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Please don't lynch me, but I've never sat through an entire Star Wars film. I'm aware that the 3 (new) films are technically prequels, but I feel strange watching 3 new films then 3 old films?

Do I need to watch the new ones then the old ones?

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Related question on Movies & TV: In what order should a newcomer watch Star Wars episodes? – TARS Dec 28 '15 at 13:07
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My solution: don't watch them at all. – rand al'thor Jan 18 at 12:28

17 Answers 17

up vote 271 down vote accepted

The best order I’ve seen suggested is as follows:

Chart (transcribed below)

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

Basically, you have a very extended flashback between episodes V and VI.

That puts the oldest and clunkiest SFX first, avoids spoiling the revelations from episode V, and finishes at the end of the original story before moving on to the sequel trilogy. And it means you won’t stop and give up in disgust after watching only one movie.

Edited 2015-12-20: I have now seen The Force Awakens, and it definitely fits in to this order after Return of the Jedi, and thus after all six of the other movies (or at least those of them that you choose to watch). And you should see it; it's a worthy successor to the original trilogy.

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I love this recommendation. And as the parent of small kids, let me add that your appreciation of the various films is clouded by your age and what you were first exposed to. My kids loved I,II and III much more than the ones I grew up watching. – Jerry Brady Feb 1 '11 at 20:12
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This is actually a pretty good plan, for people who INSIST on watching I, II, and III. – Pete Feb 1 '11 at 20:51
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Watch the original, so that when you see I-III, you can appreciate how much George messed them up. – Nick Bedford Apr 19 '11 at 23:46
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+1 for a logical running order that will make ROTJ seem better than it is. – Kalessin May 22 '11 at 16:17
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Even better: follow this order, just don't watch The Phantom Menace. – William Jackson Feb 27 '12 at 19:41

I just read a very good blog post arguing that Machete Order is the best way to watch them:

Next time you want to introduce someone to Star Wars for the first time, watch the films with them in this order: IV, V, II, III, VI.

Notice something? Yeah, Episode I is gone.

The blog post itself goes into a lot more (persuasive) detail about why this is better, which I shall merely excerpt as:

The Star Wars watching experience gets to start with the film that does the best job of establishing the Star Wars universe, Episode IV, and it ends with the most satisfying ending, Episode VI. It also starts the series off with the two strongest films, and allows you to never have to either start or end your viewing experience with a shitty movie. Two films of Luke’s story, two films of Anakin’s story, then a single film that intertwines and ends both stories.

Beyond this, Episode I establishes Anakin as a cute little kid, totally innocent. But Episode II quickly establishes him as impulsive and power-hungry, which keeps his character consistent with [his eventual spoiler-containing destiny]. Obi-Wan never really seems to have any control over Anakin, struggling between treating him as a friend (their very first conversation together in Episode II) and treating him as an apprentice (their second conversation, with Padme). Anakin is never a carefree child yelling “yippee”, he’s a complex teenager nearly boiling over with rage in almost every scene. It makes much more sense for Anakin to have always been this way.

Rod Hilton goes on to explain what works best is the tension around Luke's destiny — all the "will he, won't he?" in Episode VI:

Having the very real threat of Luke following in his father’s path made clear by watching II and III before VI heightens the tension of [Luke confronting the Emperor], and it actually makes Return of the Jedi better. Yes, watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film. Considering it’s the weakest of the original trilogy films, this improvement is welcome.

The one thing that becomes noticeably less good, Hilton caveats, is that

Anakin returning to Tatooine

doesn't make much sense. We don’t know

his mother is a slave, and we don’t know he built C-3P0. When he has visions of his mother dying and returns, Watto says he sold her. That’s not something you expect to hear about a Jedi’s mother

, so it’s a bit jarring.

I can definitely see the strength in this argument; I may have to try it out sometime soon.

And my favourite thing about the blog post has to be that it inspired this dude to suggest what Episode I should have been: What if Star Wars: Episode I was good?

