Which Viewing Order Should I Choose?

OK, it’s been heavy around here lately, so here’s one that hopefully spurs some conversation that isn’t centered around anything but one of my favorite film series.

The question always comes up about the best “viewing order” for any franchise series, whether it’s the tiresome Machete Order which inexplicably ignores the criminally-underrated Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, or some other mix that is as tiring to debate as anything else.

Darth Funk has a cool costume | kesseljunkie
But does he get good Bluetooth reception in there?

Not What You Think

Oh, but I’m not talking about the Star Wars films. I’m talking about the movie franchise that out-Marvel®™©s Marvel©®™, the Fast & Furious franchise. Sure, the ride at Universal Orlando® is…not great…but I enjoy the movies. I enjoy some of them more than others, and love it as a whole. It’s a vibrant testament to entertainment at all costs.

As I was looking over the collection, though, I realized I’m not sure of the best viewing order! This is an important question with the ninth installment in the saga coming out in 2021. (It was supposed to be 2020, but ugh.)

Fast & Furious, which soft-reboots the series in a way that Lucasfilm should have studied for the sequel trilogy, is a prequel. Though the fourth movie, it takes place before the third.

Fast Five and Furious 6 (since retitled, but forget that noise) are prequels to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift as well. This creates a small bit of a quandary with some technology questions, but honestly no one cares. It’s about the art!

Of course, when you have prequels, the question of story order and emotional impact gets difficult. I’m going to set aside the Star Wars films again in favor of another example.

You can argue that the emotional weight of any prequel is at least partly informed by the original film(s). I’m speaking in generalities, of course. I’m sure there are people ready to jump all over a statement like that to try to disprove it.

But I think it’s a fair point. While it’s fun and interesting to screw around with story order, would you love Indiana Jones as much in Temple of Doom if you hadn’t gotten to know him first when he was a more-likable and better person in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Hobbs and Dom in Fast Five screenshot | kesseljunkie
How I greet all my friends now. We hate sleeves in warm climates.

Back to the Question

So I’m left with the essential question of what I should do. If I were to rearrange the order, and put the fourth, fifth, and sixth before the third, what happens to the first two?

The trick is that Fast & Furious does such a good job of soft-rebooting the franchise that the setup of the original film isn’t quite so necessary. So I’d have to find somewhere to place it as a flashback/prequel treatment in viewing order on its own.

Or perhaps the optimal viewing order is 1-4-5-6-3-7-8? In the spirit of the aforementioned Machete Order for Star Wars, I dropped 2 since apparently you’re allowed to do that for some reason.

This doesn’t even bring Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, either. It can drop in after 8 for viewing, but that’s in hopes that something divulged in it ties in to F9.

Curious what others might say, especially after I make it clear right now that I think this series is, indeed, more entertaining and satisfying than the Marvel©®™ movies.

I said good day!

…One More Thing

Of course, none of this addresses the fact that Better Luck Tomorrow is technically part of this series and could be watched instead of 2 Fast 2 Furious without missing a beat. I could also watch BLT first overall. That would be interesting.

Jedi that was, Jedi to Be – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Part II]

From the previous blog in this series:

The first big question with The Force Awakens was, for a fan like myself who liked it all, from Cloud City and Naboo to Tatooine and Gungans, if I would continue to love it now that Lucas wasn’t driving things.

The Preparation

During the “Journey to The Force Awakens,” I prepared myself for something all nerds thought was impossible after 2005: a continuation of The Adventures of Luke Skywalker.

I wondered if they could surprise me, as Lucas had surprised me with the prequels. (And to reiterate, it was a pleasant surprise, so don’t go on with your attempts at wit.)

I wondered what they would do to deepen the mythology I’d come to revere, and whether they were using the trove of notes from Lucas’ archives to shape this chapter.

After (many) years composing Star Wars apologia, things were distractingly open in direction and interpretation.

Ben Kenobi talks to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah in Star Wars Return of the Jedi.
“One last time: Owen wasn’t actually my brother. Ignore that part.”

The Mistake

As part of the months leading up to The Force Awakens, I re-read old Star Wars stories. I read new Star Wars stories. I conjectured about the what the trailers were showing. A fair number of my predictions were correct, but predicting that there will be a lot of running in a JJ Abrams film is like predicting that the sun will rise.

