Star Wars, Tarantino Style

There’s a lot of junk out here on the Web, but every now and then I run into an opinion or a piece of information that really sticks out in my mind as being worthwhile.

A few months ago, I stumbled across just such a posting on starwars.com’s message boards. It recommends a particular first-time viewing order for the six Star Wars movies.

Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought on the proper viewing sequence for the films: Saga Order and Release Order.

Saga Order
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

For first-time viewers, Saga Order has a number of flaws. Though I feel it is not nearly as bad as many seem to think, The Phantom Menace is certainly the weakest of the six movies and serves as a poor introduction to Star Wars. There is a very real chance that a first time viewer would not even make it to Episode II. “You mean I have to watch five more of these?”

Though a tremendous film, ranking right up there with The Empire Strikes Back, Revenge of the Sith unfortunately destroys many of the surprises of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Dramatically, placing the most action-filled Star Wars film in the very middle of the viewing sets up an artificial anti-climax. With the action revved down a couple notches in A New Hope and nearly all of the original trilogy’s plot surprises already spoiled, the result is a slow ending for the saga.

Depending on when we were born and which Star Wars movie we actually saw first, most of us originally watched the saga in Release Order.

Release Order
Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

While Release Order allows A New Hope to introduce the saga and preserves the plot surprises of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the front-loaded ending makes the prequel trilogy seem like an irrelevant afterthought.

The starwars.com post proposes a unique viewing sequence for Star Wars newbies: Tarantino Order.

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill) often presents non-linear stories in his movies. As an example, here’s how the main story events of Pulp Fiction appear in the film:

1.) The Diner (Part 1)
2.) Vincent & Jules
3.) Mia & Vincent
4.) The Gold Watch–Butch & Captain Koons
5.) The Gold Watch–Marsellus & Butch
6.) The Bonnie Situation
7.) The Diner (Part 2)

Rearranged chronologically, though, the events would flow like this:

4.) The Gold Watch–Butch & Captain Koons
2.) Vincent & Jules
6.) The Bonnie Situation
1.) The Diner (Part 1)
7.) The Diner (Part 2)
3.) Mia & Vincent
5.) The Gold Watch–Marsellus & Butch

For more details on the Pulp Fiction chronology, check out James Skemp’s Pulp Fiction: A Timeline of the Events of the Movie”.

For Pulp Fiction, it’s obvious that Tarantino’s non-linear style served the film well. Short of having Mace Windu misquote Ezekiel 25:17 before killing Jango Fett, how could Star Wars be presented Tarantino Style?

Tarantino Order
Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The first time I read this order, I thought it was insane. But there’s a fine line between insanity and genius. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Tarantino Order may be the perfect viewing sequence for Star Wars newbies.

First and foremost, it allows A New Hope to introduce Star Wars, rather than The Phantom Menace. A New Hope sets up the saga perfectly, explains the Force without being overly cumbersome (no midi-chlorians), and as a standalone film is certainly one of the best movies of all time in its own right.

Though Anakin’s darker side begins to surface in Attack of the Clones, it is likely not enough to ruin the major revelation of The Empire Strikes Back. The high-octane Revenge of the Sith works well near the conclusion of the viewing order and Return of the Jedi is preserved as the final installment of the saga.

Unfortunately, even Tarantino Order is not perfect for George Lucas’ tangled web, as The Phantom Menace introduces Yoda — ruining a fun but not overly important surprise for Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.

The major revelation of Return of the Jedi is also still lost, due to the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith. Some have suggested resolving this by watching all of Revenge of the Sith just after Luke’s scene on Dagobah in Return of the Jedi and then resuming the rest of Return of the Jedi, but that idea just isn’t as clean to me.

While Tarantino order does not solve all of the problems, it’s certainly the best suggestion I’ve ever seen for presenting the saga to newcomers. Now, if I could only get a selective mindwipe and try it out on myself.

View Chapel1979’s “Tarantino Viewing for First Timers” (starwars.com).