Okay, so your kids are, say, between 8 and 10, and you feel like they can handle the intensity and the awesomeness of the entire Star Wars saga. But, now you’ve got a Death Star–sized problem. What order should you watch the movies with your kids? Because the vast majority of the Star Wars movies have episode numbers, you’d think that would make things easier, but, obviously, that doesn’t help at all. Not counting the two fairly awful (and luckily hard to find) Ewok movies or the 2008 Clone Wars cartoon movie, there are 10 normal Star Wars live-action movies out right now, and as of September 25, when Solo hits Blu-ray, they’re all be available to watch at home in any format you want. (Yes, Fatherly has tackled this topic before, but there have been some new movies since then.)
So what are your options? Chronological? Release order? Or something else? Here are four ways to introduce your younglings to the ways of the Force. 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 just-released origin story of a smuggler named Han Solo. It sounds crazy, but it just might work.
Here’s where the fun begins…
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 since 1980, everyone knows that Vader is Luke’s father and there are actually more hours of film spent on Vader before he was Vader 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 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).
Option 2: Chronological
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 really the beginning of the saga. That said, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace is one of the most kid-friendly movies of this messy and frightening franchise, and it also features a child as the primary protagonist. The disadvantages 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 would be like this:
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 eventually, Episode IX in 2019.
Option 3: “Disney Fist” Chronological, and Treat Episodes I–III as a flashback for 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 moving the prequels until later, essentially viewing them as backstory for The Empire Strikes Back. (I didn’t invent this flashback part of the approach — online, this concept started 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, Episode IX in 2019.
Option 4: Let the kid choose
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, on a movie-by-movie level, each installment is actually really simple and easy to understand. 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 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 said once: “truly wonderful, the mind of a child is!”