Rogue One Mini-Review and Machete Order Thoughts

I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (man, that full title is clunky) last night, and really enjoyed it. Here’s the brief mini-review I posted to Facebook:

Brief spoiler-free review of Rogue One: as many have already said, it’s good, and well worth seeing in the theater. Manages to be very much a part of the established Star Wars universe while also being very different from every other Star Wars film made to date — and, yes, part of that is that it’s darker than the rest, and parents might not want to assume that young ones will be fine with this one just because it’s part of the Star Wars universe. Very effectively sits just before A New Hope while also being a very modern film; I was particularly impressed with how well they pulled this off, especially as so many of the costumes and hairstyles had to be consistent with the very ’70s aesthetic of ANH. Lots of little (and some not so little) touches, Easter eggs, and in-jokes for long-time fans to enjoy (one conversation between a couple stormtroopers made me laugh out loud, and I didn’t hear anyone else react to it; it didn’t seem that obscure to me, but maybe this Trekkie has a bit more Star Wars cred than I’d have thought). I’ll enjoy watching this one again down the line.

In another discussion, a friend asked where Rogue One should go in a Star Wars binge based on the Machete Order (which omits Ep. I, and puts Eps. II and III between V and VI, for a final viewing order of IV-V-II-III-VI). My initial thought was to just drop RO in at the beginning, since chronologically it comes just before ANH. When combined with The Force Awakens, this would make a full Machete viewing of RO-IV-V-II-III-VI-VII).

On further reflection, though, I actually think that RO (and, most likely, the rest of the forthcoming standalone films) should be omitted from the lineup, and that Machete Order should be restricted to the “primary” films (those with formal episode numbers).

(Keep in mind, the following is from the theoretical perspective of subjecting someone to a Star Wars immersion course under the assumption that they’ve never seen the films and are so divorced from popular culture that they don’t know the characters, beats, or revelations. So, basically, this is a fun little bit of geekery not very related to the real world at all.)

Spoilers for various films in the Star Wars saga up to and including Rogue One follow, so I’ll just drop the rest of this post behind a cut…

Part of the impetus behind the creation of Machete Order was to preserve as many of the surprises and reveals of the Star Wars saga as possible, particularly, Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke in Empire.

The problem with Episode Order is that it ruins the surprise that Vader is Luke’s father. If you think that this reveal doesn’t matter since it’s common knowledge, I suggest you watch the looks on these kids’ faces. This reveal is one of the most shocking in film history, and if a newcomer to the series has managed to avoid having it spoiled for them, watching the films in Episode Order would be like watching the ending of The Sixth Sense first.

While nothing in RO impacts on that particular revelation, there are other moments and character introductions that would be impacted by watching RO before ANH. Things like…

  • Darth Vader’s entrance. Vader’s entrance in RO was a good moment and nicely cinematic, but not as iconic (to my mind) as his entrance in ANH, a giant black figure contrasted against the white walls of the Tantive IV and the Stormtroopers, striding with cape billowing behind him through the smoke of the firefight.
  • Darth Vader’s appearance. Even before Vader makes his full entrance in RO, we get a glimpse of him without his armor, floating in a bacta tank, with scarred head and missing limbs. In the original three films, and even into the prequels, the true extent of his injuries and the need for his specialized armor were only gradually revealed: his respirator, of course, in ANH, nothing in particular in ESB, and then in RotJ Luke first discovers Vader’s robotic forearm, and then at the end comes the reveal of the facial scarring when Luke takes Vader’s helmet off before he dies. It wasn’t until the third prequel, RotS, and the battle between Vader and Kenobi that the full extent of his injuries was confirmed. By including that brief shot in RO, all of those surprises would be ruined.
  • The Death Star’s reveal. Rather obvious, of course, but our initial view of the massive Death Star (“…that’s no moon…”), and then its destruction of Aldeberaan, wouldn’t carry the same impact, having already been seen (even if not at full strength) in RO.

I’m sure there are others; these are just the moments that came to my mind as I was thinking about it this morning.

So for me, while I do definitely prefer Machete Order over either release order or chronological order for the first two trilogies (and, so far, at least, have no issues with simply tacking the new primary films on to the end), I think it’s best to accept how the “Star Wars Story” films are being presented to us, and consider them as “appendices” not part of the primary story or viewing order, and sticking to the primary films when introducing Star Wars to the uninitiated (assuming you can actually find one (young children are the best bet, but even then, Star Wars is so omnipresent that I wonder how unspoiled they can be)).

Of course, if you’ve seen them all, feel free to slap ‘em together in whichever way you want. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to power straight from RO to ANH back-to-back, myself.