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The Outpost

Star Wars Viewing Order
By Theresa Potratz
Published November 16, 2020
Star Wars Viewing Order - Darth Vader

With the Skywalker saga concluding with the release of “The Rise of Skywalker,” as viewers we are left with the challenge of the correct viewing order of Star Wars. After conducting research (read: cruising the first page of Google search results), it seems this hot topic issue has lots of debate. 

Before diving in, I need to recognize my own bias. As a child of the ’80s, I was introduced to Star Wars via laserdisc and pirated VHS. My parents were of the privileged generation who were able to watch them as they came out in theaters. This resulted in me viewing them in roughly the same order as they originated. 

When I become a teenager, Lucusfilms launched the prequels and I was able to join the ranks of the people able to engage in the theatrical experience. In short, I viewed the films by the cinematic release dates. 

Looking at Star Wars as an entire body of work, what’s the correct way to introduce it to our children (pirated VHS aside)?

Cinematic Release Dates 

This time tested order is one many ascribe to. This is how the old guard saw them. 

Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Rogue One (2016)
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
Solo (2018)
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

By watching in this order viewers maintain the mystique. We avoid spoilers. Viewers jump in the middle of the action. This order follows Luke Skywalker’s life. People are presented with the foreshadowing of a rich and complex storyline.

There’s a couple of issues with this order. Younger viewers have a difficult time understanding the jumbled storyline. This version also excludes the animated versions and the Ewok movie for …reasons. 

Chronological Order

Another proposed format is introducing the storyline in this order:

Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Solo (2018)
Rogue One (2016)
Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Viewers lose the shock and awe of Luke Skywalker’s lineage. The storyline reshapes to follow Anakin Skywalker and his “hero’s journey.” Anakin starts as a child slave; a sympathetic character. Viewers following this plotline understand why Kylo Ren reveres his grandfather so much.

Perhaps in spite of the background, many of the old-guard despise this order. It loses the magic of storytelling. Younger viewers, however, track the narrative arc better. This version still excludes the animated versions and the Ewok movies. 

Complete Works of Starwars

As we think about the complete body of work, yes, even including the Lego films. If you are a completionist and want to watch all of it – this is your list. 

Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles (2013 to 2014)
Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace (2011)
The Clone Wars (2008 to 2014)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Solo (2018)
Star Wars Rebels (2014 to 2018)
Rogue One (2016)
Star Wars: Droids (1985 to 1986)
Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars: Holiday Special (1978)
Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out (2012)
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures (2016 to 2017)
Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015)
Ewoks (1985 to 1986)
The Mandalorian (2019)
Star Wars: Resistance (2018 to Present)
Lego Star Wars: The Resistance Rises (2016)
Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2016)
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Star Wars: Forces of Destiny (2017 to Present)

Looking at this, I am sure you can parse this data above into several viewing orders. I’m dumping this here to allow the community to watch as you will. 

The Machete Order

This is the most controversial of the viewing orders. This one straight up cuts The Phantom Menace from viewing. 

Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Episode V: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Pocket-lint notes this order was compiled in 2011 and wasn’t updated to include the recently released versions. Why is The Phantom Menace so hated?

The Infamous Phantom Menace 

Star Wars - Viewing Order-pod-racing

With episodes 4-6 riddled with unanswered questions, George Lucus set out to craft a story to show Darth Vader’s transition to the Darkside. The prequels explore the Jedi Order as intergalactic peacekeepers while showing a pre-Empire galaxy. 

This required Lucus to show the bureaucracy inherent in the Senate and even the Jedi Council. Critics of the Phantom Menace believe, explaining the Force through introducing “midichloreans,” spoils the magic.  

To break up the monotony of background, Lucus adds his comic relief, Jar Jar Binks.

Ahhh Jar Jar. What a divisive character. 

Arguably, the most hated character of the franchise — Jar Jar’s bumbling ways, and obnoxious voice haunted parents whose kids imitated the character. To Lucus, Jar Jar is the best. In fact, when asked what character Lucus would choose to be, he picks the clumsy Gungan.

While this film receives a lot of heat, not everyone hates it. Providing a positive review of the film, the late Roger Ebert enjoys the addition to the Star Wars canon. Ebert writes, “Unlike many movies, these are made to be looked at more than listened to, and George Lucas and his collaborators have filled ‘The Phantom Menace’ with wonderful visuals.” 

What’s Your Order?

Looking at all the options we have to view the space opera, which one is your jam? Do you believe the narrative follows Luke, begins in the middle of all the action and continues to draw the audience in? 

Or are you sympathetic to Anakin’s path? If you are, do you feel you’re more of a Sith acolyte

Whatever you choose, I want to know. After telling teammates I was writing this post, I received immediate responses.

2 Comments

  1. I’m a bit old school being of the generation that was able to see them in theaters in release order. I’m a huge Star Wars fan and have rewatched the saga several times over the years including the viewing orders mentioned above. Once the movies were all out, I tried watching the saga in chronological order but it didn’t sit right. In general I’m a fan of a modified theatrical release order. I think the prequels are more interesting as Darth Vader’s origin story told after the fact. I’ve never had an issue with the prequels and have always enjoyed Phantom Menace thinking the lighthearted kids-movie angle made Anakin’s fall from grace that much more poignant. That said, in my opinion A New Hope hasn’t aged well enough to be a good gateway for new viewers (the first 30 minutes of Luke’s whining is enough to turn anyone off). I feel Disney has done a spectacular job with the one-off’s Rogue One and Solo (a solid movie which only tanked due to toxic fanboy cancel culture) and a good place to start with the saga. So my preferred order is:

    Rogue One (one of the best movies and a great hook)
    Episode IV – A New Hope
    Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
    Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
    Solo (a nice palette cleanser and short origin story of a loved character)
    Episode I – Phantom Menace
    Episode II – Attack of the Clones
    Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

    In a modified version of the Machete Order, I would argue Episodes VII, VIII & IX could be skipped. While I found The Force Awakens to be an entertaining and well done update of A New Hope, I wouldn’t consider it necessary viewing unless one is now hooked into the saga. The Last Jedi was my Phantom Menace (I was not at all impressed), and The Rise of Skywalker was an entertaining bow on an otherwise maybe too long project.

    What I do heartily recommend instead of the most recent movies in the Skywalker saga are the animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels. Don’t let the animated nature fool you, both shows are fantastic and have some of the best writing in the entire Star Wars franchise. I would almost recommend those over any of the movies for sheer storytelling.

    And obviously The Mandelorian is great.

    • You know? I need to finish Rebels. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just get distracted.

      Earlier today, I was reading a searing critique on Luke being the shockingly unprepared twin – yet being the chosen one. Reading your comment on the heels of that article shows that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I greatly appreciate the continued development of the SW universe. It’s always entertaining. Yet, watching the originals over again, some aspects are problematic and didn’t age well (e.g. Han Solo’s “courtship” of Leia).

      All this to say, I now want to watch in your proposed order. I am curious about how this shapes my view of the narrative…

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