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+1 for mentioning the machete order - I think my son will see it in that sequence. – flq Mar 18 '13 at 11:04
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I would say the person you quoted was kind of dumb. Did you act the same as you did when you were 9? There is a 10 year jump between Episode I and II, and a 3-4 year jump between Episode II and III. Plus there is also other factors to contribute to Anakin's change. He was a peacekeeper and a general! He must have seen some pretty awful things doing missions for the Jedi. Like Episode II has him chasing the bounty hunter in to a bar, and he is only nineteen! As a general, he must have seen many atrocities. This is purely speculative so I won't be posting an answer. – jacen.garriss Oct 2 '13 at 20:35
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@jacen.garriss: Surely the merits of the Machete Order aren't about whether Anakin's change is wholly explained or not; it's about whether including Episode I increases or decreases one's viewing pleasure. Certainly, for people who remember watching the original trilogy as kids, there's an argument that it doesn't. If you don't have fond childhood memories of that trilogy, though, then your experience is likely to be quite different, I'd guess. I'm not saying Ep I is intrinsically, just that omitting it might enhance some people's viewing experience. – Owen Blacker Oct 4 '13 at 9:01
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Awesome answer (except for the mention of Ep VI as the weakest film - I always disliked Ep V). – The Fallen May 9 '14 at 1:54

No. Don't watch the new ones. In fact, ignore them. Just watch the old ones (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).

See if you can find ones that have been unadulterated. The originals were brilliant. The recently released DvDs have been altered to retcon in stuff they screwed up in the prequels.

Or you can watch the old ones and watch the prequels, but just be ready to be thoroughly disappointed by how very bad the prequels are in comparison to the originals.

Alternately, if you promise not to run screaming when you discover how much the prequels suck. You can watch them in order and instead of disappointment, you may experience a certain level of gratification as they steadily get better.

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+1: I like both Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, but man there was some dialog in Parts I - III that even those guys couldn't pull off. – user296 Feb 1 '11 at 15:43
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You can do the same when Jar Jar Binks is on screen too, but you have to turn the screen off as well. – Andy Feb 1 '11 at 17:52
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+1: Just yes. The best order to watch them is: IV, V, VI. :-) See also this xckd (last line). – PLL Feb 1 '11 at 18:21
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Yes, the new ones are horrible. And not only were the 1997 and 2004 additions alterations of the original trilogy unnecessary. They are horrible as well, because the visual style of the movie just suddenly changes as scenes change between being filmed with miniatures, and then completely rendered CGI. – Pete Feb 1 '11 at 20:49
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You guys make it sounds like the acting in the originals was blow-your-mind phenomenal, but really think about it, if the acting was so good why were only two of the actors ever in anything else... – Sydenam Aug 1 '11 at 16:17

There is no "official" recommended viewing order for the Star Wars series, but there are two main approaches:

  • Watch the series in numerical (in-universe chronological) order (I, II, III, IV, V, VI)
  • Watch the series in release order (IV, V, VI, I, II, III)

My personal recommendation would be to watch the series in release order. That is, watch the original trilogy first, and then watch the prequel trilogy after that.
A number of factors weigh in on this decision.

  • There are revelations in Episode V (Empire Strikes Back) which will be spoiled if you watch the Prequel trilogy first.
  • The Original trilogy was made with very little knowledge of the story of the prequel trilogy, but the Prequels were made knowing the full story of the Original trilogy.
  • The Prequels were made to tell the back-story of characters from the Original trilogy; rather than the Original trilogy telling the future of the characters in the Prequels.
  • The original trilogy developed a huge fan-base based around it, but the prequel trilogy has been largely criticized by fans of the original trilogy.
  • Much of the appeal of the Prequel trilogy was the suspense of knowing how the chracters would end up, and finding how they got there.
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One more point to add. The prequels often don't line up with the original saga's story. Things like who Obi Wan was trained by (Yoda, not Qui Gon), when he met Anakin (as a pilot, not a boy), the fact that all the ships were beautifully designed one second and after 10 years they're all piles of gray metallic junk. Jedi weren't trained in some giant "Jedi College" in the middle of the galaxy. – Nick Bedford Apr 19 '11 at 23:57
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To be fair to the prequels, I would say that we fans of the originals hate them because they were made for kids, not for those of us who were kids in the 70s and 80s. All the kids who were experiencing the franchise for the first time with the prequels loved them. They even liked Jar Jar Binks, bless them. – Owen Blacker Feb 5 '12 at 22:02
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@NickBedford Remember that we have to take Obi-Wan's word from a certain point of view :P Like every Jedi in like the previous half millenium Obi-Wan did train under Yoda at some point or another, and Anakin was a pilot when they first met: a human podracer-pilot, a feat that should be impossible for that species. Though you're right of course, the prequels are new and shiny but lack any real substance. – BMWurm Sep 6 '14 at 14:52

If you enjoy reading, there might be an even better way to enjoy it.

