So in which Order Do You Watch Them?

November 16, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

As of a couple of weeks ago, every Star Wars fan had the opportunity to add the final chapter to his or her six-volume DVD set. And, judging by the crowds at Best Buy, that's what everyone was doing. Shopping that day was an odd experience. Everyone (and I mean that literally) was holding a copy of the Revenge of the Sith DVD. Some people, like me, were buying that and only that. But even those who were purchasing multiple items had a least one copy of the DVD in their hands. I would love to know how many copies my local store sold that day.

But I digress...

One of the questions I have gotten over the past few months is in what order I would recommend watching the movies. If you have already seen the six chapters and are just interested in re-visiting them, it doesn't really matter. Watch them IV, V, VI, I, II, and III and wallow in nostalgia. Or watch them I, II, III, IV, V, and VI and see how the story holds up as a whole. Most Star Wars fans have probably done it both ways already. I have not - I don't have the time. In fact, when I watch Return of the Jedi, I typically skip through most of the Ewok scenes. (Don't tell George Lucas I wrote that.) And when I watched my brand-new Revenge of the Sith disc, I had to cram the entire movie into 90 minutes (the window of time I had available), so that meant selective skipping.

Ah, but what about the case of a poor, defenseless child you plan to indoctrinate into the world of Star Wars? George Lucas has said that newbies should watch the films sequentially (I-VI, in order). But a lot of Star Wars fans who once worshipped at the alter of George and took every word out of his mouth as a Greater Truth, have lost the faith. They feel betrayed by The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. They want to deny the existence of those films (can't think why - they're a lot of fun if you don't take them too seriously), even though (paradoxically) they have copies of them in their DVD libraries. (The non-hypocrite prequel trilogy hater will only own copies of IV, V, and VI.)

My advice, as it happens, is the same as Lucas'. Yes, there are issues with watching the films in the order of I, II, III, IV, V, and VI - namely in the realm of special effects and production values. Lucas can "dress up" Star Wars all he wants, but it still looks more primitive than Revenge of the Sith. But will an 8-year old being exposed to Star Wars for the first time notice? Possibly. Will he/she care? Less likely. The problem with showing the movies to a child in production order is that it will be confusing. Why show the story out-of-order when it can now be shown from start to finish. Children, even bright ones, don't do well with non-linear storytelling. Why needlessly complicate matters? When they're old enough to understand, you can explain the ins-and-outs of why IV, V, and VI look a lot different that I, II, and III.

For my part, I would love to find a block of time when I could watch all six movies back-to-back. It could be done in one day. But finding the time is the problem. I remember back in the early 1990s when I had a ritual on the day before Christmas that involved the original trilogy, which I owned on laserdisc. I had a half-day at my "day job," which left the afternoon free. So I came home, ate lunch, then watched Star Wars and Empire. After dinner, I finished it off with Return of the Jedi, Ewoks and all. Good luck finding that kind of free time today.

Bottom line: watch the movies however you want. But if you're introducing a virgin to the series, stick with the sequential order: I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. If nothing else, after Episodes I & II, you can rightfully claim that the best is yet to come. And kids generally like the Ewoks, so they won't be as bothered by VI as I am.