Happy Star Wars Day! May the Fourth be with you!
In honor of the event, I’m going to recount the experience I had yesterday watching the Star Wars movies in Machete Order. For those of you unfamiliar with this order, you start with Episodes IV and V (A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back), then jump to Episodes II and III as a flashback, (Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith), then end with VI (Return of the Jedi). This order fixes a lot of the problems most people have with watching the prequels. If you watch them in production order (Original trilogy, then prequel trilogy), you end on a not-very-good movie, and the plot is all very up-in-the-air. If you watch them in chronological order (Prequel trilogy, then original trilogy), the story is in the right order, but then you start off with the worst movie of the bunch (Phantom Menace), and worst, the big twist of Empire Strikes Back is totally ruined. Phantom Menace is left off the list because 1) it’s terrible, but more importantly, 2) it is completely unnecessary to the plot and 3) is more streamlined without it. Still confused? Read more about Machete Order here.
I had done this before with my equally Star Wars obsessed sister and we both LOVED it. Like, never-watching-them-in-any-other-order-again loved it. I told one of my friends about it and we took a day to watch them in Machete Order. This friend, heretofore known as “Friend”, had seen the Star Wars original trilogy a long time ago, and was so disappointed and pissed off about Episode I that she never watched any of the other prequels. So trying out Machete Order on her had the added bonus of perspective since she hadn’t seen 3 of the movies in a long time and 2 of the movies she had not seen at all. What follows next will be both her reactions to Episodes II and III in and of themselves, as part of Machete Order, and my own personal observations on why Machete Order works and what I think is really wrong with the prequels in general. Here we go!
We start off as usual, with Episode IV. “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” and whatnot. We get to meet Luke, Obi-Wan, Han and Chewie, Leia, Vader…the whole gang. I don’t think anyone would argue that New Hope is the absolute best way of introducing the Star Wars universe to viewers, since that was actually how it was originally done. The Death Star blows up with the help of Luke’s growing Jedi powers, but Vader’s still out there, so Episode V here we come!
They drop us right into action and rebellion again. Some time has passed, and now we see our main characters as major players in the rebellion. We get some flirting between Han and Leia, a mission from Obi-Wan in the snow, and a battle right off the bat. Luke goes to train under Yoda, who we are just meeting for the first time because of the order we’re watching them in. We get Cloud City action and betrayal, and then the two plots come together as Luke must go to Bespin to save his friends and confront Vader. Yoda warns him not to go, that his training is incomplete, that his is in danger of falling to the Dark Side in fear of losing his friends. Han is frozen in carbonite, an epic lightsaber battle commences, then we get the mother of all reveals: Darth Vader, evil fallen Jedi, is Luke’s father. Luke falls, is saved by his friends, and they go off, a bit defeated. Episode V ends with a mission: we’ve got to save Han.
This is where Machete Order really does rock. Saving Han is important, yes, but in the movie, they wait, like, THREE YEARS before attempting it. So, shouldn’t we use this time really trying to understand what just happened? Darth Vader is evil. He killed Luke’s father, for goodness’ sake. Obi-Wan told Luke that his father was a Jedi, a good man, and a hell of a pilot. So how the crap can both of these things be true? We want to know about Vader! Han can wait.
Attack of the Clones starts off with action. We’re interested to know who Senator Amidala is and who is trying to kill her. Remember, we don’t know anything about Phantom Menace. We’ve never seen her before. All we know is that 1) she’s a senator, 2) she’s important because she’s a voice against the Separatist Movement we heard about in the title scroll and 3) someone’s trying to kill her.
We’re interested to know what this has to do with anything. We want to know about Vader, so she’s got to be important.
We also get to see Obi-Wan right off the bat, which is a great tie-in to IV and V. Familiar faces. And who is this with beloved Obi-Wan? Anakin Skywalker! (aka Darth Vader as a brooding teenager.) We realize we’re seeing a young Vader, back before he turns to the Dark Side, back when he and Obi-Wan worked together and were friends, as Obi-Wan says. Great tie-in: Anakin is wearing black, which we have just seen him wear as Vader. He’s the only Jedi we see wearing black, which is super ominous.
Soon it’s Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padmè all together. We don’t really know how they all know each other (because Phantom Menace doesn’t exist), but it’s pretty obvious they do and that they’re friends. They state how long it’s been (ten years). We really don’t need to know how they met or what was going on because, frankly, this is way more interesting. Just mention that they had dealings with each other, that they remember each other, etc. Then move on.
Please note that the first real interaction we see between Padmè and Anakin is him being super forward about his feelings and her totally blowing him off and talking down to him. This doesn’t seem like a traditional love story is on its way, nor even the playful back-and-forth between Han and Leia. This is definitely more of a creepy stalker/unaware victim thing going on, and fits much better in with the Darth Vader we know. Add to that, the Jedi set up a camera to help defend the senator from assassination attempts, which Padmè turns off. Anakin: “She doesn’t like me watching her.” Stalker vibe is at 11! He didn’t play that off as a joke, either. Not, “I guess she didn’t like us watching her. I wonder why, heh heh…” Nope. Way creepier.
We also see Obi-Wan and Anakin arguing a lot–we remember what Obi-Wan sating about Vader being his student and turning to the dark side. Warning lights are going off in our minds. It seems like Anakin is a lot closer to turning than he actually is, which is actually pretty jarring, and is one of the failures of this movie. Watching Anakin, it’s like creepy, creepy, petulant, creepy, petulant, evil, pillar of light, petulant, uncontrollable. That is not a steady march to the Dark Side. That’s bad writing and a terrible character progression. But I digress.
