I watched the Star Wars Machete Cut, and it was a terrible mistake
If you are looking to watch the entire Star Wars series, there are some shortcuts available, like the Star Wars Machete Cut. You may end up regretting it though.
If you’re a fan, you’ve probably heard all about the Star Wars Machete Cut, the unusual way to watch the entire series (prior to the current Disney-fueled Star Wars films) that theoretically makes the prequels more palatable. I recently watched the entire series in this fashion with my wife and a few friends. Turns out, it was a terrible mistake.
For those unfamiliar, the Star Wars Machete Cut consists of watching five of the six films (not counting the new movies) in a specific order. You begin with Episode IV, then move on to Episode V. After that you jump back to the prequels and watch Episode II, then III before finishing it off with Episode VI. You skip The Phantom Menace altogether, and you’ll be a better fan for it. If you want to mix in the new films, you should start with Rogue One, then finish with The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Even if you can overlook Jar Jar, Episode One is just an unnecessary film. It’s not just that it’s tonally inconsistent and kind of boring, it’s unnecessary – you can ignore it and you won’t really miss a single plot point. Skipping it, on the other hand, actually eliminates some dumb additions, like the midi-chlorians and pod racing.
From a narrative point of view, the Machete Cut makes sense. You start with the heart of the story – the Rebellion vs the Empire and the rise of Luke Skywalker, then after the big reveal that Vader is Luke’s dad (spoilers), you watch the story of how Anakin Skywalker fell to the Dark Side. You then wrap up the original story with Return of the Jedi, which in theory, makes Vader’s redemption all the more relevant.
It makes sense on paper, but unfortunately, all it does is highlight just how bad the prequels are.
The prequels… well, they aren’t good films. If you take away the Star Wars angle, they are a total mess. The characters are poorly developed, the acting is subpar, the visuals overwhelm everything, and there are some massive gaps in both logic and story. They just aren’t well made and they fit nicely in the “style over substance” box.
Seriously, in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting on floating pieces of debris in a river of lava, flashing lightsabers and doing inhuman spin moves while fiery magma explodes nearby. Obi-wan takes a three-foot height advantage and the epic, 20-minute long, visually extravagant battle is over. Rather than jumping 100 feet straight up, or just moving downstream, Anakin tries to jump directly over Obi-wan. He never even considers using his other Force powers, like, I dunno, Force throwing lava at his completely exposed opponent, he just jumps at him. Not even diagonally, but directly over, two feet above.
And I haven’t even mentioned Anakin’s poorly developed transformation. He goes from having some doubts about the Jedi to murdering children in, like, a week. And don’t get me started on the creepy “I used to babysit you” romance, or Naboo’s batshit crazy government that apparently elects teenage queens to represent the entire population while under siege (another good reason to skip The Phantom Menace, but you can’t unsee it and the questions never go away).
Even watching the series with friends and family, even with adult grape juice flowing liberally, even with tequila shots, the prequels were tough to watch, especially after starting out at such a high point with A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back (and Rogue One if you want to incorporate the new films). And while Return of the Jedi is a good movie, it is unquestionably the weakest of the three originals. It’s still fun to watch, but basically, you are front-loading the first few hours of the marathon, then just coasting out the rest.
Any films that can make Natalie Portman unbearably boring to watch cannot be salvaged by murderous, cannibalistic teddy bears. If Jedi were the best of the six movies, the Star Wars Machete Cut would probably be a good way to sugar coat the prequels, but it can’t pick the series up that much. Adding Episode VII and Episode VIII at that point (and starting with Rogue One) make the marathon’s length go from challenging to punishing
In all the Star Wars hoopla, it’s easy to overlook that the first two films are just well-made movies. A New Hope and Empire are incredible films, just on all levels. Return of the Jedi works thanks to those two, but the prequels are a different beast altogether.
The Machete Cut is a great idea, but if you want to watch the original series, watch the prequels, then watch the originals.
Or better yet, just skip the prequels altogether.
(This article was originally written prior to the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and has been updated to reflect that. As more films are released, we may revisit this article in the future.)