  • Watch Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Watch Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Read Shadows Of The Empire
  • Watch Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi
  • George never made any prequels...
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yup, the prequels aren't really worth watching. Jar-jar Binks is funny at times, but not funny enough to warrant buying 3 DVDs :) – jwenting Apr 20 '11 at 8:19
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Which times? ;) – Jason Dean Sep 6 '11 at 21:49
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... and if during ANH Han shoots first, you are even watching the right version. – BMWurm Sep 6 '14 at 14:53

Don't watch the prequels- at least at first. Let the weight of the first trilogy settle in before going to the prequels.

Watch Episodes 4, 5, and 6 first. I'd suggest also watching three of the most popular original trilogy parodies- Spaceballs, Steve Oedekirk's "Thumb Wars", and the "Laugh it up, Fuzzball" Family Guy parody trilogy (Blue Harvest/Something Something Something Darkside/It's A Trap). This will allow you to get a general idea about the cultural impact of the original trilogy before moving on.

If you are still interested in what happened before "A New Hope", watch the Clone Wars animated series. Don't expect Shakespeare from the animated series, and you may be pleasantly surprised by their content from time to time. "The Clone Wars" really helps in fleshing out the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker. Keep in mind that "The Clone Wars" refers to two separate series - a two dimensional series from 2003 and a 3D CGI series from 2008. Technically, both of these series occur in the time between Episode II and Episode III, so you could watch Episode I and Episode II before each iteration of the Clone Wars series.

If you want, you can watch the prequels, once. You may not ever want to watch the prequels again after that, and that's OK. However, the Robot Chicken Star Wars Trilogy (I, II, and III)) does parody several of the moments from the prequel trilogy, so it would be best to wait to watch them until after you've finished watching I, II, and III. Honestly, I enjoyed the Red Letter Media critiques of the prequels (I, II, III) more than I enjoyed the films themselves, because the critiques helped lend voice to the reasons that the prequels didn't have a lasting emotional impact on my life. However, if you like the prequels, great! Feel free to watch them as much as you want. If you don't like them, consider watching a "fan-edit" version that may match up better to what you're looking for.

TL;DR - IV, V, VI, Spaceballs, "Thumb Wars", "Laugh it up, Fuzzball", I, II, Clone Wars (2003), Clone Wars (2008), III, Robot Chicken Star Wars I-III, Red Letter Media Critique of Episodes I-III, (Fan-Edits?).

EDIT: I apologize for editing the answer several times. If anything, the multiple edits of my own answer prove that there is definitely more than one way to watch Star Wars.

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+1 for including Clone Wars – Anonymous Type Feb 1 '11 at 21:19
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Any explanations for the downvotes? I'd love to hear reasons. – Zoot Feb 3 '11 at 14:43
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Probably because of Jar-Jar. Anyone recommending that one watch anything with that character triggers knee-jerk reflexes in adults - or at least folks who were adults when they watched Phantom Menace. – Tangurena Feb 5 '11 at 2:55
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+1 for watching spaceballs to understand cultural impact – Josiah Hester Oct 11 '12 at 5:12

After posting this answer I tried it out and think that this order works rather well. Think of the symbolic similarity between the two Skywalker generations, both starting out in Tatooine:

IV, I, II, V, III, VI

Try it! The flashbacks and flashforwards work rather well, without spoiling the suspense until the right time.

