Thursday, April 26, 2012

Taking a Machete To Star Wars

Last month, I crossed yet another rubicon in my life as a parent when I introduced my two older boys to the Star Wars saga. Actually, more specifically, I introduced them to Star Wars, the movie. The original one. Episode IV, as we now know it. After the requisite round of congratulatory plaudits from friends and colleagues -- this is a momentous event in any boy's life, after all -- the inevitable questions followed about how and when I'd sit down with them and have "the talk."

Yep, that talk. About the prequels.

And while my standard response vis-a-vis the prequels is that my kids can discover them on their own as adults and be disappointed like the rest of us were, the question of how to deal with so many of the original films' big reveals being spoiled by them really is a thinker, even with my admitted affinity for Episode III. As writer Damon Lindelof (who penned Prometheus, this summer's quasi-prequel to Alien) said recently, "why would you ruin the greatest twist in the history of cinema, 'Luke, I am your father', by showing me three movies which basically spoil that surprise."

He's right, of course. There's just no way to watch the movies numerically without the entire experience being weakened exponentially. And while Mr. Lucas prefers his money-minting concoction be imbibed in episodic order, the here-and-gone theatrical reissue of The Phantom Menace would seem to indicate that "number order" is a minority view. Interestingly enough, however, a new approach to Star Wars' narrative structure courtesy of blogger Rod Hilton, who's given this even more thought than I have, hit the web last fall and quickly went viral.

Dubbed "Machete Order," it dispenses with Episode I entirely, and jams the latter two prequels between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as essentially an extended flashback to fill in some backstory before the saga's climax. Amazingly enough, even with Menace completely removed from the mix, the whole thing manages to hang together reasonably well -- maybe even better! Here's a bit from Hilton's lengthy blog post wherein he first proposed this idea:
Effectively, this order keeps the story Luke’s tale. Just when Luke is left with the burning question “how did my father become Darth Vader?” we take an extended flashback to explain exactly how. Once we understand how his father turned to the dark side, we go back to the main storyline and see how Luke is able to rescue him from it and salvage the good in him. 
The prequel backstory comes at the perfect time, because Empire Strikes Back ends on a huge cliffhanger. Han is in carbonite, Vader is Luke’s father, and the Empire has hit the rebellion hard. Delaying the resolution of this cliffhanger makes it all the more satisfying when Return of the Jedi is watched.
Having read over the entirety of Hilton's piece and seen the other arguments he makes in favor of this chop-chop take on the Star Wars experience, I have to say, it's pretty freakin' brilliant, and I'm excited to give it a try in this new configuration. Now, if you're of a mind to just outright ignore the existence of the latter day iterations of the saga, as has been my inclination until now, that option is still open, but as far as having your cake and eating it too goes, I can't think of a better way to make that happen than this.

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