A Comprehensive (Canon) Guide to Marathoning ‘Star Wars’
[Updated: Now with Rogue One and specific episodes of Star Wars Rebels!]
If you’re like me, Star Wars marathons are a must around the holidays — even more so this year, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduces the series to a whole new generation of fans. Which is why I thought it would be fun to create a comprehensive, canon guide to marathoning Star Wars, including the films, TV shows and beyond, ahead of the new movie. Because, let’s face it, ever since Disney rebooted the Expanded Universe and started making their own Star Wars content, jumping into the saga can seem a little daunting, especially to newcomers. So even if this is your first time marathoning Star Wars—I know you odd ducks are out there!—don’t worry. For this guide, I’ll be keeping spoilers to a minimum.
Now, let’s make the jump to lightspeed!
The Star Wars Movies
Obviously, no Star Wars marathon is complete without a run-through of The Complete Star Wars Saga, which contains the beloved Original Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), the, uh—ahem—less-beloved Prequel Trilogy (Episodes I-III), and the Sequel Trilogy (Episodes VII-IX). For clarity’s sake, here’s the current list of the canon Star Wars movies, in chronological order:
1) Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
2) Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
3) Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
4) Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
5) Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
6) Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
7) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
8) Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
9) Star Wars: Episode IX – [TBA] (2019)
Now, I mention “chronological order” because there are several schools of thought on which order is the best way to watch the movies. Star Wars guru George Lucas would tell you that I, II, III, IV, V, VI is the way his films are meant to be viewed, but some fans would argue that release order—IV, V, VI, I, II, III—is the way to go. Still others might cut out I, II, and III altogether, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a comprehensive marathon.
Personally, I like to go IV, V, I, II, III, VI — which is basically just a modified version of the Machete Order. (Don’t tell anyone, but I sometimes skip Episode III, since, for me, it diminishes the “big twists” in V and VI.)
The recent release of Episode VII complicates things even further in terms of viewing order, but, honestly, I don’t think there’s a “wrong” way to watch the Saga movies. Ultimately, it comes down to taste, and assuming you’ve watched all the Saga movies in some order, you’re already in good shape for the next Star Wars movie that comes out.
But here’s where things start to get interesting…
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Thought I forgot one? Nope! As if Star Wars canon wasn’t head-spinning enough, Disney has also started releasing one new “Star Wars Story” (or “Anthology film”) between each Saga film in order to meet their goal of one Star Wars movie per year. For now, that list includes the solitary Rogue One, which takes place a few days before the events of Episode IV and tells the origin story of the Death Star and its stolen plans.
Not only does this movie offer more insight into the creation (and eventual destruction) of the Empire’s famed planet killer, but it also introduces new and unique characters that add even more depth to the universe. Plus, it arguably has the best “Vader being Vader” scene in the movies’ history. As for when to watch Rogue One, I’d recommend just before or just after Episode IV—either of which, I think, is satisfying in its own way.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
For the uninitiated, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is an animated TV show set between the events of Episodes II and III. The series first aired on Cartoon Network in 2008 and ran for six seasons. (Luckily, every single episode is now available to stream on Netflix!) It’s also one of the last Expanded Universe projects to still be considered canon by Disney.
Obviously, I realize not everybody has the time to marathon six seasons of anything before The Force Awakens, let alone a niche series that takes place between two (widely panned) Star Wars movies. Which is why I’ve selected just a handful of story arcs that will hopefully whet your appetite and, more importantly, enhance your viewing experience of the movies. In my opinion, it really is some of the best Star Wars out there, and much like the Force it’s not to be underestimated. In addition to featuring the very best versions of Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala and — dare I say — Obi-Wan Kenobi, it takes them to new and exciting places they’ve never been before, both physically and emotionally. In other words, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is damage control for the prequels.
Such as it is, I would suggest saving these episodes until after you’ve already watched I, II and III — because, trust me, they make watching the prequels way more tolerable…
1) The Mortis Trilogy
Includes: “Overlords” (3.15), “Altar of Mortis” (3.16) and “Ghosts of Mortis” (3.17)
Above all else, the prequels are about the journey of Anakin Skywalker. And throughout those movies, we hear about the “Prophecy of the Chosen One,” which foretells of a Jedi (presumably Anakin) who will one day “bring balance to the Force.” The thing is, the term “balance” is subjective. A Jedi would tell you the Force is only truly balanced when the Sith have been defeated, but a certain Sith might say, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” and insist the opposite. Meanwhile, some Star Wars fans theorize that “balance” means exactly that: a balance between the Dark Side and the Light Side.
