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Ultimus Viewing Order for the Ultimate Guide to Watching Star Wars

- December 12, 2019
- David Madison Stellar

You may ask yourself, with so many Star Wars Movies, what order shall I watch them in? What order shall I present them to my fellow man so he can love Star Wars truly? Fear no more, for this question is now answered.

Contents

  1. Rationale
  2. The List
  3. Discussion
  4. The Order (Of The Jedi)

Rationale

Firstly, can we all just agree that Star Wars is the greatest movie ever made? Great. Now let's move forward.

There are now 11 movies in the amazing Star Wars universe, the 9 episodes and the two "Star Wars Stories" (of which I expect we will see more). For now I am only considering feature length movies for this list and not TV shows. That means we aren't counting the infamous and blubbering Star Wars Holiday Special. I'm also not counting the animated movie and series, because they just don't rub my lightsaber the right way.

Counting them for what? Well - since the "final" Episode has been released, and since my first born (and only) child was recently released, it's time to figure out the right viewing order for the Star Wars movies, both for diehard fans, and soon to be diehard fans, like my son in seven to ten years, give or take. His name is Timmy, which is short for Ultimus, or, as I prefer it, "Emperor Ultimus, the Boy King". And it's time to figure out the order he will eventually watch his favorite movies in. So what is it?

The List Of Movies To Consider

I refer to episodes by their Lucas Number (the eventual episode numbers given by Lucas), so let's just clear that up here with a list of all the movies we are considering (but NOT the order I recommend!):

EPISODIC (Lucas) ORDER
(chronological in Star Wars Universe)
RELEASE ORDER
(chronological in our Universe)
Episode Title Release Title
1Phantom Menace 1977A New Hope
2Attack of the Clones 1980Empire Strikes Back
3Revenge of the Sith 1983Return of the Jedi
"story"Solo 1999Phantom Menace
"story"Rogue One 2002Attack of the Clones
4A New Hope 2005Revenge of the Sith
5Empire Strikes Back 2015Force Awakens
6Return of the Jedi 2016Rogue One
7Force Awakens 2017Last Jedi
8Last Jedi 2018Solo
9Rise of Skywalker 2019Rise of Skywalker

The ones marked "story" do not have episode numbers as they are offshoots of the original Star Wars 9 Episode series and are referred to as "A Star Wars Story".

Spoilers

I try to avoid them by speaking vaguely of things that will be clear to Star Wars fans, like the "I am your father" bit. But if you haven't seen the Star Wars franchise then you might not want to read this, and just go straight to the watching order to avoid getting any spoiler hints.

Discussion

Obvious considerations for possible orders are Episodic Order (1-9 - though what about Rogue One, Solo?) and Release Order (4, 5, 6, 1-3, 7, Rogue One, 8, Solo, 9).

Also, some of you may have heard of the internet famous "Machete Order"

Machete Order was based on a fantastically well thought-out article for how to watch the Star Wars movies after the creation of the prequels, but before 7-9 came out.

Machete Spoiler alert: Machete order is: 4, 5, 2, 3, 6 (no Episode 1)

He rejected Episodic order, as do I, because 4 (A New Hope) must be first, period. It's the introduction of the universe, and, I would argue, the best film of the series of all time.

I also agree with Machete that we shouldn't lose the surprise of "I am your father" which he discusses quite well.

Machete argued for the removal of Episode 1 because none of the characters ever matter in any of the future stories.

Machete also argued for watching the prequels before 6 because of the Hayden Vader problem. Specifically:

The end of Episode 6 (Return of the Jedi) was changed in the Special Edition (the re-releases) so that Hayden Christensen replaced the force ghost of Vader in the final scene of the Jedi ghosts. This makes sense if, like Lucas, you're pushing Episodic Order, since this is the person who plays Anakin in the prequels. But that means if we choose to watch 4,5,6 before the prequels, we're going to not have any idea why Hayden Christensen is hanging out with Yoda and Obi-Wan, since we haven't seen him in the films yet. It also takes away this visual representation of the redemption of Anakin, which is pretty important.

So Machete helped solve this by moving the movies around. But it turns out it's unnecessary thanks to Harmy's Despecialized version (or Project 4K83).

Wait, who's Harmy and what's 4K83? These are attempts to recreate the original versions of the film. Can't you buy the original versions? Not in DVD quality, nope. When Lucas released the "Special Edition" versions in the 90s those became the only official versions you can legally purchase. So unless you wanted to watch some old VHS quality copy, you had to watch the "Special Editions". To solve this loss, Star Wars fan and video editor "Harmy" scoured a number of sources to try to recreate a "despecialized" edition that would use DVD quality footage as often as possible, but more importantly would match the original theatrical releases.

Alternatively, we have Project 4K77, 4K80 and 4K83 which created 4K versions of the original three movies (released in 1977, 1980, 1983) by rescanning original prints of the movie. What are the differences between these and Harmy? I'll let you go down that rabbit hole on your own time and make your own choices.

Most fanboys are purists and only want the original ("despecialized") movie. For me, I'll be using those original (despecialized) movies for Episodes 4 and 6, since they had the biggest changes that I think are problematic, but I'll probably use the Special Edition of Episode 5 which had a nice video cleanup without any significant story/film changes otherwise.

So this takes care of what I think was the most compelling reason to go with Machete Ordering, we can now watch Episode 6 before the prequels without the Hayden ghost confusion.

Machete also argues that putting the prequels in the middle of 4-6 balances things nicely and means not needing to end with the prequels. But this is no longer the same concern thanks to episodes 7-9. There are some other interesting pros and cons in Machete's article which makes it a great read for fans. But in my mind, showing the movies in an order which requires less explanation ("now we're going back to the prequels...") about where we are and doesn't require splitting Empire and Return apart (since they follow almost directly in time and have a huge cliffhanger waiting to be resolved) is the reason I've moved Jedi back to it's original spot. At some point I'll watch them in Ultimus Order with Jedi after the prequels instead of before, it'll be interesting to see if it makes much difference. (Edit: I've now done a watching in this order, and I think it works great!)

What about the Phantom Menace? For now I plan on including it in the form of the Phantom Edit. What's that? It's a fan edit that cuts about 17 minutes out of the Phantom Menace to pace it better and to remove some of the unnecessary hijinks and also the "midichlorians", which are troubling because they take something that has stylistically existed as a religion and smacks us ipso-facto into thinking they are some sort of science based concept.

There are also fan edits that take all three of the prequels and boil them down into one movie, quite successfully I am told, so I might look into that as well. But I am also not a prequel hater like many angry fanboys, and to me it's part of canon, and as a completist I want to include them as long as they work with the movie universe.

Machete argued against the Phantom Menace, simply on the grounds that none of the characters in it ever become important in later movies. However, it looks like Darth Maul (who was pretty fantastic) will likely be returning in the Solo series (as we see a foreshadowing glimpse of him at the end).

Machete was also written before any of the movies after the first 6 were released, which leaves us with a problem with Rogue One, which is one of my favorite movies in the series. I consider it to be effectively Episode 3.5, and if you watch the end of Rogue One you can see it perfectly blends directly into the beginning of A New Hope. Like, literally. You can play the end of Rogue One and then jump to the beginning of A New Hope right after the crawl and it's seamless.

Machete did write an update to his original article that considers some of the new movies, but I feel like he's just sticking to his guns with his original ideas, and he's also still ignoring the despecialized versions. He pretty much maintains Machete Order and then adds on the new movies.

