Among the Star Wars fandom, there’s some contention regarding what order to watch the movies.
Some — including creator George Lucas — hold that you should watch the series in numerical order. Others believe release order marks the only correct way. Then there’s Ernest Rinster’s ordering, plus the machete order. And let’s not get started on where to watch the spin-offs. But what’s the correct way? Let’s delve into the positives and negatives of each.
Numerical order: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX
“Start with one,” Lucas says of the correct way of watching the Star Wars movies. “That’s the way to do it right: one, two, three, four, five, six. 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.”
For newcomers, the numerical way can seem like the most straightforward and easy to watch. Unfortunately — and perhaps don’t tell Lucas — the first episode, The Phantom Menace, marks one of the weaker entries in the saga and can be thoroughly off-putting for newcomers to the series (plus The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Jedi are not a whole lot better). You also lose the shock of Empire Strikes Back twist ending come to the fifth movie — although almost everybody on Earth probably knows the iconic outcome. While not for us, it’s what George would have wanted.
Release order: IV, V, VI, I, II, III, VII, VIII, IX
The way many millions of fans first watched the Star Wars series. By watching the original trilogy first, followed by the prequel, you get to experience the huge twist and then discover how Anakin Skywalker became the villain known as Darth Vader. Starting with the innocent adventure of Luke Skywalker and friends — A New Hope — also marks the strongest, most enjoyable way to start the series and introduce newcomers. The downside comes when finishing with the prequels then going into the latest trilogy, the pair seeming slightly disconnected. Fortunately, there’s another order that fixes that issue.
The Rinster order: IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII, IX
Named after the fan who allegedly created it, Ernest Rinster, this order sees viewers watch A New Hope into Empire Strikes Back, then turning back to watch the prequels before returning to the originals for Return of the Jedi. Why? As noted before, you preserve the twist, start with arguably the best Star Wars instalment, and see the culmination of the prequels and sequels with Return of the Jedi, making an epic finale. This method leads perfectly into the new trilogy as well.
The Machete order: IV, V, II, III, VI, VII, XIII, IX
As noted before, The Phantom Menace isn’t exactly well-liked among the Star Wars community, many arguing the movie adds very little to the series — Midi-chlorians, Qui-Gon Jinn, pod-racing, Jar-Jar; they all have very little impact on the following movies. As a result, the machete order is the Rinster order but without The Phantom Menace. However, with this order, you miss out seeing Anakin as an innocent young boy, instead only meeting Hayden Christensen’s arrogant teenage version. This one is for those who have seen Phantom Menace and would rather forget the movie existed.
Spin-offs: Rogue One, Solo
Thanks to the anthology movies, we now have even more questions about which order to watch the series. With the events of Rogue One and Solo happening between episodes three and four, you could argue seeing them after Revenge of the Sith makes sense. However, that would ruin the momentum of the series (unless watching in release order, where Rogue One comes after Force Awakens anyway). Really, they should probably be seen between six and seven, therefore offering some respite from the Skywalker saga before cracking on with The Force Awakens. This also makes sense when considering Force Awakens rolls straight into Last Jedi, meaning you probably don’t want to stop for Rogue One.
So there we have it: four ways to watch the Star Wars series. While I would recommend either the Rinster order or release order (sorry George), the decision’s completely up to you. Whatever the case, you’re guaranteed to have a whole lot of fun in that galaxy far, far away.
[This article was originally published in April 2019]