The release of The Force Awakens, the latest film in the Star Wars franchise means that now is the perfect time to re-watch the previous six movies. If you have a friend or child who hasn’t seen them yet it’s time to introduce them to the geekiest film series ever. They might not be the greatest sci-fi films ever but the Star Wars series is still a must watch.
These movies were originally released in two trilogies, the originals between 1977 and 1983, and the prequels between 1999 and 2005. Unfortunately, George Lucas has gone back and meddled with the earlier films. This creates all sorts of problems for people watching them for the first time, or just wanting to have the best experience re-watching them.
So, let’s take a look at five different orders in which you can watch the Star Wars movies. Some of which improve the storyline no end, and make everything better.
The Six Star Wars Movies
With six films and a total run time of more than 13 hours, the Star Wars series covers a lot of ground. If you haven’t watched them in a while, you might well have forgotten which film is which. Before diving in and looking at the various viewing orders, here’s a little refresher on the six movies themselves.
If you have never watched the films, skip this section!
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Two Jedi Knights escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to reclaim their old glory.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Ten years after initially meeting, Anakin Skywalker shares a forbidden romance with Padmé, while Obi-Wan investigates an assassination attempt on the Senator and discovers a secret clone army crafted for the Jedi.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Clone Wars is near an end, Obi-Wan and Anakin have been called to Coruscant which has been invaded by General Grievous and has abducted the Chancellor. As General Grievous tries to escape, Obi-wan and Anakin attempt to board Grievous’ ship to rescue the Chancellor. If they fail then it could mean an end to the Republic.
Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
After the rebels have been brutally overpowered by the Empire on their newly established base, Luke Skywalker takes advanced Jedi training with Master Yoda, while his friends are pursued by Darth Vader as part of his plan to capture Luke.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
After rescuing Han Solo from the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the rebels attempt to destroy the second Death Star, while Luke struggles to make Vader return from the dark side of the Force.
Perhaps the most logical way to watch the Star Wars series is in Episode Order. Simply start at Episode I and work your way through to Episode VI — The End. Unfortunately, this is possibly the worst way to watch Star Wars.
Join the dark side, we have bacon
— Darth Vader (@DepressedDarth) December 1, 2015
Many of the defining moments in the Original Trilogy are spoiled by the prequels. You don’t want the best twists of the series to be revealed in off-hand comments made in Episode III.
Episode I is by far the weakest film in the series so by starting with that you may put off new viewers. I know I wouldn’t be in a hurry to watch Episode II if the first Star Wars film I ever watched was The Phantom Menace.
Release Order is the next most logical way to view the films. Watch Episode IV through VI and then I through III. This way works but it isn’t optimal.
Im so confused about what order I am supposed to watch Star Wars in because the new ones are prequels? Should I just watch in release order
— GiGi (@idreamofgina_) November 27, 2015
Release Order is arguably the official viewing order. You watch the films in the sequence Lucas made them. This would work if Lucas didn’t go back and change things so frequently. For example, he digitally added an actor from the Prequel Trilogy to the final scene of the Original Trilogy.
If you’re watching the films for the first time this is just confusing. Also, the viewing ends mid-series. The conclusion of Episode III isn’t strong enough to be the end of a Star Wars marathon.
What I’m calling Denial Order is the silliest of the viewing orders you see recommended online. Every time the question of what order to watch the Star Wars films is asked, someone — possibly hoping to kick off a flamewar — chimes in recommending that people skip the prequels entirely.
How to prepare for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
1. Watch eps 4 – 6
2. Skip the prequels
You're good to go.
— Manny (@thebatmanny) November 13, 2015
While it’s true that the Prequel Trilogy was disappointing for many longtime fans of the series, the films — especially Episode II and III — are very watchable. They might not be as epic as the movies that make up the Original Trilogy but they stand on their own. The weight of fans’ unreasonable expectations went a long way towards undermining their viewing experience.
You CAN skip the prequels if you want but by doing so you’ll be missing out on half of the official Star Wars canon.
The best way to watch Star Wars is arguably Machete Order. Developed by Rod Hilton, Machete Order is Episode IV, Episode V, Episode II, Episode III, and Episode VI. Episode I is skipped and can be watched as a standalone film at a later date.
Machete Order works for one main reason: it preserves all of the plot twists in both trilogies (and even makes some better). Episode IV and V set up and establish the Star Wars universe. Episode II and III are a flashback revealing the history of the series’ main villain. Episode VI is the conclusion to everything.
— Steve Toogood (@thetoogood91) November 26, 2015
Skipping Episode I removes the worst film and the biggest annoyances of the Prequel Trilogy. Any relevant characters or information are reintroduced in Episode II or III so very little important content is lost.
For more information on the Machete Order you should check out Hilton’s blog post where he explains his rationale for everything. Warning, this includes spoilers for the entire series.
Flashback Order is the same as Machete Order except that you also watch Episode I. The order then is IV, V, I, II, III, VI. Personally, I prefer Machete Order but if you’re a completist and want to watch every film, this may the best order for you personally.
How Do You Watch Star Wars?
So, there are five different ways to watch the Star Wars series. Every order has its fans.
Personally, I love the Machete Order but I can also understand the appeal of Release Order, especially if you are re-watching the series for the first time in a long time. Even Denial Order has its advantages… if you really feel the prequels ruined the Star Wars series then just avoiding them is by far the healthiest way to watch — there’s no point letting Jar Jar Binks ruin the series you love!
Are you planning on watching Star Wars again soon? If so, in what order are you going to watch the existing movies? Will The Force Awakens slot neatly in as a sequel to Return of the Jedi? Will Disney start milking this franchise for all that its worth? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.