Few franchises can claim as large or as diverse a fan base as Star Wars. George Lucas’ space epic appeals to everyone, from little kids and casual fans to die-hard super-geeks who can tell you the call sign of the stormtrooper that Luke impersonates in A New Hope (it’s TK-421, by the way).
This weird mix of fan bases means that Star Wars obsessives can argue over just about anything–and they do. Even something as simple as the order in which you should watch the Star Wars movies is up for debate.
There are generally three camps in the Order Wars. There’s Episode Order, which mandates watching the movies in the order George Lucas’ Roman numerals suggest; Release Order, whose adherents start with 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope and watch the films in order of their theatrical releases; and Machete Order, a unique order that boasts evangelizing believers all over the internet. There’s obviously a right answer here, but let’s take a tour through each camp. We'll also explore optimum watching order for the new Star Wars anthology films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Episode Order: I, II, III, Solo, Rogue One, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII
Hey, George Lucas helpfully numbered his entire saga. So why not watch it in that order? That’s the opinion of plenty of fans, including Reddit user u/urkspleen, who called out viewing order infidels last year by invoking George Lucas’ storytelling mastery:
Don’t do the “Machete order” referred to in other comments, not for your first time viewing. People love Star Wars because despite all the flak he gets, George Lucas is a master story-teller and you shouldn’t mess with the way he’s trying to tell you his story. That leaves you the option of release order or chronological, IMO you’re better off with chronological so you finish strong with the original trilogy.
And there’s no debate that Episode Order is the one that George Lucas would prefer you to go with. Lucas left no room for doubt when he spoke with Vulture: “Start with one. That’s the way to do it right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. That’s the way they’re supposed to be done. Just because it took a long time to film it doesn’t mean you don’t do it in order.”
So George Lucas has spoken, and he prefers Episode Order! But, then again, George Lucas thought it was a good idea to extend Return of the Jedi’s Max Rebo Band scene by about 800 minutes, so maybe we should take his recommendations with a grain of salt.
Star Wars fans that prefer Episode Order see the entire saga as one big story that’s meant to be viewed in chronological order — an idea that is nicely supported by touches like the ending of Rogue One, which leads directly into the opening of A New Hope. The nice thing about this particular theory is its simplicity. Adding all of the other Star Wars Universe stuff into this method is easy–you can just slot in everything from The Clone Wars animated series to the old extended universe books to Solo wherever they fit into the chronology.
The flip side? Well, this order makes it abundantly clear that Luke Skywalker’s father is Darth Vader, which is arguably the biggest spoiler in all of cinematic history. So, uh, there’s that.
Release Order: IV, V, VI, I, II, III, VII, Rogue One, VIII, Solo
When Star Wars came out in 1977, it wasn’t marketed as Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s hard to say for sure how much of the Star Wars universe Lucas had planned out at that point (he’s been somewhat unreliable on that matter himself), but it’s clear that each subsequent Star Wars movie built out on the ones before it. The Empire Strikes Back followed Star Wars with a huge new twist, which was built upon in Return of the Jedi. Then the prequel trilogy came along and expanded upon the series’ biggest twist–which is why watching the Star Wars movies in Episode Order is self-spoiling.
Because of this, brave Star Wars fans around the internet advocate for a very straightforward method of watching the Star Wars movies: watch them in the order in which, you know, they actually came out.
This is the only correct take. We should all begin every Star Wars journey by watching IV, V, and VII, in that order. Whether you choose to continue on to I, II, and III (again, in that order), or move directly on to 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens and 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is between you and your God. But watching the movies in release order will always work best, especially for first-time viewers, because it preserves the biggest spoilers and leads with the strongest movies in the series. If you start off a first-time viewer with the prequels and then the anthology films — which, although masterpieces compared to the prequels, aren't as iconic as the original trilogy —they may not have the stamina to even reach the far better movies. Watching the Star Wars movies in release order is what reasonable people do.
But reasonable people are hard to find on the internet, particularly in the remote online corners dominated by hard-arguing Star Wars super-fans. And that’s why one unique viewing order has come to dominate the Star Wars viewing order debate. I’m talking, of course, about the Machete Order (hey, cool name!).
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Machete Order: IV, V, II, III, (Skip I), Rogue One, Solo, VI, VII, VIII
Here it is, the Holy Grail of the nerdy Star Wars viewing order debate: Machete Order. For the uninitiated, the Machete Order purports to perfect the Star Wars viewing experience by preserving the series’ biggest twist (the revelation in The Empire Strikes Back that–spoiler alert–Darth Vader is Luke’s father), still including the prequels (as a “flashback” sequence), and still ending with Return of the Jedi.
The Machete Order owes its name (which is cool!) to its origins on the blog Absolutely No Machete Juggling. ANMJ blogger Rod Hilton argues that his viewing order keeps the focus on Luke Skywalker, using the Anakin-focused prequels only as a flashback. To that end, he’s skipping Episode I entirely. Let’s take a look at his reasoning:
“The reason to skip Episode I isn’t that it’s bad, it’s that it’s irrelevant. If you accept my suggestion that Star Wars, the saga, is really about Luke’s journey and his decision to accept his hero’s burden by saving not only the galaxy from the Empire, but his father from the dark side as well, then you’ll find that everything that happens in Episode I is a distraction from that story.”
Hmmm, yes. Of course, this isn’t super compelling in light of the fact that Episode II and Episode III also have pretty much nothing to do with Luke, but whatever.
Does the internet like Machete Order? Of course it does! The viewing method that nobody asked for has gained particular popularity among longtime Star Wars fans, who say it adds a “new dimension to the viewing experience,” and other ridiculous things like that. Of course, the release of the new Skywalker trilogy movies and anthology films has led to fracture even within those who prescribe to the Machete Order school of thought.
Personally, if you MUST be a Machete Order believer, we recommend first-time Star Wars viewers watch Rogue One after Episode III — to avoid even very minor spoilers for A New Hope — then watch Solo before moving on to The Jedi Returns and the new chronology of films. But that's a complicated itinerary, and as new Star Wars content comes out over the next few years, it's bound to only get more complicated, which is yet another reason to put your faith in Viewing Order.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Like most debates on the internet, the Star Wars Order Wars are very important to some people and completely unimportant to others. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what order you watch the films in, and each of these camps has something to offer. There really is no wrong way to enjoy the Star Wars films. But there is a right way.
Check out all episodes of the Star Wars films on Amazon.
- Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
- Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
- Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
- Solo: A Star Wars Story
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
- Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
- Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
- Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
- Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi
Featured still from "The Empire Strikes Back" via Lucasfilm