Watching the complete saga of Star Wars is a task unto itself. Where do I begin? Do I go with tradition and start with Episode IV? Or do I begin chronologically with Episode I? This dilemma has plagued fans for the past decade until recently. A new trend in the Star Wars fan community is the idea of a “Machete Order”. The “Machete Order” insists that fans start at Episode IV continue to Empire Strikes Back, then digress to Episodes II and III before finishing with Return of the Jedi. The idea behind the “Machete Order”, via an original trilogy fan perspective, is to view the most integral parts of the saga (Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back), skip Episode I, continue with Attack of the Clones through Revenge of the Sith, then complete the viewing with Return of the Jedi. Sounds good, right? Well, check this out. As bad as you may think Episode I is, it deserves its spot as the beginning of the saga,. Even in the “Machete Order”, you can’t get a true understanding of Star Wars without the Phantom Menace.
To rationalize the reasoning behind the “Machete Order” is to acknowledge why some fans dislike Episode I. Common complaints focus on a certain gungan named Jar Jar Binks. For many traditionalist this character was a slap in the face with his over the top antics and silly speech patterns. Other fans point to sloppy acting in the role of Anakin Skywalker. A preteen kid with little acting experience and chubby cheks who was supposed to become the galaxy’s greatest villain just seemed out of place. Other complaints (midichlorians, etc.) cause for debate on the importance of the film as well, yet it was still a Star Wars film. Was Episode I as good as the originals? Maybe, maybe not. Then again was it supposed to be? George Lucas set out to make a film with similar themes that laid a backstory for his popular space opera. Making something different was his goal from the beginning. He already had a core fanbase, now it was time to reach a new generation and expand that fanbase. Of all the Star Wars films, this is definitely the most controversial.
However, to gain all the pieces to the puzzle that is Star Wars, fans need to see the Phantom Menace. A young Obi-Wan is excellently cast and his character is developed strongly in this installment. Kenobi’s Jedi mentor, Qui Gon Jinn is also introduced and lays the groundwork for the strength of character that all subsequent Jedi adhere to. The beginning of the Galactic Republic’s transition into the Empire is explored with the separatists invasion of Naboo. We are introduced to Luke and Leia’s mother, Queen Amidala, as she seeks sovereignty from the senate which strategically places Palpatine on a path that will lead to a major plot point in the original trilogy. All of those plot points are very relevant in the days before the Clone Wars. Therefore I propose that the “Machete Order”, should be extended to include Episode 1.
So, why a “Machete Order” in the first place? The original trilogy gave us so many suspenseful moments where the suspense is negated by watching from Episode I to VI. The prequel trilogy builds to an ending that is already known if one choses to watch in order of theatrical release. The “Machete Order” is akin to how I imagine Quentin Tarantino would have told the first six parts of the saga. By starting with Episode IV then V, fans are introduced to the Skywalker family right away and get the shock of the parentage reveal by Vader. Next, Episodes I-III fill viewers in on the backstories of Obi Wan, Anakin, and Palpatine. The prequels then give more weight to the battle of Kenobi and Vader on the Death Star and show that Vader’s comments at the end of Empire Strikes Back may have truly been a plea to Luke, instead of some sort of mindgame. Finally completing the saga with Return of the Jedi, brings full closure while maintaining the mystery of whether or not Luke will ever realize that Leia is his sister. Plus, placing the prequels between V and VI builds more of a desire to see the fate of Han’s sacrifice in Cloud City.
In retrospect, the "Machete Order:Extended Cut" is indeed the best way to introduce new fans to the films. As a fan who has seen the saga too may times to count, it's just a great new gimmick to hold me over until Episode VII hits theaters.