  • (IV) Meet an innocent Luke in a backwater planet learning about his family connection to major events in recent galactic history. Learn how evil the current Empire is.
  • (I) Flash-back to meet an innocent Anakin in the same backwater planet, and see how idyllic the Republic was supposed to be. Connect the two story lines via Obi-Wan. There is that mysterious bad guy in the cloak.
  • (II) The Republic is breaking. Anakin is becoming the jedi master Obi-Wan told Luke about. The Clone Wars (which he also mentioned) begin.
  • (V) Flash-forward! The New Republic is fighting the Empire in earnest. Yoda is still around. The cloak guy is now the Emperor. Vader did not kill Anakin... He is Anakin!
  • (III) So what happened? Palpatine was supposed to be a good guy, but he is the cloak guy! Anakin dissolves into Vader (so technically Obi-Wan told Luke the truth). Now we know why Yoda had to go into hiding.
  • (VI) Return to the backwater planet to reunite Luke's crew, and get ready to strike down the Empire once and for all in a conclusion that brings two generations together.
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Wow, that's not so bad, making a diverse mix of old and new and providing the backstory of Luke's father while still not spoiling his true identity. Wouldn't have thought about that. – TARS Aug 6 '14 at 16:08
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Yes this order didnt spoil much of the scenes in prequel – samnaction Mar 3 '15 at 8:48

Okay, I'm a little late here, but I would suggest the following: you start with IV, V, VI. That's the original trilogy and it will give you the guts to actually finish the whole marathon. Then go to I, II and III, so you watch them in order they were filmed and share the experience of all the people who watched them as they appeared. Now, the only downside to this approach is that you'll have the sense of unfinished story. Then you just go ahead and watch IV, V and VI once more, they are worth it and you'll complete the story in linear order.

So, IV, V, VI, I, II, III, IV, V, VI. It takes a little bit more time, but what the hell, you are going to rewatch the original trilogy anyway. Throw in Clone Wars series and movie between II and III if you like.

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Finnish MTV3 Order: III, II, I, V, IV, VI

When Finland's MTV3 channel (not related to MTV) acquired the rights in October 2008 to show all six films and The Clone Wars, they held a poll on their website to find the most popular. They received over 24,000 votes:

  • Star Wars: Episodi III - Sithin kosto (2005) (7926 votes)
  • Star Wars: Episodi II - Kloonien hyökkäys (2002) (6974 votes)
  • Star Wars: Episodi I - Pimeä uhka (1999) (6337 votes)
  • Star Wars: Episodi V - Imperiumin vastaisku (1980) (5861 votes)
  • Star Wars: Episodi VI - Jedin paluu (1983) (4956 votes)
  • Star Wars: Episodi IV - Uusi toivo (1977) (4582 votes)

Somehow, the MTV3 schedulers decided that it must logically follow that the films should be shown the most popular first; that if the most voted for Revenge of the Sith as your favourite, then surely you also want to watch it first. And if Attack of the Clones is the next most popular, then show that second!

You can't argue with democracy: 24,000 people can't be wrong.

So episodes III and II were shown at Christmas 2008. Episodes I and V were shown in January 2009. They didn't show the last two until November 2009, and had finally decided (after showing III, II, I then V) it would be daft to show VI before IV and ignored the poll and sensibly switched them.

  • 25.12.2008: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
  • 26.12.2008: Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)
  • 17.01.2009: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
  • 31.01.2009: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  • 22.11.2009: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
  • 29.11.2009: Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

(The following year they managed to show them weekly in numerical order.)

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"You can't argue with democracy: 24,000 people can't be wrong." I'd argue that the whole premise of democracy is to say, "I'm right, but those other 24,000 people are wrong". – phantom42 Jul 16 '13 at 10:52
    
Speaking about democracy on a Star Wars-relative answer is like saying "I'm the only one to be right about <insert some dictator here>!" You do exactly what the film wants to denounce ^^ – Saphirel Feb 1 at 0:46

Here's what I was told would be the best from a storytellers' point of view; of course I had watched the original trilogy from childhood long before the prequels came out, so there were no surprises left even in the new movies, but...

  • Watch Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Watch Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Watch Episode VI: Return of the Jedi up to where Luke sees Obi-Wan on Dagobah and Obi-wan explains himself.
  • Watch all three prequels in order, I, II and III
  • Return to Episode VI and watch the rest of it.

