The original "Star Wars" movie did to the box office what the Death Star did to the planet Alderaan. Which is a nerdy way of saying the movie blew up all financial expectations. Indeed, "Star Wars" became one of Hollywood's great success stories.
On its release date, May 25, 1977, the movie was screened in just 32 theaters. Most industry leaders wrote it off as a guaranteed flop. And yet the little space opera that could earned an unprecedented $461 million (more than $2.2 billion in today's dollars) domestically in its original theatrical run. When you adjust for inflation, "Star Wars" remains the second highest-grossing movie of all time after "Gone with the Wind."
That fanfare all but guaranteed the first "Star Wars" outing wouldn't be the last.
Today, "Star Wars" (1977) goes by another title. On DVD and the streaming platform Disney+, the film that started it all is referred to as "Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope." Back in '77, it was simply called "Star Wars."
"The Episode IV notation wasn't there," "Star Wars" podcaster and iHeartRadio managing executive producer, Holly Frey, explains in an email." That didn't happen until the film was re-released in 1981, with 'Episode IV' and 'A New Hope' in the opening crawl."
Together, the three films make up the original "Star Wars" trilogy. They tell the story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) banding together with droids, Wookies and other assorted rebels to defeat their galaxy's evil Empire.
Central to that narrative is the Sith Lord, Darth Vader.
Formerly known as Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader's been recognized as one of the greatest movie villains of all time by the American Film Institute. Vader's not all bad, though. He's a fallen angel of sorts, a Jedi corrupted by the dark side of the Force.
"Star Wars" fans would have to wait until the turn of the 21st century to learn the entire truth about his origin.
Fast-forward to 2012, when Disney purchased Lucasfilm for the tidy sum of $4.05 billion. That set the stage for the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy, a Disney-produced series of three new films that take place after "Return of the Jedi."
Between those three movies, Disney squeezed in two spinoffs: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016) and "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018). Although these two films have their fans, they aren't considered to be part of the prequel, sequel or original "Star Wars" trilogies. (Still following?)
The films with the word "Episode" in their titles are of a different breed. Fans call these three trilogies "the Skywalker Saga."
The Best Order to Watch the 'Star Wars' Films
So, suppose you want to binge-watch all nine of the movies. What's the best viewing order?
The titles seem to imply that you should start with "Episode I" and finish with "Episode IX." That's how the story unfolds chronologically; the prequels are set before the original trilogy, which is followed up by the 2010s sequel trilogy.
But hold your tauntauns. You could also make the argument that it's better to start with the original trilogy. As you'll recall, episodes IV through VI were released first. Shouldn't they get priority treatment and be screened before the prequels (and then the sequels)?
Basically, why not watch the Skywalker saga films in the order of their theatrical releases?
"I think the most enjoyable way is whatever works for the viewer," Frey says. "I know some people don't like all of the movies, and there's no reason they should rewatch ones they don't like. On the rare occasions I can hit all nine Skywalker saga films in a row, I alternate between release order and chronological order. Both are fun!"
For his part, George Lucas swears by the "chronological order" approach. "Start with one," he told Vulture in 2015. "That's the way to do it right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. That's the way they're supposed to be done. Just because it took a long time to film it doesn't mean you don't do it in order."
(Granted, when Lucas made these remarks, "The Force Awakens" was just a few days old and the sequel trilogy was still very much a work in progress. Do what you will with that information.)
A Machete Job
Now if you're unimpressed by the options we laid out above, there's another school of thought worth considering. Behold, young padawans, the "Machete order."
Created in 2011 by software engineer Rod Hilton, this viewing order is a definite shake-up. Basically, it treats some of the prequel films like an extended flashback sequence in the larger Skywalker saga. (Think "The Godfather: Part II.")
Under Hilton's plan, viewers are advised to watch "A New Hope" first. Then they screen "The Empire Strikes Back," which — spoiler alert — ends with the revelation that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father all along.
It's here that the Machete order starts to deviate from the norm. Instead of watching "Return of the Jedi," you throw on the second prequel film, "Attack of the Clones." Next comes "Revenge of the Sith," followed by a return to the original trilogy with "Return of the Jedi." Watching in this order puts the prequels in a place that makes more sense so they don't reveal too many secrets.
Where do the sequel movies fit in? Hilton said on his blog in 2015 that every time a new "Star Wars" movie is released, he gets tons of emails asking where it fits in the Machete order. His answer? Watch any new sequels in order — no matter how many they make — because they're simply a chronological continuation of the story.
Now, did you notice the Machete order cuts "Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace" completely out of the lineup? Hilton dismissed this particular movie as "irrelevant" to both Luke's character arc and to the saga as a whole.
The logic won over comedian Patton Oswalt, a celebrity "Star Wars" buff who endorsed the Machete order in a 2015 appearance on "Late Night With Seth Meyers."
A Galaxy Far Away
But not everyone likes this strategy either. Hilton explicitly wanted to frame the Skywalker saga (as it existed back in 2011) as "Luke's tale." Is that really fair to all the other characters in the "Star Wars" universe? Maybe, maybe not.
"[Hilton's] approach is predicated on the idea that the whole series is about Luke, not Anakin, and that he feels that Episode I is irrelevant in that framing," says Frey.
"If that's what works for people, fine. But I disagree that the Skywalker saga is really about Luke... One of the things I love most about 'Star Wars' is that some people identify with Luke, some with Padme, some with Rey, some with Han, some with Leia, etc. To say it's ever only about one person feels too reductive to me. So Machete isn't my jam, but go for it if that maximizes your enjoyment!"
Now That's Interesting
George Lucas considered casting "Citizen Kane" director Orson Welles as the voice of Darth Vader in the original 1977 "Star Wars" movie, but he ultimately gave the role to James Earl Jones.
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