If you’re asking yourself this question, chances are that you’ve either never seen the Star Wars films, it’s been a very long time since you have, or you’re introducing the saga to someone for the first time before dragging them to see Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens on opening night, and you want them to understand why the trailers keep making you cry.
Erm…that last part might be more specific to me, but I digress.
Since I’m often asked this question, I usually try to get a sense of what someone’s previous exposure has been to the Star Wars universe, understanding that many people experience the films at different ages, and from different generations.
Honestly, my answer is different depending upon if the person has never seen any of the films, has only seen the prequels, or has watched the films once in the past, but hasn’t revisited them since.
There certainly isn’t a shortage of opinions to be found online regarding the “best” order to watch the Star Wars films, but I figured I would share my opinion of each, along with my own personal preference.
EPISODE ORDER: IV, V, VI, I, II, III
This is old school, baby! If you prefer to watch the Star Wars movies in release order, chances are that you’re a “purist”…and likely, a little older.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m just old enough to remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi when they were still in movie theaters, and the unforgettable impact that the films had on me at such a young age. As such, I’ve primarily only seen the movies in the order by which they were released, including (many) repeat viewings.
For some, this is the preferred order to watch the Star Wars films because it’s how George Lucas intended them to be seen. Much of the reasoning behind viewing them in this order (understandably) is that the original trilogy establishes all of the necessary exposition, characters and conflict required to fully understand and appreciate the prequels.
By watching them in release order, logic states, the viewer is able to more effectively pick up on important references and “easter eggs” contained within the prequels, which helps to fill in the blanks, and provide a deeper backstory to the original trilogy.
EPISODE ORDER: IV, V, II, III, VI
The most popular order among die-hard fans is undoubtedly the “Machete” order, aptly named because it completely cuts Episode I: The Phantom Menace out of the series.
By many, it is considered to be the best order by which to watch the Star Wars saga because it’s the most cohesive and complete telling of the story, regardless of whether you’re completely new to the films, or if you’ve named your first born male child, “Boba Fett.”
By watching Star Wars in this order, you begin with Episode IV: A New Hope, followed by Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which will provide all of the necessary character exposition and important explanations of things like The Force, The Galactic Empire, Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine et al.
This means no unnecessarily long pod-racing sequence, no Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker (or awkward reminder that he and Padme – who appears much older than him in Episode I – eventually hook-up), no explanation of midi-chlorians, and (most importantly) no Jar-Jar Binks. In fact, the only time you should watch The Phantom Menace is if you have never seen any of the Star Wars films, and you want to be ‘in on the joke’ when it comes to pop-culture references to the film.
Lastly, you watch Episode VI: Return of the Jedi to round out the story. This will bring you “up to date” before seeing Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which takes place roughly 30 years after the events of Episode VI.
The Machete Order is popular because it sets the Star Wars stage with Episodes IV and V, then fills in some backstory by establishing how the Emperor, Galactic Empire and Darth Vader came to be, and finishes strong with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, in which the viewer receives a more satisfying ending when the Emperor is finally (spoiler alert!) defeated.
EPISODE ORDER: I, II, III, IV, V, VI
Unless you’ve seen all the films dozens of times, are playing a “Take a shot every-time Jar-Jar Binks says “Meesa!” drinking game, or you insist on finding new ways to experience Star Wars, I don’t recommend this order for anyone. Period.
Too much of the story is lost by starting with the 4th film made (Episode I) and working your way up, especially if you’re new to the Star Wars universe, or haven’t watched any of the films in years.
Just don’t do it …or I will become more powerful than you could ever imagine.
I’ve watched the Star Wars saga many times, and in all of the orders listed above. As someone who is very familiar with the films, my personal preference is the Machete Order. It’s a nice blend that allows you to start with 2 of the classics from the original trilogy, interspersed with a couple of the more modern films, special effects and backstory, then capping it off with the final episode (VI).
Also, with the events of The Force Awakens taking place roughly 30 years after Return of the Jedi, the Machete Order is also a great way to revisit the franchise, especially for those who haven’t done so in many years.
As I mentioned earlier, my recommendation to people is usually based wholly on their individual experience with the series, and how familiar they are with the Star Wars universe:
“I’ve Never Seen a Star Wars Movie.” – A variation of the Machete Order, which includes The Phantom Menace: IV, V, I, II, III, VI
“I Just Need a Refresher Before The Force Awakens.” – The Machete Order
“Sometimes I Have Trouble Peeing and Need a Prostate Exam.” – Release Order
Let me know what your favorite order is, or which order you decide to try!
May the Force be with you, my young padawan…