Now, the original story arch of Star Wars was supposed to be a "trilogy of trilogies"; A New Hope was chosen as the original release because if Lucas didn't get backing for the rest of the films, Star Wars was the best one to stand alone. The third trilogy, which was supposed to take place after the original trilogy, will probably never be seen in movie format. Between all the fanfics and the Star Wars: Jedi Knight video game series, the basic idea is that there are still Imperialists "insurgents" making trouble, Luke is rebuilding the Jedi Knights, and nature abhors a vacuum; there can be no light without darkness.

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I know this is a long time after the original question, but in lieu of the recent blog post http://scifi.blogoverflow.com/2011/10/scifi-stackexchange-in-practical-use-in-what-order-should-the-star-wars-movies-be-watched/ I would like to propose a slightly different order:

4 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6

See the Rebel Alliance and fall in love with the rebel ideals, and be confused and hurt by the fierce and uncaring Empire, then go back and see how the not one generation before the rebels were the ones that became the Empire, then watch Anakin grow old, get married, have his wife die, the children were hidden, now he and Luke get reacquainted, and then the finale.

Just my suggested order.

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This won't fly because the revelations at the end of Empire will be completely spoilered. – user8719 Mar 19 '13 at 0:15
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Yeah, in retrospect it pretty well makes sense to go 4 - 5 - 2 - 3 - 6 and let 1 be a bonus feature. – jcolebrand Mar 19 '13 at 2:35
    
@user8719: the revelations there are already spoiled for basically anyone living in our culture. – sumelic Jan 1 at 21:49

The Vulture website has aggregated the suggested viewing orders from a range of people involved in the original, prequel and new trilogies

George Lucas (I, II, III, IV, V, VI): “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.”

Daisy Ridley (I, II, III, IV, V, VI): "I would say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, because for a young person it's easier to understand the chronology."

John Boyega (?): "I would say whatever you want! Watch 3, 6, 2, 1 — do whatever you want to do so long as you experience it a very unique way and enjoy it."

Mark Ruffalo (IV, V, VI, I, II, III): "From the first one made to the most recent. Straight through. They just build up nicely that way. That’s the way I saw it, and I’m a little bit of a throwback."

Aaron Paul (IV, V, VI, I, II, III): "You start with the original Star Wars movie. There is no other way. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Or maybe it’s not even that. I have no idea why I feel this way, but you should watch them in the order they were released."

They also offered the advice of a professional movie critic

Matt Zoller Seitz, critic (IV, V, I, II, III, VI): "The Godfather, Part II order. This is the order my wife came up with back in 2005. We were discussing the right order in which to show the movies to our kids, and we agreed that Darth Vader's reveal was such a big deal that it would be a shame to ruin it by showing the episodes in numerical order. She was a big fan of The Godfather, Part II, which flashes back and forth between Michael Corleone in 1959 and his father Vito as a young man in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

"In this order, you start with A New Hope and continue through Empire, which of course ends with Vader dropping that huge plot bomb on Luke. Then you "flash back" to The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and then Revenge of the Sith to show how Anakin became Darth Vader. Then you finish with Return of the Jedi, where Luke tries to pull his father back from the Dark Side and at least partially redeem him, restoring balance to the Force in the process. We actually watched the films this way, and it really worked.

"Not only did it magnify the impact of the throne-room scenes in Jedi, it made it much easier to see the mirroring games that George Lucas was playing in the prequels, making The Phantom Menace a rhyme of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back with Attack of the Clones (right down to the sad cliff-hanger ending), and Jedi the answer to Sith, following right on its armored heels."

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Shorter answer.

Must watch.

  • Star Wars (1977) - The Unexpected Hit: If you don’t see any of the other films, you should watch this. Forget the ideas of backstory and such, this is the distillation of the best of George Lucas’s ideas.

  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - The Unexpected Sequel: Fantastic sequel but an aberration. Far darker in tone and hints at maturity but don’t ever hope for that mature tone to ever come back in any way again.

Should watch.

