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What’s the Best Way to Watch “Star Wars” With Kids?

Chronological order? Storyteller order? What about the prequels?

A New Hope (IV)

Any Star Wars fan worth his midichlorians can’t wait for the day he can sit down and introduce his kids to a galaxy far, far away. So you wait for the day your young padawans are able to experience and understand such an important piece of pop culture. But when that day comes, what’s the best way to do so? Start at the beginning? No, don’t start at the beginning? Only follow Anakin?

As with all things related to lightsabers and Kessel runs, there are a lot of theories (okay, there are six) on the right way to experience the series. Some are simple (Skip the prequels!). Others are more complex (focus only on Anakin’s storyline). All try to create the ultimate Star Wars experience. But which maximizes your kid’s experience? Keeping that in mind, here are our rankings of the best and worst ways to introduce your kids to George Lucas’ world.

Note that for this list, we’re only focusing on episodic movies in the series. That includes Phantom Menace (Episode I), Attack of the Clones (Episode II), Revenge of the Sith (Episode III), A New Hope (Episode IV), Empire Strikes Back (Episode V), Return of the Jedi (Episode VI), and The Force Awakens (Episode VII). This means Rogue One will not be included on these lists.

6. No Prequel Order

A New Hope (IV)
Empire Strikes Back (V)
Return of the Jedi (VI)
The Force Awakens (VII)

People who like this order have one unifying belief: the prequels are garbage and should be avoided at all costs. Why, the thinking goes, make your kid watch three movies that seem more interested in interplanetary trade regulations than space battles and lightsaber duels? Why subject them to Anakin explaining his disdain of sand to Padme? Why make them watch the cool, mysterious Jedis be retroactively turned into a bunch of unfeeling morons?

Yet, while the prequels are definitely inferior, they’re still worth viewing. And to eliminate them all together would be to ignore a large part of the lore — and several rad moments (Darth Maul! Double Lightsabers!) Plus, you’d be missing out on a lot of kid-approved moments (such as the pod race in Phantom Menace).

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5. The Millennial Falcon

The Force Awakens (VII)
Phantom Menace (I)
Attack of the Clones (II)
Revenge of the Sith (III)
A New Hope (IV)
Empire Strikes Back (V)
Return of the Jedi (VI)

The concept of this order is to get your kid interested in the franchise by showing them the newest movie first and working back to answer their subsequent questions. So it asks you to start with The Force Awakens and then go back show them episodes 1-6 in numerical order.

Starting with The Force Awakens is a weird choice because it relies so much on the previous movies to really make much sense. Why is Kylo Ren so obsessed with this charred helmet? Who is this Luke Skywalker guy everyone won’t shut up about? It’s such an homage to A New Hope that it demands an awareness of it for it to make sense. Not the right movie.

4. Chronological Order (In the Star Wars Universe)

Phantom Menace (I)
Attack of the Clones (II)
Revenge of the Sith (III)
A New Hope (IV)
Empire Strikes Back (V)
Return of the Jedi (VI)
The Force Awakens (VII)

If you consider all the Star Wars movies one coherent story, this order posits, then why not show them in the intended order? After all, the episodes are given numbers and so it makes sense to show them in numerical order. But by starting your kid off with the prequels, you’re changing the very nature of the story, not to mention ruining the original trilogy’s big reveal. Risky move.

3. Ernst Rister Order

A New Hope (IV)
Empire Strikes Back (V)
Phantom Menace (I)
Attack of the Clones (II)
Revenge of the Sith (III)
Return of the Jedi (VI)
The Force Awakens (VII)

This one is more commonly known as the Machete Order and is the consensus pick amongst die-hard Star Wars fans. It revolves around the idea of the movie as Anakin’s story. It asks you to watch A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and then watch the prequels to see just how he arrived at this point. Then watch Return of the Jedi, which shows his ultimate redemption. Finish up with Force Awakens.

Changing the viewing order so the prequels are more like flashbacks is a compelling narrative choice…in theory. But it doesn’t work quite as well in execution. This was one of the first version to subvert traditional viewing order, but it isn’t as successful as it would like to be in crafting the most engaging narrative possible. Your kid needs linear storytelling, not a giant detour in the middle of the movie that introduces new characters.

2. Storyteller Order

Attack of the Clones (II)

A New Hope (IV)
Phantom Menace (I)
Attack of the Clones (II)
Empire Strikes Back (V)
Revenge of the Sith (III)
Return of the Jedi (VI)
The Force Awakens (VII)

It looks a bit confusing, but this is actually the perfected version of the machete order. It still tells the story of the Skywalker family, but manages to keep the prequels from ruining the Vader is Anakin reveal. A New Hope sets up Luke’s dad as a hero who was viciously killed by Darth Vader. Then, Phantom and Clones introduce us to said dad, who viewers will still believe is a noble hero heading towards a devastating betrayal. Next, comes Empire, which reveals that Darth Vader actually is Anakin, arguably giving maximum impact to this twist. How could this have happened? That is answered when you return to Revenge of the Sith, where you see Anakin succumb to the dark side. Finish up with Jedi and Force Awakens for a brilliant roller coaster ride of storytelling. It manages to work in every imaginable twist without undermining the overarching narrative. It’s Star Wars meets Pulp Fiction.

1. Chronological Order (In Our Universe)

A New Hope (IV)
Empire Strikes Back (V)
Return of the Jedi (VI)
Phantom Menace (I)
Attack of the Clones (II)
Revenge of the Sith (III)
The Force Awakens (VII)

At the end of the day, the order in which the movies were originally delivered is the best way to enjoy them. You get all the great parts of the story without ruining it with the convoluted, confusing backstory. You get Luke as the hero. You get Han and Chewy and all of the reveals. On repeat viewings, you and the kids can experiment with some other orders to switch it up, but they really only change the story once you’ve already seen it.