One of the most interesting discussions to me in the Star Wars fandom is in what order one should view Star Wars media. This is kind of a complex question, because there is SO MUCH Star Wars media at this point, really an embarrassment of riches. And it gets more complicated when you are recommending what order a brand new viewer should watch everything in, as it can get very overwhelming and depends on a few different factors, in my opinion.
I started organizing my thoughts on this topic recently because a friend of mine expressed interest in the recently-concluded limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi, but also was concerned that she hadn’t seen very much other Star Wars previously, so felt she might not have enough context.
I asked her a few questions about what she HAD seen, what she thought of it, and what else she knew about other Star Wars media and characters, and based on her answers, I recommended what I thought she should start with (I’ll tell you what I recommended a little later). She looked at me over our waffles and said I should start a Star Wars viewer recommendation business, or write a guide or something, so here we are!
The “Canon” Viewing Orders
There seem to be three main camps when it comes to the best viewing order for a Star Wars newbie.
The first is Release Order–watch the main saga movies (those with Episode numbers, so not Rogue One or Solo) in the order in which they were released to experience the story the way fans from the beginning first experienced it. So this is Episodes IV, V, and VI (also known as the Original Trilogy), followed by I, II, and III (or the Prequels), and then VII, VIII, and IX (the Sequels).
The second camp is Chronological Order–watch the main saga movies in the order of their Episode numbers to experience the story in the order in which events happen in-universe.
The third camp is Machete Order, named for the blog of the creator, No Machete Juggling, that places the main saga films essentially in release order, except moves Episode VI: Return of the Jedi to be viewed directly after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
(Machete Order also officially excludes Episode I: The Phantom Menace in a first viewing, as the original post argues that this film is not essential to the story the way that it’s framed through the Machete Order viewing. This is correct, but a lot of people also really like The Phantom Menace, so I say watch it if you want!)
I think Machete Order is superior to the other two, because it combines the benefits of both without the disadvantages of either. You preserve the nonlinear storytelling and some of the major twists and reveals of release order, but with the added narrative catharsis of chronological order.
I Have Other Ideas
But while these are the three main camps, they are not the only right ways to watch Star Wars. Author E. K. Johnston, who’s written several Star Wars books, including a trilogy that’s in a nonlinear order, has stated that she believes virtually any Star Wars work can function as an entry point; nearly every piece of Star Wars media is intended to be accessible to someone who is brand new to the world. So if you really, really want to watch The Mandalorian because you think Baby Yoda is cute even though you’ve never seen any other Star Wars, you should go for it!
Which brings me to what I ultimately recommended that my friend should watch as her first piece of Star Wars media (well, not technically her first, as she said she’s seen pieces of A New Hope and The Phantom Menace, but didn’t finish either one, which I took into account in my recommendations).
Where should a newbie start with Star Wars? I have four suggestions.
Suggestion 1: Start with Whatever the Hell You Want!
My first recommendation, and what I would extend to any Star Wars newbie, is to just jump into whatever you’re really interested in, and don’t worry about watching “pre-requisites.” If you saw a trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi, or your friend told you about the animated series Rebels, or anything else, and it really sparked your interest, then start with that!
There’s no point watching hours of movies you may not even be that interested in just to get to what you really do want to see. And as mentioned previously, most Star Wars media is designed to be accessible to everyone, so if there’s backstory you need to know, that will almost always be explained. You can also probably find plenty of articles and YouTube videos that will give you Cliff’s Notes versions of any background information, like this one for Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you feel like you need it.
Suggestion 2: Start with Episode IV: A New Hope (a.k.a. the original Star Wars)
If you’re planning to watch the movies in either release order or Machete Order, you will of course be starting with A New Hope. This is also the most obvious place to start if there’s no one piece of Star Wars media that you’re more interested in than any other, as it was the movie that started it all.
Once you watch A New Hope, you can either continue with release/Machete order and watch The Empire Strikes Back next, or you could watch Rogue One next if you want to learn more about the background and set-up for the story of A New Hope.
Suggestion 3: Start with Episode I: The Phantom Menace
If you’re watching in chronological order, you’re going to be starting with The Phantom Menace. I wouldn’t personally recommend watching in chronological order, since as I mentioned earlier there are twists and reveals in the Original Trilogy that are ruined by watching the Prequels first. However, I do know of several people who first watched in this order and didn’t feel that it significantly hindered their viewing experience, so you do you!
There is a lot of really good what I would call “supplementary” Star Wars material that takes place in the time period of the Prequel films, like the popular animated series The Clone Wars and several books and comics, so if you’re interested in any of those, watching the Prequels first might actually be helpful.
Suggestion 4: Start with Episode VII: The Force Awakens
This was my second suggestion to my friend for what she should watch first. This may be a controversial suggestion to some Star Wars fans, but for someone who is brand new to the world, I think The Force Awakens is actually a pretty perfect introduction. Hear me out.
It has been discussed (at length) that The Force Awakens functions as a sort of “soft reboot” of the entire franchise. It intentionally echoes the plot and archetypes of A New Hope and re-introduces the important characters and world elements from the Original Trilogy, while also introducing new characters and giving a fresh perspective on the familiar story.
So The Force Awakens works just as well as A New Hope as an introduction, and it has more contemporary-feeling pacing and up-to-date special effects, which may help with immersion for younger viewers or anyone not used to the older filmmaking style of the original. It does give us the PIECES of the biggest reveal of the Original Trilogy, but it doesn’t put them together for us, so I don’t think this really counts as a spoiler.
If you watch The Force Awakens first, I think you could then go one of two directions. You could continue with the Sequels and watch Episode VIII: The Last Jedi next if you really want to see what happens to our young protagonists. Or if you want the background on the older characters, you can go back to A New Hope and then watch the rest in either release or Machete order, or just watch the Original Trilogy before continuing the Sequels.
(Side note: I’d like to propose that this sort-of modified Machete viewing order which places The Force Awakens first but keeps the rest of the order the same [so it looks like VII, IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VIII, IX] be termed “Nesting Doll Order.”)
It’s Up to You!
I’d like to once again reiterate that I really think you should just watch what you want, and in the order you want. There is no one right way to watch Star Wars, and if someone is telling you you’re doing it wrong, ignore them! Star Wars is supposed to be fun, so if you’re not having fun with it, stop stressing! And if you’re at a loss for where to start, hopefully my little guide here can help.
If you’ve never seen Star Wars before, do you think you’re going to start now? What are you going to start with?
If you’re already a longtime fan, what order did you first watch? Do you think that was a good order?
Let me know in the comments!