  • Return of the Jedi (1983) - The Creation of a Franchise: Not a bad film, but definitely the one where George Lucas decided the franchise should never “grow up” and any maturity that existed from The Empire Strikes Back was pretty much washed away. This film was designed to define a franchise; not to further a plot.

Optional.

  • The Prequels (1999-2005) - The Milking of the Franchise as a Special Effects Demo Reel: Nothing shown on screen here—or explained in dialogue—is worth remembering. The films mainly flesh out backstory that doesn’t need to be fleshed out and primarily acts as special effects house demo reel.

  • The Force Awakens (2015) - Reviving the Franchise to Milk it Some More: This is not a bad film, but you won’t get much of anything new. It’s whole reason to exist is to establish that the Star Wars franchise has new owners and they are here to give you exactly what you want with nary a hint of edge, maturity or growth.

Longer answer.

While there are many good answers here—such as Nick Bedford’s simple and succinct list—that explain differing rationale on this topic, I believe nobody is really addressing the value of simply watching them purely in production/release order with a contextual understanding of why each film was made. So here I go: My general feeling is the films should be watched in the order they were released and not “episode” order; the story is not that deep and the “revelations” are not that revealing.

  • Star Wars (1977) - The Unexpected Hit: Honestly, you can just watch this one film and never watch anything else and be happy. This film is 100% self-contained and pretty much a perfect distillation of the story George Lucas has attempted to tell without wasting time on—frankly—the tons of extraneous backstory nonsense even hardcore fans. There is a clear beginning, middle and end and the backstory elements serve their purpose; they are added depth that allows a fairly simply space fairy tale to be told.

  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - The Unexpected Sequel: Great sequel, but an oddball none-the-less. When this was being produced it’s working title was simply Star Wars II; not “Episode V” or some nonsense like that. As good as this film is—and it’s a very good film—it was/is still only a film that was made simply because the first film was a runaway hit. The demand for a “sequel” was mainly to rake in more of that sweet, sweet money the first film brought in.

    That said, this film is an oddball in the whole series simple because it is an unexpected sequel; utterly nobody involved in the production could conceive at the time that a sequel to Star Wars would be successful financially or creatively. So what you have here is an attempt to deepen the threadbare plot of the first film. And that was done by expanding character depth in many different ways. Where the first Star Wars played out as a children’s film that adults could enjoy, The Empire Strikes Back feels like a young adult novel with far more true coming of age and series tones taken. The biggest of which is the film ended not with anything positive, but a fairly simple, “And these are the struggles of our heroes…” footing.

    But still, you need to see this film as an aberration to the Star Wars vision; it was/is an experiment to see what a sequel to a blockbuster such as Star Wars could be but in many ways was too dark for George Lucas’s tastes.

  • Return of the Jedi (1983) - The Creation of a Franchise: If Star Wars was an unexpected hit, and The Empire Strikes Back was an unexpectedly successful sequel, this film could be seen as George Lucas now defining not what a sequel could be, but was a franchise should be. With the success of those two films, it was clear that if the films stuck to a specific formula, the series could simply be a proverbial goose that just always laid golden eggs. And that is what you see on screen here.

    Gone were even plot explanations and character rationale, and instead we have characters being played in a “winking” manner with tons of goofy side characters such as Sy Snootles and such. And after setting up Boba Fett as a truly scary “who is that guy” character in The Empire Strikes Back, what do you get in this film? They just kill him off in a fairly pathetic way that’s punctuated with the huge monster who consumed him just burping? Also, as many people deride The Force Awakens (2015) as being derivative of the 1977 film, this film is pretty derivative of that first film as well; I mean the whole plot past rescuing Han Solo was to blow up another Death Star.

    That said, this film is not entirely bad and there are some very cool action scenes—the speeder bike chase I think is fantastic—but it’s truly the moment you realize any semblance of young-adult to adult depth the series might have had was tossed out the window. To quote Phil Tippett—the stop-motion artist for the original “Star Wars” trilogy—George Lucas explicitly told Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand, “Well, what we’re doing now is kind of like a cross between Benji and what we did on Empire Strikes Back.” This is the film when George Lucas decided pandering to the audience was better than respecting the audience’s intelligence and growing the story in a mature way.

