What’s the definitive order to watch Star Wars films?

Come gather round all ye Star Wars nerds.

With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story set to hit theatres in two weeks, we’re revisiting one of the great debates among fans of the films: What’s the best order to watch Star Wars movies?

It’s been eleven years since Revenge Of The Sith brought the Star Wars prequels to their end, and even after taking time to heal wounds with new movies and TV shows, the debate about what is the proper order to watch all six Star Wars films continues.

Is it better to watch them chronologically? Or is the order in which the films were originally released superior? Or how about the internet-famed “Machete Order?”

As someone who has watched the Star Wars films many, many times, I feel qualified to take a look and see which order provides the best experience across the entire saga. For the purposes of this piece, I’m leaving out The Force Awakens as it would come last regardless.

Release order is exactly what it sounds like, watch the movies in the order that they were originally released. Release order still works as it delivers two coherent stories but the emotional stakes of the prequels really can’t measure up to the original trilogy, so this ends up feeling rather top-heavy and lacks a satisfying conclusion.

The other problem with release order is the character assassination of Darth Vader. If Star Wars is Vader’s story, this presents a problem. Throughout A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, Vader appears as one of the greatest film antagonists of all-time, with his redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi capping off his arc. However, following the original trilogy with the prequel trilogy suddenly transforms Vader from a compelling antagonist with a breathing problem into the grand marshal of The Black Parade. Reducing his character takes away from the overall arc of the entire saga and makes ending with the prequels feel rather flaccid and hollow.

Episode order works at little better at telling a satisfying story. By starting with the prequels you get much more of a traditional story arc with a more satisfying conclusion. You have the rising tension (well, “tension”) throughout the first two prequels climaxing with the four-hour lightsaber duel that is Revenge of the Sith.

Following Revenge of the Sith with A New Hope is a nice transition from the non-stop melodrama into the breezier adventure film and then the saga ends satisfyingly with the fall of the Empire. The only problem with this is the shift in protagonist from Vader to Luke midway through. You still get the nice cap of Vader’s redemption but the focus is clearly on Luke’s journey. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Luke’s story is better told, but it does render much of the prequels irrelevant. Which isn’t necessarily a surprise because, well, they’re pretty irrelevant anyway.

Machete Order, coined by Rob Hilton, gets rid of Phantom Menace entirely (fine) and places the two remaining prequel films after Empire Strikes Back but before Return Of The Jedi (sure). So it goes IV, V, II, III, VI.

This is my favourite way to watch the movies. It’s not perfect — Attack of the Clones still borders on unwatchable — but it makes the overall story much stronger, especially the final films in each series. Revenge of the Sith becomes a shockingly effective emotional tale about Vader’s fall to the Dark Side and following it directly with Return of the Jedi makes his redemption and the defeat of the Emperor much more potent.

Machete Order also blends the two Skywalker stories and transforms the saga into the story of a father and son, rather than the story of one whiny Tatooine native and then the other whiny Tatooine native. If you’re looking for a way to re-watch the entire series, this is the way to go.

Final Ranking:

1. Machete Order
2. Episode order
3. Release order

Now on to the next debate: Does Rogue One come first?