Star Wars Viewing Guide: From Original Trilogy, Prequel Trilogy, Clone Wars to The Mandalorian

In the rush to catch up on The Mandalorian, a lot of fringe Star Wars and even non-SW fans are depriving themselves of some of the greatest stories in the entire Star Wars saga with Clone Wars and Rebels. They’ve become such a vital part of the franchise that skipping them now would be like watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe Infinity Saga and only watching Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home them complaining about not getting it.

Sure you could piece together story elements, but the significance of Thor/Loki, the Avengers’ split, Iron Man’s bond with Peter Parker and any of Captain America’s relationships would be lost.

Between Clone Wars and Rebels there’s 11 seasons worth of content. That’s a lot to take in, but it’s completely worth it especially during a pandemic without a lot of new movies and shows on the horizon. However if you want to take the quick and easy path, I decided to make a revised Star Wars viewing order incorporating Clone Wars and Rebels in as few episodes as possible from an entertainment perspective and their significance to the main story in the most comprehensive path from the start to The Mandalorian. 

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1. Star Wars (A New Hope) — Most of the expanded universe predates Episode IV, but this is the building block for everything. George Lucas sets in motion a lot that gets built out later and it’s key to start late in the saga with the introduction of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Darth Vader. As opening chapters in a saga go to a franchise, this is still the best.

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2. The Empire Strikes Back — So far we’re sticking with the original release order. This remains the right way to view everything as we keep the story focused on Luke. Star Wars is the Skywalker saga and it’s vital to keep it from one of their perspectives. Since we started everything with Luke, we stick with his linear path towards becoming a Jedi. With Luke, we have an idea of how a Jedi would function without truly understanding anything about them.

While becoming a Jedi seems like a good idea, Luke doesn’t know why this is important really and is following the guidance of his mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. By the end of the film Luke learns a secret that reveals his entire life was based on a lie.

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3. The Phantom Menace — Prequel detractors will suggest skipping Episode 1, but it becomes far more important as the story unfolds and is key to understanding one of the major relationships in the saga.

This is the start of an extended flashback that looks at the childhood of Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father, who assumes the role of the saga’s main character. In fairness it’s not the best introduction, but a number of core characters (Padme, Palpatine, Darth Maul) are introduced while others like Obi-Wan and Yoda are re-introduced in their early days. TPM is also useful in showing the Jedi at their prime, a far cry from Luke’s experience many decades later. 

A slew of vitally important subplots start here and skipping them puts you in catch up mode. This order allows you to experience the best Star Wars film followed immediately by its weakest live-action chapter. Still, there’s too much rich mythology to skip it. It’s best to focus on the underlined chess moves being set up by the series’ main villain. Obi-Wan’s obligation and the embers of a new connection forming. 

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4. Attack of the Clones — Like Phantom Menace, this gets more criticism than praise although it has only grown in importance as the saga unfolds. Anakin is on his way to becoming a Jedi Knight under Obi-Wan’s tutelage when he’s reunited with Padme stirring emotions he hasn’t felt in a decade. Along with the pressure of fulfilling a game changing prophesy, teenage Anakin faces an onslaught of emotions most Jedi have been trained to live without. In the wake of Anakin’s inner conflict, a new threat emerges that could destroy the peace the Jedi have maintained and spark a new era of war.

As the name implies, AOTC ignites the Clone Wars making it essential. It sets the backdrop and lays the foundation for one of the best Star Wars projects in any medium. To quote Obi-Wan “this is where the fun begins.”

5. The Clone Wars (2003-2005) — [Chapters 1-22] Ok, here’s where things get complicated. Gennedy Tartakovsky establishes the start of the Clone Wars in 25 micro episodes that total two hours. At the time the goal was to tell a few stories of the war before dovetailing into the final film in the Prequel Trilogy.