  • The Prequels (1999-2005) - The Milking of the Franchise as a Special Effects Demo Reel: The milking of a franchise. In my humble opinion, you never have to watch any of this stuff for any reason; not for plot and not even for action sequences. The way I see this stuff is simple: All of what is presented here is just backstory to characters George Lucas created for the 1977 Star Wars film. You know what backstory is? It’s nothing special; it’s just the simple rationale and ideas a creative person would sketch out as subordinate to a greater story. Meaning there are backstories to practically every character in practically every work of creative fiction that exists out there; it’s a normal byproduct of a creative process. But honestly, by byproducts—in and of themselves—are not worth dealing with.

    If anything these prequels were produced simply to show off the special effects magic that ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) can do. So in that way, these films act as very expensive and elaborate demo reels of the high quality work ILM can create. Which—on their own—look cool but are ultimately devoid of any real plot where you actually care about any of the characters. These films are just hollow and forgettable.

  • The Force Awakens (2015) - Reviving the Franchise to Milk it Some More: If you watched all the films in the original trilogy, you might as well watch this film. But even if you have never watched any of the films in the original trilogy, this film is fine as a stand alone piece.

    It is indeed a fun ride to be on while you are watching it but the film plays it safe on many levels. It’s clear the purpose of this film is not to really advance plot—or surprise the viewer—as much it was made to establish the new ownership of well worn franchise and state, “Forget those prequels you all hated… We’re going to give you exactly what you want!” You can take that as being bad or good, but in general I felt that The Force Awakens was more a work of fan fiction with a decent budget more than anything else. This film was designed to make the franchise appeal to a new generation of consumers fans and not much else past that.

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  1. Episode IV
  2. Episode V
  3. Episode VI

Repeat as desired.

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1  
Please give reasons why this should be followed; as it stands, this answer seems more like an opinion. – Mooz Aug 4 '14 at 23:29
2  
Every answer here not quoting Gorge Lucas is an opinion. +1 for the correct order. – Mazura Aug 6 '14 at 4:48

This is an old-ish question, but with the new film out I feel it requires the following answer:

If you have never seen Star Wars you should definitely start with Episode IV, then watch V and VI. All three of these are classic pieces of cinema history, and all three are enjoyable films. Put together they tell a complete story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

I would then skip over the prequels entirely and watch the new one, episode VII. This film is clearly designed to be watched without ever seeing the prequels, and it follows on nicely from episode VI, albeit with a long time gap in between.

If by then you are hooked, you can move on to the prequels if you want. But bear in mind that while they are full of whizz-bang computer generated effects, they don't really add anything to the story and in many ways subtract from it. They are officially "canon", but I suspect they will continue to be ignored for all practical purposes in future sequels from Disney, so you will not lose much by avoiding them, or by just watching them once to satisfy your curiosity and then trying to pretend they don't exist.

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I personally despise the prequels, so on that basis, I don't think you'd be missing much if you ignored them and used this order:

  • Episode IV: A New Hope

  • Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

  • Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

  • Episode VII: The Force Awakens

But you probably want to see all of them, and assuming that this is the case, I suggest:

  • Episode IV: A New Hope

  • Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

  • Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

  • Episode VII: The Force Awakens

  • Episode I: The Phantom Menace

  • Episode II: Attack of the Clones

  • Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

There are some surprises in Episode V that would be ruined if you watched the series in numerical order, so the important thing is to watch the original trilogy first, THEN the prequel trilogy. You also need to watch the new trilogy - Episodes VII through IX - after the original trilogy, but you can watch the new trilogy before or after the prequels.

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It's not when you watch them, it's what you watch. Only the unaltered versions can be watched out of episodic order without spoiling the prequels. Having only found the despecialized versions recently myself and buried here only in comment links, I'd like to point them out. They are reconstructions of the theatrically released versions of the STAR WARS trilogy in 1280x720p.

"Even better: follow this order, just don't watch The Phantom Menace."

– William Jackson Feb 27 '12 at 19:41


Harmy's STAR WARS Despecialized Edition

enter image description here

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1  
This doesn't really answer the OP's question. – RedCaio Jan 19 at 0:24

protected by Community Oct 6 '13 at 16:53

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