The Skywalker Saga comes to a close in December, when STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER comes to theaters on December 20. For many fans, that means a rewatch of the entire series is in order, to prepare for the conclusion of a story that is more than 40 years in the making.
So what is the best STAR WARS viewing order? There are two obvious options. Most people opt to watch the series either in release order, or by following the timeline of the story itself. The latter option puts a number of films — especially ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY and SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY — far earlier in the order than they would be if seen in release order.
We’re here to suggest a third way — a better way, if we might be so bold. Our STAR WARS order preserves some of the flow of the release chronology and the power of the great character introductions from the earliest movies, while also factoring in the story value of the Prequels, and the flashbacks of the two spin-off movies.
Here’s our ideal STAR WARS viewing order.
There is no better introduction to George Lucas’s “galaxy far, far away” than the first few minutes of the original STAR WARS. Sure, watching the series in chronological episode order lays out a complete history in easily-digestible story steps. But the episode order also introduces key players like Luke and Leia as infants, and Darth Vader as a child. That drains the vitality from their early scenes in the film that has come to be called A NEW HOPE. Starting here, Darth Vader is mysterious, powerful, and terrifying, and the Empire is a dangerously monolithic power structure. No matter the naming conventions of the later movies, this is the place to start, period.
Anyone who has seen some of the OCEANS movies will recall the entertaining storytelling in which we see a wild heist pulled off, then pull back for the reveal of how it all came together. ROGUE ONE does that for the Star Wars series, as it reveals how the Death Star assault came together — and how it nearly failed even before it began. This movie also has one of the most visceral Darth Vader scenes, which reinforces him as a true villain. It takes place before A NEW HOPE, but works best as a flashback.
Here we dodge back to the original trilogy chronology to continue the story of Luke, Han, Leia, and Darth Vader. The Skywalker family tree is established as we learn the true relationship between Luke and Vader. We also get to meet Yoda, the Emperor and Boba Fett for the first time, and learn more details about how all these characters are related. The power of Yoda’s introduction should not be overlooked; it’s far cooler to meet the diminutive Jedi master without any clue about his size. The Force, after all, can be powerful in anyone, and meeting Yoda as Luke does emphasizes that important thematic idea.
While the most obvious viewing order would be to follow through with the conclusion of the original trilogy, there’s good reason to divert over to the Prequels at this point. The three films create an extended flashback which fills in the history of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his protege Anakin Skywalker. Having met Yoda in EMPIRE, we now get to see him in his prime as we learn about the devious plans of Chancellor — soon to be Emperor — Palpatine.
One we’ve begun the prequel cycle, we have to see it through. So this is the second stage of a dash through the second trilogy in the series, complete with the introduction of Jango Fett and his son Boba, and visions of Yoda that reveal just how powerful he really was. The Clone Wars were briefly alluded to in A NEW HOPE, and now we get to see that conflict begin — and we learn how it led to the rise of the Empire.
After several films building up to the original showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and his fallen Padewan, Anakin Skywalker, we finally get to see them lock lightsabers on the planet Mustafar. Anakin’s reliance on the Dark Side — and his crippling overconfidence and rash behavior — prove to be his undoing. Palpatine seems to be unbeatable as all his plans come to fruition, and Darth Vader earns (or is condemned to) his armor.
The big problem with watching the STAR WARS films in release order is that Anakin’s story ends with his fall to the dark side. By dropping the Prequels into the middle of the original trilogy as an extended flashback, we get the best of both worlds. Darth Vader’s story ends with moments of redemption rather than on his mournful scream upon realizing the curse of his armor. And after seeing the Jedi all but destroyed by Order 66 in the Prequels, Luke’s ascention to true Jedi status becomes more powerful, and the title of this film is given extra glory. The only downside here is that, after learning about the clones and young Boba Fett in the prequel films, Fett’s actual scenes in RETURN OF THE JEDI are a bit of a letdown.
“Where does SOLO go?” is the most complicated question to answer as we plot out a proper STAR WARS viewing order. The Han Solo origin story is set roughly seven years after the end of REVENGE OF THE SITH, and a decade or so before ROGUE ONE. Watching this before A NEW HOPE robs Han’s original introduction and character development of its power. This backstory is a lot more interesting when we already know the character. We also need to see THE PHANTOM MENACE before this movie, so the return of one notable character has a big impact. So, thematically, the best place for SOLO is just before the conclusion of Han’s story, which is coming up next.
After seeing Han’s beginning, we see his final moments in the first chapter of the third Star Wars trilogy. In fact, the journey from RETURN OF THE JEDI to SOLO and into THE FORCE AWAKENS (with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in the not-too-distant past) tells a pretty complete story of Han’s life, and his transition from loner to scoundrel to hero. And, of course, this episode introduces Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB-8, whose stories we follow through to the end of the series.
The previous movie was all about closing out Han Solo’s story; now we get to see the final chapter of Luke’s tale. THE LAST JEDI is a fascinating step forward for Star Wars, as it does not offer the expected beats of the young Skywalker’s evolution. Instead of a serene Jedi Master, we find Luke embittered by the weight of his power and responsibility, and crushed by perceived failures. Like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him, he has become a recluse, but for very different reasons. Luke’s story comes full circle as he grudgingly accepts Yoda’s final teachings — and the full extent of his own power.
Finally, we come to the very last film in the Skywalker saga — or we will, when STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER opens on December 20. We don’t know what will happen in the final film in the core STAR WARS story. There are hints of the Emperor’s return, and of new revelations about Rey. We will see the final beats of Leia’s story, and possibly even get a coda to Luke’s personal saga.
All images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney.