With Star Wars: The Last Jedi now in theaters, there's never been a better time to binge-watch the epic space saga created by George Lucas long ago in a galaxy... well, this galaxy, actually. But with eight proper episodes and one "Star Wars Story" spin-off, many of which take place over different time periods, it can be daunting to decide which movies to watch in what order. Well dear reader, we've collected some of the most popular (and most unorthodox) below so you can weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself. Take a look below and see which is right for you.
- Every upcoming Star Wars movie to 2021 and beyond
- The secret history of the Star Wars movies we never got to see
A quick note before we begin: there are many, many versions of the Star Wars films available today, which can add extra second or minutes onto the length of the movie. Hence, all runtimes are estimates.
Also, fans have come to appreciate the ‘despecialized editions’ of the original trilogy, and the ‘anti-cheese edits’ of the prequel trilogy. The former combines many different releases (including the 1993 LaserDisc version!) to create a crisp, HD, surround sound version of the trilogy without any of the changes that were made later. The latter cuts out 99% of Jar-Jar Binks and many of the prequels' most cringe-worthy lines and scenes. Both are fan projects and are not available through entirely sanctioned means. If you want those versions, you'll have to hunt them down on your own.
Lastly, we're only counting major, live-action releases. That means no Clone Wars cartoon, or seasons of shows like Star Wars Rebels. And (thankfully) no Christmas special.
Chronological, AKA Episode order
Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~20 hours
WHAT IS IT: Tell me if you've ever had this conversation. Person A: "I like the first Star Wars." Person B: "Which first one? The first one, or the first first one?" While the original film from 1977 was originally titled simply ‘Star Wars’, it was later amended to be known as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. So, the order in which the films were released is not the order in which the events depicted happen. This viewing order lines the films up chronologically, so that films which came out in later years are watched first. Note that Rogue One should be considered optional, since it's not one of the main episodes.
PROS: You follow a series of events from beginning to end. No jumping around, no flashbacks, nothing to confuse the uninitiated. This is arguably the simplest of orders.
CONS: You start with the prequels. Not only do you start with this near universally-reviled trilogy, you start with one of the weakest movies. Phantom Menace feels hollow in comparison to the original trilogy, and could put you or your friends off watching more. It can also be (jar) jarring to go from the CG-heavy prequels to the more practical effects of the original trilogy.
New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Force Awakens, Rogue One, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~20 hours
WHAT IS IT: This order takes a hands-off approach. This is the order the movies came out, hence it's the order you watch them in. There's no real work on the part of the marathon watchers here, so long as you have access to all of the films.
PROS: You're seeing the movies as they came out, which means you're working from the same perspective as the filmmakers. When the prequel trilogy came out, everyone knew Anakin would grow up to become Vader - and that changes how you view the actions of the characters in those films. Depending on your age, this might be how you first saw the saga, potentially giving this order an extra dose of nostalgia.
CONS: Pretty much the same problems with the chronological order, which is to say you're forcing yourself to sit through the prequels, and therefore, Jar-Jar. This order also has three time skips: one backward after Return of the Jedi, one forward after Revenge of the Sith, and another backward (to a time between the prequels and original trilogy) after Force Awakens. 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.
New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~15.75 hours
WHAT IS IT: Star Wars fan and software developer Rod Hilton proposed the machete order back in 2011, and it's often considered by fans to be the "correct" order. By putting two of the original trilogy at the start, this order treats the prequels akin to an extended flashback while cutting out Phantom Menace. That means the story is still about Luke's journey from farmhand to hero, you still get the twist about Vader being Luke's dad, and you learn more about how the Empire came to power.
PROS: By cutting out Rogue One and The Phantom Menace, this order keeps the saga focused on Luke, making it far more digestible than many others. There's minimal Jar-Jar, and you get to keep some sense of awe and mystery around Vader (he's just not as scary once you've seen him as a little kid). Since a decent amount of time passes between Empire and Return, you treat Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith as extended flashbacks that flow well with the revelation of Luke's connection to Vader.
CONS: Since the movies weren't made with this order in mind, you should have a basic knowledge of what happens in Phantom Menace, even if you don't watch it. Picking up in the middle of a war isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you kind of have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Also, you miss out on Rogue One, which is both a pretty entertaining film and offers a unique perspective on the Galactic Civil War.
Ernst Rister order, AKA Godfather, Part 2 order
New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~18 hours
WHAT IS IT: Named after the Star Wars forum poster who proposed it, this is pretty much the machete order, but with Phantom Menace added in, so now you get to see that sweet Darth Maul fight and hear ‘Duel of the Fates’.
PROS: Did you read what I just said? Duel. Of. The. Fates.
CONS: Other than Darth Maul and Duel of the Fates, The Phantom Menace is a bad movie, okay? It's just bad, on multiple levels. And if you choose this order, you're adding in a sub-par film to your marathon.
Time Machine order
New Hope*, Empire Strikes Back*, Return of the Jedi*, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~26.5 hours
WHAT IS IT: I'm pretty sure this could be legally declared as torture if you made someone who has no interest in Star Wars watch it. Each movie listed above with an asterisk next to the title means the unedited, theatrical version. The Time Machine order recognizes that the various changes made to the original trilogy over the years have completely changed it, and highlights those differences by having viewers watch both the theatrical and altered cuts. Otherwise, it's chronological.
PROS: You get to view the original trilogy, unedited, and then the revamped versions with new special effects. This will make you appreciate the incredible amount of work that went into the films and you can see them the same way audiences first did back in 1977. Who knows, it might even give you some newfound respect for some of the changes made later on through various re-releases.
CONS: Or, it could make you hate the new versions even more. If you consider yourself a purist, you'll be agonizing over all the changes made to the films once you've seen them practically side-by-side with the unedited versions. Plus, you're going to have a hard time tracking down a theatrical version - despite pleas from fans, there appear to be no plans from Disney on re-releasing these original drafts. Also, holy crap, do you really want to spend an entire 24+ hours watching movies? Can your bladder handle that? Can your spine?
New Hope, Rogue One, Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~18 hours
WHAT IS IT: Much like how the machete order uses a break between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to slot in two of the prequel films, the flashback order uses Rogue One to give context to New Hope, two of the prequel films to give extra context to Luke's relationship with Vader, and watching Return of the Jedi after Force Awakens and before Last Jedi is a grand exercise in "oh so that's why that person is like that".
PROS: You already know what I'm going to say: this order lets you skip Phantom Menace. Notice how that's a bit of a recurring theme?
CONS: Jumping back and forth across the timeline might be fine for those well-versed in Star Wars, but it's also a bit confusing. Flashbacks work best when used sparingly, but this order relies heavily on them.
New Hope, Phantom Menace, Force Awakens, Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Last Jedi, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith
RUNTIME: ~18 hours
WHAT IS IT: There are lots of parallels in the Star Wars saga - thematic undercurrents which repeat themselves throughout multiple trilogies. This order highlights those and plays them up by comparing each installment with another from a separate trilogy. So you basically have three 'part one's in a row, then three 'part two's, then two 'part three's.
PROS: If you've watched Star Wars so many times you can recite each line by memory, this is a fresh way of watching the saga and it shines a light on some of the less-appreciated subtleties present throughout. If you consider yourself more interested in how film has evolved over the years than the actual plot, it's fascinating.
CONS: This order is not for the uninitiated. The story becomes an absolute mess when viewed this way, and it's less about plot than it is the production and cinematography. It's also not quite 'ripe' if you catch my meaning - until Star Wars 9 comes out, this viewing order will feel incomplete.
New Hope, Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~18 hours
WHAT IS IT: Who cares about some dumb old farm boy? This order refocuses the story onto Obi-Wan Kenobi, relying on Ewan McGregor's performance to carry your enjoyment through the prequels. Ol' Ben is a big part of A New Hope, and flashing back to his journey after Luke destroys the Death Star shows us how he became the wise old man we met on the sands of Tatooine. Instead of a standard hero's journey from nobody to champion, Star Wars becomes a tale of an established hero passing the torch.
PROS: It's certainly a unique take on the Star Wars saga - most people would say that Luke or Anakin are the real heroes at the center of George Lucas' story, but this order argues otherwise. If you feel like seeing a galaxy far, far away through someone else's eyes, try this.
CONS: Surprisingly not many. If you think of Obi-Wan as the main character in Phantom Menace, it becomes (a bit) more bearable. Really, the biggest downside is that unless Rey really does turn out to be Kenobi's daughter (a prevailing fan theory, even in light of what The Last Jedi says about her parentage), it's a clumsy transition into the new trilogy.
We Don't Count The Prequels order
New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Force Awakens, Last Jedi
RUNTIME: ~11 hours
WHAT IS IT: Prequels? What prequels? This order forgoes all of the prequel trilogy, considering any broader context it gives to the Star Wars universe to ultimately be not worth sitting through.
PROS: No Jar-Jar at all, no Mannequin Skywalker with stiff acting, no "I hate sand". This order cuts out the prequels entirely. This is also the shortest order, so if you're tight on time and don't want to lose feeling in your butt, this is the order for you.
CONS: Admit it, you liked some of the prequels - or at least moments in them. With this order, you lose out on some of the most dazzling fights ever seen on film, including Darth Maul vs two Jedi and Count Dooku vs Yoda (did your audience cheer when that little green muppet turned on his lightsaber? Mine roared). Plus, you won't get to laugh/scream along to "UNLIMITED POWAAAAAAAAH!!" during Revenge of the Sith. Also, if you watch the newer version of Return of the Jedi, you'll be getting a weird cameo from Hayden Christiansen at the end for seemingly no reason.