It’s one of the most hotly debated issues in movie mythology: In what order should you watch the Star Wars movies? The best way to experience the legendary saga is one of those issues that everyone has an opinion on.
Do you watch them in release order, starting with the original trilogy, then hitting the prequels, and then moving onto Force Awakens and Rogue One? Or do you watch them in the chronological order of the film universe, watching episodes I through VI in order, with Rogue One nestled in between III and IV?
For the first-time viewer and for the seasoned Star Wars fan, there are arguments for both release and chronological order. There are even a couple of more creative suggestions for viewing orders that bring new perspectives to the films we all know and love.
So, dust off your DVD box sets, grab your limited edition Lightsaber, trick yourself out in all the coolest Star Wars apparel, and let’s take a look at the case for each viewing choice.
Warning: plot spoilers from here on out!
Watching any film series starting with episode 1 and going through them in order does seem to make sense. There aren’t many series where you’d consider jumping in halfway through the story. George Lucas himself has come out in favor of watching the films in chronological order, suggesting this is the order they’re meant to be seen in. But then again, George Lucas is one of the only people in the world who still claims to like the prequel trilogy, so can his word really be trusted? Here are a few points to think about:
It’s Easier to Understand
Watching Star Wars from the beginning of the story to the end makes for the smoothest and most easily understood narrative, especially for younger audiences. Episode order gives you a straightforward story of a young boy called Anakin Skywalker on his journey to become a Jedi, followed by his journey to wreck everything for everyone by becoming a Sith lord.
You then get the story of his son picking up the pieces and overcoming his father’s evil legacy to restore freedom to the Galaxy. Finally, you get Episode 7, hinting at a new chapter for the epic series. No jumping back and forth in time; just a straightforward romp through the Star Wars universe.
One point in favor of doing the series in episode order is that you get an ever-increasing level of quality. Even the biggest haters of the prequels must admit that they get better as they go on, mostly due to the fact you get more incredible action scenes and less Jar Jar Binks. Getting the prequels out of the way first means you get to enjoy five more superb films without knowing you’re going to get a dip in quality somewhere down the line.
Well, except for the bit with the Ewoks.
The latest movie in the series is something of a wildcard in terms of where to view it. Rogue One sits right in the middle of the timeline of events, leading directly into episode IV’s opening moments. As such, you sort of know how it’s going to end if you’re familiar with the original trilogy and you can more or less figure out who is going to make it and who isn’t.
Even with all of this, the finale of Rogue One is a heck of a ride. Imagine watching that jaw-dropping climax without knowing how it’s going to end! As the credits roll, you’d be gagging to put episode 4 on and see whether the rebels escape with the death star plans and find a way to destroy the empire. Watching these two films back to back gives a new urgency to the events and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
For older fans who grew up with the original trilogy, watching the films in the order you first got to see them can seem like the most sensible idea. Here are a few reasons why release order might be the best option:
If you’re finally going to experience what is arguably the most iconic film series in history for the first time, then doing them in chronological order will spoil some of the most shocking plot twists.
If you’ve already seen episodes I to III, when a certain masked Sith Lord announces “I am your father,” instead of being absolutely mind-blown, your reaction will be “… yeah, we know!” Likewise, the revelation that Luke has been kissing his twin sister all this time will be ruined for anyone who was paying attention during episode III. Is that really something you want?
The Originals Set the Style
Proper film buffs will know that the prequel trilogy was all about mimicking the style of the original trilogy, from the shooting style to the monsters, characters, and music. If you haven’t got the originals as a reference point, you might find the prequels a bit jarring. You’ll also miss a lot of the subtleties of how their filming style reflects that of the classic episodes.
Let’s be honest. When it comes to finding things to appreciate about the prequels, you need all the help you can get.
The Prequels Won’t Make Any Sense
The biggest issue with episode III (and the prequels as a whole) is that Anakin’s switch to the dark side is very poorly done and will probably leave a lot of viewers rather nonplussed. Watching a promising young Jedi betray and kill everyone he knows for no real reason only makes sense when the fact that Anakin becomes Darth Vader is already a foregone conclusion.
A lot of the other plot details of the prequels are rather poorly done and rely on the fact that you already know how everything plays out. Cameos from some familiar faces like Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett will likewise be rather puzzling if you don’t know who they are. Whatever George Lucas says, the original trilogy was intended to be stand-alone and can be enjoyed without seeing any of the others. The prequels rely on the fact that you already know the ending and are all about how you get there, not whether you will or not.
Let the Force Guide You
For most people, deciding which order to watch Star Wars is probably a matter of personal choice. Older fans will most likely lean toward seeing them in the order they first experienced them, while younger viewers might be tempted to watch them through in episode order. Whichever you choose, you’re in for a heck of a ride.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!