Ever since George Lucas created the Prequel Trilogy, there has been debate among Star Wars fans as to the correct order to watch the films when introducing someone new to the galaxy far far away…
Do you start with the prequels and watch everything in chronological order, or do you watch them in the order that the generations before had to experience them as they came out in the cinema (because remember: there was apparently a time before Star Wars!). I do not claim to have the definitive argument for which was is best, but thought that I would give my thoughts on different viewing options and the pros and cons of each. This will just be looking at the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy, not taking into account the Disney-era films or The Clone Wars movie. I will also not be leaving out any of the films (I have seen some people in the past suggest ignoring Episode 1, but then you miss Darth Maul and Liam Neeson!).
This will discuss how certain reveals can be affected by the viewing order, so if you have not seen the movies be warned: There are spoilers ahead!
Now that I have seen all the films, if I sit down to marathon all the movies this is the order that I watch them in. Even though there are time jumps between each movie, they all still link into each other in some way, so to watch them in chronological order will make it easier for a new viewer to understand what is going on. By watching 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 you don’t have to stop after 3 films and explain to a new viewer that we are actually now jumping back in time, they can just naturally see the aging of each character over time. Watching the films this way also means that if you treat each of the trilogies as their own act, you get the sombreness of the first act ending with the fall of the Jedi and the Rise of the Empire, followed by the more upbeat success at the end of the second act when the Rebels are triumphant. If you are watching the later versions of the Original Trilogy, this also ties into the expanded Victory Celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi as we get to see Coruscant and Naboo, planets that would mean nothing to a new viewer if they watch the Original Trilogy first. By doing it this way, you can also make the decision to add Rogue One into the viewing order between 3 and 4 if you want to expand the experience even further.
While this is a great viewing order once you have seen all the films, I am not sure it works if introducing the saga to someone who has not seen the films and does not know the stories. Episodes 1 and 2 are widely considered the weakest films of the original 6, so a new viewer may decide not to continue if they are not enjoying the fart jokes and (understandably) Jar Jar. Probably the biggest issue that I have with this order is how it ruins one of the greatest reveals in movie history: Darth Vader’s “I am your father” moment. Watching in chronological order we see Anakin’s fall to the Dark side and therefore when Ben Kenobi tells Luke how Anakin “died” we know it is a lie and the shock of Vader’s reveal belongs to Luke alone and not us, though we may get a shiver of anticipation as to what is coming when Vader initially hints to Luke that Ben may not have told the truth about what happened to Anakin.
Showing the films to a new viewer in release order allows them to go through the same emotional journey most of us will have gone through, as many of us will have relied on the cinema for at least a couple of the films. This is the order that George Lucas intended the films to be watched and as such there are nods in the Prequel Trilogy to events from the Original Trilogy – Obi-Wan’s “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” to Anakin gets a reaction from people who have seen A New Hope but means nothing to viewers who don’t know Kenobi’s eventual fate. More than that, watching in release order preserves the shock of Vader’s revelation on Cloud City. Whereas Chronological Order starts new viewers on the weakest films, Release Order starts on arguably 2 of the strongest films in the saga, so new viewers may be more willing to keep going even if they know that things may not be as good moving forward.
While Release Order is in my opinion a better introduction for new viewers, it does still have its flaws. Following Return of the Jedi, it would need to be explained to a new viewer that the next trilogy is a prequel rather than following on. Tonally, it also means that you finish the 6 films on the down beat of the rise of the Empire rather than the celebration for defeating the Emperor and destroying the 2nd Death Star – and if you’re watching that celebration in one of the newest versions of the Original Trilogy then new viewers won’t have a clue who Hayden Christensen is when his force ghost pops up on Endor!
If I had to pick one of the above options when showing the films to someone for the first time, I would pick Release Order, however there is another possible order that I have heard that I really want to try with someone: 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6. Though I cannot credit him with making this order, I first heard of it in an interview with Sam Witwer and I have wanted to try it ever since. The idea of this is that you watch the first 2 films in the order they were released, then after Vader’s reveal you watch the Prequel Trilogy as if it is a flashback, then jump back to the “present day” and watch the conclusion of the Galactic Civil War.
While you would still need to explain to a new viewer that we are jumping back in time for the prequels, I think that this order could potentially work quote well. You start with 2 of the better films to get them into the saga but still get the better ending of Return of the Jedi that concludes everything. Vader’s reveal remains a shock and you then get 3 movies to see how Palpatine corrupts him and makes him fall to the Dark side, which makes you worry even more for Luke when he is brought before the Emperor. The reveal of Luke having a sister – and that sister being none other than Leia – never felt like it was played as a great reveal in Return of the Jedi, whereas suddenly the reveal that Padmé is having twins is a shock (by this point we have heard Yoda say that “there is another”), made even greater when Padmé names the girl Leia. The newer conclusion to Return of the Jedi also plays better here than in the Release Order, with people having seen the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker and understanding all the planets shown celebrating Palpatine’s defeat.
I want to try this order so much and I can’t wait for my cousin’s children to be old enough to sit down and watch the films, they will be my guinea pigs and I will let you all know how it goes!
What order would you use if watching with a first-time viewer? Would you use one of these or is there another that you would use? Have you found an order that has worked well when showing people? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading and may the Force be with you…