What Is the Proper Viewing Order for the Star Wars Movies?

C-3PO

It’s important to note that I have listed the movies using their theatrical release titles. The film commonly known as "A New Hope" is listed as "Star Wars" just as it was when it was first released in 1977. Star Wars was retitled A New Hope in 1981 after the release of The Empire Strikes Back when it was clear these movies would turn into a franchise (Source).

With the upcoming digital and disc release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it has become necessary to establish a proper viewing order for the Star Wars franchise of movies.

In 2011, Rod Hilton published an excellent blog post titled The Star Wars Saga: Introducing Machete Order. He updated his post in 2015 to deal with common questions and the release of new Star Wars movies. His work is a great starting point for my personal view on how to properly watch the Star Wars franchise of movies.

Release Order, Episode Order, and Machete Order

Mr. Hilton covered three possible viewing orders.

  • Episode Order: View the films in the order they occur in the fictional Star Wars timeline
  • Release Order: View the films in the order they were released to the public.
  • Machete Order: View the films in an order optimized for someone who has never seen Star Wars before

Episode Order looks like this as of Spring 2017:

  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I refer back to Mr. Hilton’s first post for an explanation of why this doesn’t make sense:

The problem with Episode Order is that it ruins the surprise that Vader is Luke's father.

Release Order looks like this as of Spring 2017:

  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The problem with release order has only gotten worse as Disney (the owner of Lucasfilm as of 2012) is currently producing prequels in the years where there are no new Star Wars Trilogy movies (2016, 2018, and 2020 so far). In the future, Release Order will look like this:

  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Untitled Han Solo Star Wars Film

Rogue One is furthest away from the movie to which it most closely links: Star Wars. This isn’t as big of a deal for The Force Awakens since there’s a movie time gap between it and Return of the Jedi.

I think there’s a greater than 50% chance the Han Solo film will be called Han Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Machete Order was created by Mr. Hilton in hopes of rectifying both of these issues. In his updated post Mr. Hilton shared the following graphic and explained the entire point of Machete Order:

In my opinion, it doesn't matter that Rogue One takes place right before A New Hope. The purpose of Machete Order was and always will be to refocus the story of the Original and Prequel Trilogies to be about Luke's journey. Episodes II and III aren't included for all their mythos and world-building, they're included because Anakin's fall is directly relevant to Luke's path.

There are a number of Star Wars fans who don’t like Luke Skywalker as a character. Personally, I am a big fan of Luke and appreciate the fact that Machete Order blends the new (now old-ish) Star Wars prequel films onto Luke’s journey as the original movies intended.

The Good Trilogy Plus

However, I personally think Rogue One is a very good movie and I think it deserves a place in a modified Machete Order that only shows the best of the Star Wars films.

Let me be clear: I recommend a new viewer watch the Star Wars films in Machete Order. However, if everyone in the household has seen Star Wars, this then The Good Trilogy Plus gives you the best of all the Star Wars movies.

With that I give you my experimental viewing order for only the good Star Wars films: The Good Trilogy Plus:

  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

You’ll notice this is Episode Order except we’re missing the first two movies. Episode I is already problematic and should be removed regardless. Episode II, while somewhat useful to the overall story of Darth Vader, is dropped from my suggested viewing order.

Episode III is good enough (just barely) to be included. The film is clear enough about the fact that Anakin would be upset about losing Padme without showing their utterly ridiculous love story from Episode II. Episode III also allows us to see Anakin in action before Luke learns about him from Obi-Wan. It presents a slightly different angle on Obi-Wan misleading Luke about the identity of his father. Additionally, Rogue One gives Vader an ever so slightly more menacing persona (recovering from his Episode III appearance which isn’t great). Rogue One also increases the stakes and cost of the Rebellion. It was mostly unclear to me before why Luke would seek to leave Tatooine to join the Rebellion. Rogue One is an excellent movie that fixes this particular issue.

I am going to be giving this viewing order a try in the future. I hope you give it a chance as well and let me know how you like it.

Bonus: Canon Timeline Order

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, they made a significant change in the Star Wars canon. Canon is everything that is considered to be part of the “official” Star Wars Timeline by Disney.

Disney made the decision to keep only the following movies and TV shows in the official timeline, throwing out an animated series and any number of books. Below is a simplified version of the Star Wars canon timeline. Star Wars: The Clone Wars has a number of episodes that flashback or occur prior to other episodes of the show or the film. You can look at a more detailed timeline should you wish to be 100% accurate.

  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars (film)
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Seasons 1-6
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Star Wars Rebels - Seasons 1-3
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
Reagan KnoppComment