I was hopeful, but skeptical. When they announced that the “Expanded Universe” was discarded, something of which I had been a proponent for years, I rejoiced and applauded that they’d opened their possibilities back up for stories and characters.

When I saw “a third Death Star” in the release poster (later revealed on-screen as “Starkiller Base”), I openly registered my discomfort. I did a lot of this “on air,” appearing on both my own podcasts and others to offer thoughts on these things.

I cannot overstate how much I delved into things in the final months leading to the release of The Force Awakens. The core question I kept returning to was whether it would “elevate itself from entertainment to art,” as I think Lucas managed.

I recognize this now as a significant part of my baseline error. Inadvertently, I’d fallen into the same trap hard-core fans fell into in 1999. After spending time studying Star Wars History as if it were a college course, I was going to measure The Force Awakens against an unattainable standard.

It was going up against what I thought of Star Wars.

The Result

While watching the film, I didn’t watch it so much as observe it. I studied it. I treated it the way Lucas has come to treat his own work: as a sociological piece to be dissected and discussed as a treatise on Big Important Things. I watched it with a lot of friends, and the opinions ranged from enthusiastic embrace to…me.

I came out of it with a chip on my shoulder. I harped on the callbacks and what I thought were the clumsy attempts at humor. Me, someone who liked Jar Jar, was complaining about the humor. The irony was, in fact, lost on me.

We’ll come back to all of this later in the series.

The Next Level

After seeing the film, I spent nearly six hours debating it on various podcasts.

The blame is on me for this. But I don’t think any “nerd” can deny that the desire to Speak with Authority About Things skews our perspective. To be fair, I think that’s a condition common to most people nowadays.

He’s going to talk about the movie for more than six hours. You’re going to want this.

The ultimate moment of clarity, though, was to realize I had frozen my opinions of “what Star Wars was” in amber and wasn’t giving the film a fair shake. Once again, I made the exact same mistake that fans made in 1999, and what some repeated along with me in 2015.

The Reason

It’s been long cemented in the minds of die-hard fans that Star Wars is some sort of stellar apocrypha born full-formed within Lucas’ brain. Lucas turned, in his later years, very professorial. He was no longer just telling stories, he was acting as an instructor to his audience.

And being what I believe is a star student, one who loved even the classes others hated, worked to my disadvantage. I had to embrace what I was in college and challenge what my professor had taught. I had to, in the words of Yoda, unlearn what I had learned.

I had to come back to The Force Awakens understanding that no decision in a script is taken lightly, nor is it accidental. Given that, what was it trying to say both in its own context, and as a meta-work within the frame of Star Wars itself?

For a quick peek at some of those thoughts, I invite you to download and enjoy the commentary track for The Force Awakens in which I participated as part of Aggressive Negotiations on The Nerd Party network.

Up next: The Further Adventures of the Meta-Narrative.

JJ Abrams Hates Midichlorians

Now that I have your attention, let me go on to my real topic.

Disney/Lucasfilm/Abrams/Prequel Bashers have been making a big act of everything that will make The Force Awakens “different” than the prequels. They highlight “more practical sets,” focusing on the original actors and the…well, they’ve got two major characters who are CG so I guess that one flies out the window.

I’ve highlighted this tremendous act of pandering while podcasting, but it’s really gotten under my skin again. JJ Abrams did some press for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation where he once again highlighted that his approach to The Force Awakens emphasizes the Original Trilogy, as opposed to the Entire Saga or including the Prequel Trilogy in specific.

Even more specifically, he replied emphatically “no” when asked if midichlorians will be featured in the new movie. He made news earlier by saying that he treated only the Original Trilogy as “canon,” a favorite abuse of a religious term by fans when referring to the affirmed officialness of works in their preferred stories.

OK, fine. We get it.

I’ll remind everyone that this is no guarantee that the movie’s going to be the terrific work of wonderfulness that everyone expects. The same fans that are lining up to hand out back-alley pleasure trips to Abrams for his sentiment are the same ones that savaged him over the development of LOST, attacked him for his use of lens flares in the Star Trek Reboots, and have otherwise found a mountain of reasons to belittle his work.

But this time, it’ll be different because he says the things that the people who dislike the prequels like to hear!