In a nutshell, The Mortis Trilogy takes that third option to its absolute limit and, in doing so, creates some of the best Star Wars lore there is. So much so, that I actually sometimes wonder why Lucas didn’t incorporate it into the prequels. Basically, the story finds Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka Tano (Anakin’s Padawan, first introduced in this series) stranded on a remote planet, which just so happens to be a conduit for the entire goddamn Force. Soon, they meet a mysterious family called the “Ones,” which includes the Son (a manifestation of the Dark Side); the Daughter (the Son’s Light Side equivalent); and the Father, who wants Anakin to replace him as the keeper of the peace between his rival children. Unfortunately for Anakin, refusal of the Father’s offer would result in both the Son and Daughter wreaking havoc on the galaxy and throwing the Force out of… balance.
Suffice to say, if you’re at all interested in the Chosen One prophecy, this arc is for you. Not only does it add another layer to Anakin’s role in the universe, but it also explores the very origin of the Force itself.
2) Darth Maul Returns
Includes: “Brothers” (4.13), “Revenge” (4.14), “Revival” (5.01), “Eminence” (5.14), “Shades of Reason” (5.15) and “The Lawless” (5.16)
If you thought Darth Maul was too badass for just one movie, you would be totally right. In Season 4 of The Clone Wars, it’s revealed that Darth Maul actually survived getting cut in half by Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace and spent the last 10 years plotting his revenge. What unfolds is Maul’s rise to power and eventual confrontation with his former master Darth Sidious. While this storyline is probably the least essential to marathoning Star Wars — after all, Maul’s “death” was pretty definitive in Episode I — it’s also one of the most bitchin’ arcs in the whole series. Because, seriously, who doesn’t want more Darth Maul?
3) The Jedi Temple Bombing
Includes: “Sabotage” (5.17), “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much” (5.18), “To Catch a Jedi” (5.19) and “The Wrong Jedi” (5.20)
Part of what makes The Clone Wars so great is that it reveals just how dogmatic and fallible the Jedi Order is. Most of the movies — especially the Original Trilogy — paint the Jedi as these untouchable, saintlike peacekeepers who can do no wrong. Of course, that’s not really true, but Anakin isn’t the only who starts to see the cracks in the foundation. The Jedi Temple Bombing (which was the series’ final arc on Cartoon Network) is easily the best example of that. The storyline follows Ahsoka, who is wrongfully accused of bombing the Jedi Temple hangar and killing several people. Fleeing custody, she is hunted down by the very Jedi who once welcomed her with open arms and must clear her name before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Anakin is the only one who believes that Ahsoka is innocent and does some digging of his own, despite the Council’s conviction.
Honestly, this storyline is more Ahsoka’s than Anakin’s, but it definitely lays the groundwork for the latter’s mistrust in the Jedi, which we see play out in full in Episode III. It also lends much more credibility to Anakin’s actions in that film.
4) Biochip Conspiracy
Includes: “The Unknown” (6.01), “Conspiracy” (6.02), “Fugitive” (6.03) and “Orders” (6.04)
Another cool thing about The Clone Wars? It turned the Clone Troopers into living, breathing people with distinct personalities and unique traits. Story arcs like The Deserter and the Battle of Umbara posed deep, philosophical questions about the clones: Are they property? If so, who’s property? Do clones have rights? Personal desires? These were questions the prequels never even attempted to answer. But the most pertinent clone-centric storyline — at least in terms of the movies — is the Biochip Conspiracy. Here, a rogue Clone Trooper named “Fives” unwittingly starts to unravel the Separatist plot to destroy the Jedi — aka “Order 66″ — and soon finds himself in over his helmet.
