Star Wars fans love nothing more than a good argument: Who shot first? Why can't stormtroopers aim worth a damn? And, perhaps most contentious of all: What's the best order to even watch these movies in? With the 40th anniversary of the series this month and a new movie slated for later this year, it's a particularly pressing question.
After all, the first movie by order of release is Episode IV, A New Hope. Then there's V and VI, then we go back to the prequels for I, II, III. Further complicating matters are the new Disney-era movies: The Force Awakens, which takes place after Episode VI, and Rogue One, a spinoff prequel that transpires just before the events of New Hope.
Clearly there are plenty of ways to go about this.
You could follow the order-of-theatrical-release that I just outlined above. That makes sense because it's the same experience you would've gotten if you were around when the whole Star Wars thing started in '77.
You could also do order-of-storyline, which looks like this: I, II, III, Rogue One, IV, V, VI, VII. But then you're mucking through the prequels before you get to any of the really good stuff. If you're introducing someone to Star Wars for the first time, that's definitely not the best way to do it, lest Jar-Jar forever ruin the saga for them.
There is another way. It's called Machete Order, and it's an approach I've advocated in the past. Here's what I wrote about Machete Order two years ago:
The best way to watch Star Wars is something called "Machete Order," detailed here by computer software blogger Rod Hilton in 2011. Machete order works like this: IV, V, II, III, VI, skipping I entirely because the only good things about Episode I were the pod race scene and the Darth Maul lightsaber duel, please never, ever mention midi-chlorians, thanks.
Machete Order has lots of benefits: Most notably, a whole lot less Jar Jar Binks and super-whiny Boy Anakin. But it also makes the entire experience of the Star Wars saga more rewarding.
Of course, the existence of The Force Awakens and Rogue One complicate matters somewhat. So I reached out to Hilton directly to see what he had to say about matters. His response, in part:
The thing about Machete Order is that the goal isn't to jumble up the movies for giggles, it's about refocusing the overall story on Luke and his journey. Including Anakin's fall as a flashback makes us understand Luke's temptation toward the dark side better, and it makes Return of the Jedi a more interesting film.
So when it comes to Episode VII, Rogue One, Episode VIII, Han Solo's Big Day, Episode IX, Rise of Boba Fett: The Revenge, Episode X, and so on, unless those movies somehow make Luke Skywalker's story more engrossing I can't imagine ever actually changing Machete Order to include them.
So my preferred Star Wars viewing order is now and, I believe, forever:
1) IV, V, II, III, VI (Machete Order)
2) VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII . . . (all numbered Episodes released after Return of the Jedi)
3) Rogue One, Clone Wars, Holiday Special, Episode I, Star Wars Rebels, Han Solo v Chewbacca: Dawn of Lando, etc. (everything else, optional, and in any order.)
Why not include Rogue One in Machete Order, given how nicely it rolls directly into A New Hope? Here's Hilton again:
I've heard some people argue that since Rogue One shows us how the Rebellion got the Death Star plans they need in Episode IV, it's now essential viewing and must be viewed before Episode IV itself. I don't think that works, the movie relies so much on an audience understanding of the Star Wars universe and Episode IV in particular that I don't think it would be as enjoyable viewing it before Episode IV, let alone as the first Star Wars film you watch.
So there you have it — and I don't see much to disagree with there, though you could make an argument for watching Rogue One right after III and before VI.