This kickoff is a primer for the Clone Wars introducing major characters like Asaaj Ventress and General Grevious and you get to watch the Jedi at their most superheroic. You’ll want to watch until the payoff of the first major cliffhanger then cut that off for a long time. This preserves the end sequence of Tartakovsky’s series without conflicting with the bulk of the Clone Wars. [This is the only series not available on Disney+, but it’s cheap to get Vol. 1 and Vol 2 on Amazon]

6. The Clone Wars — (133 episodes) Skip the movie. Its tone doesn’t really fit with the series and saves The Phantom Menace from worst film in the series honors. Clone Wars marks the deepest dive of the marathon, but it has become such a bridge from the Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy and The Mandalorian that you can’t skip it and fully appreciate the story. Plus, it’s an amazing journey that offers so much insight to the core Clone Wars characters that by the time we revisit them in live-action we’ll have a greater appreciation for what they endured.

Dave Filoni, who is one of The Mandalorian’s executive producers, plants a ton of seeds that won’t mature until later on in the saga. Here’s the breakdown of what you really should watch. As the series play out, I’ll have to get vaguer to avoid spoiling major plot points.

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Season 1:

  • Episode 1 – Ambush
  • Episode 2 – Rising Malevolence
  • Episode 3 – Shadow of Malevolence
  • Episode 4 – Destroy Malevolence
  • Episode 5 – Rookies
  • Episode 9 – Cloak of Darkness
  • Episode 10 – Lair of Grievous
  • Episode 11 – Dooku Captured
  • Episode 16 – The Hidden Enemy
  • Episode 22 – Hostage Crisis

Season 1 is all about establishing the key players Anakin, Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, General Grievous, Asaaj Ventress and Anakin’s apprentice, Ahsoka. Additionally, this season shows the clones are more than duplicates and have distinct personalities. Some of the Jedi form closer bonds with their clones, which becomes a major plot point going forward.

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Season 2:  

  • Episode 1 – Holocron Heist
  • Episode 2 – Cargo of Doom
  • Episode 3 – Children of The Force
  • Episode 6 – Weapons Factory
  • Episode 8 – Brain Invaders
  • Episode 9 – Grievous Intrigue
  • Episode 10 – The Deserter
  • Episode 12 – The Mandalore Plot
  • Episode 13 – Voyage of Temptation
  • Episode 14 – Duchess of Mandalore
  • Episode 20 – Death Trap
  • Episode 21 – R2 Come Home
  • Episode 22 – Lethal Trackdown

Ahsoka befriends another padawan, Barrie Offee; Obi-Wan reveals his divergent from Anakin’s path as he reunites with an old friend in Mandalore (yes, this is the start of the link to The Mandalorian) and the path of a future fan favorite begins.

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Season 3:

  • Episode 5 – Corruption
  • Episode 6 – The Academy
  • Episode 12 – Nightsisters
  • Episode 13 – Monster
  • Episode 14 – Witches of the Mist
  • Episode 15 – Overlords
  • Episode 16 – Altar of Mortis
  • Episode 17 – Ghosts of Mortis

More Mandalore developments; Dooku gains a new powerful ally and is pressured to make a fateful decision in obeying Lord Sidious sparking a mini-war while Anakin receives a haunting vision of his future.

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Season 4:

  • Episode 7 – Darkness on Umbara
  • Episode 8 – The General
  • Episode 9 – Plan of Dissent
  • Episode 10 – Carnage of Krell
  • Episode 14 – A Friend in Need
  • Episode 15 – Deception
  • Episode 16 – Friends and Enemies
  • Episode 17 – The Box
  • Episode 18 – Crisis on Naboo
  • Episode 19 – Massacre
  • Episode 20 – Bounty
  • Episode 21 – Brothers
  • Episode 22 – Revenge

The Clones deal with a Jedi that isn’t as concerned about their lives as Anakin or Ahsoka; more Mandalore drama unfolds; Obi-Wan goes undercover. Count Dooku unleashes General Grievous in an episode that highlights his destructive force while an old enemy resurfaces.

