One of the most frequently debated topics about Star Wars is on which order to view the films. Now while a casual fan may find this to be a silly thing to argue over, it is one of those things that most Star Wars fans have strong feelings about.
Some argue in favour of watching the films in the order they came out (IV, V, VI, I, II, III) while the other side will argue that the films should be watched in chronological order as George Lucas intended (I, II, III, IV, V, VI). Still, others have even been rooting for more unique viewing orders such as the Machete Order which has been gaining some popularity lately.
There are multiple ways of experiencing Star Wars and I am going to go over briefly some variant ways to watch the movies and experience the Star Wars universe and try my best to give fair pros and cons for each.
1. Production Order (IV, V, VI, I, II, III, VII)
This is the order that I personally recommend watching the films for newcomers. Whether you favour the chronological order over this one or not is another matter, but I think a first time viewer, whatever their eventual preferences may be, should watch the films in this order initially.
In this order Darth Vader makes his first appearance as a menacing background figure who becomes more prominent as the Original Trilogy goes along. After we witness his redemption thanks to the influence of his son, Luke Skywalker, we go back 30+ years and see how Anakin Skywalker first turned to the Dark Side. Finishing the first two trilogies we can turn to The Force Awakens (and eventually Episodes VIII and IX) as a sort of epilogue to the Saga.
This order presents the Star Wars story as more of a family epic about fathers and sons within the Skywalker clan where Luke is the hero faced with the seduction to the Dark Side of the Force. This Dark Side is manifested in the figure of his father, Darth Vader, whose devotion to the Dark Side parallels the son’s devotion to the Light. The Prequels here serve as a parallel echo of Luke’s own humble beginnings on Tatooine, but showcase Anakin making different choices and taking a path that his son managed to avoid.
Pros: The revelation in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is compelling and more shocking. With Luke’s heroic journey fresh in the viewer’s mind it is easier to see the parallels between the Prequels and the Originals. The revelation of Boba Fett’s backstory in the Prequels is not spoiled allowing the adult character in the Originals to have more mystery.
Cons: The Prequels make an anticlimactic way to close the Saga and the viewer will find him/herself missing many of the Original Trilogy characters. The closure ends on a dark note rather than a high one. The Force Awakens connects more seamlessly with Return of the Jedi than Revenge of the Sith so the jumping around in the timeline can cause inconsistent tonal shifts.
2. Chronological Order (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII)
This order makes the story more about Anakin Skywalker and less about the Skywalker family as a whole. Here we see Darth Vader as a tragic figure who falls to the temptation of the Dark Side and becomes one of the most evil Dark Lords in the history of the Galaxy. We proceed to see him forced to confront his inner demons when he learns of the existence of his son and this eventually pulls him to the Light Side. In fulfilling his role as the Chosen One and fulfilling the Prophecy that he will destroy the Sith he brings balance to the Force and redeems himself.
Once more this order renders The Force Awakens and its upcoming sequels as an epilogue to the Saga, but there is nothing wrong with that. Francis Ford Coppola has described The Godfather Part III as more of an epilogue than a true sequel to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and the Sequel Trilogy is more or less the same sort of thing.
Pros: The viewer will step into the Original Trilogy with a stronger emotional investment in the fate of the Galaxy and the characters whom we met in the Prequels. How weakened the Jedi have become is more apparent now that we have already seen them in action in the Prequels. The straightforward narrative allows for less confusion and lets The Force Awakens shine more as a sequel to Return of the Jedi rather than a belated project that waited ten years after Revenge of the Sith to see the light of day. Also The Force Awakens follows Return of the Jedi more seamlessly than it does Revenge of the Sith. The Saga ends on a high note rather than a dark one.
Cons: Many compelling moments in the Original Trilogy like Darth Vader being Luke’s father are spoiled and leave less of an impact on the viewer. Darth Vader feels less intimidating in the Original Trilogy now that we have seen his petulant behaviour in the Prequels.
3. The Machete Order (IV, V, II, III, VI)
I’ll be frank when I say I don’t entirely get the appeal of this viewing order. It seems to me to be more something concocted by Prequel haters than anything else. There is an ongoing movement among Star Wars fans to try to “fix” and address their issues with the Prequels and their ilk with such things as fan edits, despecialized editions, parodies involving the death of Jar Jar Binks, jokes about sand, and now cannibalised orders of watching the films.
