Thanks to a Fireballing, I rediscovered this essay by Rod Hilton on a suggested viewing order for the Star Wars films which, he says, makes for a much better story, retains most of the big twists and reveals, and concentrates more strongly on the more compelling narrative: the Luke story over the Anakin story — the Anakin story winds up serving as flashback-background material for what really matters.
What you wind up with is this:
1) A New Hope (IV)
2) The Empire Strikes Back (V)
3) Attack of the Clones (II)
4) Revenge of the Sith (III)
5) Return of the Jedi (VI)
Hilton’s order, which he calls “Machete Order,” makes one big sacrifice, which is the omission of Episode 1, The Phantom Menace.
. . . this creates a lot of tension after the cliffhanger ending of Episode V. It also uses the original trilogy as a framing device for the prequel trilogy. Vader drops this huge bomb that he’s Luke’s father, then we spend two movies proving he’s telling the truth, then we see how it gets resolved. The Star Wars watching experience gets to start with the film that does the best job of establishing the Star Wars universe, Episode IV, and it ends with the most satisfying ending, Episode VI. It also starts the series off with the two strongest films, and allows you to never have to either start or end your viewing experience with a shitty movie. Two films of Luke’s story, two films of Anakin’s story, then a single film that intertwines and ends both stories.
I am intrigued by this, but I have one major problem with it. While Hilton obviously has no love for Episode I, to me, the real problem in terms of movie quality is Episode II.
Let me be a little more clear about this. The Phantom Menace is not a great film, but Attack of the Clones is, perhaps, the worst movie ever made. And it’s really for one reason: The Anakin-Padme scenes.
Don’t you remember the one time you saw it (I presume it was only once because it was so awful)? The insipid, schmaltzy, drippy dialogue between Anakin and Padme in their atrociously-written “love” scenes? The mush-mouthed, one-dimensional performance of Hayden Christensen, who should never have been allowed near a piece of text? The deadening of Natalie Portman’s acting skills through terrible writing and absent direction?
It was almost too much to bear. My friends and I seeing it in the theater were cringing, silently at first, and over the course of the film vocally, contorting our faces as we endured this cinematic offense. Only because it was Star Wars did we power through, for if it were a standalone movie it would be too much to stand, and we’d have left a half-hour in.
Episode I has a mediocre child actor and some borderline-bigoted portrayals of CGI aliens, but it’s not the wholesale disaster that Lucas inflicts on us in Episode II.
But Hilton is no doubt correct in his essay, though, that Episode II is too crucial in terms of constructing the whole reason behind Vader/Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, and Episode I really isn’t at all.
So if we’re really talking about a “Machete Order,” maybe some enterprising remixer could take Episode II, and heavily edit it to sufficiently tell the story of Anakin and Padme’s relationship and its importance to the arc, while making it more merciful on the viewer. Maybe just leave in longing looks or something, and skip the dialogue altogether.
Never the less, I think I may give this order a shot. I’m not even that big of a Star Wars fan (I’m a would-be citizen of the United Federation of Planets), as I think it rests on too many tropes of prophecies and “chosen ones” and hyperviolence that interest me very little in terms of fiction. But it’s still a fun trip, and if this makes it a better trip, then it’s worth checking out.