Is There a Right Way to Watch Star Wars?

How do you tailor your saga viewing experience?

The official key art for Star Wars Celebration Orlando by artist Paul Shipper. Image subject to copyright and can be removed upon request

After 1986, which saw the home media release of Return of the Jedi, the trilogy was complete and there really was only one way to view them, in chronological order. There seemed to be no need for debate or discussion at the time. It was basically accepted by everyone that that was how to watch them. No big deal. But with the release of the Prequels in 1999, the Sequels in 2015, and then the introduction of stand-alone films in 2016, a huge dilemma has arisen for fans namely,In what order should we watch our favorite films?”.

This is a question that has come up frequently over the years, particularly when it comes to how one introduces people who have never seen the films to the saga. Do we go chronologically or by release date? Should we include the stand alone films? Machete order? Special Edition? Blu-ray? Where oh where do we begin!? Well, let’s first take a look at the variations and how they came about.

Original Trilogy/Special Edition Era 1986–1997

The movies you loved as a kid. (Updated)

Until 1997, there was only one true viewing order: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. This was always the most logical way in which to see the Trilogy. Granted, some people were introduced to the films out of order due to catching them at the wrong time on cable TV (luckily, I was fortunate enough to see them in order on cable when I first discovered them). When you only have three movies, there’s not much need for dissection.

However, an interesting twist came about in 1997. The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition came to theaters and then home video. With this latest release came multiple changes to the original film. New scenes, computer generated additions, and slight changes to the story, (“who shot first?”), brought with them both excitement and ire. Personally, I loved the Special Edition. I was eleven when they came out, and it’s hard to disappoint any kid that age with any kind of Star Wars. But this brought about the first in a long line of viewing options. Some would remain original release “purists” while others embraced the changes George Lucas made. Incidentally, and just to make things interesting, there is a “despecialized” edition out there made by a fan.

So at this point we have two options, Original Trilogy or Special Edition. But, even as all this happened, there was more just over the horizon.

The Prequel Era 1999–2015

Qui-gon’s noble end. (Spoilers)

On May 19th, 1999 Star Wars changed forever (for the first time?). We were introduced to new and familiar characters, the origins of the most dreaded villain in cinema, and a whole new Trilogy. The magic George Lucas brought us years before was back, ending the so-called Dark Times. This isn’t the article to get into a prequel-hater debate, so how about we just skip over that.

The Prequels brought with them more options, and new problems. Now we had to figure out what order the films truly belonged in. Or at least what order each of us thought they belonged in. Prequels-first would give you the entire story in chronological order. This way you see the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. But, watching the Original Trilogy first maintains the weight of the coveted “I am your father” moment. It’s also a good way to build up to the amazing visual feast the Prequels bring as you watch the quality in movie making improve. Both have their pros and cons

There was another option that popped up as well. Back in 2011 Rod Hilton popularized what has come to be known as the Machete Order of viewing the Star Wars saga. It follows like this: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Return of the Jedi. The Phantom Menace is sadly left out entirely . His reason for suggesting this order is that he maintains the story is actually about Luke, not Anakin. He believes this order allows seeing the important editions of the story and keeping Vader’s reveal intact. The Phantom Menace is formally left out entirely due to it being “irrelevant”. While I can’t agree with that part, I find it an interesting take on viewing order. If you want to retain The Phantom Menace some fans have chosen to follow an “augmented Machete Order” by inserting it either before A New Hope or Attack of the Clones.

After the release of Revenge of the Sith, we entered a new Dark Times. It seemed, outside of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the tale had ended. With no more films in the future, we looked to the animated series, books, and comics to fill the void. Enter Disney.

Sequel/Star Wars Story Era 2015- Present

The House of Force Mouse.

With the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012, we learned a new Trilogy was on the way, and later on that separate movies set apart from the traditional saga trilogies would come as well. It was a whole new world. (Now you have that song from Aladdin stuck in your head. You’re welcome).

With the introduction of the sequels we’re once again faced with new possibilities. I found a “new” Machete Order on Reddit. I’ll abbreviate to make it easy. Rogue One, IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII. I’ll admit, I find this one attractive. I’ve also seen people tout their new “favorite trilogy”, Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, and A New Hope. Being well on the way to six new films in the Disney era, we may possibly get overwhelmed and find ourselves at a loss of where to begin.

Where I Stand

Up until now I’ve not really voiced my opinion on this. So, here we go. My preferred viewing order is as following: Original Trilogy, Prequel Trilogy, Sequel Trilogy, stand alone films as desired. I stick with the Originals first because I think it’s important to start where Lucas started. This was cinema’s first introduction to that galaxy far far away and I feel this is the truest entry point. The Prequels come next because we need to see how things got to where they are when Luke begins his story. The Sequels are next just because it feels like it flows well, to me at least. The stand alone films can be introduced any time really. They aren’t what I’d call essential so far they seem to enhance the saga films in a whole new way.

In the end, I think it all comes down to personal preference. While I may have my own thoughts on how to watch the films, I will honestly say that I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to watch Star Wars. Introducing someone to these amazing films is special in it’s own way and doesn’t require a formula to “make it work”. I don’t think you can ruin anything by watching the Prequels first. On the other hand I don’t think you can confuse someone by starting with the Originals. You must do what you feel is right of course. That is the only proper viewing order.

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