Then we have a mention of Anakin dreaming about his mother–we want to know what happened about her. We want to know about Vader, and thus we want to know more about Anakin’s full backstory. It isn’t really important to know about her, why Anakin left her (though we obviously assume it was to be a Jedi) and what’s happening to her besides pain. We already know fear leads to the Dark Side, so having scary dreams does not augur well.
Chase scene: We see Anakin is extremely impulsive, jumping out of cars, taking shortcuts. We see him disobeying Obi-Wan at every turn. We remember what Yoda told Luke about being impulsive and worry. Then, in the tavern, we’re reminded of Mos Eisley cantina. We even get a pretty quotable interaction between Obi-Wan and a patron (“You don’t want to sell me deathsticks.”)
Then, we see someone that looks like Boba Fett. Note: Boba Fett’s name isn’t mentioned until Return of the Jedi, but we’ll recognize him as looking strangely similar to the bounty hunter from Empire Strikes Back. It’d be nice fanservice in itself, but then we end up with a whole backstory later. It’s a little over-the-top if you’re watching this for the first time, especially because Boba Fett gets one line in Empire and only gets named in Return, so Jango Fett getting a whole plotline is a little too much. [[Skipping ahead a bit: Also, don’t you find it a little weird that these clone soldiers, who were apparently made for the Republic, were cloned from a bounty hunter, called “scum” even by Imperial officers in Empire? Couldn’t they have used like, an actual soldier for a template? Was there really only one guy in the entire universe willing to be duplicated en masse?]]
We get to see Palpatine influencing Anakin. We don’t know Palpatine is the Emperor, first of all because we haven’t really met the Emperor besides one conversation with him in Empire and because we really haven’t seen the Emperor in Episode II yet either. All we know is he is up to no good.
Episode I is where most of the prophecy about Anakin comes into play, but here they make a mention of it, too. But before you can even ask, “Wait, what’s the prophecy?” they explain it: Anakin is supposed to bring balance to the Force. Interesting…why? We know Vader’s super evil, so how is that bringing balance?
In this episode, we don’t really notice Jar Jar too much, which is good. It is a little jarring (pardon the pun) that the senator is dealing so much with him, treating him with a lot of respect when he’s clearly an idiot, and we don’t know why he’s being left in charge. Friend (who’s never seen Episode II): “I thought she was going to leave her bodyguard in charge.” Actually, that might have been a better choice, considering what Jar Jar does next…
Later we see Padmè and Anakin talking–Anakin is raging against Obi-Wan’s treatment of him. He’s pretty whiny, but you can see that this guy can turn to the dark side. It’s all about power and respect rather than truth and justice.
We see Yoda training younglings when Obi-Wan goes to him for advice. We can see that Luke really was too old for the training. However, this scene is a little unnecessary. Why does the planet (Kamino) need to be erased from the Jedi archives? Obviously people know about it because some random prospector/diner guy knew about it, so it’s not like it was a secret. At first you think that this mention of a Jedi being the only one who could erase something from the archives is proof that a Jedi was behind the conspiracy sounds like the Jedi are going to be betrayed by one of their own, but the guy who did it is dead. So who cares? Also, is Obi-Wan really so naive that he doesn’t consider erasing things from a file to be a viable option? I find my lack of faith in him disturbing…
We get some background about Padmè here, which is good, because we really don’t know much about her that isn’t related to the political situation at hand and the audience wants to try to like her as a person (hard, I know.) We find out Padmè was a queen, but she was elected? Okay, that’s weird. We do get Padmè’s back story a bit soon enough, so our questions are answered. She was queen, then was asked by the next queen to be a senator. Okay, that tracks, but seriously, a queen? I realize they were trying to make a reason for Leia to be a princess (something never explained), but if you’re an elected queen, your title is not going to pass to your children. [[Also, as we know in Episode III that Leia gets raised by another senator and his wife, again, why is she a princess? Quick fix: Prince Bail Organa, senator for Alderaan. Done. Fixed. George Lucas owes me royalties.]]
Padmè talks about the Trade Federation with the bureaucracy on Naboo, which is a little confusing. The Trade Federation was important in Phantom Menace, but this is their first mention in Episode II and it’s a little confusing in Machete Order. Why do we care abut them? If the distinction of the Trade Fed being part of the Separatist Movement was more pronounced, it might not be an issue, but that really doesn’t come up.
Next, we see Padmè talking down to Anakin again, calling him “just a Padawan learner” to the others. Anakin shoots back and tries to argue with her about being in charge of her security and she shuts him down again. Again, not the best start to a romance. It’s like they’re trying to do Han and Leia’s back and forth but failing. It’s not endearing; we get the feeling like she’s stuck-up and self-important, and he’s a punk teenager who thinks he knows better than everyone. Yeah, I totally would love to see these two hook up and have babies. [Note: sarcasm]
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan finds out about this mysterious Jedi who ordered the clone army and that he’s dead. We think we’re supposed to know something about him from Episode I (because we skipped it), but no. It’s confusing for everyone.
