5 Theories on the Best Order to Watch the Star Wars Movies
The Star Wars saga is 40 years old, and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. With the eighth entry in the series, The Last Jedi, slated to hit theaters later this year (and more Star Wars movies every year until forever), it's easy to only be interested in what’s next. But newbies have to start somewhere, which begs the question: What's the best order to watch the Star Wars movies?
In case you need a super fan’s take on some options, here are five ways to consider watching the saga.
1. EPISODE ORDER
I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII
Perhaps the least favorite order among most Star Wars fans is the go-to sequence for the guy who started it all. “Start with one. That’s the way to do it right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,” George Lucas told Vulture in 2015. “That’s the way they’re supposed to be done.”
Well, just because that’s the way it’s supposedly supposed to be done doesn’t mean you should do it that way. If you start with Episode I, Vader’s big I-am-your-father reveal in The Empire Strikes Back (arguably one of the biggest twists in movie history) turns out to be old news. The prequel plotlines assume everyone knows that Anakin turns into Darth Vader, so it’s one big anticlimax. On top of that, you have to slog through the prequels before you get to the real good stuff. But if you’re still into what Lucas has to say, then give the chronological order a whirl.
2. THE ROGUE ONE ORDER
R1, IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII
Now that the saga is spinning off into a handful of different one-offs and character-based prequels, any particular order to watch the Star Wars movies will eventually be entirely subjective. But since Rogue One is so closely tied to the primary saga’s Death Star story, Reddit threads and Star Wars fan sites have declared it the best way to initially dive into the multifaceted universe regardless of any future standalone movies. Plus, if you use the Rogue One Order and take a quick post-Empire pause to flashback to The Phantom Menace, it keeps the Skywalker lineage surprises—with Vader and Leia—intact.
3. THE TIME MACHINE ORDER
IV*, V*, VI*, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX
This one is for diehards only, mostly because it’s basically impossible to replicate.
Now-out-of-print theatrical cuts of the Original Trilogy haven’t been re-released since 2006, and Disney hasn’t made any indication that they’ll see the light of day going forward. But if you get your hands on something like the Despecialized Editions—painstaking bootleg reconstructions of the original films—the so-called Time Machine Order puts you back as a viewer in 1977 to discover the magic all over again.
First you watch the theatrical cuts of the Original Trilogy without all the Special Edition tweaks from the '90s (bad CGI Jabba, anyone?) and no Hayden Christensen showing up at the end of Return of the Jedi. Then you shift to the prequels and deal with all that before heading back to the Special Editions and the new Sequel Trilogy and beyond, starting with The Force Awakens. It’s the complete Star Wars package.
4. THE THEATRICAL RELEASE ORDER
IV, V, VI, I, II, III, VII, VIII, IX
The most obvious and easy way to experience the saga is also the most pure—warts and all. Even if the only officially released versions have the Special Edition add-ons (Greedo still shoots first), there’s nothing like kicking off the saga with A New Hope, dipping into qualitative depression with the prequels, and rocketing back into gear with The Force Awakens like the Millennium Falcon jumping into hyperspace.
5. THE MACHETE ORDER
IV, V, II, III, VI, VII, VIII, IX
First proposed by computer software blogger Rod Hilton in 2011, the Machete Order has taken on legendary status among Star Wars fans because the sequence drops enough of the bad stuff in the saga while amplifying the good stuff. You gotta take a little Dark Side with the Light Side, after all.
The Machete Order refocuses the broad space opera story by focusing the movie structure on Luke, and skips over The Phantom Menace altogether, tucking Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith after The Empire Strikes Back. Sorry, Darth Maul fans, you’re out of luck—but there’s little-to-no Jar Jar Binks in this sequence, and it cuts out the whiny version of little Anakin that basically undermines the fact that he’s going to become the galaxy’s most feared villain. If you want a full story that befits the adventurous wonder of the galaxy far, far away, then the Machete Order is the best viewing experience.