On Facebook, Stephen Carlson links to a brilliant analysis of the Star Wars films by Rod Hilton. This critic suggests the proper viewing order for the films — which he calls the “Machete Order” — is IV, V, II, III, VI. Meaning that Phantom Menace doesn’t exist, and that Clones and Sith get wedged in between Empire and Jedi. Hilton’s reasoning:
“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.”
This “Machete order” not only keeps the grand reveal in Empire that Vader is Luke’s father a surprise, but also that Luke and Leia are siblings — by moving the surprise to Episode III instead of VI, when Padme announces her daughter’s name. Hilton also sees a dramatic payoff to Jedi when preceded by Sith:
“When watching Jedi immediately after watching Sith, the message is clear: Luke Skywalker is on the path to the Dark Side. Why does this matter? Because at the end of Jedi, Luke confronts the Emperor. The Emperor explains that the assault on the new Death Star is a trap and that his friends are going to die, and he keeps taunting Luke, telling him to grab his lightsaber and fight him. The film is trying to create a tension that Luke might embrace the Dark Side, but it was never really believable. However, within the context of him following in his father’s footsteps and his father using the power of the dark side to save people, with Luke’s friends being killed just outside the Death Star window, this is much more believable… Watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film. Considering it’s the weakest of the original trilogy films, this improvement is welcome.”
Unfortunately, Return of the Jedi is so weak, that Hilton’s repositioning episodes around it amounts to little more than polishing a mound of feces. His “Machete Order”, brilliant as it is, remains far too generous. It must be said that episode VI is almost as bad as I, and II is only a slightly above those two. If I had to use the amazon 5-star rating system:
(IV) A New Hope — 3 stars
(V) The Empire Stikes Back — 4 stars
(VI) Return of the Jedi — 1 star
(I) Phantom Menace — 1 star
(II) Attack of the Clones — 1 ½ stars
(III) Revenge of the Sith — 2 ½ stars
Revenge of the Sith is no prize, but it’s light-years ahead of I, II, and VI. Jedi is a lot worse than just the “weakest of the original trilogy”; its tone, direction, dialogue — everything — contrasts so embarrassingly with IV and V it’s as if George Lucas became James Bobin. I’d even watch Attack of the Clones before Jedi.
(III) The Rise of Vader. Evil triumphs.
(IV) A New Hope. Good defeats evil temporarily, teasing us with false hope.
(V) The Empire Kicks Ass. Evil comes out ahead again, end of story.
Now this is quite beautiful, indeed almost Shakespearean in its tragedy. There is no ridiculous muppet show we need to suffer through after the fine development of IV and V; no hollow victories which trivialize the Empire’s malignancy. The real and suffocating power of evil frames and defines the trilogy.
Alternatively, one could take Hilton’s five-episode Machete Order, add it to my three-stage Order of Darkness, divide in half, and use the following quartet as a compromise: IV, V, II, III. This is basically the Machete Order which scraps the ludicrous Jedi ending, and still goes out (as I insist) on a note of doom. Whether it’s Han Solo imprisoned, or Padme dying in childbirth and Vader wailing like the damned — and in some ways that latter makes for the best ending of all — the space epic concludes with a wonderfully inspiring uncertainty, and anguish unblemished.