Today, let’s talk about one of the great philosophical debates that many of us wrestle with on a daily basis. I’m not talking about minor trifles like what is the best moral system, or can we really experience anything objectively, or even if there is a God? I’m talking, obviously, about that greatest of all philosophical dilemmas.
What order should I watch the Star Wars movies in?
It was a little easier to choose a few years ago, when there were only six movies in the saga. But now that Lucasfilm has been purchased by Disney and a new Star Wars movie is going to roll out annually, it gets more complicated. I get asked by others my opinion about what order they should watch the saga for the first time. Like my opinion matters, but I appreciate your trust in my opinion. Just as well, since I’ll be forcing my daughter to watch them with me, I’ve actually given the matter a lot of thought.
Now, just in case you’ve never seen this legendary series of movies before----with it’s space ships and robots and jedi knights and imperial stormtroopers and aliens and pirates and glasses of blue milk----I’m going to do my very best not to spoil anything for you.
Here’s is the original release order:
1. Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) - 1977
2. The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) – 1980
3. Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) – 1983
4. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – 1999
5. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones – 2002
6. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – 2005
7. Star Wars (Episode VII): The Force Awakens – 2015
8. Star Wars: Rogue One – 2016
Okay, technically, the three-part pilot for the CLONE WARS animated series was released as a theatrical film. And even though it’s in canon, let’s not complicate this discussion further by including that one. Let’s stick to the live-action films, shall we?
So what do we have here?
THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)
These are, obviously, the first and the greatest of the entire saga. If you were going to decide that you only have the patience to watch only three of these movies, these would be the three to watch. When it first appeared on the scene, audiences had never seen a film as audacious and expensive looking as Star Wars. (At least, not in the science-fiction genre.) A rag-tag collection of rebels against a cruel empire, aliens, droids, a pirate, a princess, and an old wizard introducing us to something called The Force. I’m so thankful I was a child in the seventies!
THE PREQUEL TRILOGY (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith)
The prequels get a lot of hate, especially when compared to the classic trilogy. If you ask me, they’re still great movies. Hey, it’s still Star Wars. But there’s no questioning that they aren’t as good as the original films. They’re flawed by wooden dialogue and stiff acting, and the romantic scenes are just painful to watch. Seriously, watching Anakin and Padme roll around by the digital cows on Naboo is just excruciating. But Ewan McGregor just kills it as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, you get fierce lightsaber battles that the original trilogy has none of, full-scale war sequences that are just popcorn-munching fun, and you get to see Yoda throw down.
THE SEQUEL TRILOGY (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and whatever Episode 9 is going to be called…)
These is the current trilogy of films. Will it be just as good as the original trilogy? Obviously, it’s too early to tell. But it’s off to a hella good start with THE FORCE AWAKENS. At least the placement of when to watch these is pretty obvious.
STAR WARS STORIES (Rogue One)
The Star Wars Anthology stories are separate from the major trilogies, and are just intended to tell specific stories that begin and end in one easy film. Okay, actually, it’s a way to make a bit more money as some of us slavishly wait those two long years between chapters. But as long as they’re as cool as ROGUE ONE was, you won’t hear any of us complaining.
So let’s talk about it. Which is the best way to watch these movies? You’ve got three choices really, and it depends on your tastes.
CHRONOLOGICAL TIMELINE ORDER - 1, 2, 3, Rogue One, 4, 5, 6, 7
By this, I mean watching them in the order of when they take place, not in the order of when they were theatrically released. You'd watch the Prequel trilogy first, Rogue One, then the classic trilogy.
If you’ve already watched all of the Star Wars movies before, I actually think this is the best way to re-watch the series the next time you’re in the mood for a marathon. The drama and stakes rise and fall nicely, and it makes for an enjoyable saga.
But if you’ve never seen any of these films before, believe me, this ain’t the way to watch them. Among many other reasons, there is a massive reveal towards the end of EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Not gonna spoil it in case you’ve been living under a rock. But it rocked the world in 1980 when the truth about who killed Luke’s father was revealed, and fanboys everywhere just lost their shit.
The point is, if you watch episodes 1, 2 and 3 first? You’re already going to know this big reveal before it happens. And a lot of things in the original trilogy will lose its dramatic impact because you saw what happened along the way. Do yourself a favor and enjoy it like the rest of us did. Try one of the other options instead….
THEATRICAL RELEASE ORDER - 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 7, Rogue One
Even though the chapters are in a mixed order, this is a great call. As long as you don’t mind jumping back and forth around the time line, it’s a just a rewarding way to watch it. You’ll be enjoying it like the rest of us fans did, without having any surprises ruined, and still bypassing the two to fifteen year wait between episodes that we had to endure. Each new movie adds on layers that you fully appreciate from seeing the previous movies, and you really can't go wrong.
But my personal opinion? If you really want a great experience, and you only plan to watch the movies once, and if you’re brave enough, I like to suggest what’s come to be known as the Machete Order. Or, as I call it, the Quentin Tarantino order.
MACHETE ORDER - Rogue One, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6, 7
You begin with the recently released ROGUE ONE. It’s a phenomenal movie, and it doesn’t ruin anything. It's an enjoyable prologue that feels very different in theme and presentation than any of the movies. Plus, it just neatly and smoothly leads into the original STAR WARS movie.
Then, you have STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, possibly the greatest films in the series. They end on a stunning cliffhanger, and you’re left wondering how the hell will any of our heroes have a happy ending?
Then, if you don’t mind interrupting the narrative flow a bit, watch the Prequel Trilogy. Just treat the prequel trilogy like an extended flashback sequence, giving us a bit more insight into Darth Vader…and especially, the Emperor. The surprises of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK won't be ruined by watching the prequels at this point.
Then you’re ready for RETURN OF THE JEDI, which brings the original saga to a close.
After that, you’re free to go on to STAR WAR: THE FORCE AWAKENS, which takes place 30 years later.
I realize that I’ll have to amend this when the Han Solo movie comes out in 2018,
But at least we safely know when to watch Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi when it comes out at Christmas. So, if you’ll pass me the popcorn (or better yet, some of your opinions?) I’m going to camp out in front of Best Buy and wait for ROGUE ONE to get released. May the Force be with you all!
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John Yeo Jr. is the author of Mama Sauveterre's Curiosity Shoppe, and The King's Tournament. Both of his books are available at Amazon. His new book, The Infinite League, will be available in October 2017.