While I acknowledge the Prequels have their many issues I don’t think they are that bad and I am starting to suspect the Prequel hate to be more of a band wagon than a sincere conviction nowadays.
But, anyway, the Machete Order purports to make the Prequels more digestible by presenting them more as an extended flashback sequence rather than a fully fleshed out trilogy of their own. Starting traditionally with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back we take a sudden turn when we follow Episode V with Episodes II and III before capping the Saga with Return of the Jedi.
In this order after we are given the shocking revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father we suddenly flash back to Vader’s youth when he was known as Anakin Skywalker being trained under the tutelage of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. After we witness his disturbing fall to the Dark Side under the manipulation of the Emperor we cut back to the main action and see the Rebellion take out the Empire and Anakin redeemed by his son to the Light Side.
This is once again paralleled by The Godfather films. In The Godfather Part II we witness Michael Corleone’s moral degeneration as the new Don while the viewer is given glimpses of flashbacks to his father, Vito’s own rise to power a generation ago.
You will notice that The Phantom Menace is skipped entirely and this makes sense since most Prequel haters regard Episode I as the worst of the bunch. Honestly, I am more partial to giving Attack of the Clones that dishonorary title, but that is just me.
Pros: It will appeal to viewers who are not big fans of the Prequels, but still want some backstory. This order has Luke Skywalker as the central figure making Vader another part of his trials in becoming a Jedi Knight. There is less Jar Jar Binks to put up with.
Cons: Unless you know The Phantom Menace many references in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith will be confusing such as Qui-Gon Jinn, midi-chlorians; and will make the scenes about Anakin and his mother difficult to understand or connect with. The interruption between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is tonally jarring. Overall this order will work if you have already seen The Phantom Menace and know the story of the Star Wars films well.
4. In-Depth Order (I, II, The Clone Wars film and TV Series, III, Rebels, Rogue One, IV, V, VI, VII)
This order is for hardcore fans who want to just watch the entirety of Star Wars as one extended history of the Galaxy. Here the story stops being about any of the Skywalkers and becomes about the Galaxy as a whole. Instead of the Rise, Fall, and Redemption of Anakin Skywalker or the Saga of the Skywalker Family it is the story of how the Old Republic fell to the machinations of a Sith Lord and was eventually reclaimed by the bravery and valour of a Rebel Alliance and the surviving Jedi Knights. And, of course, once again The Force Awakens and its upcoming sequels feel more like an epilogue than a chapter of the main story.
Pros: The viewer is allowed to become immersed in the world of Star Wars. A lot of Easter eggs and minor references are more easily caught and appreciated.
Cons: Takes an enormous amount of time and is better for a once and awhile viewing rather than a regular method of experiencing Star Wars. The constant shifts in tone, live action to animation and back again, variations in quality and storytelling will be disorienting and jarring. As with the Chronological Order a lot of things will be spoiled before you get to the Original Trilogy. The constant advent of new sequels, shows, and spin off movies requires this order to be in a constant state of updating.
5. The Ultimate In-Depth Order (All books, comics, video games, short stories, films, TV shows, etc from Legends or Canon integrated into chronological order)
This order is for crazy people. It’s for extremist hardcore fans who want to experience Star Wars as a sweeping history of a Galaxy far, far away. It’s for the obsessed fans who want; no, need, to know the lore of Star Wars as much as they do their own real life history. In short it is the sort of order that people like me would like.
Starting from the Dawn of the Jedi era to the Legacy comics (or Episode I to Episode VII if you are following Canon) the entirety of the Star Wars universe is revealed. Good luck; you’re gonna need it.
Pros: You will walk away knowing more about Star Wars than most people in your hometown. The immersion is so complete that you will almost feel like you are living in the Star Wars world.
Cons: It will take a very, very, very long time to complete. Constant tonal shifts as well as bouncing back and forth between variant types of media will be exhausting. Finding, locating, and acquiring every piece of Legends and Canon will be expensive and difficult. The constant advent of new sequels, shows, and spin off movies requires this order to be in a constant state of updating. Constant danger of interventions from family and friends who think you need to just stop.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Check in next week for my review of Star Wars Classic Marvel #50 The Crimson Forever and may the Force be with you.