So you're excited about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (it's hard to avoid the hype, right?), but you haven't seen any of the Star Wars movies in a long time. You're not the type of fan who's been reading all the books, playing the games or keeping up with the comics. Heck, you're not sure you can remember the difference between a Jawa and an Ewok.
Or maybe you have someone in your life, maybe your child, who you want to introduce Star Wars to for the first time and want to know the best way to do it.
Let's get you set to rewatch the saga. But we're going to do it in a relatively unconventional way.
Most people think the debate over what order to watch the Star Wars movies in is purely between chronological order vs. order of release. In other words, do you watch the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) first or do you watch the more recently released prequels (Episodes I, II and III) first?
For years, many hardcore Star Wars fans have answered: Neither.
Instead they recommend what's known as the "Machete Order," famously blogged about by a fan named Rod Hilton back in 2011.
Boiled down, the order essentially goes like this: Watch Episodes IV and V (A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back), go back to the prequels (but skipping Episode I, The Phantom Menace. You won't miss it), then conclude the original saga with Episode VI, Return of the Jedi.
Why? Several reasons, but before we go forward: If you have somehow, miraculously, avoided seeing any of the Star Wars movies and even more miraculously managed to be unaware of their famous twists, then read no further. At least go watch A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.
So. The entire point of the Star Wars prequel films was to tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, the young pilot who would one day turn to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader. Whether or not this is a good story is up for debate, but love them or hate them, that's the point of Episodes I, II and III. So if you start watching from "the beginning," in chronological order, you know everything about Vader from the get-go.
Most importantly, you know that he's the father of Luke Skywalker.
To be blunt, this ruins the climactic moment of The Empire Strikes Back. The moment where Darth Vader tells Luke, "I am your father" is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history, and its impact on an unsuspecting viewer is huge. If you already know that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, the impact isn't just lessened. It's obliterated.
So chronological order is out. What about the order of the films' release?
Well, one simple argument against this order is that the original trilogy of films is so much better than the prequels that came afterward that they'll kill any optimism you might have had for new Star Wars movies. But let's go deeper than that.
The only way to buy and watch the Star Wars movies now is to get the "Special Editions," in which Star Wars creator George Lucas made many controversial changes (including the change in the cantina scene that lead to the infamous "Han Shot First" memes). One of the most controversial (and most recent) changes comes at the very end of Return of the Jedi. As the Rebel Alliance celebrates and Darth Vader's body burns, Luke Skywalker looks longingly into the forest to see the ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and ... Hayden Christensen.
Christensen played Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, so his appearance kind of makes sense, in a twisted way. However, if you've only watched the original trilogy and haven't seen Christensen prior to this moment then this scene is incredibly confusing.
"Why is the dude from everybody's favorite sci-fi movie Jumper showing up at the end of this movie?" you'll ask. "I recognize Obi-Wan and Yoda, but who's this other guy?"
How do we get around this? Treat the prequels like a flashback.
After we get the shocking revelation in The Empire Strikes Back that Vader is Luke's father we take a quick two-movie journey into the past to meet the man behind the mask, Anakin Skywalker. We see his rise as a Jedi and fall as a Sith. Then we skip on back to Return of the Jedi to see how the rest of his story pans out.
Notice that I said "two-movie journey." Machete Order suggests cutting out Episode I, The Phantom Menace, entirely. Mostly just because it's a bad movie that nobody really likes, but it's also a movie in which nothing really happens. By skipping it you miss out on very little worthwhile information while also avoiding some of the prequels' worse content (Jar Jar Binks, anybody?).
The original Machete Order blog post goes into a lot more detail about why this order is better than the others (along with a few caveats that could make it worse). Den of Geek also analyzed the order and brought up some more upsides to watching the movies this way. If you ask me, there are far more pros than cons. Some moments and twists from the original trilogy are actually strengthened by moments in the prequels when watched appropriately.
So you have five movies to watch before The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18. May the Force be with you.