There seems to be an unspoken rule in the Star Wars fanbase. It has stood for almost 2 decades now, and everybody chooses not to question it. The rule is this- never ask anyone for the best order to watch the Star Wars saga in. If you are new to these films, chances are you will be told of the “right way” to watch them, but the fact is that there isn’t one. It comes down to personal preference as to the experience you want, and what follows are three of the most popular methods. For simplicity, we are focusing on the 9 core films of the Skywalker Saga.
If you want to experience the saga in the way that creator George Lucas intending, this is it. All 9 films are placed in order of the canon timeline which centres around the Battle of Yavin from A New Hope. As a result, each year is marked as BBY (Before Battle of Yavin) or ABY (After Battle of Yavin).
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (32 BBY)
Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (22 BBY)
Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (19 BBY)
Episode 4: A New Hope (O BBY)
Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (3 ABY)
Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi (4 ABY)
Episode 7: The Force Awakens (34 ABY)
Episode 8: The Last Jedi (34 ABY)
Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker (35 ABY)
Viewing the saga in this order allows us to follow Anakin Skywalker, his training as a Jedi, and his eventual fall to the dark side under the new title of Lord Vader (Eps 1-3). We then follow his son Luke as he too learns the ways of the Jedi, discovers his sister Leia and faces down his father (Eps 4-6). Finally we follow (though barely) Leia’s son Ben Solo who has fallen to the dark side under the title of Kylo Ren and his journey of redemption (Eps 7-9). It’s a tale of family, and their continuous struggles over the decades. It is also the tale of Senator Sheev Palpatine, his rise to power, his inevitable fall, and his eventual resurrection. Through the course of 9 films, Sheev goes from a humble chancellor on the planet of Naboo to Emperor of the entire galaxy. Each trilogy of films has been dubbed The Prequels (Eps 1-3), The Originals (Eps 4-6) and The Sequels (Eps 7-9). The reason they have been dubbed this way is where our next viewing order comes in.
If you want to experience the journey of Star Wars then this is the way. The Original Trilogy is so-named because it was released first and, as such, is the first Star Wars story to be told. It was followed several decades later by the Prequels and the Sequels.
Episode 4: A New Hope (1977)
Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Episode 7: The Force Awakens (2015)
Episode 8: The Last Jedi (2017)
Episode 9: The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
Luckily, in the age of DVDs and subscription services, you only have to wait minutes between each film instead of years. This order has us follow Luke Skywalker as he is thrust into an unexpected journey of heroism, where he discovers the dark truth about his father and his past. Those questions about the past are then answered with the Prequel Trilogy. We learn the sinister truth about Darth Vader, and his grip of terror over the galaxy. To finish it all off, the Sequel Trilogy tells us how the galaxy is coping in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi, because that was a question you just didn’t know that you needed the answer to. Many fans consider this to be the “purest method” because this is how the original fans experienced it. This is the order in which I viewed them, but, being born in 1997, I was one of the last of a generation that had no other option. Once the Prequels were announced, there was a certainty that one day all 6 (now 9) films could be watched in chronological order. It was inevitable, so to argue that Release Order is “the way” is ridiculous. You don’t need to watch them this way, but you can, the choice is entirely up to you.
The Machete Order:
Originally concocted by Rod Hilton on his site nomachetejuggling.com this one may seem slightly odd, but bare with it. I have linked to the original, which is a superb read, but will provide a bare bones overview.
Episode 4: A New Hope
Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith
Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi
Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Episode 8: The Last Jedi
Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker
This method keeps the story focused on Luke, before flashing back to show how Anakin became Vader, and finishing the rest of the story in order. There is an almost identical order, known as the Ernst Rister order, except this one omits The Phantom Menace. For his reasoning, and for a better explanation than I could manage, please read the original article HERE.
You may think that choosing between these 3 methods is an easy task, and that it is the only choice you have to make. You are wrong. There are 2 more choices to make before launching into your Star Wars marathon. Which versions of the Original Trilogy, to watch and whether or not to include the anthology films Solo and Rogue One. With each re-release of the Original Trilogy on home media, comes another set of alterations, be it CGI or sound editing. The commercially available DVDs that closest resemble the original theatrical cuts are as bonus discs in the 2006 releases. Each home media release is different in its own way, and lists of these differences can easily be found online. As for the inclusion of Solo and Rogue One, that’s a little bit more difficult. Solo tells the origin story of smuggler Han Solo but really doesn’t tie into the core saga. I consider it a fun little detour but it isn’t essential unless you’re determined to watch every film. Rogue One, on the other hand, tells how a group of rebels stole the Death Star plans, and explains that infamous exhaust port. It isn’t part of the Skywalker saga, but I see no reason to skip it. It provides extra context to A New Hope and has some superb set pieces, as well as the best Darth Vader scene in any of the films. Here’s how that ties into the orders.
Chronological Order: Solo and Rogue One, in that order, between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Release Order: Rogue One proceeds The Last Jedi whilst Solo follows it. Their release years are 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Machete Order: Rob Hilton has since answered this very query. The Machete Order stands as it is, with Solo and Rogue One being completely separate films. See his response HERE
I haven’t undertaken a Star Wars marathon since 2015, when I was preparing for The Force Awakens. Each viewing order has its own benefits and the decision of which one to choose is entirely up to you. Personally, I would recommend Chronological Order, as it keeps the story straightforward with any subsequent viewings being available for the other two options. There’s no such thing as a “Pure” Star Wars experience, but each person’s experience is still an experience. That’s the beautiful thing about Star Wars. It doesn’t matter how we got here, what matters is that we are here. We are a community and, though we often seem divided, we are here because we love Star Wars. Its not about defending your views, its about discussing your opinions. The most fundamental part of the fanbase is this:
The force is with ALL of us. Always.