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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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By looking at the answers, this is a really subjective question. Anyone could say anything and they would be right because it's merely our opinion that the first 3 movies sux (though it tis true). –  Mark Rogers Feb 1 '11 at 19:30
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Disagree with calling the question subjective. Some of the earlier answers to the question were opinionated and subjective, but the question could easily be answered properly and fully. There is a "correct" answer, so the question is by no means subjective. –  Nellius Feb 2 '11 at 17:29
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Same question (and interesting answers) here –  Benjol Feb 3 '11 at 14:10
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There is only one order. Watch IV and V, read Shadows of the Empire, then watch VI and leave it at that. –  Nick Bedford Apr 19 '11 at 23:45
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11 Answers 11

up vote 182 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)

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 story. And it means you won’t stop and give up in disgust after watching only one movie.

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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
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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
    
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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Best. Recommendation. Ever. –  SQB Dec 5 '13 at 9:02
    
Awesome answer (except for the mention of Ep VI as the weakest film - I always disliked Ep V). –  SSumner May 9 at 1:54
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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
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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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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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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
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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
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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. –  Jimmy Shelter Mar 19 '13 at 0:15
    
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
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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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