In Depth

Which order should you watch the Star Wars films in?

The Rise of Skywalker has reopened debate over the chronology of the series

Han Solo x Princess Leia Star Wars

After much anticipation, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will officially open in UK cinemas on 19 December - and the first reactions to the long-awaited finale to the saga are in.

Umberto Gonzalez from The Wrap calls it “epic”, while /Film founder Peter Sciretta says director J.J. Abrams “nailed it”, managing to “bring a cohesive arc to this trilogy that feels like a fitting end to the saga as a whole”. He added: “Star Wars fans will be very happy.”

Others were more critical, saying it was “convoluted” and “bogged down with exposition”. Chris Taylor at Mashable said it was like watching “nine movies of plot in one”.

While opinions may be polarised, millions of people across the globe are still expected to flock to theatres to see it - and debate has surfaced once again about the best order in which to watch all of the central Star Wars movies.

Some - including creator George Lucas - believe that you should watch the trilogies in numerical order. Others believe release order marks the only correct way. But with an array of films now in circulation - “not to mention the numerous editions of the original trilogy in existence - the best way to experience the saga has become a rather tricky path to navigate”, says Empire magazine.

Chronological order

The order: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Rise of Skywalker

Start with Episode 1, says Lucas: “That’s the way to do it right: one, two, three, four, five, six. That’s the way they’re supposed to be done. Just because it took a long time to film it doesn’t mean you don’t do it in order.”

For newcomers, the numerical way “can seem like the most straightforward and easy to watch”, says The Independent. Unfortunately - “and perhaps don’t tell Lucas”, the paper quips - the first episode, The Phantom Menace, “marks one of the weaker entries in the saga and can be thoroughly off-putting for newcomers to the series”.

This order also leaves what many consider the best movies in the series - Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - “stuck in the middle of the order when they should feel more climactic”, says Digital Trends.

However, “it's worth noting that the first three films released (Episodes 4, 5 and 6) revealed some pretty shocking plot-twists that would blow away anyone new to the Star Wars films”, says Telstra. So, “if you're planning on following the chronological order of the episodes - you might not understand the significance of a few key reveals down the track”.

Production order

The order: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Rise of Skywalker

Worries about spoilers mean a lot of people still choose to watch the first six films in the order they were released, starting with Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) and ending with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005).

The prequels, set 20 to 30 years earlier, “make callbacks best enjoyed with the original three films fresh under your belt”, says The Washington Post, but watching the prequels in the middle “sets up a pretty dark finale, an ill-fitting conclusion to 13 hours of space adventures”.

Taking the latest trilogy (Episodes 7, 8 and 9) into account, this order means two big time skips for the viewer: one backwards after Return of the Jedi and one forwards after Revenge of the Sith. “That's a lot easier to tolerate when the theatrical releases of these films are spread years apart, but as a marathon it's not ideal,” says Games Radar.

The Force Awakens has one major twist that ruins the major Darth Vader reveal in both the original and prequel trilogies. But apart from that, it doesn't really create spoilers for the first six episodes. And so “even if you've already seen the new movie, you should still watch Star Wars in release order,” says Forbes.

What about the other films?

With the events of Rogue One and Solo happening between episodes 3 and 4, “you could argue seeing them after Revenge of the Sith makes sense”, says The Independent. However, “that would ruin the momentum of the series”, the paper adds, so they should “probably be seen between six and seven, therefore offering some respite from the Skywalker saga before cracking on with The Force Awakens”.

Empire agrees, saying while Rogue One is indeed a prequel to A New Hope (as Solo is), “there is little to recommend watching it beforehand as none of the callbacks or references would make sense”.

Meanwhile, the Clone Wars movie takes place in the chronology of the series between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but animated and currently holding a 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it may well be the one film you’re allowed to skip.

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