visited the page. It’s been nuts.
So let me start out by thanking everyone for liking and spreading the original post - I’m truly floored by how well-received the post was. Considering I wrote a nearly 5,000-word essay on Star Wars, I’m pretty amazed that it was only a handful of times someone told me I was a loser neckbeard who needs to move out of my parents’ basement and get a girlfriend (I’m married with a kid by the way). People only called for my public execution a couple times. On the internet, that’s the equivalent of winning an Oscar, so thanks everyone!
In all seriousness, I’ve had thousands of people tell me I “fixed” Star Wars and made the saga more enjoyable for them. I think this is an unnatural amount of praise - after all, I’m just a guy who watched some movies in the wrong order and skipped one, then wrote down why. I didn’t create fanedits or anything truly difficult like that. But at the same time, the reason I published the post in the first place was that I felt Machete Order “fixed” Star Wars for me personally, allowing me to use the relevant parts of the Prequels to make Return of the Jedi a better movie, so it’s really awesome that so many other people felt similarly. All joking aside, thank you.
Since it’s been about 4 years since the original Machete Order post, and now that Episode VII is out, I thought I’d post a small update answering a lot of the questions I’ve been asked and responding to the most common criticisms of Machete Order. There will be no spoilers of Episode VII here, though I will be talking about it a bit and I can’t predict what people will post in the comments, so if you haven’t seen it yet, make like a Tauntaun and split.
But Episode I has Maul!
“Are you really advocating I never watch Episode I or show it to anyone?”
Man, no. By far the most common complaint is that I am advocating never watching Episode I, and that’s a shame because it has the best podrace/duel/song/whatever. So let me be perfectly clear, I am not advising anyone to pull their Episode I disc out of their box set and throw it in the garbage. By all means, watch Episode I. Hell, I think Episode I is probably a better movie than Episode II is.
The point of Machete Order is not, and has never been, ignoring Episode I because it’s bad. It’s been about skipping it because it’s not relevant to Luke’s journey. Episodes II and III are, because we see how his father falls to the Dark Side, and we see elements of his path that are mirroring his father’s.
By all means, if you like Episode I, watch it. What I’m advocating though, is watching it sort of like an Anthology film - remember that we’re going to be getting Han Solo origin movies and Boba Fett spinoffs and Rogue One films, and so on, until Disney stops making money off Star Wars. These movies are all going to take place at different times, between different Episodes, or before all of them. If you enjoy or want to share Episode I, I say view it as an Anthology movie, sort of like a prequel to the entire series.
In other words, when you’re watching “The Main Saga”, like maybe if you’re doing a Marathon or you’re introducing someone to Star Wars for the first time, watch in Machete Order: IV, V, II, III, VI. When you’re done and that “book” is closed, you can pull in whatever “Anthology” stuff you enjoy, such as the Clone Wars TV shows or movies, the Han Solo spinoff, and Episode I.
But for some kind of contiguous viewing experience, I think Episode I should be skipped, because it provides mostly backstory to the Republic itself and political goings-on. This makes it an interesting prequel to the entire saga, but a useless distraction from Luke’s journey.
But Episode I has backstory!
“Aren’t parts of Episode I crucial pieces to the story?”
No, they aren’t. They might be crucial pieces to the Star Wars overall story, but not to Luke’s story, which is the whole point of Machete Order: re-centering the main saga narratively on Luke.
Yes Sheldon, Chancellor Valorum is relevant to understanding Palpatine’s rise to power. Yes, Qui-Gon’s belief that Anakin is the chosen one, combined with his untimely demise are very directly responsible to understanding Anakin’s fall. Those make them interesting backstory - but they are not relevant to Luke’s journey.
People who point this out act like it’s sacrilege to (temporarily, see above!) skip Episode I because it fleshes out the Star Wars universe in various ways. So they might advocate Episodes I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, in order. But imagine that Disney releases an Episode 0, all about how Qui-Gon ignored some other ancient Jedi prophecy, and as a result his entire family died or something. This would provide a great understanding of why Qui-Gon is so insistent on training Anakin, and why he passes that burden to Obi-Wan. If someone were to suggest skipping Episode 0, by the logic of Machete Order detractors this would be impossible, because it’s critical in understanding Qui-Gon’s motivations. But skipping it would simply be regular Episode Order that we have now, which is what they’re arguing for. This could go back forever, the exact order being advocated as “correct” is somehow now missing a critical component, because it skips hypothetical “Episode -1” and “Episode -2”.
In other words, we don’t really need to know why Qui-Gon is so intent on Anakin being trained or why he believes so strongly in a prophecy that the rest of the council doesn’t seem to care much about. “He just does” is a perfectly fine answer for now, and it would be a perfectly fine answer if Episode 0 existed too. Similarly, we don’t really need to know all of the machinations that led to Anakin embracing to the dark side, “he just does” is perfectly suitable, and in fact I argue that “he lacks proper training” is a far less sympathetic answer than “it’s very seductive”, which is what we’re left with skipping Episode I.
