This is the first post in a daily series. Read about it here and see the list of previous posts here. A new post about “Star Wars” will be posted every day for 40 days leading up to the franchise’s 40th birthday on May 25th.

Because George Lucas released Episodes IV-VI before he released Episodes I-III, the proper order to view the movies has been debated.

One could view the movies in the order released…

  1. Episode IV, “A New Hope”
  2. Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back”
  3. Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi”
  4. Episode I, “The Phantom Menace”
  5. Episode II, “Attack of the Clones”
  6. Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith”

…but that ends the experience with a whimper not a bang, as the last few minutes of Episode III are anticlimactic if you already know the information revealed. And if you’re watching the Special Edition version of “Return of the Jedi,” the retroactive inclusion of Hayden Christensen is confusing if you haven’t already been introduced to him.

Watching them in order of chronology, from Episode I to Episode VI, makes for a more exciting ending…

  1. Episode I, “The Phantom Menace”
  2. Episode II, “Attack of the Clones”
  3. Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith”
  4. Episode IV, “A New Hope”
  5. Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back”
  6. Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi”

…but that order ruins the surprise that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.

Hence the debates back and forth.

Much has been written about the myriad orders, but perhaps the definitive essay on the topic was by Rod Hilton for the blog Absolutely No Machete Juggling. In his 2011 missive, Hilton introduced an order he called the Machete Order:

  1. Episode IV, “A New Hope”
  2. Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back”
  3. Episode II, “Attack of the Clones”
  4. Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith”
  5. Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi”

Hilton’s post went viral. Since then, the Machete Order has been mentioned on an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” where the characters argue as to which order to view the movies on “Star Wars” Day…

…and then by Patton Oswalt on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”

The most obvious aspect of Machete Order is that completely cuts out Episode I, “The Phantom Menace.” Hilton said that’s not because it’s the worst movie, as he was willing to concede it might be better than Episode II (he’s right). Rather, Hilton’s reason for omitting “The Phantom Menace” is that he says it’s insignificant to the overall story. And in Hilton’s mind, George Lucas had missed the mark on who the central character of these movies really is:

George Lucas seems to believe that Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, but it’s really not – at least, not effectively. Anakin doesn’t have an interesting arc – he gives into what is presented as overwhelming temptation. This is relatable, but it’s not terribly interesting. Anakin only has an engaging character turn at the end of Jedi when he’s redeemed, but that’s not as a character, it’s as a goal – something for the character we’ve been invested in for 3 movies (Luke) to accomplish. Anakin is, at this point in the story, a personified proxy for the entire galaxy. Saving Anakin from the Dark Side just puts a human face on saving the Galaxy from the Empire, and it proves Luke right for his unwillingness to give up on his father, even though his attempts to save him risk the entire mission.

By framing the movies in term’s of Luke’s development, Hilton argued that his Machete Order was the best way to show Luke’s progression while also preserving the surprises and ending on a high note. “The Phantom Menace,” despite having one of the best lightsaber scenes in all of the movies, did not offer us anything to help us understand Luke.

For fans who want to include Episode I in their viewing, the Ernst Rister order is almost identical to Machete Order:

  1. Episode IV, “A New Hope”
  2. Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back”
  3. Episode I, “The Phantom Menace”
  4. Episode II, “Attack of the Clones”
  5. Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith”
  6. Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi”

Hilton admitted that his Machete Order isn’t perfect. Episode III refers to Qui-Gon, but the only time he was referenced before was when he was introduced in Episode I. And Palpatine’s use of Force lightning in “Return of the Jedi” isn’t as cool if you’ve seen it used in previous movies.

Then there’s the added complication of “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One.” Neither existed when Hilton penned his essay in 2011, but now we have an Episode VII and what is essentially an Episode 3.9ish; where do they fit?

In a follow-up essay posted after the release of “The Force Awakens,” Hilton said that movie and any other sequels would need to be watched after “Return of the Jedi”:

I don’t imagine Episode 7, or even Episode 9 will be the last Star Wars Episode that Disney releases, either. It’s entirely possible that the Episodes 10-12 “trilogy” will be a completely separate thing, but for now it seems clear that going forward my position is going to be:

IV, V, II, III, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII…

In any case, for the time being my answer is: watch Star Wars in Machete Order (4, 5, 2, 3, 6), and then watch all subsequent episodes in the order they’re released, because they are both in episode order and chronological order, so there’s no reason to play musical chairs with them.

And as for “Rogue One,” Hilton said that because it’s not critical to the story of Luke Skywalker, it doesn’t have to be factored into Machete Order. In other words, it’s optional.

Lucas has said he thinks the movies should be watched chronologically, from Episode I to VI, but he’s also the guy who modified the original trilogies and retconned some main plot points, so I am OK with ignoring his advice on this one.

Of course, there’s a simpler process that none of these orders mention: start with Episode IV and just move forward, skipping Episodes I-III entirely.

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