Back to Naboo. Anakin’s being creepy again, straight-up hitting on her. How on earth does he think this will be reciprocated? All she’s done all movie is shoot down his ideas and belittle him. Then, he goes and touches her bare skin in her fairly skimpy dress. Creepy. Friend: “AND HE’S TOUCHING HER!!!”
They kiss (wait–what?) and she breaks away. This kiss happens way too soon. We haven’t seen them even really interact in a way that’s remotely affectionate. This should have happened after their romp in the fields, where they exchange stories and goof off together. That’s what brings two people together.
Okay, so now this next part is actually something the prequels did well. Obi-Wan is touring the cloning facility on Kamino and then we pan to see the Clone Army for the first time. We see lines of the clone soldiers in white armor and blasters that look just like stormtroopers.
Friend: “Wait, WHAT?” Mega-twist. I remember being surprised about that the very first time I watched it, too. We are supposed to think that Stormtroopers are bad, and here they are, ready and waiting to be used by the Republic. Well done, George.
Now we get what is maybe one of the only actually good love scenes, where there is genuine affection, friendship and actual smiling.
There is something seriously wrong with a love plotline that has so much arguing, angst, secrets and just plain creepiness and so little actual love and tenderness. The talk about politics gives us some more insight into Anakin, how he says that when politicians disagree, someone should make them. Padmè: “Sounds a lot like a dictatorship to me.” Anakin: “Well, if it works.” We can see how Vader can be part of the Empire, not just because he’s evil, but because he has an ideological connection with a dictatorship. It works, in my opinion.
Aaaaaand back to the creepy, angsty love scenes.
You probably can’t tell from the picture, but Anakin is professing his love right now. Phrases like “Haunted by the kiss we never should have shared” and “agony without you.” This sounds like a stalker rather than love. But she just accepts it. In fact, the only reason she rejects him is that they’d have to hide, that it wouldn’t be honest. How about “I just don’t love you”? Geez.
Oh, it gets worse. “You’re asking me to be rational, and that’s something I just can’t do.” This is not a good Jedi. At this point, even having seen all of the prequels several times, I start hoping that Anakin and Padmè’s love story will actually not be one. That it will be more sinister, like maybe using Jedi mind tricks on her in the attempts to influence her to love him. I mean, this is a guy we know turns into a dude who goes around choking subordinates whenever they fail in a simple mission, so why not make him have hints of sadism in his love life, too. But no, apparently angst = love.
Anakin’s dreams again. Padmè and Anakin talk about them the next morning. He decides to go help his mother, but we still know nothing about her. It’s a little weird. It’s like, “Anakin, protect the senator.” “But what about my mommy?” “Man up. You’re a freakin’ Jedi.” It’s really a missed opportunity that Obi-Wan isn’t there to give some kind of advice, some kind of warning to him like Yoda did to Luke as he left for Cloud City. Even just, “You have responsibilities, Anakin,” would be enough, but a warning about succumbing to the Dark Side would have been handy here.
Now we’re on Tattoine.
We recognize it at once and realize that’s where Luke’s from, which is good to have a connection between father and son. They both grew up in the same place, which makes sense why Luke was raised with his uncle, who would probably have stayed on the planet. Now we meet Watto, a blue dude we don’t know and wonder if we’re supposed to. (Of course we do, from Phantom, but like I said, that doesn’t exist anymore). We get from this conversation that Watto knows Anakin, maybe from when he used to live here. Anakin finds out that Watto sold his mother. Wait–what? He sold her? How can you do that? In Episode II, we’ve had no mention of Anakin ever being a slave, nor his mother. This is the kind of thing the audience should be reminded of. I don’t care if it’s the second in a series where they expect you to have watched the first one before seeing the second one in theaters. You need to remind people of character’s history. We do get the info that this guy Lars married Ani’s mother and freed her, so the implication of slavery is there, but seriously. Just come out with it.
Obi-Wan in the asteroid field. We remember the asteroid field from Empire. Obi-Wan also uses the same stick-your-ship-to-something-to-evade-scanners trick that Han uses. Fanservice, but it works. A lot of flak that sci-fi shows/movies get is that they use clever tricks against enemies once and never again, but why not do something that works?
There’s another mention of Federation ships. Who are they? I think they mentioned them on Naboo… (Again, the Trade Federation connection is stupid. It’s like George Lucas is trying to justify Phantom Menace being just a separate entity from the rest of the prequels by throwing in these tie-ins. We should have just started with Separatists from the get-go.)
And now we’re meeting C3P0. It’s weird because we don’t know about Anakin making him, because that happens in Phantom Menace AND SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED AT ALL. That’s just dumb. You could have had Threepio be a random helper droid from Naboo or something? Or saved him for Episode III when there might have actually been a better reason for meeting him? Or simply had him in the background, or a one-shot cameo like Jabba in Phantom Menace? Or not had him at all? Sure, having his memory erased at the end of Episode III is funny (especially because they don’t erase R2’s), but the nods to the audience are fine. But we don’t need to be beaten over the head with Threepio when he serves no purpose. In New Hope, he gets dragged along by R2 unwillingly, so why on earth did he hook up with them in Episode II? Anakin’s just like, “Hi, here’s my dead mother. Let’s have a funeral and then I’m totally going to steal your droid.”
