Since 1977 Lucasfilm has released 11 movies set in the Star Wars Galaxy. In theaters now is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the dramatic conclusion to the nine-episode Skywalker Saga. The other two were “Star Wars Stories” set in the same timeline, but without characters from the Skywalker lineage.
Now that ‘Rise’ is out, it’s time to review our thoughts on what the best order is to watch the films. You could watch them in canonical timeline order.
- Episode I – A Phantom Menace (1999)
- Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)
- Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016)
- Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
- Episode V – Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
- Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
- Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
This is the order George Lucas would tell you to watch them. Although I’m not sure how he feels about the “Star Wars Story” additions.
It might also help to have watched the animated television series and the new Disney Plus show, so we can amend that list to include them:
- Episode I – A Phantom Menace
- Episode II – Attack of the Clones
- Star Wars – The Clone Wars (2008-?)
- Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
- Solo – A Star Wars Story
- Star Wars Rebels
- Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
- Episode IV – A New Hope
- Episode V – Empire Strikes Back
- Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
- Star Wars – The Mandalorian
- Star Wars Resistance
- Episode VII – The Force Awakens
- Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
- Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
However, the timeline canonical order has a few problems (like revealing who Darth Vader is before that fantastic moment in The Empire Strikes Back). So we have a few small tweaks that honor the original trilogy but provides a proper narrative experience.
Note: We could go on and include novels, comic books and video games. However, we’ll stick with TV and Movies for this article.
What follows is our take on the best viewing order for those who want to explore the Star Wars movies and TV shows with the minimum of untimely spoilers or other giveaways.
Episode IV – A New Hope
This is the way to start with the first and original film. Here you’re introduced to the concept of the Force and seven central characters of the Star Wars universe – Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3P0, and R2-D2. To them we add one from the dark side, Darth Vader. The Emperor is mentioned, but never seen in A New Hope. Yes, George Lucas has tinkered with this film over the years. The closest you can get to the original theatrical release the better (you might have to go to VHS).
Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes back showed what Lucasfilm could do with a respectable Hollywood budget. Big set pieces, dramatic space battles, and more characters (like the roguish & charming Lando Calrissian). Then there’s the big reveal 110 minutes into the movie – Yes, Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Suddenly we want to know more about Darth Vader.
Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Star Wars – The Clone Wars
Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
And so, we have George Lucas taking us back to the beginning of Darth Vader’s story, when he was just a boy named Anakin Skywalker. In the prequels you get to witness Anakin’s fall to the dark side of the force and the rise of Emperor Palpatine. There’s also the wonderful story arc of the animated series Star Wars – The Clone Wars. You get to spend a lot more time with Obi Wan Kenobi, Palpatine, Anakin, and meet more of the Jedi. Then when Order 66 is executed in Episode III, the plan feels somehow more insidious.
Note: So far, this is similar to the Ernst Rister Order. But now I want to depart a little from just the core Skywalker Saga stories.
Star Wars Rebels (2014-2018)
Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016)
After Episode III, it’s time for a palate cleanser or two.
The 4 season animated TV series Star Wars Rebels and first stand alone Star Wars Story, Rogue One tell the story of the rise of the rebellion in the lead up to Episode IV. Yes, we’ve already seen that, but they also serve to put us back in the mindset of the original trilogy and the fight against the Galactic Empire. The dramatic coda to Rogue One will have you ready to see Darth Vader back in action again.
Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Now it’s time to watch the finale to the original trilogy. You’ve learned the story of Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader), Emperor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious), the fall of the Jedi, and the training of Luke Skywalker to the point where his skills might be a match for Darth Vader. It all comes together in a final mega-battle on land and in space aboard the second Death Star. In the end, Anakin is redeemed and Luke and the rebellion celebrate their victory.
If the series ended there, we’d probably all been happy as Star Wars fans. But we also knew that George Lucas originally intended there to be three trilogies. And so we clamored for another three movies. Lucas, rather than making them himself decided to sell Lucasfilm to Disney.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian
Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, it has applied the patented Bob Iger ‘franchise’ formula to the Star Wars films. The result is a new show on Disney+ – Star Wars: The Mandalorian set just 5 years after Return of the Jedi. Season One just wrapped up, so I won’t give away any spoilers here, but it’s nearly universally acclaimed. Watching it at this point in your viewing order, may seem a bit early, but it fits the timeline the best.
Star Wars Resistance (2018-?)
The third animated Star Wars television series. This one leads up to the events of Episode VII and introduces a few characters from the growing Resistance that will become very familiar – Poe Dameron and his droid BB-8. You’ll also learn about what it was like to experience the ascendancy of The First Order. Also introduced is Kylo Ren, a dark Jedi who serves The First Order.
Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)
Solo is the backstory behind Han Solo and how he meets Chewbacca and wins The Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in a card game. I’m putting the story here as there’s really no other place for it. In the timeline viewing order, it would be between Episodes III and IV, but viewing it there would just take you out of the more important story of Anakin’s descent into darkness and the rise of the Galactic Empire. Placing it here serves like a flashback for a beloved character who will come to a tragic end in….
Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
The final trilogy starts by introducing fans to a new generation of characters as well as bringing back a few of the favorites from Episodes IV, V, and VI. The Resistance faces a huge challenge as The First Order has a new planet killer and they use it to destroy the New Republic. From there you can move into The Last Jedi as The Resistance reaches its lowest possible point, but the film does end with hope for the future.
Note: The first ever Star Wars-themed land is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, It turns out that Galaxy’s Edge is set in the Star Wars galaxy timeline between episodes VIII and IX. Now that the second attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, has opened in the Orlando version (January 17th in Anaheim’s), you actually learn something that will inform the plot of Episode IX. I won’t give anything away in this article (as it’s a slight spoiler), but I do plan to write another article about the reveal this week. Is it crucial to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge before you see Episode IX? No, so I don’t include it on this list. But hey, why not go see it if you have the chance.
Do you have your own preferred order? Let us know.