The Third Option

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Usually this blog deals with my dealings with mental illness, but today it’s going to take a small thematic break to go to the movies.

First off, let me stress that, while this post deals with Star Wars, there are not any real spoilers in here, unless you’ve never watched any of the seven movies. In fact, The Force Awakens is irrelevant to this post entirely – though I have seen it, and enjoyed myself immensely. This post talks about something called Machete Order.

Traditionally, there are two ways of viewing the original and prequel trilogies. Both are logical. The first is Release Order, or IV-V-VI-I-II-III. The second is Episode Order, or I-II-III-IV-V-VI. But there’s an issue here in that many people are not fans of the prequel trilogy and some – including one friend I discussed this with yesterday – deny the prequels’ existence altogether. They just simply don’t tell a good story, and you’re stuck with either starting or ending your viewing experience on what many feel is a sour note. (Full disclosure: I thought each of the prequels had their strong points despite their weak points, and don’t mind watching them, although I don’t generally do so as often as I watch the original trilogy movies.) Machete Order is IV-V-II-III-VI. Episode I is omitted from Machete Order for a number of reasons, the biggest being that it adds nothing to the overarcing storyline of the other movies. It takes the focus of the story off of Anakin and puts it on Luke instead. In Episodes IV and V, you’re introduced to Luke’s story, culminating with the revelation that (UNNECESSARY SPOILER ALERT) Darth Vader is his father. Then in Episodes II and III, you get Anakin’s backstory in an extended, two-movie long flashback sequence. Finally, in Episode VI, the two stories come together for a neat conclusion to both.

A blogger named Rod Hilton introduced Machete Order in November 2011, and in the four years since it’s gone viral, to the point that it’s recommended by many fan circles and even got a mention on The Big Bang Theory. I’m not going to repeat his explanations for Machete Order (named after his blog, Absolutely No Machete Juggling) beyond what I’ve given and will instead link you to the original blog post for you to read when you have a spare few minutes, but I will tell you what Machete Order is, and what my impressions are from watching it in its entirety yesterday.

First, let me set the scene for you. On Thursday night – Friday morning, actually – my wife and I went to go see The Force Awakens. We were planning to brush up on the previous six movies beforehand, but ran out of time, and so we agreed that on Sunday, after watching Episode VII, we’d dedicate the day to an extended date night and watch them all. We had learned about Machete Order recently and so decided to try this viewing order and see what we thought of it. We woke up, ate breakfast, and then started in. We planned a special menu for the day that was reminiscent of what we’d get from a concession stand at a theater – popcorn and candy, hot dogs and hamburgers, along with soda, a rare treat in our house.

It wasn’t until we started our third movie that we began to see the wisdom of Machete Order. Gone are so many complicating, superfluous story elements. Obi-Wan is always a master; Vader is Sidious’ only apprentice. The uncomfortable age difference between Anakin and Padmé is no more, and the only mention of Anakin as a young boy is made by a girl that plausibly could have grown up with him. When we got to Episode VI, our last movie of the day, the similarities and parallels between Luke and Anakin are fresh in the mind of the viewer, and thus sharper and more easily discernible.

Viewing the Star Wars saga in Machete Order does something that neither Release Order nor Episode Order seem to be able to do – make the prequels relevant to the storyline. Release Order makes the prequels feel disjointed from the overall story; Episode Order puts an awkward generation-long gap in the middle and raises the question of what happened during that time, a gap that – while covered in the television series The Clone Wars – is not addressed in the movies. Machete Order makes the overall story feel fuller, more complex, and leaves open the option to view Episode I separately from the Machete storyline as a true, stand-alone prequel. (I like to include this option because the climactic duel pitting Darth Maul against Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is one of the more impressive lightsaber battles in the entire saga, plus it has what I feel is the best song of the whole score – though that’s an extra bonus, as Duel of the Fates makes another appearance in Episode III.)

For a fuller explanation of the benefits of Machete Order, I would point you to Mr. Hilton’s original blog post, with the statement that I agree with every point he makes. Machete Order, in my opinion, is the way to view the movies to the greatest effect.

I am curious, however, how what will undoubtedly be called the sequel trilogy will fit into this creative retelling of the Star Wars saga. We can speculate as much as we wish, but until the saga is complete with the release of Episode IX in 2019 we won’t know for sure. I hope Mr. Hilton readdresses Machete Order once all nine movies are out and available for home viewing. It will be interesting to see what creative spins can be made with the full story.

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