When George Lucas released the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, it created a bit of a conundrum: what viewing order should a Star Wars fan use when introducing the films to someone who has never watched Star Wars? On the one hand, the films could be shown to a newbie in “Release Order” with the Original Trilogy first and the Prequels second. On the other hand, the movies could be shown in “Chronological Order” beginning with Episode I (The Phantom Menace) and ending with Episode VI (Return of the Jedi)? Plus, while the “Release Order” and “Chronological Order” are the most obvious options, there are a number of other viewing orders that have been suggested (“Machete Order” being the most popular).
Ignoring, for the moment, that there now exists a Sequel Trilogy, stand-alone films, and television shows (not to mention novels, comics, games, and more), I have always felt that Star Wars should be introduced to a newcomer in “Release Order” and not “Chronological Order.” This belief is entirely predicated on my own interactions with Star Wars from youth to adulthood. I watched the Original Trilogy when I was a kid, and the Prequel Trilogy as a teen/young adult. But, that fact also makes me biased, and my suggestion to someone to start with A New Hope, while grounded in the fact that it was the first Star Wars film, is also grounded in my personal journey with Star Wars. Someone can have entirely different reasons for suggesting the “Release Order” or “Chronological Order” to a newcomer and that is perfectly fine by me.
Actually, as a life-long Star Wars fan my only real responsibility is to offer suggestions, not to implement rules, and that goes far beyond the confines of the “Release Order” vs “Chronological Order” debate. Since A New Hope came out in 1977 (I was negative eight years old at the time), Star Wars has become a multi-headed beast, a hydra masquerading as an epic space fantasy. Which is to say this: Star Wars has so many stories across so many mediums that the whole “Release Order” or “Chronological Order” conundrum seems rather small. The films might be the natural starting point for most Star Wars fans – there are certainly those who have come to the franchise by another route – but the question of “where do I go from here?” is a far more difficult question I have been asked by a lot of people who are curious about exploring the depths of the Star Wars franchise after they have watched one or more of the films.
Like the first world problem of cinematic watch order, I only have suggestions and no definitive answers for people who are eager to be introduced to Star Wars beyond the films. Naturally, I am predisposed to reduce my answer to the least common denominator – my own personal preferences. Shocking! Here is an example: I am a huge fan of The Thrawn Trilogy by author Timothy Zahn, and absolutely love the Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn who was introduced in the series. But just because I am a fan of Thrawn doesn’t mean anyone I encourage to read the trilogy will inevitably love it. Then again, perhaps they will enjoy it but for completely different reasons than I do. But isn’t that just the bare bones truth of Star Wars anyway, everyone loving certain aspects of the franchise motivated entirely by their personal tastes? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question.
So, where do we go from here? Oish, I have no idea. Like I said with my neat “Star Wars is a hydra” metaphor, the franchise is just too big at this point to really offer one direction, one way of “doing” Star Wars. I am going to punt on offering some really profound “Introductory” approach to Star Wars. Instead, I will just offer this all-encompassing suggestion for people who are interested in exploring Star Wars:
Start with A New Hope – it was the first Star Wars film after all so it just feels right to start there – and then just make it up as you go. Actually, just treat Star Wars like a big and exciting choose your own adventure, and no matter what you choose, you are doing Star Wars right. And, if you get confused along the way, or want more personalized suggestions, feel free to message me (I have a contact page). I am happy to offer my thoughts. Just, ya know, don’t be surprised when I start talking about Thrawn.
I agree with starting at A New Hope! The prequels aren’t as bad as some people make them out to be, but I still would not suggest a newbie start there.
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I mean, starting with the Prequels makes sense in principle, but it is a hard sell for me to intro people that way because 1) The Phantom Menace is campy and dense at the same time (oddly enough) and 2) the Original Trilogy informs the Prequel Trilogy, and the Prequels are indebted to what came before. But, like I said, I don’t really care at this point which way people want to intro someone else. In fact, I know some people who have started with A New Hope and have said to me “what the hell was that? that wasn’t interesting or entertaining at all” (or something similar).
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I hope you never spoke to the people again who criticized A New Hope.
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Funny you say that because she is the woman I coach volleyball with and we are good friends. She basically told me that she just couldn’t figure out why the Rebels were rebelling and it was hard to follow.
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I wrote a post on this too a few years ago…and I agonized over it when I had my child. And then, somewhere along these past almost-two years, I gave up. I realized she will probably never be surprised that Vader is Luke’s father and she will probably watch all the movies in every which order and whatever is on at that time.
BUT the one thing I DID come away with when I watched my pseudo-machete theory before TLJ came out is that I am not introducing her to the Sequel Trilogy until she is past age 10. Or mature enough to watch them. Even ROTS will have to wait as the burning Anakin is quite sad and scary.
So those are my only “rules”, but other than that, I think it’s going to be whatever Mummy is watching at the time.
I have some firsthand experience with this, as my best friend is Chinese and had no exposure to Star Wars before I introduced it to her. Initially she tried to insist on numerical order because she thought it would make sense like the Hobbit before The Lord of the Rings, but we made it about ten minutes into Phantom Menace before I had to pull the plug – we were constantly having to stop the movie so I could explain the basics of who everyone is and how everything works, which is not helped at all by the fact that the plot of Phantom Menace is thin on the motivation side. The original Star Wars does not have this problem, in no small part because it was written with introducing all of these concepts in mind.
Just one simple example – the Force. Star Wars literally takes five minutes out of Act I to explain the basics of the Force, who the Jedi are, and why it matters now in the context of Luke’s family legacy and the Empire/Darth Vader. It works perfectly in context because it’s just a short bit of exposition that builds up the rules of this universe and the motivations of the hero, but if this was actually film number four for the audience, it’s all redundant except for the fact that Luke doesn’t know his own family legacy, and from a filmmaking standpoint, you don’t spend five minutes of screen time telling a character information the audience already knows.
Likewise, if you come into Phantom Menace without that five minutes of exposition or the expanded explanation Yoda give in Empire, you start out with two guys in robes called Jedi doing awesome things for no apparent reason. That film for the most part doesn’t take time to explain the Force or the Jedi or even the Sith in any meaningful way precisely because most of it would be redundant to the audience, and the stuff does it explain with the blood tests… well, suffice it to say that whatever your opinions on midichlorians, they do not serve to make things clearer for a Star Wars novice.
And there are so many other things – droids, lightspeed/hyperspace, lightsabers, on and on, that get little or no introduction. Phantom Menace assumes you already know the rules of this universe, and if you don’t, it’s not forgiving.
So definitely Original Trilogy first.
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