It is a debate that is as old as the prequels themselves: in which order should you watch Star Wars in? In the order of release or in the order they are numbered? Do you start with the original film now titled A New Hope or do you start with Episode 1? Especially if you’re showing it to someone for the first time? Well back in 2011, The Machete Order was introduced on the website nomachetejuggling.com that gave a new answer. The original Machete Order included only the original six films and left out The Phantom Menace, but it’s a new era for Star Wars and some of us LIKE The Phantom Menace so I bring you: The Machete Order 2.0
It is hard to go wrong with starting where the series started: all the way back in 1977 with two of the most beloved films ever made. By starting with the original Star Wars (now known as A New Hope) and The Empire Strikes Back (now titled Episodes IV and V respectively) you are experiencing the story the way George Lucas originally chose to start it. And by showing first time viewers the films in this order – especially children – you are preserving a number of surprises that follow. Namely the iconic twist of, “I am your father,” in Empire, but also the fact that Yoda is the little green muppet he is. But let’s also take Rogue One into consideration, which the original Machete Order did not. Part of the appeal of watching Rogue One when it came out in 2016 was watching it answer one of the questions that had been with the franchise since 1977. Namely: how did Leia get the Death Star plans. If you were to watch these films in order of chronology, that mystery wouldn’t be a mystery anymore. So yes, The Machete Order recommends starting your marathon with the first two films released. But now is when things get interesting.
After watching the original Star Wars and Empire, the original Machete Order placed the prequels next. The argument here was that the biggest surprises the prequels ruin if you watch them first (“I am your father,” namely) are no longer spoiled by their viewing. More than that, they act as a flashback between Empire and Return of the Jedi. Part of the impact of Return of the Jedi was how long audiences had to wait after the cliffhangers in Empire (saving Han, how does Luke deal with being Vader’s kid, who is this other hope Yoda spoke of). But if you have all the movies at home and just plug in Return of the Jedi right away after finishing Empire, part of that effect is lost. The prequels allow for some of that anticipation to be built up while also deepening the Star Wars mythology before finishing the original set of six films.
However, the original Machete Order says you should SKIP The Phantom Menace. The reasoning was to avoid most of Jar Jar, the trade disputes/senate arguments, Jake Lloyd’s young Anakin, and other elements which have been met with negativity from fans. But you know what? You would also miss Darth Maul, the introduction to Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the strong pod-racing scenes, the introduction of Anakin’s relationship with his mom, and Natalie Portman as Padme (because we need as much Natalie Portman in these films as we can get). If you hate The Phantom Menace that much feel free to skip it as the original Machete Order dictated, but I’m putting it back in for 2.0. And now that we’re done with the prequels, we move on to…
Most of the reasons for watching Return of the Jedi next were stated above. By watching the prequels first you get a better/deeper understanding of Vader’s character but also how The Emperor came to power in the first place. But beyond that, Return of the Jedi serves as a better conclusion to these six films than Revenge of the Sith does. And I say that as a fan of Revenge of the Sith, but if you watch the original six films in chronological order you are ending your viewing on a loss. The bad guys won, Anakin is evil, the Jedi are gone, and other bad stuff. Return of the Jedi serves as a fitting end not only to the story started in the original film but also Anakin’s story as told in these prequels. It’s really just a strong final film to the series. So far…
And this is where the original Machete Order ended. As it was published in 2011, the Disney-Lucasfilm merger hadn’t even occurred yet! But we live in a different time now, a time with a near completed sequel trilogy AND two anthology films. So it stands to reason that the Machete Order deserves an update to reflect a new era of Star Wars. And so, if you wish to continue your marathon after finishing Return of the Jedi then I suggest your next film should be:
The reason I recommend watching Rogue One next and not The Force Awakens is very similar to why it is recommended you watch the prequels between Empire and Return of the Jedi. Part of the hype of The Force Awakens was that we as an audience had to wait 32 years for a follow-up to Return of the Jedi. And while the prequels did scratch that itch a bit, there was no Han or Leia (besides baby Leia), and no Millennium Falcon. What happened next was one of the greatest questions we had as film goers, and the longer you have to wait for that answer the more excited you will be for it.
Watching Rogue One at this point in your marathon also has the same “flashback effect” watching the prequels after Empire did. You have that question of, “How did the Rebels get the Death Star plans,” which is answered in this film. It deepens the mythology in a natural break between the story so far and doesn’t spoil anything from The Force Awakens either. But if you’re eager to join Rey and Finn on their adventures, don’t worry. You won’t have to wait long.
And thus begins the next chapter of the Star Wars universe. It’s not really a wonder why these two are next. Whether you watch the numbered Star Wars films in order of release or chronology, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi ARE next, no matter what. When someone says, “The fourth Star Wars movie,” you have to ask if they mean the original or Phantom Menace. You don’t have to do that with The Force Awakens and you PROBABLY don’t have to do that with The Last Jedi (although you might depending on who you are talking to). If you wanted to be REALLY radical I suppose you could watch these THEN flashback to the originals THEN flashback to the prequels, but that feels a bit too much even for The Machete Order. And by watching these films AFTER the prequels you understand Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader well enough to know who Kylo Ren has an obsession with him (although I would say we as audience members have a better understanding of Anakin than Kylo does, but that feels like a different post for a different time).
Before the release of The Last Jedi and Solo I was thinking of maybe putting Solo between these two films, but since The Last Jedi is basically a direct sequel of The Force Awakens (picking up mere minutes after that film) it didn’t feel narratively cohesive to divide that up. I will also acknowledge that The Last Jedi is a – how shall I put it? – divisive film (at best). So if you would rather keep Episode VIII out of your marathon, I do think you can skip it. This might change after Episode IX comes out, but it almost feels all you need to know about The Last Jedi to understand Episode IX can be summed up in a few sentences (which I shall leave out of this article, in case anyone wants to avoid spoilers still). But whether you skip Last Jedi or not, we are left with only one film to finish this marathon.
Now Solo isn’t at the end of this list because it’s the newest Star Wars film. As I mentioned above I had considered putting Solo between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi before the latter film was released. The reason for that being it seemed The Force Awakens solidified Kylo Ren’s evil ways, leaving him with no chance of a redemption. I mean, he killed his dad – the fan-favorite Han Solo! But there was some internal conflict to Kylo in The Last Jedi until that film once again ended with him deciding to be on the dark side. If you consider both Episode VII and VIII as solidifying Kylo’s turn to evil, then flashing back to the life of the man whose murder solidified this seems narratively sound. Much as we flashed back to the prequels to understand Anakin/Vader better, by understanding Han better Kylo’s choice to straight up murder his father has all the more impact. It is worth saying that this placement might change after Episode IX and further anthology films, but until then your marathon will end with Solo: A Star Wars Story.
So there you have it! That is The Machete Order 2.0, brought to you by the good people here at Scavenger’s Holocron. With the release of Episode IX coming up in 2019 and future Star Wars films until we all have our own droids, this will likely get updated as more films are released. But until then, enjoy your marathon rebels! And may the Force be with you.