The Definitive Guide to Watching the Star Wars Movies in Order

Unlearn what you have learned.

Star Wars Movies
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo

(SPOT.ph) With streaming series such as The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the latest release Andor making the Star Wars universe feel all the more like a galaxy far, far away to movie buffs of the Philippines—where Disney+ has yet to be launched—your typical Star Wars fan may feel their fiery passion for the franchise has been snuffed out as of late.

However, thanks to Blu-Rays, home media box sets, and other non-exclusive mediums, we’ll always have the movies in the beloved Skywalker Saga (plus a couple of bonus spinoffs) to watch at home. Modern technology; got to love it. Given their availability and the latest release of the Rogue One prequel series Andor, we thought we’d revisit the age-old question of “What’s the best order to watch the Star Wars movies in?”

Older fans of the franchise would say to go in order of release and start with the Original Trilogy, followed by the Prequel Trilogy, then finally, the Sequel Trilogy. Others would argue it’s better to go in chronological order of the Episode numbers. However, as with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, allow us to present a definitive viewing order that meets the best of both worlds.

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Also read: Everything We Know About Taika Waititi's Star Wars Movie

Here is the definitive guide to watching the Star Wars movies in order:

Star Wars Movies in Order
ILLUSTRATION Marese Tan

First, we start with Episode IV: A New Hope—or as it was originally called in 1977, just Star Wars. Besides being the movie that started it all, we kick off with A New Hope because it allows us to instantly lock into the perspective that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is our protagonist for this saga (at least for now…). It allows us to be introduced to the Star Wars universe through his eyes, because it’s integral that we go on this adventure with Luke from his nobody status on a backwater planet to the hero of a grand galactic civil war. You just don’t get that feeling and gradual escalation of scale, should you witness all the events of the Prequel Trilogy first.

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Having been introduced to Luke, Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Darth Vader, and the essential components of the universe, we next head into Episode V: Empire Strikes Back.

Empire is intricately crafted to be a counterpart/reverse of A New Hope and it’s primarily seen in the film’s structure; A New Hope begins with a battle that takes place in a hallway and escalates until it climaxes with an aircraft battle above the Death Star. Empire Strikes Back starts with an epic aircraft battle on Hoth then de-escalates until it ends in a brutally intimate hallway fight scene.

Much more than structure, Empire is a reverse of A New Hope thematically too. The adventurous “act-first, think-second” spirit that allowed Luke to save the day in A New Hope is what leads to his greatest downfalls in Empire. As Yoda states it directly, Luke has to “unlearn what [he] has learned.” It only makes sense to pair these two together during a binge-watch.

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Plus, there is the, oh shall we say, minor aspect of Empire ending with what is considered the greatest twist in cinema history, the thunderously shocking (due in large part to James Earl Jones’ vocal delivery) revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father (if you didn’t know that 40-year-old twist, we’re sorry for the spoiler). Anyone going through this viewing order for the first time—with no prior knowledge of Star Wars—will be caught extremely off guard by this development, as most audiences were when the film first dropped in 1980. A rare cinematic moment that you wouldn’t get should you watch the Prequel Trilogy first.

Empire Strikes Back Final Shot
The final shot of Empire Strikes Back.
PHOTO BY Star Wars
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However, after the cliffhanger of Empire, you will then head over the Prequel Trilogy. Why? Well, one, it allows for the sting of Empire’s cliffhanger to last just a bit longer. What does Luke do now that he knows Darth Vader is his father? What will happen to fan-favorite character Han Solo, with his carbonite-frozen body now being transported to Jabba the Hutt? We leave these questions hanging in the air for suspense, as we unravel the story behind the true question, “How is Darth Vader Luke’s father?”

The Saga as a whole does make it so that you only need to watch Episodes IV and V to understand the Prequel Trilogy, as all the characters you need prior knowledge of are introduced in the first two films. Additionally, the reveal in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi that Leia is Luke’s twin sister and also Darth Vader’s child comes off as a bit of an anti-climactic sidenote, so it’s best that that info come in its proper epic unfolding in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

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It’s perfect that Empire leads into your watch of the darker Prequel Trilogy as well, since it’ll allow for you to view the events of the trilogy through the perspective that Yoda teaches Luke in the film, i.e. “Wars do not make one great.” Since the Prequel Trilogy is practically centered on the outbreak of the Clone Wars, as well as the fall of the Jedi Order, you can have this one heavy-hearted Yoda quote permeate your understanding of the trilogy. If the Prequel Trilogy has any unifying theme, it’s that wars are systemic and only serve to create villains, not heroes.

Revenge of the Sith Anakin walking with Stormtroopers
The fall of the Jedi Order and rise of the Empire all rested on Anakin Skywalker in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
PHOTO BY Star Wars
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After witnessing the rise and fall of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd/Hayden Christensen) in Episodes I to III, you can finally hit up Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the original conclusion of the Skywalker Saga. Jedi not only concludes Luke’s journey but Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader’s journey as well, as Luke’s redemption of his father is the climactic moment of the film (and, essentially, of the whole saga). Hence why it’s integral that one knows Anakin’s complete story before heading into the film.

With the first six films complete, we continue the Star Wars watch with the Disney era. We’ll start off with the spin-offs, entitled “Star Wars Stories,” since they’re the best indication of Disney’s aesthetic and approach to what was originally George Lucas’ film series.

Rogue One The Rebellion
The Rebellion, as seen in the more-grounded spinoff film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
PHOTO BY Star Wars
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You could start off with the relatively standalone space caper flick, Solo: A Star Wars Story, as it gives insight into Han Solo’s character that does bear weight on the narratives of the Sequel Trilogy’s The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Next, you could go with the war thriller Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A bit of a meatier political film, it’ll contextualize the rougher and more morally ambiguous sides of the universe that are explored in The Last Jedi.

Finally, we have the Sequel Trilogy and the end to the Skywalker Saga. You begin with The Force Awakens, which presents all the movies you’ve watched thus far as myths within the universe itself. Our new protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley) says, “Luke Skywalker? I thought he was just a myth.” To which a much older Han Solo replies later on, “It’s true… all of it.”

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The Last Jedi somewhat acts similarly to The Force Awakens, as Empire does to A New Hope. It’s a whole film about dealing with failure and having to reckon with the promises made in The Force Awakens not always leading to the desired outcome. Most prominently, it’s a film about the demythologization of Luke Skywalker, as Rey learns that it perhaps isn’t wise to meet your heroes—especially if they’ve long-abandoned the fight.

The Last Jedi Final Shot
The new Rebellion goes by "the Resistance" by the time of The Last Jedi.
PHOTO BY Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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The Last Jedi ends with an epic two-part climax aboard the First Order’s flagship and down on the salt planet of Crait, both of which set up Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) as the new trifecta of heroes and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as the unredeemable villain… only for the final film The Rise of Skywalker to do away with all that by backtracking on Kylo Ren’s redemption and the revelation that Rey is just this random nobody from the edge of the galaxy—as she’s a Palpatine now, for some reason. 

But, hey, that’s up to you if you want to end the saga on that note. Nevertheless, the Sequel Trilogy always definitively comes last in any Star Wars marathon. 

Also read: Top 10 Fight Scenes in Star Wars Movies

SPOT.ph’s Definitive Star Wars Viewing Order:

  1. A New Hope
  2. Empire Strikes Back
  3. The Phantom Menace
  4. Attack of the Clones
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Return of the Jedi
  7. (Solo: A Star Wars Story)
  8. (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
  9. The Force Awakens
  10. The Last Jedi
  11. The Rise of Skywalker
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