One of the constant debates amongst Star Wars fans is "what is the correct order to watch Star Wars in?"
Up until the release of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, there were three major positions.
Release Order: IV, V, VI, I, II, III.
The key to release order is that you keep Empire Strikes Back’s big reveal, that Vader is Luke’s father, and the Return of the Jedi reveal that Luke and Leia are siblings a secret until their actual climactic reveals.
Numerical Order: I, II, III, IV, V, VI
This should be considered the closest to an official ordering as possible. I personally have problems with this order because it starts you off with the weakest film, and follows up with two more pretty weak films. And, unfortunately, if you use this order with new viewers, it spoils the fact that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and that Luke is Leia’s brother.
George Lucas, and Lucasfilm as a whole, claimed (I don’t know if they still claim) that the first six films are the story of Anakin Skywalker. And from this claim, they would insist that numerical order tells the story of Anakin linearly, has a break with his fall, and ends with his redemption through his son. This doesn’t sit right with me, because Anakin is a pretty stiff and unsympathetic character, his fall and redemption don’t resonate well with me, especially when you watch the films in this order.
and Machete Order, where you watch the films in the order IV, V, II, III, VI, and if you feel like it, I at the end for completion sake.
I personally fall in the Machete camp, because it tells the story of Luke Skywalker, instead of the story of Anakin, and it keeps the ever important “no, I am your father” line a secret. It also makes you pause the main story after Empire, the point where the heroes are defeated, and gives you the backstory of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader following that reveal. Mainly it tightens up the story as a whole, and skips Phantom Menace in the main sequence (which is important because very little done in Phantom really matters to the story, all major points are brought back up in the first twenty minutes of Attack of the Clones, and you get to skip the weird little kid/teenager romance thing between Anakin and Padme, and instead have two characters who look the same age).
But now we have a problem. There are currently four, and by the end of this year there will be a fifth, more films to place somewhere in this ordering.
If you’re partial to Release Order the answer seems fairly simple, just add VII, Rogue One, VIII, and Solo to the end and you’re done. That order is in no way satisfying to me. The story of Rogue One does not fit between Force Awakens and Last Jedi, and probably weakens their connection by adding an unnecessary break. It will also do the same between Last Jedi and IX with Solo when IX is released in December.
Numerical Order continues to make sense, you just add Force Awakens and Last Jedi to the end, but you’re left with two additional films and no good place to put them. You could hedge, and adjust Numerical Order to be Timeline Order, and place Solo and Rogue One between III and IV. Timeline order feels better than release, but it’s not great in my mind because you’ve now added these two films which feel like (and really are) codas to the main story right in the middle.
Machete, being wacky topsy turvy, doesn’t have a good placement.
So where does that leave us?
I’d like to take a step back and examine the films in chunks. Doing this, I think, is how Machete settled on their order in the first place, and it seems only fitting to follow their lead here.
To start, let’s look at the trilogies. They are, in short, The Story of Anakin (I, II, III), The Story of Luke (IV, V, VI), and The New Generation (or, the Story of Finn and Rey) (VII, VIII, and IX). The Stories of Anakin and Luke (the Skywalker Saga) are very intertwined, as the hero of the first becomes the villain of the second.
The New Generation is more weakly linked, in my mind. Sure, the heroes from Luke’s story are in the films, and Luke himself is a macguffin in Force Awakens, but they act solely as mentors for the newcomers. They exist to pass the torch, and are not major players the way Vader is.
Given this, I think the original Machete Order still stands, with the New Generation added on the end. IV, V, II, III, VI, VII, VIII.
As for the standalone films, like I said earlier, they’re codas, they exist to explore the unexplored, but, I think, after the main story has been told.
Solo, in my opinion, should be relegated to the end, for completion’s sake, or skipped entirely. So much has been written about that film, but I feel like I should add that wow that’s just a mess of a movie. None of the plot in Solo matters, and in my opinion it does nothing to flesh out the character of Han Solo, let alone any of the accompanying players. In the six hours of the original trilogy you already know enough about Han that Solo adds nothing new. Because of this, it’s best skipped.
Rogue One on the other hand adds a significant amount of context to A New Hope. The last ten minutes of that film make Leia’s conversation with Vader about the purpose of the ship and why they don’t have the plans even more of a baldfaced lie. But, keeping with the initial idea that the numbered films tell longer arced stories, and the unnumbered just fill context, Rogue One’s place is mostly as a fun diversion.
I think Rogue One would be well placed between the Skywalker Saga and the New Generation. Placing it after Finn and Rey’s story doesn’t make sense to me because their story is disconnected enough from the events of the Death Star that it would be like going from reading a recent history to reading about World War II. While a similar argument could be made about placing it after Return of the Jedi, I believe it makes sense as it adds context to rebel’s struggles as a whole.
Where are we at now? IV, V, II, III, VI, Rogue One, VII, VIII, IX.
Taking those in chunks though, I would say the Skywalker Saga (IV, V, II, III, VI) should be considered one, and the New Generation (VII, VIII, IX) another, with Rogue One (and optionally Solo) placed where it fits. Phantom Menace could be treated like Rogue One and Solo, if you want to watch it, but I think it best fits at the end of the Skywalker Saga, as it’s technically part of it.