Episode-IIThanks 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.

Says Hilton:

. . . 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.

14 thoughts on “IV, V, II, III, VI”

  1. I forget, which movie had the scene with Anikin holding his dead mother and killing all the sand people? Maybe Episode 2 can be edited down into just the key scenes. I was going to list what you needed to know from AotC and it got too long so it’s better to just edit out the “love” scenes and have a footnote about how Anikin and Padme secretly got married.


  2. When I saw Parts II and III, I thought that Hayden Christiansen doing an imitation of Sylvester Stallone imitating Marlon Brando.
    I can also see why one might machete Part I out of the viewing: it’s not really germane to the “Anakin begetting Luke and becoming Vader” grand story arc. Plus, it’s kind of tedious, and Jake Lloyd makes Christiansen look even worse by comparison (and the kid wasn’t even that great as an actor).


  3. 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.

    It probably seems worse than it is because we want to like it, but obviously your “worst ever” is hyperbole anyhow.
    If you take out the worst Anakin-Padme scenes, IMHO it’s actually one of the better movies in the series.
    Whenever I re-watch the movies (admittedly rarely while sober), I just watch them in order (I, II, …), skipping the really painful scenes and often just quitting half-way through VI. Then again like probably most of us I’ve seen IV…VI long before Episode I ever came out so spoilers of twists are irrelevant.
    That said, I don’t think there is a viewing order that avoids spoiling one of the big twists without making things disjointed. Hilton’s suggested order strongly hints that Anakin becomes Vader because of the Tatooine connections between IV and II.
    I also agree that Episode I doesn’t need to be omitted. There are a couple of scenes I tend to skip (such as pod racing), but there’s decent stuff in the movie with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, and I don’t really care about arc-relevance.
    But I’m hardly the biggest fan of the franchise or a purist, I just watch for entertainment. It was different back when the anticipation of VI was one of the biggest things in my life…


  4. I can’t disagree with your analysis of Episode II, except to say that some of the action scenes redeemed it somewhat, enough in my opinion to make it a borderline-passable movie (this is not high praise). But you’re right, the Anakin/Padme scenes were like having teeth pulled, and depending on one’s tolerance for such hackneyed dialogue and complete lack of chemistry, I can see it completely overwhelming any other appeal.
    Where I do disagree is that you are far too kind to Episode I. The problems don’t end with the bad child-acting and the racist/annoying characters. The plot is needlessly confusing and riddled with serious holes, and the script is the kind of thing that would fail you out of Film School 101. The climax in particular is dreadful. I challenge you to ask anybody to describe what happened in the end of Episode I — it’s so frenetic, and not in a good way, so disjointed, and since they’ve also failed to make you care about any of the characters, the audience will tend to just snooze. There is no protagonist to speak of, none of the character’s motivations are even vaguely coherent, and the with the exception of a few action sequences like the pod-racing scene, the directing is utterly incompetent.
    Episode I is just terrible, even without the high standards that Star Wars fans bring to it, it is not even a passable movie. Although it has some set pieces that provide some cheap entertainment, as a whole it is borderline unwatchable.


    1. Apart from the childishness of the Anakin parts and the annoyance of the Jar-jar parts, I’m not sure what is so inherently horrible about Episode I. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are excellent characters.


      1. This is why I’d rather see a re-edit/condensation of the prequel trilogy into a 1- or 2-film “good parts” version. If nothing else, episode 1 gives us more about Obi-Wan’s past, why he would live out in the desert to watch over Luke, his sense of guilt in the original trilogy, and why he was so willing to die when it seemed that he could just as well have escaped.
        I just wish that there had been more Obi-Wan development (and more Qui-Gon, period) (and fewer “wow, the kid gets to play pilot!” CGI sequences) in ep I; instead, we have a long and elaborate waste of acting talent. (At least Liam Neeson got to bug out after the first movie; Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor were stuck for another two installments.)


  5. My interest in Star Wars has been rekindled recently, thanks to a combination of the “Star Wars: Identities” exhibit, and finding my old collection of the “Heir to the Empire” trilogy in my parents basement.
    It has not been rekindled to the point where I can bring myself to watch the prequels again. =/


  6. I think a flashback that edits together the key elements of all three prequels would more than suffice. (And Jar-Jar is NOT key.) Or maybe even leaving out aYes it’s good to see that the Jedi order were irrational, dogmatic, blind to the obvious and had a counterproductive view on Anakin’s training (I wonder if they never expected any adverse effects from a super-Force-sensitive kid without proper training), and that all this contributed to their downfall. And the fear-frustration-defiance-anger development of Anakin’s dark side tendencies had potential as well. Which was summarily wasted: Worried about his wife’s pregnancy and high-risk birth plan, when she obviously hasn’t been to an OB/Gyn even once, Anakin decides the best way to protect her is with the help of a shady politician who promises to teach him to bring dead people back to life, happily lets this guy use him for his unrelated and obviously evil plans even after the promise is revealed to be a lie, and kills his wife when she disagrees with this course of action. After which he needlessly falls into lava and sticks with Palpy out of sheer sadness over his wife’s death. This is not the confidently and competently evil Darth Vader of Epi IV to VI, it’s a pathetically naive and moronic teenager who is tricked into serving Palpy by painfully blunt manipulation.
    As to the Anakin-Padme scenes: Embarrassingly bad. The only relief from the collective cringe during the premiere was when, after Anakin whinges: “I can’t hold it back anymore!”, someone in the front of the theater cried out “Neither can I!” and let one rip loud enough to fit into the soundtrack.
    It is very telling of a quality of a movie when a random fart is more entertaining than the dialogue…


  7. First thing I thought after I saw Episode 2?
    Why couldn’t they have done it like the Leia-Han romance in Empire Strikes Back?
    No development, it just happens. Somewhere. “I love you,” “I know” – a win for the forces of brevity!
    Episode 1, 2 and 3… just like the second and third matrix movies. Enjoyable if you have a remote in hand to fast forward.


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