Adding Rogue One at this point also fixes one of the major problems I have with the prequels, which is the failure of style matching. The Star Wars universe we know is boxy and dirty and sometimes broken. But all of the ships and tech in the prequels are sleek and clean. It doesn't match. The fighting style also doesn't match, but that's another story. We can use Rogue One to help us transition back to the proper style of the Star Wars universe we see in Episodes 4 and forward. Rogue One also fits perfectly before A New Hope, but A New Hope is the first we watch, so... (and here's the really genius moment of Ultimus Viewing Order, if I do say so myself) we solve this by optionally adding a rewatching of A New Hope right after watching Rogue One in the middle, which I think is a perfectly great way to spend two hours.

Incidentally, my other problem with the prequels is the pacing. Episode 2 took an incredibly long time to show the romantic relationship. An unnecessarily long time in my opinion. That time could have instead been used to give more time to the transition to evil that Anakin goes through, which seemed extremely rushed - we go from watching his mom die to killing children in how many minutes? After having watched the Phantom Edit and the Attack of the Phantom (the first fan edits of the prequels) I have to say that they help immensely from this fan's perspective. I'd actually like to see a tighter edit of the Phantom Menace (and I'd like to put the original crawls back) so I might have to do that before little Ultimus is old enough to see it.

So we follow the prequels with Rogue One and a rewatch of Episode 4.

But this does lead us to a slight problem. What's next? We could move on to 7-9 after rewatching Episode 4: A New Hope, but this has a slight issue. Episode 7, which I actually like quite a bit, walks a really fine line between being a remake/ripoff of Episode 4 and being an homage. And that's fine, but I think it would lean to the "remake/ripoff" if you had just seen Episode 4 prior. So that's a problem. One option, if you have the time, is to just go ahead and also rewatch 5 and 6. It's how many of us who grew up with Star Wars saw it, and they're great movies, so why not see them again? This is a particularly good solution if you're pacing the movies out over many years (for children to watch, for example).

The other option also solves the question of the Solo series. Why not put the Solo series as a flashback after the rewatch of 4, then move on to 7-9? All of this now assumes that you don't despise the Solo movie(s) as some fans do. If you do, just skip the Solo inclusion here. But there's a decent chance that Solo will be eventually made into a trilogy. The film didn't do as well financially to guarantee this, but the actors have signed on for doing two more films. I think it's fair to say that Disney will find reason to make future Star Wars content.

Solo after Episode 4 would, however, be a flashback - the timeline for Solo is after Episode 3 and before Rogue One/A New Hope. So why not watch it then? That makes some sense, except Episode 3 leads us to Rogue One and Episode 4 pretty directly, ending with the construction of the Death Star and all. So it would be jumping back in time. But we've already done that with the prequels, and here's why it makes sense. If you look at Episode 7 as a Star Wars fan, then by far the biggest moment in the film is Han. So any Solo movies should either be before or after Episode 7. If we see them before, they only build up the character even more before Episode 7 happens, making the emotional content even more powerful. If they come after, it's just backstory that has less meaning at this point. And watching Solo here also let's us take a break between Episode 4: A New Hope and Episode 7: A New New Hope

Then we just roll through watching Episodes 7, 8 and 9. This keeps the final trilogy together, and now that I've seen 9 I feel like it does a really good job (as long as you're okay with the choices they made, and if you're not, go argue with someone else, angry fanboy!) of wrapping things up to bring the Star Wars tale to a close and, as my brilliant wife put it, give meaning to the entire story.

So go out and watch the series in Ultima Watching Order, and viola, you are now a Jedi!

The Order (Of The Jedi)

So the current ULTIMUS ORDER FOR STAR WARS is:

1 Episode IV New Hope (despecialized)
2 Episode V Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition?)
3 Episode VI Return of the Jedi (despecialized)
4 Episode I Phantom Menace (edited)
5 Episode II Attack of the Clones
6 Episode III Revenge of the Sith
7 "Star Wars Story" Rogue One
8 Optional: Episode IV New Hope (and optionally V + VI!)
9 "Star Wars Story" Solo
10 Episode VII Force Awakens
11 Episode VIII Last Jedi
12 Episode IX Rise of Skywalker

(this page will likely be updated if/when new movies are made!)

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