What is the proper viewing order for the Star Wars movies when seeing them for the first time? The order in which they were released, or when they take place?
First there was THE Star Wars trilogy. Pretty simple. Then there were two trilogies, and the conundrum arose. Now a third is taking shape, with a slew of side movies that will fit in throughout the timeline. The question of what order to watch them in for the first time is now more critical than ever.
Why Does Viewing Order Matter?
If you’re showing kids Star Wars for the first time it might be tempting start them with the prequel trilogy. It’s basically a poorly written/directed children’s story (except the end of Ep. III, that gets dark…). This would be wrong. Kids old enough when they see the prequel trilogy will remember what they’re watching, and all the mystery and wonder of the original trilogy will be lost on them when they finally see it. You also run the risk of souring them on the older VFX quality of the originals.
It makes the most sense for maintaining the integrity of the whole story to view them in the order in which they take place. Otherwise you destroy the Vader mystery, which is basically the point of the first six movies. In regards to Episode VII, you’re not going to show Han die before seeing him and Leia fall in love. The reveal that Kylo Ren is Han’s son wouldn’t have the same impact.
Now let’s talk about adults who haven’t seen Star Wars. After mourning their incomplete childhood, how could the viewing order impact them when seeing Star Wars for the first time? If you start them with Episode I they’re probably going to refuse going beyond that point. The movie was poor at best, and if that’s the first thing an adult sees of Star Wars you couldn’t blame them for calling it quits. Besides ruining all the critical relationships and plot reveals, the potential for scaring them off is very real if you start them with Episode I. If adult Star Wars newbies aren’t already science fiction fans the VFX difference between the prequel and original trilogies could be a problem. But then maybe the person your introducing Star Wars to might not be worth the time.
How About The Non-Movie Canon?
If you agree that the animated series Clone Wars, and Rebels are critical to the Star Wars story (after all they are canon) then the timing of their viewing must also be taken into account. Likewise, how do the Star Wars “Stories” films fit in? There are also a slew of new canon books to consider. If you’re dealing with literate children or adults who like to read, these must also be considered.
Both series should be viewed after seeing all the movies in release order. Clone Wars should be watched first, followed by Rebels, if only because Darth Maul’s involvement in Rebels won’t have the same impact if you don’t see him in Clone Wars (and Episode I) first. Ahsoka’s whole existence won’t make sense if you view these two series out of order. All the books (and Marvel comics if you want to be thorough) can be read in the exact time they take place within the context of the movies. That’s up to you as the Master guiding your Padawan.
“I’ll Do What I Want, Don’t Judge Me!”
Is this viewing order a steadfast rule? No, of course not. Star Wars is so big now–bigger than ever, and growing exponentially–that it can’t be considered “wrong” to introduce new people however you please. With Star Wars Land under construction at Disney it is to be expected that parents will introduce their kids to Star Wars in whatever way that works. Rebels is currently airing on Disney XD, and kids will inevitably stumble across it eventually. Episodes I-VI are back on TV, and people will tune in however they happen to. But if you’re going to put a concerted effort into introducing new fans to Star Wars please consider doing so in the order that makes the most sense story-wise. A complete list of current Star Wars canon can be found here. Please enjoy, and take your role as Star Wars mentor seriously!