Meeting Anakin’s new family. We do get to see why Owen is his “uncle” since they’re like stepbrothers. But it’s bizarre. “Hey, I’m your stepbrother because my dad purchased your mom AS A SLAVE but then married her which makes him slightly less evil of a person and now she’s kidnapped by Sand People who we know exactly where they are but have done nothing about.” Yeah, we should totally leave a baby with these people. Luke’ll be safe. There is something to be said about seeing Luke’s homestead again, seeing the comparison between Luke and Anakin and remembering how Owen and Beru get deep fried. Some more fanserverice: seeing Jawa transport ships, the Sand People… Nice throwbacks.
Factory on Geonosis with droids being built. “With these battle droids built for you, you’ll have the finest army in the galaxy.” Well, we know that’s not the case because the stormtroopers are the ones who last until New Hope, so there’s a tiny bit of “Ooo, how’s it going to happen?” but mostly it’s just “This side will lose the war. Got it.”
We see some random people talking about fighting against the Republic. We can only guess these are Separatists but it’s confusing. Remember, the Separatists have mostly only been mentioned at this point, and a lot of the talk we’ve seen was about the Trade Federation, rather than the Separatists. This led to some confusion from Friend-who-hasn’t-seen-it: “Are the Separatists the start of the Empire?” This is actually not a good thing to happen. We know the clone army (the Republic) is supposed to become the stormtroopers (the Empire), but then we have these really bad guys who we’re about to go to war with and we no longer know what the hell’s going on. We feel like we’ve missed an important point and yet that’s the way it’s actually laid out. We also don’t know that the old guy in the middle is Count Dooku, who’s only been mentioned once or twice at the start of the movie as part of the Separatists and we actually haven’t met him yet! Introduce your major characters better!
Anakin finds his mother. Then she just up and dies for dramatic effect. Like, seriously, there’s no other point to her in this movie. She tries to say “I love you,” then faints before she’s finished like she’s about to die, recovers herself, then tries to say it again and never finishes. Is it supposed to make it more meaningful if she tries multiple times to say “I love you” and fails? Also, how is showing that Vader once had a good mother who loved him going to make us believe he is willing to turn to the Dark Side? Anakin kills all the Sand People in revenge, and doesn’t look at all remorseful as he’s doing it.
Meanwhile, Yoda has visions of Anakin. “Pain. Suffering. death, I fear. Something terrible is happening. Young Skywalker is in pain.” This should be the point where we start seeing the Vader who can just choke people without a second thought. But it’s a lost opportunity. Killing out of anger? Good, because that leads to the Dark Side. But then this happens…
“Why did she have to die?” Freakin’ whining, pitying himself. This is not the Vader we were hoping for. “I will be the most powerful Jedi ever.” Okay…better? “It’s all Obi-Wan’s fault. He’s holding me back!” What? What does that have to do with anything? He’s talking about his mother, then wanting to be stronger so he could have saved her, he’s going to be powerful, then…Obi-Wan? What the hell is this train of thought? “I killed them all. And not just the men, but the women and the children.” Too much whining. This was his chance to be cold and remorseless and we lose the buildup. Someone this whiny cannot be Vader. If this had been delivered with a little menace, perhaps a little cold enjoyment.
[[Here’s my version: A non-angsty, no-tears revelation: “I killed them all.” Padmè: “Ani…no…” Anakin: “And not just the men, but the women and the children.” His face is all cold determination and the barest hint of a smile. He doesn’t regret it at all. Padmè is horrified. Padmè: “You’re a Jedi, Anakin. You can’t just murder innocents like that!” Anakin: “They kidnapped and killed my mother. In time they would have grown up and done the same again to someone else. None of them are innocent.” Throw in a musical cue of “Imperial March” and I’ve got chills.]]
Now for the funeral…
“I miss you so much.” Again, why are we showing Darth Vader caring so much? It would be better to see him totally shut down at this point, not to cry, not to mourn, just to cut himself off from that kind of familial love. This is a guy who cuts off his own son’s hand; yeah, let’s have him be a pansy at his mommy’s funeral. (Not to mention he just slaughtered a whole bunch of mommies.)
Obi-Wan on Geonosis: Now we finally find out that the guys plotting are definitely Separatists. Because we were guessing for a while.
Anakin gets the message from Obi-Wan and Padmè wants to go and rescue him. For once in his life, Anakin’s actually showing restraint. “He’s like my father! They gave me strict orders to stay here.” Yeah, like that matters to you now? After you already left Naboo against orders, then murdered a bunch of people in cold blood against your Jedi code? Now, when he has the chance to save another person he loves right after losing his mother whom he “wasn’t strong enough to save”, now he wants to stay? Totally out of character, and this conversation is only here so Padmè can be more proactive, which is okay, but not at the expense of Anakin’s character arc.
Obi-Wan and Dooku–We finally know his name. There’s a mention of Qui-Gon. Who? Oh, they explain it–Qui-Gon apprenticed under Dooku and Obi-Wan apprenticed under Qui-Gon. That’s fine. Need to watch Phantom Menace averted. We find out the council is under the influence of a Sith Lord. “Together we can destroy the Sith.” Obi-Wan: “I will never join you, Dooku.” Reminder of Empire.
Back to the terrible, terrible love story in the arena. They’re saying their final farewells as lovers, and all Padmè can say is, “I’ve been dying a little each day since you came into my life.” How is that romantic? Usually people say how they would die without someone, not die with someone in their life. Stupid.
The Jedi show up en masse.
