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

C-3PO

The continuous release of new Star Wars movies by The Walt Disney Company have complicated the once simple debate about the proper viewing order for the Star Wars franchise of movies.

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

Release Order, Episode Order, and Machete Order

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 Summer 2018:

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

I refer back to Hilton’s first article 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 Summer 2018:

  • 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
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

The problem with release order has only gotten worse as Disney is currently producing prequels in the years where there are no new Star Wars Trilogy movies (2016 and 2018 so far; although the future of Star Wars Story movies is currently unclear). 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
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

The benefits of this order pretty much end after the original trilogy. For instance, Rogue One is designed to compliment Star Wars but Release Order places it furthest away from that film.

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 into Luke’s journey as the original movies intended.

The Good Trilogy Plus

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.

To be fair, my order is fairly subjective and is actually going to be reminiscent of how someone might watch the James Bond library of films: either you watch all of them or only the good ones. 

This is a situational decision. 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
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

You’ll notice this is actually similar to 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 because it is still a bad movie.

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 is a massive hit to his galactic street cred). 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 helps explain that piece a bit better.

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 purchased Lucasfilm, they made a significant change to the Star Wars canon. Canon is everything that is considered to be part of the “official” timeline of a franchise. 

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 Star Wars completionist. 

In the years since I first wrote up this list, Disney has released a lot of novels, comics, and online shorts that have various placement in canon (the biggest offender is Star Wars: Forces of Destiny which includes characters from all periods of the canonized timeline. My list is enormously simplified. 

  • 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 1-4
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Star Wars
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It’s important to note that I have listed the movies using their theatrical release titles. For instance, I refer to the film commonly known as "A New Hope" using the title "Star Wars" just as it was when first released in 1977. Star Wars was retitled A New Hope in 1981 after the release of The Empire Strikes Back once it became clear these movies would become a franchise (source).

Reagan Knopp1 Comment