It Makes Sense Anyway

Plenty of people had trouble coming to terms with the fact that Lucas split the Force into the Living and the Cosmic Force, playing even more on the Buddhist philosophies that everyone claims they knew to influence him but never actually read anything about.

It’s like the people who know that Lucas read the works of Joseph Campbell but never read them on their own. Or who don’t know that Leigh Brackett actually died after handing in her first draft of The Empire Strikes Back and Lucas co-wrote that one, too.

But I digress.

It makes sense that midichlorians aren’t featured because each trilogy has its own flavor so far.

I understand The Force Awakens may shape up to be little more than a reboot of the original series, or it may succeed in becoming its own story. But that’s the point. Each trilogy is supposed to stand on its own while serving the other. The midichlorians pertained most heavily to the Prophecy of the One Who Will Bring Balance, and played through the works set in that era.

But Stop Dismissing Those Who Like/Love the Prequels

For Pete’s sake, there was a time when I introduced the prequels to someone who’d never seen them they not only cried at the end of Revenge of the Sith but, when we continued to the original Star Wars, they mentioned unprompted how much more depth there was to Obi-Wan and Vader’s Death Star confrontation. Of course, to support those that love the originals only, I should have alerted them that their opinion was shameful and should be ignored.

Let me highlight an important point. There are those of us who love the Originals, the Prequels, and The Clone Wars TV series. We’re fans of the whole package. It doesn’t make us better, but we do exist.

All of this bend-over-backwards-bulls*** to appeal to “old school fans” is kind of like a middle finger to those of us who have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the things that came from Lucas himself. Is there some coded dismissal of our opinions?

I suppose that’s just fine since their focus is to “sell” the new movie. I suppose also that they know they’re going to get people “like me” in there anyway.

If you keep treating the other pretty face too nice, you’re going to piss off the one who’s been with you all this time.

Relationships 101, that is.

Can Droids See Force Ghosts?

Netflix recently unleashed the entire run of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, including the sixth and final never-before-seen season, which dominated my weekend watching habits and has doubly reinvigorated my mental pursuit of esoteric Star Wars questions on top of the recent exchanges on Words With Nerds.

Often I promise these sorts of blogs will be brief musings, but then I start writing and I can never predict their final length. I like to think as I write on these things instead of coming into it fully-formed. Let’s see where we go this time!

What I’m Wondering This Time

One topic I’m not sure has ever been explored fully, is whether ‘droids see Force Ghosts. For those who don‘t immediately understand that phrase (really?), I mean things like the ghostly blue apparition–figures that appear after certain Jedi deaths.

Obi–Wan is of course the first we ever saw as an audience. Yoda followed by the end of Return of the Jedi, along with Anakin. The prequels later teased out the fact that this was a rare occurrence. I think that as an audience most presumed all Jedi could come back in this form. After all, our sample size of Jedi was fairly small, and they had a 100% return rate.

So anyway, I was wondering while watching one of the season 6 Clone Wars, could R2 see Obi–Wan on Dagobah? Yoda was talking to Luke as he boarded his X–Wing and he was joined by Blue Ben® trying to impel the youth from rushing off to face Vader at Cloud City.

Luke spoke to both, and Ben’s voice is heard very clearly by Luke and the audience. But if Obi–Wan is using some ancient art to communicate with another Force User via his connection from the Cosmic Force to the Living Force, could a ‘droid even hope to hear or see him?

As Obi–Wan explained to Luke, the (Cosmic) Force is generated by all living things. The living things are loosely explained in the prequels to be the Living Force, emphasizing the theme of duality Lucas was exploring in The Phantom Menace.

The key function of all this is, of course, the fact that the physical aspect of the Force is living.

As endearing as the ‘droids are, as key as they are to the motion of the story, they are not alive. There is no “living circuitry” to them. They may have intelligence artificially engineered into them, but they are in no way organic. Therefore, they are not alive.

If you want to play semantics, they are less alive than fire, which eats, breathes and grows. (Thank you, Backdraft!)

No Ghosts For R2!

So to my mind, R2 would be ruled out from seeing Obi–Wan in either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. He does not possess the correct antenna to see him, which is a connection to the living Force.