5) “The Lost One” (6.10)
Prior to The Clone Wars, Master Sifo-Dyas was probably the biggest question mark in the entire Star Wars universe. If you don’t remember, he was the guy in Attack of the Clones who secretly commissioned the Clone Army for the Republic shortly before his death, about 10 years before Obi-Wan arrived on Kamino. The thing is, we never actually saw Master Sifo-Dyas, nor was he ever heard from again. This obviously raised a lot of questions in 2002: Just who the heck was Sifo-Dyas, and how did he get in contact with the Kaminoans? Was he in cahoots with the Separatists? More importantly, why did nobody on the Jedi Council think twice about this situation? Inquiring minds would like to know.
Cue “The Lost One,” a single Clone Wars episode that explained, in glorious detail, the who, what, when, where and why of Sifo-Dyas — thus finally closing the book on one of the biggest Star Wars mysteries ever.
6) The Living Force Trilogy
Includes: “Voices” (6.11), “Destiny” (6.12) and “Sacrifice” (6.13)
Speaking of mysteries, do you ever wonder why some Jedi disappear after they die and others don’t? Well, in the parlance of Apple, “There’s an arc for that.”
To the prequels’ credit, there was a brief moment at the end of Episode III when Yoda mentions to Obi-Wan that he’s been communicating with Qui-Gon about a path to immortality. However, this subject is never brought up again, and we’re left to assume that Yoda and Obi-Wan spent their respective hermitages training to become Force ghosts.
But in The Living Force Trilogy, we actually see Yoda uncover those secrets for himself — with a little help from a disembodied Qui-Gon (voiced again by Liam Neeson). Not only does this explain why Qui-Gon is so pivotal to the Star Wars universe, but it also shows how Jedi like Obi-Wan are able to communicate with the living after death.
Star Wars Rebels
Set in between Episodes III and IV, Star Wars Rebels is the spiritual successor to Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But rather than following fan-favorites like Luke, Han, and Leia, the animated series focuses on a new group of rebels who take a stand against the Empire. As a result, Rebels is only tangentially related to the movies and shares more in common with Rogue One than most of the Saga films. That said, there is a handful of notable episodes here that many fans might consider a “must-watch”…
1) “The Siege of Lothal” (2.01)
This episode is perhaps most notable for prominently featuring a young Darth Vader (voiced by the James Earl Jones), doing what he does best: wrecking shop. In addition to giving us a glimpse at what the Sith Lord has been up to since he started working for the Emperor, “The Siege of Lothal” includes a memorable appearance from Ahsoka Tano and continues her story as well.
2) “Twilight of the Apprentice” (2.21 and 2.22)
Appropriately, this two-parter serves two purposes in our marathon list. First, it (mostly) puts a bow on Anakin and Ahsoka’s relationship, as the one-time Padawan confronts her former master. Second, it reintroduces Darth Maul yet again and puts him on a path toward his own destiny, which is further detailed in “The Holocrons of Fate” (3.03), “Visions and Voices” (3.10), and…
3) “Twin Suns” (3.20)
In a lot of ways, this episode wraps up Darth Maul’s journey from hotheaded Sith to power-hungry tyrant to wizened Force-user, all in the name of seeking vengeance against his one true enemy. How this particular storyline ends, I won’t spoil for you here, but it goes without saying that it’s a big one for fans of the galaxy’s most notorious Zabrak. And, again, who doesn’t need more Darth Maul in their life.
Above and Beyond
Now, even if you’ve watched all the movies and TV shows, there’s still plenty more canon content for you to consume. For one, you have Marvel’s Star Wars comics, which are really quite fantastic—particularly Darth Vader, Poe Dameron, and Star Wars proper. Granted, Marvel’s frustrating trend of excessive crossovers and #1 reboots has already started to take hold of the line-up, but don’t let that deter you from picking up single issues and miniseries. (Vader Down and Lando are not to be missed.)
There’s also the canon novels and video games, which offer even more insight into specific characters and less touched-upon events. To name a few: Leia’s post-Jedi career (Bloodline), Grand Moff Tarkin’s rise to power (Tarkin), and the Battle of Jakku (Battlefront). That’s not to mention all the non-canon material—Star Wars Legends—which by itself contains countless more stories and adventures—defunct though they may be. (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic anyone?)
Suffice to say, the amount of Star Wars content out there is endless and could fill an entire galaxy (literally), but hopefully this guide sets you on a path to finding your own perfect Star Wars marathon, be it with movies, TV show, or anything else that strikes your Force-sensitive fancy.