Now this is actually pretty awesome. Lightsaber battles are always awesome, and it’s nice to see what a huge contingent of Jedi look like, considering how many are left by New Hope. Mace Windu kills Jango Fett. The audience realizes, “Okay, so the kid must be the bounty hunter that’s after Han.” The pose with the mask is creepy, though…isn’t his dad’s head still inside? And if not, what did the kid do with his dad’s head?
The Clones show up…and they’re fighting for the Republic. Again, it gets you thinking: how are the clones going to become part of the Empire? Just as we start to think about that, we spy the Death Star in the background while Dooku and Trade Federation guys are talking. I like the nod, but later they blow it by making it a blatant part of the plot rather than a subtle nod to the fans. Dooku: “These [the plans] will be safer with my master.” Okay, so are we finally going to know who the mastermind is (as if we didn’t know.)
Obi-Wan and Anakin argue about landing the ship after Padmè falls out. He’s so freakin’ whiny, and Obi-Wan shoots him down with that “what would Padmè do?” line. Blech.
We see Count Dooku with Force lightning. This is something that Machete Order fails at a tiny iota. We haven’t actually seen the Jedi or Sith be able to do that yet, since we haven’t actually met the Emperor. It’s sort of supposed to be this big reveal that he’s a Sith, but we don’t know that the lightning is an indication of evil yet, so it fails a bit.
Anakin and Dooku fighting. Anakin loses his arm. Very reminiscent of Vader/Luke, and since we just watched Empire before this, the comparison is even more noticeable in our minds.
Yoda shows up and I like how he deals with the situation at first. Yoda told Luke that a Jedi uses the force for defense, never for attack. Here, Yoda doesn’t deflect the flying objects at Dooku, (which is exactly what you do in the Lego Star Wars videogame, FYI) but just deflects them away. It shows that Yoda as a pillar of light against evil, that he won’t succumb to temptation for the easy path like Dooku, even if it’s just using his own tactics against his opponent. But then there’s a lightsaber battle and we lose that feeling a bit. Yoda’s a good fighter, but I feel like that’s not necessary to know. We already know he’s super awesome with the Force, especially the spiritual side, so I fell like it would have been way more awesome for Yoda to come in and save the day through entirely non-fighting means. Like Dooku just keeps throwing stuff at him–rocks and debris and Force lightning–and Yoda just deflects it all, Force-lifts Obi-Wan and Anakin out of there, and leaves, giving Dooku a warning before he goes. Sure, it’s not as awesome as a battle, but it’s still pretty badass, like walking away from an explosion without looking back. That way, when Yoda fights Palpatine, it can be totally epic and awesome. Yoda’s pulling out all the stops actually fighting him and still he can’t beat the Emperor.
We find out the war was totally planned by the Sith, then see our favorite guys from the Jedi Council talking about it. Then we see the Star Destroyers taking off and the Clone army marching with “Imperial March” playing in the background and think, “Wait…Are we rooting for the bad guys?” Ominous stuff.
So, then after Episode II ended, I asked my friend’s opinion of the movie first as someone who had never seen it, then in relation to Machete Order. Here it is:
Post episode opinion: “I didn’t hate it as much as Phantom Menace. I don’t like Anakin still. He’s super creepy. There’s potential in the story, but…yeah…” [Disappointed sigh.] Machete Order: “That was…interesting. This one’s more political than the other two [IV and V]. The stormtrooper twist was cool. In the original, we haven’t seen the Emperor yet, but I know we saw him in Phantom Menace. Knowing some of the players makes it more interesting having just watched New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. I wouldn’t have thought Episode II was interesting if I hadn’t watched IV and V. As a general thing, Padmè wasn’t as interesting as Leia. Padmè seems more passive even though we’re told she’s a strong presence. I can see Leia leading the rebel forces but we don’t actually see Padmè doing the stuff she’s supposed to be able to do.”
Now on to…
We start off with a space battle. We get to see Anakin being a good pilot, which we really haven’t seen much of. Yeah, we saw him fly a speeder thin on Coruscant but this is actually in space. We need a reason why Vader was actually piloting a TIE-fighter in New Hope.
Friend’s reaction to General Grievous: “Wait…is he a droid? He’s coughing.”
Later, with Obi-Wan and Anakin on Grievous’ ship… Friend: “Maybe it’s because it’s just a comparison between the last movie, but I like the fact they [Obi-Wan and Anakin] are getting along.” See, George? You weren’t showing them as the “good friends” they were told they were in New Hope.
Lightsaber fight with Dooku. Dooku: “You have hate. You have anger. But you don’t use them.” This is cool. We need to be reminded that Anakin is going to turn evil, and he’s going to have to do it in this episode, and that he’s a boiling, bubbling pot of Dark-Side juice waiting to be unleashed.
But then Palpatine, the guy who Anakin is here to save, also starts telling Anakin to kill Dooku and use his hate and whatnot. How does Anakin not realize that both of these dudes, one evil, one supposedly “good” are both, in fact, evil since they’re telling him the same thing? Also, why did Anakin confide in Palpatine about his mother? Thus far, we haven’t really had a lot of interaction between them, and suddenly they’re buddies, swapping deeply emotional stories? It’s very forced.
Best comment of the day from Friend: “R2’s like a sonic screwdriver!”
