(Warning, Spoilers ahead). There is a recommendation about the order to watch the Star Wars movies in, called Machete Order. It comes from a blog post on Absolutely No Machete Juggling, and it arose because of a dissatisfaction with the prequel Star Wars episodes. It attempts to tell a better story, but after viewing it a couple times, it has some problems.
What Is It
Machete Order is watching the first Star Wars movies in a different order rather than numeric or release. You start with Episode IV and V, watch Episode II and III, then finish with Episode VI. The idea is to turn the second and third episodes into an extended flashback. The post indicates that the rest of the movies (Rogue One, VII, VIII, IX, Solo) can be treated as supplementary material.
The order is an attempt to preserve the surprise reveals in Episodes V and VI, while also removing story elements that the writer (and some others) find unenjoyable or annoying. Not including Episode I means not having to watch Jar Jar and the Gungans.
The Story Problems
The problem is that, by omitting Episode I, we lose the parallels in the origins of Anakin and his son Luke. Some of Episode IV involves us seeing Luke start down a similar path that his father followed: suddenly taken from his old life, learning about the Force, becoming the hero. That path leads to Darth Vader the first time around. When we get to Episode VI, Luke, like Anakin, is given an opportunity to turn to the Dark Side. And the risk of that in VI seems real. But Luke decides that he won’t turn, knowing in part that his father made a mistake. That leads to something of a redemption for Anakin as he basically turns back to the Light and kills the Emperor.
WIthout Episode I, Anakin just appears out of nowhere in a way. Why is he a padawan? Why is he Obi Wan’s padawan? How is this relationship potentially flawed? Episode I gives us Qui Gon, and his determination to train a boy the Jedi Council believes is dangerous. Without Episode I, we don’t know that they think he may be dangerous. That adds an element to Anakin we don’t have if we don’t have the scenes to explain it.
Why is Anakin so obsessed with his mother, to the point where it clouds his judgement? It isn’t just that he left home, he left home while leaving his mother behind as a slave. And during all this, we also know he’s been a small cog in the criminal underworld of the Hutts, on an Outer Rim planet that the Republic (later Empire) can’t seem to get a handle on. We see Tatooine, we are introduced to R2D2, and we see the origin of C-3PO. None of that happens without Episode I.
We have no introduction to the Jedi Council and its relationship with the Senate. And we don’t have Qui Gon’s insight into the flawed, and even myopic, thinking of the Council. Qui Gon knows there’s something wrong, and he acts accordingly, keeping him from being on the Council. This setup is important as Episodes II and III unfold, and explain part of Anakin’s descent into the Dark Side. He’s pushed toward the Dark Side by the Jedi Council, not just drawn into it by Palpatine.
We also have no reason to wonder why Anakin is so infatuated with Padme. In Machete Order, he’s basically lusting after a hot girl. But with us seeing his first interactions with Padme, and her being the only person to try to help him emotionally as he deals with being pulled away from his old life, we get a sense of why he was thinking about her all those years.
Padme also appears more or less out of nowhere. Why was there an assassination attempt at the start of Episode II? How is it that this young woman is a Senator? And a Senator worthy of being eliminated? Episode I lays the groundwork for her importance in the story, both politically as well as the personal side for Anakin.
The Real Motivation?
Some fans, generally older ones, have a real problem with the prequels. They complain about the pacing, the dialog, Jar Jar, and a host of other issues. But some of those are caused by remembering the original movies with rose coloured glasses firmly in place. The dialog in the original three movies wasn’t exactly scintillating either, and some of the acting was just as much over the top.
It appears Machete Order is an attempt to maintain the centrality and importance of Episodes IV, V, and VI, and make the prequels less important to the story. It’s an attempt, much like Episodes VII-IX, to repudiate the prequels, if not erase them from history entirely.
I get the concerns with the prequels, particularly Episodes I and II. Lucas was trying to tell a deeper, more philosophical story, and they certainly aren’t home runs in some ways. But I’m not convinced they are nearly as horrible as some try to make them. Lucas is a very good storyteller, but dialog can certainly be a weak area for him. I think that Episodes I and II would have been better received with better dialog. The audience could focus more on the story itself, and not be distracted by the sometimes-clunky dialog.
Is Machete Still Viable?
Whether Machete Order is something you might prefer depends on your expectations from Star Wars. For those that want Episodes IV-VI to be the real core of the story, Machete Order makes sense. If you can’t abide the idea of altering the tone and mood of the middle 3 movies, follow Machete. Or watch it in Machete Order once simply to see the story unfold in a different way.
But if you want to see the story unfold as Lucas did, you need to watch them in order. You see the parallels in the bigger story, and understand why it deviates when it does. There is a better sense of Kenobi’s despair, and why he is so desperate to talk with Qui Gon in the Obi Wan Kenobi miniseries. We gain more insight into why Anakin became Vader, and it changes his redemption in Episode VI a little. I think that, in numeric order, you get a fuller and more complete story.
Let’s be clear: there is no “one true way” to watch Star Wars. Watch it with or without the various TV series. Watch it with or without the novels and comic books. Skip some movies. Watch them in whatever order you want. It’s meant to be fun, it’s mean to be exciting, and it’s a chance to escape the real world for a while. Watch whatever parts you want, in whatever order you want. There’s no wrong way to do it.