A simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer. Star Wars fandom can be a unique (and complicated) process so seeing how others do it is interesting.
I know how I used to do it. I watched Star Wars chronologically in episode order.
I began with Episodes I-III, then I powered right on through with Episodes IV-VIII. And later on in the future, when Episode IX was finally released, I would have naturally added that one to the end of the viewing order. Watching the movies in that order is straightforward, to the point and most importantly, it’s how George Lucas himself originally intended for audiences to experience the movies.
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I was previously of the mindset watching the films in episode order made perfect sense and though I was aware of the ongoing Star Wars viewing order debate, I had decided to keep myself out of the fray until I was finally pulled in as a result of my curiosity.
That same curiosity convinced me to adopt a newer approach to how my family and I view the numbered films of this long-running saga.
After quite a bit of research, I came across an article written by James Dyer for EmpireOnline.com that helped me finalize my rationale. In it, he breaks down the pros and cons of the most common viewing orders. After going through all of the listed methods, the one that caused me to jump ship from my previous train of thought was the Ernst Rister Order.
The Ernst Rister Order is named for the original forum user who posted it online for public consumption. To view Star Wars in this order, you would view the films as follows: IV, V, I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII, (and eventually) IX.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest issues with watching the movies in episode order is that it practically ruins the greatest curveball twist in cinema history, the fact that Darth Vader was indeed Luke Skywalker’s father!
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm
The Rister Order allows the Vader-as-father reveal to retain its power by beginning with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back but after the big reveal in Empire, the saga would then transition to the Prequel Trilogy to serve as a recollection of how Anakin Skywalker fell to become the ultimate villain in Darth Vader. After the Vader origin story flashback films, the viewing order picks back up with Return of the Jedi and then on into the Sequel Trilogy films The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and the untitled Episode IX.
For me, the Ernst Rister Order provides a clearer narrative for the films and it also offers an awesome flashback to parallel the journeys of father (Anakin) and son (Luke) that is somewhat reminiscent to how Francis Ford Coppola presented a father-son flashback dynamic in The Godfather Part II for Vito and Michael Corleone.
Though I’ve already introduced my kids to the Star Wars films in episode order, they are still young enough to grow to appreciate watching the moves in the Rister Order (I hope!).