Also another thing brought up by my friend. There’s a lot of prejudice against droids. In both the original and prequel trilogies, we see a “No droids” policy in a lot of food places, and droids are treated as totally replaceable even though they have very distinct personalities and clear sentience. They’re second-class citizens, but then there’s a droid leading the Separatists. Is that intentional? Is Grievous the voice of the embittered masses? Wait, no…we find out later he’s got human bits for some reason. Never mind.
Anakin starts having premonitions about Padmè and the baby on the way. Padmè follows him outside to talk and, later, Anakin even talks to Yoda about it. “Fear of loss can lead to the dark side.” They did mention this in Empire, but it doesn’t seem like a real threat to succumbing to the dark side. “Oh, no, I’m going to lose my wife! Maybe if I kill a BUNCH of people, then I can be strong enough to save ONE person!” How is that logic in any sense of the term? Did I accidentally fast forward through the part where I found out this was a sequel to Highlander?
My friend started noticing the Easter eggs left in the script from when it was supposed to be revealed that Palpatine used midi-chlorians to create Anakin. (Palpatine even calls Anakin, “son.”) Friend: “Do we know who Anakin’s dad is?” After having recently watched Empire, this is a wise question to ask. Me: “It was a virgin birth.” She looks blankly at me. Me: “I know, it’s total bullshit.” Friend(realizing): “Wait that’s CANON?” Dumb, dumb, dumb plotline, George.
Mace Windu and Obi-Wan talk to Anakin about spying on Palpatine. Friend’s reaction: “We know you’re twelve, but be a double agent.” Exactly. How do we expect Anakin to work on something as subtle as this when he’s proved time and again that he does whatever he wants without thinking of the consequences, and has absolutely no impulse control?
Palpatine talking to Anakin about the Sith Lord:
“He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side that he could even keep people from dying.” Then he goes on to mention that this knowledge was passed down to his apprentice. Anakin: “Can I learn this power?” Palpatine: “Not from a Jedi.” How is this not a red flag? Palpatine’s basically saying, “Hey, you want to save her? Then don’t be a Jedi anymore. This is something Anakin should report now before he gets too emotionally involved. Sigh. Also, how does a guy who’s not a Jedi have such knowledge of the Force? That’s a humongous red flag, because if you’re not trained by the Jedi in the ways of the Force, there’s sort of only one other side you could have learned it from…
Obi-Wan and Anakin part ways. “Goodbye, old friend. May the Force be with you.” Finally, some friendship!
More Palpatine tempting Anakin with secret knowledge. Friend: “I get that because of the dream of his mother made him believe in these visions, but he’s so single-minded that I just don’t like him. They never set up this friendship with Palpatine. It’s just kind of thrust upon us that he trusts this guy more than his master of however many years.” Then…
Palpatine: “My mentor taught me everything about the Force. Even about the Dark Side.” Friend: “Blinking warning lights!” Also, how does Palpatine know about him Padmè? Obi-Wan doesn’t even freakin’ know about Padmè until he sees her freakin’ pregnant! He’s dangling all of this information as a way to save Padmè but Anakin doesn’t say a thing about her, even in passing.
Anakin does one thing right. He warns the Jedi that Palpatine is the Sith Lord, and Mace Windu and the others go to arrest him. And they don’t let Anakin come along. But then after Anakin chooses to save Palpatine and then Palpatine immediately murders Mace Windu…
Yes, this is the face of a man about to turn to the Dark Side. Super evil, right? Anakin: “What have I done?” Utter remorse, but then for no reason: “I will do anything you ask.” WTF? If you are regretting your decision, you CHANGE IT. Use your lightsaber and attack Palpatine!!! He may kill you but at least you’ll die a Jedi. You don’t suddenly realize you’ve done something wrong and then be like, “Whatever. I guess I’ll have to be evil now, but while I’m at it, I should still save the woman I love.” It’s tonally wrong, it’s logically wrong, and it’s just plain dumb.
Friend: “I think scenes like this, the quickness of it, the prequels were a lost opportunity to show a slow descent to the Dark Side. If it had been incremental changes, like decisions Anakin made one by one, I could understand. But he went from a whiny teenager to murdering a bunch of people.” Truth.
I think they focused too much on having him be always good, but with some dark tendencies, so that his switch would be more dramatic and that the stuff Obi-Wan told Luke about his father being good would be true. But you can do good with dark motives and start to enjoy the killing that you’re doing for a righteous cause a little too much. That way, Obi-Wan can be looking at Anakin’s actions and seeing that he’s still doing his job as a Jedi, but then his soul’s just turning darker. Obi-Wan’s warnings can come too late and then BOOM! Anakin betrays the Jedi for the very reason he’s always served them: because he thinks it’s right. Remember, Obi-Wan’s description of Vader is “twisted and evil.” Not just plain evil, but twisted, as if his morality is still there, but corrupted by the allure of the Dark Side. He was supposed to be seduced by the Dark Side, not giving in unwillingly, as it is done here. Moving on…
Senator Organa’s ship is the same (or at least the same class) as the one in New Hope. Nice tie-in.
Obi-Wan and Yoda talk about having to kill the Emperor and Anakin, but they literally just changed it from the Republic to the Empire just now. That was the whole point of them going to the Jedi Temple right then, because the Senate was in session for the announcement and getting into the temple would be easier. Jedi are not all-knowing, George.
Anakin-now-Vader uses the force on Padmè to choke her.