All of these movies make references to past events that we don’t ever see on screen. That’s what these big “worldbuilding” movies are all about, and why there’s a whole business for books and comics and video games to support them. We don’t need to see Anakin’s mother becoming a slave (not even in a movie), just like we don’t need to know exactly why Nute Gunray hates Padme so much in Episode II. It’s all backstory and fleshes things out a bit, but it’s not critical, your mind fills in the gaps, makes educated guesses, and so on.
Bear in mind, people happily enjoyed Star Wars without ANY of the prequels for sixteen years, and nothing that happened in the original trilogy left some kind of gaping unanswered question in the minds of the audience. So really, since the whole point of Machete Order is refocusing the story on Luke, claiming that any part of the prequels is truly necessary is a bit of a hard sell. I argue that Episodes II and III make Luke’s story more enjoyable to watch in VI, but crucial? As in, unable to be understood without them? Nah.
But the prequels aren’t that bad!
“I grew up with the prequels and they’re not as bad as you think! You’re blinded by nostalgia for the originals!”
I had no idea what a huge population there was of Prequel fans, people who were born in the 90’s and grew up watching the prequel trilogy and love them. Many people even claim Episode I is their favorite, or their favorite character is Jar-Jar. These people are not trolls, they genuinely love these movies. In fact they claim that the only reason that myself and others dislike the prequels is because our own nostalgia for the original trilogy blinds us to their flaws.
First, a bit of an admission: I am not a huge Star Wars “superfan”; I’m just a movie geek. If I was some kind of rabid Star Wars fanboy, I would imagine I’d consider it borderline blasphemous to advocate skipping an entire film in the Gospel of Star Wars. But as a movie nerd, I’m more than happy to make whatever adjustments I think make for a better film-watching experience, because Star Wars is just a bunch of movies to me. I skip Godfather III and The Incredible Hulk too. They’re just movies.
So, here’s my big secret: I did not grow up watching Star Wars. In fact, whenever I saw clips or images from the movies, I thought they looked boring (it looked like they mostly took place in the desert), and I skipped them. I liked parody movies, so I watched Spaceballs instead (a bunch). It was not until I was a senior in high school that my older sister discovered I still hadn’t seen any Star Wars movies, and insisted I watch them. This was in 1999. To reiterate: I saw Episodes IV, V, VI, and I all for the first time, the same year, when I was seventeen.
As a result, I can confidently say that I am not blinded by nostalgia for the original trilogy - they played no role in my childhood. I saw Episode I almost immediately after seeing the original trilogy, and I feel totally justified in saying that the prequel trilogy films, every single one of them, is vastly inferior to the original trilogy entries. I think my opinion here is pretty much objective - in fact I think the younger crowd talking about the greatness of the prequels are the ones blinded by their nostalgia.
Further, the very first versions of the original trilogy I saw were the Special Editions, because that’s what was available on VHS at the local video store at the time. Han never shot first for me. A cartoon Jabba always talked to Han after Greedo, Jabba’s palace has always had an extended dance number, and the entire galaxy (not just Ewoks) always celebrated the fall of the Empire, at least for me. I didn’t see the “Despecialized” versions until years and years later, and so I can once again confidently say, with total objectivity, that they are better than the special editions. The improved special effects for Cloud City and some matte improvements are welcome, but otherwise the Special Editions make the movies worse.
Look, you can like or even love the prequels, and I totally understand why you might if you grew up watching them. But really, they are dreadfully bad movies, as far as movies go. Frankly I also think Return of the Jedi isn’t a very good movie either, it’s a mediocre movie that’s elevated by having stellar moments. But all three of them are parsecs better than all of the prequels (yes, even III, “the good one”).
It doesn’t make the prequels genuinely good movies just because you liked them when you were a kid. Kids are completely capable of loving terrible movies. Kids are stupid. When I was a kid, I thought the two best movies in the world were Back to the Future and Superman III. Turns out, one of them is genuinely good, and one of them is actually dog shit.
I am officially completely dismissing outright any criticism that my dislike for the prequels is because of my nostalgic childhood affection for the originals. I have no such childhood affection, and the prequels are dreck. Sorry.
What About Force Lightning?
“Doesn’t Machete Order ruin the surprise that Emperor Palpatine can shoot lightning?”
Yep, sure does. This was something I hadn’t realized before, and was pointed out to me by a commenter. But indeed, if you’re watching the original trilogy, the first time Palpatine starts electrocuting Luke, it’s quite a shock (har har).
With Machete Order, this surprise happens when Count Dooku just casually does it in Episode II. It’s a real shame because it doesn’t have the emotional or narrative impact here. I have no real defense for this, and I actually now consider it Machete Order’s greatest flaw.
