Star Wars is an inextricably important part of my childhood. When the first movie, Episode IV (“A New Hope”) came out, it instantly redeemed my love of science fiction with my peers. I know that it is an important work for many science fiction fans of all ages, but I don’t think anyone much younger than me can really understand how much Star Wars did to change societal perception of the genre. Sure, I was still “weird” — but I was no longer incomprehensible. It was transformative.
I didn’t just love the movie. I was enthralled, enraptured, inspired, transformed.
Episode V (“Empire Strikes Back”) had some things that didn’t resonate with me; it felt disjoint and diffused, but had the most important moment in the movie (“Noooooooooo! That’s not possible!”). I know many people who think it was the best movie of the first six, due to the introduction of darker themes (betrayal for self-preservation, the appeal of dark power). That’s a reasonable position, but there was something under the surface that made me uncomfortable; it wasn’t until years later that I realized that Lucas had started to let his addiction to special effects bleed over his understanding of story, a trend that would eventually poison the franchise. But all of that said, as a fifteen year old science fiction nut, I was still firmly on board.
The third movie to be released, Episode VI (“Return of the Jedi”), began my real disillusionment with the series. The film just didn’t hold any drama for me. Everybody knew that Luke wasn’t going to go to the dark side. Everybody knew the good guys were going to win. And the Ewoks were just cloyingly irritating. The movie was pitched to children, which was a colossal mistake for a series whose fundamental appeal was about the question of whether or not the main character would truly become evil. Children won’t watch a tragedy; we knew the outcome the moment the Ewoks showed up. My friends and I started mocking each other with the phrase “yub dub, motherfucker” (which roughly translates to “that was stupidly childish, you misinformed and misguided transgressor”). Still, it felt like a complete story arc, a satisfying enough conclusion, and the power of the trilogy was established.
It was many years later that Episode I (“The Phantom Menace”) came out. My son was about the same age I had been when the first movie was released, and I remember fondly our rabidly excited and shared anticipation. The previews had the same visceral appeal; we both just knew Lucas was going to redeem himself. I won’t bother critiquing that movie; if you haven’t seen it yet, this is the single best movie critique I’ve ever seen, mixing humor with unpretentious intelligence. If you give a damn about Star Wars, it will be grimly satisfying to watch this critic eviscerate the smoldering pile of burning excrement that is Episode I.
But it wasn’t until the inexcusably terrible romance in Episode II (“Attack of the Clowns”) that I gave up. The acting is utterly wooden – no one could possibly believe these two are actually in love – and there was simply no way to fix the revulsion I felt when juxtaposing the age difference and maternal relationship established in Episode I with the relationship in Episode II. I watched Episode III (“Revenge of the Sith”) with ashes in my mouth, mostly out of a feeling of duty. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough to redeem the abomination Lucas had visited on us to get there. Star Wars had died for me; with it, at some level, I felt that a joyful part of my childhood had died with it.
So this is why the “Machete order” (IV, V, II, III, VI) is so appealing to me. It doesn’t quite redeem Episode II, but leaving Episode I out entirely removes the disgust; and inserting them between V and VI creates a much more compelling narrative arc. If you are a fan and haven’t read the post that suggests this viewing order, I’d recommend it. I recently rewatched the series in this order, and the zombie corpse that Lucas had created returned to the grave, and Star Wars came to life again for me. I have been fond of the more recent movies since Disney took over; I can imagine sharing these movies with grandchildren (if I ever get any) and being able to appreciate their joy with pure, unmixed satisfaction.
Having written all that, I can’t imagine anybody is much illuminated by it (or, frankly, particularly interested). I’ve written it mostly so I can keep track of that methodical seven-part demolition of Episode I referenced above. I just watched it again. The glee I feel in having my feelings about that movie so brilliantly represented almost makes Episode I worth it.
Ok, that’s a complete lie. Nothing will ever redeem the betrayal I felt watching Episodes I and II. That revealed to me an uncomfortable truth: the creator of something brilliant may be unaware of, or at least faithless to, what actually makes it great. What a tragedy.