Vader’s really the only one who uses his power this way, and I like that the first one he tries it on is Padmè. It really shows how far he’s gone. And yet he’s still so whiny about it, complaining that she betrayed him. Sheesh. I really, really, really hate the acting decisions. Way too much melodrama. Remember, this is Darth Vader, who doesn’t really raise his voice except to yell at underlings to work harder, faster, or better. Instead of Anakin being hurt and angsty that Padmè brought Obi-Wan along (however unintentionally), why not have him just state it. Just cold, hard hate. Subtlety, George.
Now this face is what we need to see from Vader! But the words coming out of his mouth are just terrible. Anakin: “From my perspective the Jedi are evil!”
Friend: “It seems like he retroactively forgot everything. Like when he agreed to join Palpatine he seemed to be agreeing to it knowingly [that Palpatine is a Sith and evil]. Now he’s forgotten everything.” He has knee-jerking responses, trying to prove that murdering younglings wasn’t actually evil. Can’t he just revel in it and enjoy himself? He’ll get his chance at redemption later. Right now, we need to show him remorseless.
Anyway, Anakin gets left to die by Obi-Wan, on fire and mostly limbless.
Palpatine saves him and gives him new robot parts. Friend: “It might have made more sense for Anakin to be indebted to the Emperor after having been saved from death. Like for him up until now to have shown remorse or regret for what he had done until Obi-Wan left him to die, but then fully change over to evil afterward.” I know, right? Anakin knows Obi-Wan’s here to kill him, so he’s got to kill him first. And yet Obi-Wan keeps telling him not to fight him, that he doesn’t want to kill him or even fight him. Anakin insists on it and then Obi-Wan cuts him down. BUT, if he was really a friend, Obi-Wan wouldn’t have left him to die like he thought he was doing. To leave your friend in agony and ON FIRE is far more of a betrayal than just trying to kill him, because a mercy killing at this point would have been welcome. That’s when he would think the Jedi are evil, not because Palpatine told him they were trying to take over the Senate.
Another very minor failing of Machete Order: revelation of the babies’ names. We do get the mention in Empire: “That boy was our last hope.” “No. There is another.” And then we find out there’s twins, so that works. But then we find out that it’s Leia, who we have already met! DUDE! The reveal come a tiny bit early, because after Tatooine, Luke goes back to Dagobah and learns about Leia being his sister from Yoda. It shifts it a little early, but it kind of works.
The mention of Yoda communing with Qui-Gon doesn’t work with Machete Order. First of all, the last mention of Qui-Gon was in Episode II and was super minor, and we didn’t watch Episode I. I actually didn’t like this line even having seen all of them. Why didn’t we just have this being a power that Jedi have, or even just super awesome Jedi? (Which Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan certainly all are, considering that the latter two were the only ones who managed to survive the Jedi massacre, so they have to be pretty intuned with the Force.) I mean, Palpatine already set up that there was a Sith who could make life with the Force, so why can’t the Jedi find a way to manifest their life force after death?
The last few minutes of the movie is all solely fan service, trying to set up for New Hope: Vader on the Star Destroyer as they’re building the Death Star, Leia getting adopted on Alderaan, Luke going to his “uncle” on Tatooine and Owen doing the iconic “Luke Stance” under the setting twin desert suns.
My opinion: I like that we now have a really good feel for Palpatine/the Emperor and his backstory. He’s a super powerful Sith who manages to wield unquestionable power over the galaxy. The rebellion, though it’s had successes, seems doomed to fail, just like the Separatists and then the Jedi were wiped out. We really haven’t seen the Emperor much in the original trilogy, so now when Luke has to face Vader and the Emperor, the stakes are super high. We realize that Vader turning Luke to the Dark Side might not happen, but the Emperor, who turned Anakin, could also turn his son.
Post-movie impressions from first-time-viewer: “I did like third one better than the second. But the whole thing was rushed. It felt like they didn’t have a plan for Anakin. I felt like they did whatever the plot required for him. He was, like, schizophrenic. Padmè was very annoyingly passive and was just a “typical woman.” She has all of these political powers and yet her whole function was to be pregnant. She never projected as much authority as Leia but that might be Natalie Portman. The last third seemed written with the original trilogy in mind. Like Darth Vader’s helmet and the shots of Tatooine and the Death Star. I wanted to laugh in the “NOOOO!!!!” scene. Vader had very awkward body language.” Case in point:
Friend: “I feel like I did like a lot in the movie, but it was rushed. Maybe what I like is just the potential of what it could have been. It could have been better directed, acted, filmed.”
Fun fact: Our running gag throughout the prequels: Pointing out every time a character ever lost their lightsaber (which happens far too easily!) If I had noticed this earlier, I would have kept a running tally of how many times the lightsabers were lost or destroyed, just in Episodes II and III. Anyway…
Some people knock the scrolling plot intro of Star Wars, but for Machete Order they really work. We need a quick reminder (especially for those of us used to chronological I through VI order) that we are not heading into New Hope but where we left off with Empire, that Han needs rescuing.
The movie starts with our first view of Vader after the prequels, which is actually pretty perfect. We’re starting with Vader, not Threepio and R2 on Tatooine, so we have a connection from the prequels to the Return of the Jedi. It’s almost like we ended Empire with Luke thinking about his father and how he could have turned evil, and start off Jedi with Vader considering his own past. Anyway, Vader announces that the Emperor is coming to see the new Death Star. The officer Vader tells this to is scared shitless, and we know why he should be. He freakin’ defeated Yoda and wiped out the Jedi!