I kind of always thought the lightning wasn’t a “Sith power” so much as something that Palpatine could do because he’s so incredibly fucking evil. But no, the prequels make it clear this is just one of the video game powers you get by embracing the darkside, and they just do it willy nilly all over the place. Apparently you can just absorb it with a lightsaber if you have one handy, or without one if you’re Yoda (hint to Luke, don’t throw your lightsaber away, it has a +2 against Force Lightning!)
It’s even kind of annoying that this is typically referred to as “force lightning” now, like it’s some kind of standard-issue thing you learn in Graduate Level Sith Academy before you get your diploma. I think it was better when it was just “that evil scary crazy lightning shit The Emperor does out of nowhere.” But alas, the prequels ruined this (have I mentioned that they suck?) and Machete Order is unable to fix it.
The only way to preserve this twist is to simply move Episode VI two movies earlier, which is effectively just Release Order (IV, V, VI, I, II, III). I like the lightning surprise a lot but I think overall it’s worth giving it up in order to make the final confrontation between the Emperor, Vader, and Luke more enjoyable by watching II and III first.
The best defense I can offer is that there’s basically no way to preserve this twist without moving the “Luke and Leia are twins” surprise back to Episode VI. And as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it actually works far better at the end of III, when the audience has no idea they are related, but does know who they are (by watching IV and V before it). So in a sense, you kind of have to choose if you want an effective twin twist or an effective lightning twist, and I personally choose the twins.
Where Do Episode VII and Rogue One fit?
“Since Rogue One is basically a prequel to IV, should Machete Order start with it? Where do the new Episodes go? What about the Star Wars Story entries?”
Every time a new Star Wars movie comes out, I get a bunch of tweets and e-mails asking where it fits in Machete Order. It’s flattering people care so much, but my answer is probably going to always be the same. So I’m going to try and answer it once and for all.
The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and all of the new numbered Episodes are a chronological continuation of the story. If nothing else, they can be seen as both a fresh start for new characters, and as an epilogue to Luke’s journey. They are all in both episode order and chronological order, so there’s no reason to play musical chairs with them. I don’t see any narrative benefit to watching them out of order at all, so watch all new numbered Episodes in order after Machete Order, no matter how many they make (hint: they’ll keep making them until they stop making money).
The “A Star Wars Story” films are a bit different, since they seem to take place at all sorts of different points in time (though, as of this writing, all of them take place between III and IV). Rogue One is particularly interesting since it literally takes place seconds before Episode IV, so a lot of people are suggesting Machete Order actually start with it.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter that Rogue One takes place right before A New Hope. The purpose of Machete Order was and always will be to refocus the story of the Original and Prequel Trilogies to be about Luke’s journey. Episodes II and III aren’t included for all their mythos and world-building, they’re included because Anakin’s fall is directly relevant to Luke’s path.
Lots of people are claiming Rogue One is “necessary” now because it helps explain a lot of A New Hope. I disagree. The original Star Wars (Episode IV) is a timeless piece of groundbreaking cinema, and it’s been beloved by generations for nearly 40 years without Rogue One. I don’t know how much less “necessary” a film could get than having 40 years of fans being unbothered by its nonexistence. It is true that Rogue One is essentially a two-hour retcon of a 2-meter-wide “plothole”, but the film is structured as a retcon, not as a new introduction to the series. Some have suggested Rogue One should be the first film in the viewing order and I don’t see it at all. That’s like suggesting you read “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” before “Hamlet”. Rogue One doesn’t work as an introduction, it does none of the worldbuilding that A New Hope does (or hell, even that The Phantom Menace does). Frankly, the movie’s most glaring flaw is that the first 45 minutes or so are incredibly rushed and disjointed - the film’s own characters aren’t given proper introductions, let alone the entire galaxy. Characters in Rogue One talk about The Force without a single line explaining what it is. Darth Vader’s introduction is abysmal if it’s the first time an audience is seeing him, and his first scene ends with a dorky pun. No, Rogue One as the first movie doesn’t work to me, I cannot strongly enough recommend against showing someone who has never seen Star Wars the Rogue One entry first. These Anthology films are meant to viewed in the margins of the main Episode series, that’s where they belong.
The main objection to what I’m saying seems to be that Rogue One should be viewed before Episode IV because it chronologically takes place before it. If there’s one thing that should be pretty obvious about Machete Order from the outset, I would think that it’s the fact that I don’t care when things take place chronologically. I’d argue that this is really Machete Order’s defining characteristic, so I’m not sure where the “but chronological!” crowd is coming from here. What I care about is what works narratively, not chronologically. Lots of movies are told out of sequence because they work better narratively that way. That’s what Machete Order is all about, telling the story in a way that’s not chronological but more narratively satisfying.
