‘Star Wars’: In What Order Should You Watch the Movies?

Following the DVD release of Star Wars: The Force Awakensmany fans are starting to think about how to marathon through all the old movies (if they haven’t already). It seems like a simple enough task: Gather together both trilogies and the newest episode in whatever physical or streaming format you prefer, hit “play,” and enjoy the show. When it comes to a franchise as iconic and expansive as this one though, it’s never quite so easy. There are arguments to be made for any number of viewing orders, but we’re here to advocate for just a few.

Each order has its own pros and cons, depending on what era of Star Wars is your favorite. Favoring (or not favoring) the prequels figures into a lot of what makes each option viable, and really your own wants and needs will point the way for your preference. Regardless of which one you choose, it’s a necessary and exciting refresher course for any fan.

1. Release order

Star Wars: A New Hope

Star Wars: A New Hope | Source Lucasfilm

Rundown: For this option, you’ll be watching each Star Wars film as they were released in theaters, beginning with the original trilogy, then the prequels, followed by The Force Awakens, and then wrapping up with Rogue One. For any lifelong fans, this is likely the order in which you originally saw the films, making it the natural first option for your planned rewatch.

Pros: Comes with a sense of familiarity, and tells the story in the same sequence as George Lucas originally conceived it. It’s the most basic form of re-viewing, providing you with what feels like a natural progression of Lucas’s creative process.

Cons: Chronologically, it makes for an odd tonal shift that takes you back in time after the finality of Return of the Jedi, and then back in time again for Rogue One. For original trilogy die-hards, there’s also the issue of the quality drop-off to the prequels, so for all intents and purposes the second half of viewing will be a slog.

2. Chronological order

Jar Jar Binks - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace | Source: Lucasfilm

Rundown: This choice tells the story in order, from Anakin Skywalker’s early days as a slave on Tatooine, to the fall of the Empire decades later. It’s the entire Star Wars saga told in exact sequence, and provides you with a full scope of the events of both trilogies.

Pros: No awkward tonal shifts, with time only moving in one direction. Saves the best for last, with the second half of watching feeling like a downhill ride rather than an uphill slog. Each successive film also has less and less Jar Jar Binks, so take that for what you will.

Cons: Prequel diehards run the risk of losing interest once Revenge of the Sith ends. The giant time gap between Episode III and IV can feel a bit strange, even with Rogue One there to close the gap directly before A New Hope.

3. Machete order

Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine in 'Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith'

Source: Lucasfilm

Rundown: Starts with Rogue One, then Episodes 4 and 5, goes back to Episodes 2 and 3, and finally finishes with Episode 6, skipping Episode 1 entirely. The strategy was coined and conceived by Rod Hilton back in 2011, and provides a storytelling format that surprisingly makes a lot of sense. We kick things off with the stealing of the Death Star plans in Rogue One, leading to the natural transition of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, before getting the “I am your father” reveal, and then treating Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith as a lengthy flashback sequence. Things wrap up with the final chronological movie in The Force Awakensas we disregard the Phantom Menace as an unnecessary detour that doesn’t really provide much in the way of useful back-story.

Pros: Makes it so the reveal of Darth Vader as Luke’s father remains a surprise, with the prequels acting as background information following that big moment in Empire Strikes Back. It makes the story more Luke’s than Anakin’s, and in terms of interesting characters with compelling arcs, it works beautifully.

Cons: Is certainly a non-traditional way of going about a re-watch, and disregards an entire movie in the process. Anyone who wants a true, full-on viewing will likely feel remiss in leaving out The Phantom Menace. 

Bonus: The “everything” re-watch

'Star Wars The Clone Wars'

Source: Lucasfilm

Rundown: This is the big one. It goes Episodes 1 and 2, the animated Clone Wars TV series (streaming on Netflix right now), Episode 3, Star Wars: Rebels (the other animated series), Rogue One, and then the original trilogy (Episodes 4, 5, and 6), before ending with The Force Awakens.

Pros: This is as thorough as it gets in terms of a re-watch. It takes the most time, so be sure you have a day off or three set aside to make it happen. Both Clone Wars and Rebels offer some intriguing context and back-story to the events of both trilogies.

Cons: The biggest downside is the fact that there’s a lot to get through. You run the risk of feeling burnt out on Star Wars before you even get close to The Force Awakens, so tread lightly if sci-fi exhaustion starts to set in.

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