The Order of Star Wars
The “Machete Order” of Star Wars recently became an internet sensation, and I almost missed it. Not that it would have mattered much. I thought up the same order a couple of years ago and for mostly the same reasons: re-ordering the films centers the saga around Luke while also highlighting the importance of Darth Vader’s choices. Remember, by Return of the Jedi Vader serves as a warning of what Luke could become. Literally in the center of the context that is the original Star Wars trilogy, the prequel trilogy has a meaning that lifts it beyond our cynical view of its being a cash grab.
However, I would not omit Episode I: The Phantom Menace from the viewing order. To be frank, I see that as a form of censorship. The movie is canon and a large part of the multimedia tie-ins in other forms of media. There are so many video games based on Episode I that it isn’t even funny, not to mention that Darth Maul, whose sole film appearance was in that particular film, has recently appeared in The Clone Wars animated series. Try as some might to escape this film, it will forever be a part of the franchise.
(I will not mention the expanded universe novels and comics. While most tie-in games are simply alternate views of canon events and are ultimately discarded, the books go in their own direction and introduce new elements that get confusing once they are rejected via Lucas’ actual canon. In short, they just don’t count and shouldn’t be bothered with – unless you like paying for fanfiction.)
And that’s a good thing, too. The Phantom Menace is probably the most child-accessible of the films today. Not only are the special affects closer to what children expect to see these days, as they are not very able to discern media taste beyond what their eyes can see, but there is a viewer identification character in Anakin Skywalker. What makes him easier to identify with than Luke is the fact that he is a kid, and kids will almost always focus on the one most like they are. We can’t force them to be another way.
Of course, in your own personal viewing order, you can always omit it. But if you are introducing someone new to the saga, keep the movie in there. Especially if you’re showing a kid. (And if you’re not introducing a kid to the series, be careful how you approach it. More often than not, the nostalgia of how you came across the series, either as a kid on home video or as an adult during the time when they were actually released, will cloud how you see it. The more you build it up, the more let down a newcomer will be. Sometimes it’s better to leave it alone.)
I’m actually surprised no one has come out against this ordering system by arguing about artist intent. It’s pretty clear at this point that George Lucas has redefined the saga as the rise, fall and rise of Anakin Skywalker as super space Jesus, as determined by watching the films in numerical order. Lucas has robbed viewers of the original trilogy’s big reveal (Vader is Luke’s father – or two reveals if you include the Leia twist (which I promise is not a new dance)) and replaced it with a heartbreaking turn to the Dark Side. In capable hands, this could have and should have worked. The lesson the kids would learn from the saga would have been that anyone, including themselves (because Anakin is the POV character), can fall from grace. But they can always change for the better and be forgiven.
And come back in ghost form looking like they used to before they fell. I won’t complain about that change in the Special Editions because, well, it makes sense when you watch in numerical order.
But author’s intent be damned. When media is in the hands of the recipient, it becomes theirs to some extent. How you take in and contextualize all that is presented is up to you. As much as I like the idea of a hero’s fall and redemption, I really like the actuality of Luke’s growth from whiny farm boy to the last Jedi Knight.