R2 can feel the effects of the Force when he is lifted in the air. He has personally witnessed the tremendous abilities of the Jedi. So he is aware of the Force, and has seen evidence of its existence, but cannot ever hope to participate with it on an intimate level.

This has to be troubling to a sentient machine. R2 would even see Luke conducting conversations with the dead while seeing nothing except a living person talking to thin air. That has to be maddening, even possibly causing logic conflicts that a mere ‘droid cannot resolve!

That opens other possibilities as well with ‘droids that would develop a deep resentment of living creatures in general and Force Users in specific. So perhaps, though I’ve spoken about the unfair treatment of ‘droids in the past, there was a practical reason for the bartender (Wuher) in A New Hope to have a “no ‘droids” policy.

After all, people couldn‘t know whether seeing someone doing one more thing they couldn’t would cause automata to snap finally. Imagine how messy it could get if a bunch of machines wigged out and started killing patrons. Very bad for business.

Loopholes

The one loophole I see in this would be that possibly a ‘droid could see the Force Ghost but not hear it. Then, at the very least, it would be able to reconcile why otherwise–sensible beings occasionally sat down on logs and talked into space.

Or perhaps there is a threshold of impact for Force Ghosts at first, but the more they exert their influence on the physical realm the more non-Force Users can interact with them. But then they become full–on poltergeists and then we have to speculate that possibly there is some Star Wars version of the Ghostbusters out there, whose actions inadvertently cause them to be evil since they’re interfering with the “light side” interacting with the living.

See? I never know where I’m going with these things either.

Let’s Get Some Perspective Here

Lately there have been a few flare ups on the blog, on Twitter and elsewhere having to do with my love of the prequels. I was originally considering going with yet another rant about how much I honestly love them (I’m listening to the Episode III soundtrack right now, actually).

Before wading back into the “debate,” it struck me to take a different tack this time.

Whatever Do You Mean, k?

I mean that I’m going to put the ridiculous assertions to the test by measuring, one day at a time, the much–maligned prequels against films that really and truly are terrible. If for no other reason than to give some perspective on what I think is a ridiculous claim to assail them on purported quality. There are different aspects to this, and I will pick on each one.

Today I will go with a personal favorite: inconsistency.

Reinventing the Wheel

Connor MacLeod of the Clan..Wait, What? ZEIST? What the Hell is a Zeist?

Have you ever seen Highlander II: The Quickening? If yes, try to guess where I’m going with this. If no, the price of continuing on here is to rent and endure that piece of offal.

See, Highlander was a low-budget cult hit featuring the music of Queen, a completely awesome villain named Kurgan brought to life by Clancy “I’ll see anything with him in it now” Brown, Sean Connery still trying to find his post-Bond identity, Christopher Lambert and a plot involving…IMMORTALS WITH SWORDS KICKING ASS.

Highlander was all sorts of awesomesauce. It has a befuddling 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, barely approaching Revenge of the Sith’s 80% (see what I did there?). Granted, The Phantom Menace has 57% and Attack of the Clones has 67%, but I love all four of them.

Highlander II, however,was so bad that I don’t want to believe it exists. It recasts these mysterious immortals as aliens from the planet Zeist, ignores Kurgan and has some horse crap about environmentalism worked into it. It is beyond atrocious.

In my opinion.

But What Else?

What else do you need? For all the little hiccups you might have with the prequels being “consistent” with the original trilogy, one or two require some creative allowance, but they’re not unforgivable sins.

Highlander II, however, completely wrecks any attempts at consistency. In the first film, Connor MacLeod asks Ramirez what makes them immortals. Ramirez wistfully explains no one knows why. He muses that to ask such questions is like asking if “the stars are merely pin pricks in the curtain of night.” In the second film, they’re aliens from another planet, fully aware of what they are.

It also features one of the worst villains of all time.

Here’s the Catch

But I remember a guy in one of my film analysis classes who wrote a paper about the Highlander series and he loved Highlander II. It was the cornerstone of his paper! I remember thinking he was out of his mind and that the professor should flunk him on principle.

I have no idea what he got on the paper, but I can say that I look back now on my disdain for him and feel shame. He turned to me for support at one point and I left him high and dry. He didn’t deserve that.

Why?

Because even if I could never agree with him, he had his reasons for liking the film. More power to him.