Updated: Jul 4, 2022
All the ways to watch your favorite Star Wars content
Everyone has their favorite Star Wars movies, so I wouldn’t dare try to impose my rankings on anyone. But I think it’s worth talking about the different ways to watch the saga, especially as more content, like the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, gets added to the lineup.
This obviously follows the movies as the story plays out starting from Anakin’s humble beginnings on Tatooine in The Phantom Menace to Ben Solo’s tragic death in The Rise of Skywalker.
With chronological viewing, you have more context going into each movie. For example, you understand how Darth Vader became the villain, and therefore you appreciate him returning to the Light Side before he dies. If you didn’t watch the prequels before the original trilogy, Vader’s death doesn’t hit you as hard.
This is my preferred method of watching the films — which is weird because I would say the exact opposite about the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which I prefer to watch in release order. Following the characters through their lives makes you feel like you’re growing with them. And why would you want to watch any other way when chronological viewing provides that BOMB transition between Rogue One and A New Hope? It’s absolute perfection and gives me chills every time.
However, not everyone is a fan of this method. Some say this spoils the “I am your father,” twist. But to me, it’s so cliché that you can’t really spoil something that everyone knows regardless of whether they’ve seen the movies or not.
My only issue with this method is sort of unavoidable — while you don’t jump around in the story, you do jump around with effects. Going from the 2000s to the 2010s to the ‘70s and back to the 2010s definitely emphasizes the differences in the visual effects of today versus yesterday. I always try to remind myself that the effects of the older movies were revolutionary at the time, and there is a sense of consistency with the set design of something like the inside of a ship in the Imperial Fleet. But, when you see the Death Star in A New Hope, it’s just sort of laughable.
Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith Optional: The Clone Wars Series/Movie Optional: Star Wars Rebels
The Force Awakens Optional: Rogue One
The Last Jedi Optional: Solo Optional: The Mandalorian
The Rise of Skywalker
This watch order mimics the way the movies were released in theaters beginning with A New Hope, which was just called Star Wars when it was released in 1977, and concluding with The Rise of Skywalker from 2019. This method is preferred by some because you see the story as it was written by George Lucas. Additionally, you don’t notice the differences in visual effects as much because you watch each “section” (‘70s/2000s/2010s) one by one.
To me, the main problem with release order is the lack of context. The plot holes seem more apparent because they were “filled in” as more content was produced. Where does Vader come from? Why is Luke stuck on Tatooine? Who is this Ben Kenobi guy? Also, fun fact: Lucas knew that if you watched in release order, you’d know the father twist. He created the villain Chancellor Palpatine in the prequels so there was still somewhat of a surprise for viewers.
I don’t think the prequels are nearly as powerful when they come before Rey’s story. Who cares how Vader came to be when he’s long dead? It feels like veering off instead of expanding the Skywalker story.
A New Hope
Empire Strikes Back
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
Return of the Jedi Optional: Basically everything else including the new movies and series
I’ll admit: I was a little skeptical of Rod Hilton’s approach to watching the films. In his eyes, watching in this somewhat “random” order preserves the father twist while eliminating cringy aspects such as the Padmé/kid-Anakin relationship and Jar Jar Binks.
But really, your appreciation for this order comes down to one question: Is Star Wars the story of Anakin Skywalker or Luke Skywalker? If you ask Hilton, it’s Luke. Watching machete style reveals truths as Luke learns them, and then provides more detail once he does. So when Vader tells Luke he is his father in Empire Strikes Back, we go back to Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith to prove he’s telling the truth.
To me, the strongest point to watching in Hilton’s order is that it makes the ending of the original trilogy more powerful because it shows the parallels between Anakin and Luke and the fight to join the Light or Dark Side.
Anakin’s whining in Attack of the Clones is less annoying because Luke is just as whiny in A New Hope. In Return of the Jedi, Luke Force chokes Jabba’s guards, something no one else in the series has done but Vader. Then, he tells Jabba “not to underestimate [his] power.” This is the same line Anakin gives Obi-Wan in the iconic monologue at the end of Revenge of the Sith. And at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke duels Palpatine who plays on his emotional connection to Leia and Han Solo just like he played on Anakin’s fear of Padmé’s death.
So maybe there’s some truth to Hilton’s order, especially if you’ve seen the films in both chronological and release order already.
Well there you have it: an overview of all the ways to watch the Skywalker Saga unfold for a different viewing experience each time.
And no matter which way is your favorite, we can all agree on one thing: to ignore the kiss between Luke and Leia.