Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out this week and for many people (myself included) that means revisiting the previous six episodes as a refresher course on the Force. But the tricky thing about the films in the series so far is that their chronology and their release dates don’t align! With that in mind, here’s a quick guide on the optimal viewing order for these six epics.
It seems like a no-brainer—watch the movies in the order they were released, as surely that’s how they’re meant to be seen! After all, there are certain plot points in the original trilogy that will be spoiled if you watch the prequel trilogy first. But there’s actually a lot of evidence to the contrary; George Lucas himself even said: “When you see it in six parts you’ll understand that it really ends at part six.”
Although the two trilogies were released back to front, Lucas has always maintained that they should be enjoyed in chronological order. After all, this is how the characters within the Star Wars universe experienced events, so why shouldn’t the audience? Of course, watching them in this order spoils one of the biggest twists in cinema history, and even though the prequels take place first, a lot of the events and characters featured reference the original films—references that are lost when watching the movies this way.
Ernst Rister Order
Proposed on a Star Wars forum thread (now deleted) many moons ago by the eponymous Ernst Rister, solves many of the problems with the previous two methods. It involves watching the films in the following order: IV, V, I, II, III, VI. It sounds a little crazy but hear me out. By opening with A New Hope and continuing to The Empire Strikes Back, we follow Luke’s journey from a young farmer to a lieutenant commander in the Rebel Alliance learning the ways of the Force. Then at the end of Episode V, Darth Vader reveals his true identity to Luke, a shocking revelation and the perfect time to cut to a flashback of Vader’s formative years! This is where the prequel trilogy is brought in as something of an extended flashback before we get right back into the action with Episode VI! Watching the saga this way helps us to easier compare Luke and Anakin’s stories and then we finish on a high with Return of the Jedi’s awesome conclusion.
This one is just like the Ernst Rister Order, but with a slight adjustment—it omits Episode I entirely! The creator of this order, Rob Hilton of Absolutely No Machete Juggling, explains that Episode I is entirely unnecessary to the overarching plot of the saga. Any integral characters established in The Phantom Menace are killed or removed from the story, or they’re re-established better in Episode II; complex but inconsequential plot threads like trade disputes and midi-chlorians are omitted; and best of all—very little Jar Jar! You can’t say fairer than that.
And If You Really Can’t Stand the Prequels…
Of course even with clever ordering, there are still a lot of changes many of us would make to the prequels. Luckily, a YouTuber named Jeremy M West did the hard work for us and posted the ‘Anti-Cheese Edits’ online. These new versions of the prequel trilogy make some simple edits that seriously improve them, such as rerecording cringe-worthy dialogue, removing Jar Jar as much as possible and tightening everything up. If you can’t stand the prequels as they are, give these versions a go!