All of these “A Star Wars Story” entries are going to basically work in any order, after viewing the main Episodic content. The Han Solo movie, Boba Fett movie, Obi-Wan movie, Yoda movie, or whatever else will work better when viewed after the main Episodes than it would before the Original Trilogy. This is why I recommend viewing all the other Star Wars stuff, optionally, after the numbered Episodes. If the Episodes are up to Episode XII by the time someone wants to watch Star Wars, do Machete Order for the Original/Prequel Trilogies, then Episodes VII through XII, then any/all of other Star Wars content, in any order. It’s in this category of “other Star Wars stuff” that I’d put any TV series, the Clone Wars cartoon, the Holiday Special, Rogue One, any Star Wars Anthology films and, yes, Episode I.
So when one of these Star Wars movies comes out, this is my final answer. Machete Order, then episodes VII through whatever, then anything else in any order.
Is Machete Order Still Relevant?
“Disney is releasing a new Star Wars movie every year - does Machete Order even still matter?”
Honestly, probably not. I still think that, if you’re going to watch the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy, the best way to watch them is to skip Episode I and watch in Machete Order. However, in the Disney era of Star Wars, I’m not entirely sure that viewing the Original and Prequel trilogies even matters anymore.
I know that this is sacrilege and it makes me sad too because I think the Original Trilogy is great, but you have to sort of look down the lens of time for a bit and realize that, at some point, there will be 50 or so Star Wars movies. There may well be theatrically released Star Wars movies that you don’t get to watch because you’re dead. When the 50th Star Wars film is released in theaters, will someone have to watch all 49 previous films to watch it? Remember, these movies are for kids, so you’re talking about sitting an 8-year-old down to watch over 100 hours of film and who-knows-how-many hours of Television, just go to see a silly movie about laser swords and space ships.
As of this writing, the only Episode we have after the Original and Prequel Trilogies is The Force Awakens. And yeah, that movie has Han Solo, Luke, Leia, C3P0, R2D2, references to Vader, and so on. With only 6 other Episodes (5 with Machete Order), it’s not unreasonable to sit down and marathon the other films before watching The Force Awakens. But once the Sequel Trilogy is completed and we’re at Episode IX, will the other trilogies be necessary viewing? I honestly don’t think so - I think The Force Awakens can be watched as the very first Star Wars movie a person sees, and it works just fine. Everything from previous films is either established well enough in The Force Awakens, or treated like a mysterious legend. The truth is, pretty much any of these movies can be watched alone, that’s what the opening crawl is for. And yes, Episode VIII will likely have Luke training Rey or something like that, so I would argue that Episodes VII-IX are an extension of Luke’s story and thus should be viewed after a Machete Order viewing of the other trilogies. But I have no doubt that Luke and Leia will both be dead by the end of Episode IX, so by the time Episode X is released, will someone need to watch the other trilogies? Won’t those stories be about Finn, Rey, or possibly their descendants, or yet another new set of characters?
So if you’re going for a full Marathon of Star Wars, Machete Order is the way to go when covering the Original and Prequel trilogies. Or if someone loved The Force Awakens and wanted the backstory, Machete Order all the way. But I think the Original and Prequel Trilogies are going to become increasingly irrelevant as time goes on. One of the main criticisms of The Force Awakens is that it pulls so much material from the original trilogy that it seems like fanservice. I think that’s missing the forest for the trees - The Force Awakens is re-using elements from the OT because it’s a quasi-reboot. It’s intentionally giving us another Death Star, a Vader-esque character, a Luke-esque protagonist, a trench assault on a giant base, and a retread story about a secret file carried by a droid for a group of rebels trying to destroy an empire. It’s doing all that so that people who watch The Force Awakens without watching any previous Star Wars movie can enjoy those elements. The truth is, going forward the Star Wars films you personally love will just seem boring and stupid to kids growing up on the Disney era. The Episode XIX, XX, XXI “trilogy” will be so far removed from the Original Trilogy, I promise that your grandkids aren’t going to give a damn about it. Hell, I’d be shocked if they even kept numbering these suckers after 12, everything will just be “A Star Wars Story” entries.
Those are all the questions I get regularly. I think I’ll update this one post with new questions I get in the future, so that my poor little Software Engineering blog doesn’t turn into Star Wars Central or something. If you have other criticisms of Machete Order or other questions, feel free to leave a comment. I’ve gotten over 1,000 comments on the original post, and I read them all.
And again, thank you to everyone who made Machete Order blow up all over the place. I’ve been on the radio multiple times and NPR, and had articles that mention me by name published in New York Daily News, Washington Post, and CNN. The order has been mentioned on King of the Nerds, The Big Bang Theory and Late Night with Seth Meyers by one of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt. As far as 15 minutes of fame go, it’s been a real blast, and I have everyone who saw the post and shared it to thank.
May the Force be with you, always.