You’ve borrowed the DVDs, armed yourself with roughly 13 hours worth of snacks and parked on the couch to binge-watch all six “Star Wars” films to prepare for “The Force Awakens.”
Which one do you watch first?
This is not as easy a question as it sounds. Anyone familiar with the basic rules of counting would suggest beginning with “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999) and proceeding in numerical order until reaching “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983).
Others prefer to go in order of release date, starting with “Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977) and ending with “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005). Both sound logical, but there are problems with each: The prequels, set 20 to 30 years earlier, make callbacks best enjoyed with the original three films fresh under your belt. But watching the prequels at the end sets up a pretty dark finale, an ill-fitting conclusion to 13 hours of space adventures.
If you can believe it, the nerds of the Internet have debated this subject to death already. One of the most agreed-upon strategies for getting the most out of your “Star Wars” watching is credited to a fan named Ernest Rinster, who in comment threads has spoken about it with a reverence normally reserved for Yoda. It’s also probably the most effective way to prepare for “The Force Awakens.” Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Watch “Episode IV” and “Episode V.” You’ll start where first-time viewers did in 1977, learning the basics about the Force and hearing “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” played as a weak punchline for the first time. As “Episode V” ends, you learn a shocking secret about a certain young man’s paternity, then just as our hero prepares to make a journey to save his friends . . .
Step 2: Watch episodes I, II and III. Think of this as an extended flashback sequence, in which you’ll meet Darth Vader before he was Darth Vader. After we see him turn to the Dark Side . . .
Step 3: Watch “Episode VI.” Circle back to see the conclusion of Luke’s journey in his final battle with Darth Vader.
There are a few reasons this method works. First, it sets up a parallel between Anakin’s and Luke’s journeys. Both are young men trapped on a planet that’s basically a giant sandbox, convinced they’re destined for something greater than being enslaved by a blue alien or farming for moisture, respectively. Plus, knowing that Darth Vader was once a man with a family adds greater weight to his final showdown with Luke: He’s no longer just a faceless, evil entity but a man who has made some pretty bad mistakes.
If this seems too complicated, there’s one way to make it simpler. With what’s known as the Machete Order, you simply follow the same pattern as above, but chop out “Episode I.” Computer programmer and superfan Rod Hilton, who presented this strategy in great detail on his blog in 2011, noted that most of the action in Episode I is irrelevant. He has a point: The pod-race sequence is fun, but it has no real purpose. Meanwhile, the uncomfortable racial stereotypes are hard to ignore and Jar Jar Binks is really just a waste of space.
Still, there’s no knowing what obscure piece of trivia “The Force Awakens” could call upon. And you don’t want to be the only one in the theater who’s not prepared for that plot twist about midi-chlorians, do you?