Back at Jabba’s palace, Luke Force-chokes a guard. This is where Machete order really shines. The last we saw Luke, he was stunned by the news that his father is an evil Sith lord, got his hand chopped off by his father, and yet he’s a beacon of light. “I’ll never join you!” Then, we see him dressed in black (something only Anakin ever did), force-choking Jabba’s guard (again, Vader only), and being super confident. This is a guy who is going to the Dark Side for sure.
Again, Luke to Han on the sailing barge: “I’ve taken care of everything.” Overconfident like Anakin. “Free us or die.” Wow. Not very Jedi of him…
Luke’s arm gets shot and as he’s going to see Yoda again, we see mechanical arm under his blaster-scored skin. We remember that Vader’s also got his mechanical arm, chopped off by a Sith. Let’s see, Vader gets his hand chopped off by a Sith, then becomes one…Luke gets his had chopped off by a Sith and… That’s the problem with the original trilogy alone. We never really get the sense that there is even the remotest chance that Luke will turn to the Dark Side. He’s just too confident in his father’s goodness that there’s no chance. But if you put all these little tie-ins right before Return of the Jedi, then the implication is far stronger than if you watched them over six hours beforehand.
The Emperor arrives, and Vader explains how he’s tried to turn Luke and failed. Palpatine: “In time, he will come to you. And when he does, you will bring him before me.” We’ve seen Palpatine time and again replace his apprentices whenever a better one comes along. How does Vader not see this until later?
Luke and Yoda on Dagobah… Luke: “Then I am a Jedi.” Friend: “I like the parallel between Luke and Anakin. That their training was both short and yet they both jumped the gun. Like ‘I’m there.'” [i.e. Luke thinking he’s finally a Jedi and Anakin thinking he should be a Master.] An even better tie-in… Yoda: “Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor or suffer your father’s fate.” Gives me chills. You see, it’s really not Vader Luke needs to worry about, and Yoda should know how powerful the Emperor is, because even Yoda couldn’t defeat him.
Obi-Wan: “You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.” Luke: “I can’t kill my own father!” I love the parallels with Obi-Wan telling Yoda that he can’t kill Anakin because he’s like a brother. Then we get the big reveal about “Leia’s my sister.” We already know that, but it was only about a half hour or so ago. Also, it’s really nice because Luke actually realizes it partially on his own, which ties in with Leia’s revelation that she’s also sort of known about Luke being her brother (which probably first started at their super-awkward-in-hindsight kiss in Empire.)
Luke returns after the speeder chase without Leia. “We got separated!” I cracked up at this part, realizing for the first time ever that this is actually a really funny line. They got separated. Like at birth.
Leia and Luke talk about being siblings. But how does Leia remember her mother? Is it a Force thing? Her mother being sad does actually kind of fit with the prequels as given. If the Force is strong with Leia even as a baby that she can sense her mother’s pain. Maybe the “flashes” she got were not memories but more like visions of the past like the visions of the future Anakin used to have.
Luke trying to turn Vader back to good: “It is the name of your true self.” “I know there is good in you.” “I feel the conflict within you.” “Then my father is truly dead.” Everything Luke says is far more powerful after seeing the prequels. We do know there was good in him, and one thing Anakin had in spades was conflict within him.
Friend (on Vader): “I don’t feel that they showed that he [Anakin] was seduced by the Dark Side. But we did see that he was a good person.”
Vader: “Obi-Wan was wise to hide her [Leia] from me.” Friend: “It’s interesting that Vader tries to use someone Luke loves to manipulate him into joining the Dark Side. Maybe now he realizes that the Emperor manipulated him and it’s one of the reasons he changed sides.”
Then the Emperor urges Luke to kill Vader, since there are usually only two Sith. (Yes, I realize that’s only a recent development in Star Wars history according to canon). It’d be a good reason for Vader to turn, seeing how easily he was cast aside by the master he had served for decades.
Of course, then Vader turns and kills the Emperor, dying in the process himself. Vader gets his redemption and the Rebellion has a party on Endor. Note, my friends and I watched the non-Special-Edition version (yes, I’m a purist) and so we get the nice view of non-teen Vader with all the other Jedi ghosts. George, you don’t have to show us the teenage Anakin, because he freakin’ died as a man. Luke wouldn’t even recognize young Anakin. Also, to see your ghost dad as a teenager is just weird.
Also, creepy. He doesn’t look happy at all, more like he’s planning to haunt Luke forever. Also, he never wore those kind of Jedi robes. Terrible.
Ah. Much better.
Anyway, my final thought is that Machete Order really is the best way to watch the prequels, but especially if you’re showing them to someone who’s never seen the prequels (or any of them for that matter). They’re not really missing a lot by skipping Phantom Menace, and thematically, the prequels are stronger as a flashback in the middle. My only regret about Machete Order is that there’s no Qui-Gon, as Liam Neeson is a phenomenal actor and Qui-Gon is an excellent character and an good contrast to how Anakin acts and what he becomes. However, Liam Neeson alone is not an incentive to watch that much Jar Jar, stupid plots, tonally wrong kid-Vader, and terrible acting that is Phantom Menace.
I know Star Wars is a hot-button issue, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment! Better yet, go watch the movie in Machete Order and then tell me about your experience!
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