I recently noticed that I havn’t been watching Star Wars in quite some time, and having been thinking a lot about running a Star Wars campaign, it felt like the time to do it once more. In these days, that always raises the question in what order you should watch them. There’s the Release Order (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3) and the Narrative Order (1, 2, 3, 4, ,5, 6). By now a few years ago, someone sugested another order, that you could call the Flashback Order (I think it has gained an actual commonly used term, but I can’t remember it now), which is “4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6”. The main issue with the movies is that Episode 3 spoils Episode 5 (Anakin becomes Vader and is not killed by him), and Episode 6 spoils Episode 3 (by telling us that in the end Vaders turn to the Dark Side will be reversed and the Emperor defeated). Not only does the Narrative Order solve this problem by putting the prequel trilogy between Episodes 5 and 6, it also makes quite a bit of sense. After the end of Episode 5, Luke has to come to terms with the revelation of Vader and wants to better understand how that situation could have happened. Then Episode 6 comes along and it seems that Luke has put the shock behind him and becomes stronger in the process. The prequel trilogy are basically an elaboration on the short talk Luke has with Obi-Wan after Yoda dies at the beginning of Episode 6. It’s not a perfect match, but for the rest of the movies Luke could have learned from Obi-Wan what happened in the prequels, so it makes sense for the audience to get that knowledge at roughly the same time.
Now some guy at No Machete Juggling suggested a variation of that order, which is known as the Machete Order, and goes 4, 5, 2, 3, 6. It’s skipping Episode 1 completely, on the grounds that it’s not a good movie and doesn’t actually contribute anything to the rest of the story. All that really happens and becomes relevant is that there’s a seperatist uprising (which we are told by the opening crawl of Episode 2) and that Anakin and Padme once met each other for three days or so when Anakin was a kid (which Episode 2 also tells us, and doesn’t really matter).
So I gave the Machete Order a try to see how it feels, watching one movie every day in a row. On the third day, I noticed a very big problem with the Machete Order. Episode 2 is godawful! I hadn’t seen it in quite some time and my last experience with it had me skipping the boring scenes, with barely anything remaining that I actually watched. This time I sat through the whole thing and it’s just terrible. The skript is awful, the acting bad, the dialogs worse, and I don’t even enjoy the action scenes. It’s by far the worst movie that I’ve ever seen more than once. And even worse, this movie doesn’t contribute anything relevant to the story of Anakin Skywalker either. All that you need to know at the start of Episode 3 is that Anakin secretly has a wife, is friends with the Chancelor, and was the pupil of Obi-Wan, all of which the movie tells us in the first couple of minutes. So when I had finished sitting through Episode 2, I was considering proposing a new order, which would be 4, 5, 3, 6; skipping both Episode 1 and 2.
But now that I’ve made it to the end of Episode 6 and have everything wrapped up, I don’t think squeezing Episode 3 between 5 and 6 is such a great idea either. It’s an okay movie that does have it’s decent scenes. While we get to see Obi-Wan at his best (and Ewan McGregory performance is the only saving grace that Episode 2 has and the highlight of Episode 3) and he becomes more interesting and cool compared to what Alec Guiness did with the character, it makes both Vader and Yoda look silly. And I think watching Episode 3 before Episode 6 does the later a disservice. After you’ve seen Vader in Episode 3, he just isn’t menacing anymore in Episode 6. There’s great scenes when he first picks up Luke after his arrest, and then when Luke and the Emperor are trying to get him on their side in the Throne Room, and they just aren’t the same if you think of Vader as a spoiled brat.
So my final recommendation suprises even me: Just watch the old ones, don’t bother with the new ones. I can see why people are fans of the Rise of the Empire Era and it’s characters, and it’s still Star Wars, which by itself is just an awesome fictional setting. But I basically grew up on the old movies, the Thrawn and X-Wing novels, and the Tales of the Jedi comics, and those are just a very different beast. More subtle and sedated and what seems to me like a thinking mans fiction. The new material of the prequel movies and the whole era of history that evolved around them look to me more like popcorn entertainment. They have their place, but that place isn’t in my heart.