What’s the Best Order to Watch Star Wars Movies for the First Time?
Here are some watch-order options for your next Star Wars binge.
The popularity of Baby Yoda is something of a double-edged lightsaber. On the one hand, he is introducing a new generation of kids to the world of Star Wars. On the other, The Mandalorian is a minuscule part of the entire saga. Watching the Star Wars movies in order is a must for kids who love Baby Yoda, but what order to watch Star Wars in is a matter contested as hotly as whether Han shot first. Also, the order of watching the Star Wars TV shows is an entirely separate topic from the order to watch the movies. So, let’s talk about how to watch Star Wars movies!
Right now, all of the Star Wars movies — including Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — are streaming on Disney+. This is the first time since you could buy a VHS boxed-set in 1996, every single Star Wars movie will be available to watch in the same spot. So, now that you can binge all of Star Wars on Disney+ should you watch from Episode I: The Phantom Menace, straight through Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker? Does it even matter which order you watch the Star Wars movies at all; specifically with kids?
For the purposes of this piece, we’re gonna focus just on the movies, meaning we’ll consider The Mandalorian its own thing, and just sort of watch it whenever you want. (Just remember it happens after Return of the Jedi, but before The Force Awakens, cool? Baby Yoda is not actually Yoda, his name is Grogu! ) We’re also not going to include non-canon stuff. This means those Ewok movies are out. (Yeah, I received a lot of emails from people mad we didn’t include the Ewok movies. Consider this parenthetical my response. You also might want to avoid the Ewok movies with kids altogether, they’re actually super depressing.)
Is watching the classic trilogy before the prequels the way to go? And what about the “Star Wars Stories” Solo and Rogue One? These are age-old questions, but luckily we’ve tackled them in great detail (more than once!). We’ve come up with four different logical ways you can watch the Star Wars movies for the first time.
Mild spoilers for all of the Star Wars movies ahead.
Some of these methods will preserve certain plot twists, others will dovetail with how film history really happened. And yes, there is one strategy where you can just start with the whole saga with the origin story of a smuggler named Han Solo. It sounds crazy, but it just might work. And for now, don’t trust that Disney+ autoplay! It’s not putting the Skywalker saga in any kind of order we can endorse!
Option 1: Release Order
This is perhaps the easiest way to watch Star Wars with your kids if only because it will likely mirror your own experience with the movies. Plus, watching the movies in release order preserves the biggest twist of the entire saga: that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. Having said that, it’s very possible savvy kids everywhere are spoiled on this fact even without having seen Star Wars for one minute if only because everyone knows that Vader is Luke’s father. There are actually many more hours of film on pre-Vader Anakin than there are on Vader himself.
But, watching the movies in release order is good for one other reason: New Star Wars movies are still coming out and will presumably continue to do so for a long, long time. So, if you start watching the movies in release order now, you don’t have to course-correct when a whole new trilogy comes out a few years from now.
The release order would go like this:
A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the Sith (2005), The Force Awakens (2015), Rogue One (2016), The Last Jedi (2017), and Solo (2018) and then, The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Option 2: Chronological Order
Admittedly, this might the hardest way to go, if only because so many adults have a hard time accepting that the Star Wars prequels are the beginning of the saga. That said, Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace is one of the most kid-friendly movies in this messy and frightening franchise, and it also features a child as the primary protagonist. The disadvantage of watching the movies this way is that if you include the most recent prequels — Rogue One and Solo — you’ll be five movies deep before you even get to Luke Skywalker, which seems crazy. Still, on some level, watching the movies this way is the most honest, since, for better or worse, this technically depicts the fictional events in a galaxy far, far away in the order in which they happened.
So, chronological order would be:
The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Solo, Rogue One, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi … and then, The Rise of Skywalker.
Option 3: “Disney Fist” Chronological Order, with Episodes I–III a flashback for The Empire Strikes Back
Here’s where things get weird. Because there’s so much murder in Revenge of the Sith and because the newer prequels (Rogue One and Solo) are generally better than the George Lucas ones, you could watch the saga in pseudo-chronological order, but cheat by saving the Lucas prequels until later, turning them into the backstory for The Empire Strikes Back. This concept appeared online in 2011 and is generally known as the “machete order.”
In the machete order, you watch A New Hope, then The Empire Strikes Back, and then when you find out Darth Vader is Luke’s father, you go back and watch Episodes I, II, and III to understand how all that happened. Then, after you finish the horrific terribleness of Revenge of the Sith, you watch Return of the Jedi where Anakin becomes good again. Will watching Hayden Christensen on a killing spree in one movie, and then watching his happy ghost grin at Luke in the next movie work emotionally? Who knows! It’s an experiment!
But, my twist on the machete order is to start with the newer prequels, not A New Hope. That means you’ll do Solo first, then Rogue One, and then the classic first film, A New Hope. The cool thing about this approach is that seeing Solo and Rogue One before A New Hope can make the Empire seem really dangerous, but won’t ruin any of the surprises of who Darth Vader really is or what he’s all about. This order also suddenly posits the entire saga to be about Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker. Which, considering that the newer movies are about Han’s family, not Luke’s, that kind of makes sense.
Here’s how the modified chronological, complete with machete order flashback, shakes out:
Solo, Rogue One, A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Prequel Break– Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and then, The Rise of Skywalker.
Option 4: Kid’s Choice
To be honest, it actually might not matter which order you watch these movies in with your kid and that’s because despite being really, really complicated as a film series, each individual installment is actually easy to understand. We’re not talking about avant-garde cinema here. It’s only when you try to understand the whole story that things get confusing. Basically, thinking about Star Wars is harder than watching a Star Wars movie. In other words, you could watch most of these movies with the sound off and understand, just from the visuals, generally speaking, what was going on. Plus, a lot of kids who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s (like most contemporary dads with young kids!) didn’t watch the movies in any correct order anyway, and we all managed to “get” what the movies are about.
So, let go of your desires and needs to have a perfect Star Wars viewing experience with your kid, and just let the will of the Force (your kid) decide which way the story will go. As Yoda once said, “truly wonderful, the mind of a child is!”
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