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Season 5:

  • Episode 1 – Revival 
  • Episode 2 – A War on Two Fronts
  • Episode 3 – Front Runners
  • Episode 4 – The Soft War
  • Episode 5 – Tipping Points
  • Episode 14 – Eminence
  • Episode 15 – Shades of Reason
  • Episode 16 – The Lawless
  • Episode 17 – Sabotage
  • Episode 18 – The Jedi Who Knew Too Much
  • Episode 19 – To Catch a Jedi
  • Episode 20 – The Wrong Jedi

Anakin, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan struggle with aiding a resistance and keeping their neutrality. Episodes 6-8 aren’t as significant in the big picture, but is a cute side story if you want a lighter supplement arc. A new dangerous alliance that’s unconcerned with the war is formed, which draws Obi-Wan to the developing conflict. Anakin and Ahsoka investigate a bombing resulting in a massive strain with Anakin’s ties to the Jedi.

 

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Season 6

  • Episode 1 – The Unknown
  • Episode 2 – Conspiracy
  • Episode 3 – Fugitive
  • Episode 4 – Order
  • Episode 10 – The Lost Ones
  • Episode 12 – Voices
  • Episode 13 – Destiny
  • Episode 14 – Sacrifice

A shocking truth is discovered concerning a potential defect in the clones. Obi-Wan starts another investigation and Yoda starts a quest that pits him against the Sith.

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Clone Wars Season 7: 1-4, 9

A crack squad of clones aids Anakin. Episode 9 starts Clone Wars’ finale and is given the full movie within a series treatment kicking off one of the best installments in the entire saga.

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7. The Clone Wars — Ok, time for a shift as we’re back with the Tartakovsky micro series. Start back up with Ep. 23 — the beginning of the Coruscant invasion, which was mentioned in Clone Wars Old Friends, Not Forgotten. You can skip through the Anakin sequences as they’re basically retconned out. For simplicity’s sake, stop it after Mace’s conversation with Shaak-Ti. Filoni intentionally worked around this sequence so it’s worth checking out thanks to some fun Easter Eggs.

8. The Clone Wars (Season 7 Ep. 10) — From this point on, events in Clone Wars begin running concurrently with the final prequel film. There’s enough mystery without major plot reveals to make watching this chapter fit in seamlessly.

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9. Revenge of the Sith — We’re back to live action now with a full understanding of what Anakin, Padme, Obi-Wan and the Jedi have endured during the Clone Wars. The war has taken its toll on the Jedi, but they manage several key victories to end the Clone Wars once and for all until a greater tragedy occurs and the Sith seize full control of the galaxy leaving just a faint spark of hope left.

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10. The Clone Wars (Season 7: Ep.11-12) — We’re shown another perspective of the events of Revenge of the Sith and the emotional fallout that follows. Star Wars storytelling at its finest. The second half of Clone Wars’ finale is just as epic and tragic as its first two chapters. There’s an amazing symmetry with Revenge of the Sith here as the final segments of Clone Wars represent the extinguishing of hope counterbalanced by a new hope emerging — a theme that will play out repeatedly through this next arc of the saga.

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11. Solo — Solo is a fringe addition to the list. You don’t have to watch it, but it does frame Han Solo’s early days and place in the saga. And it’s a nice refresher of the swashbuckling side of Star Wars. For those that have made the investment there’s a nice tie-in to what’s played out in Clone Wars. Watching Solo here also puts Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca back on your radar after going so many hours without them.

12. Star Wars Rebels — Rebels is a 76-episode series. Like Clone Wars, it’s Star Wars at its finest with a mix of humor, great characters, action, drama and tragedy. It’s less intense than Clone Wars and resets the tone back to the mood established in Star Wars. Here’s the essential episodes for subplots and characters that get revisited later.

Season 1:

  • Episode 1 – Spark of Rebellion
  • Episode 3 – Fighter Flight
  • Episode 5 – Breaking Ranks
  • Episode 7 – Empire Day
  • Episode 8 – Gathering Forces
  • Episode 9 – Path of the Jedi
  • Episode 10 – No Idiot’s Army
  • Episode 11 – Vision of Hope
  • Episode 12 – Call to Action
  • Episode 13 –  Rebel Resolve
  • Episode 14 – Fire Across the Galaxy

Season 1 is a solid introduction to the new characters with some fun cameos from the films as we start getting closer to the rise of the Rebellion.

Season 2: 

  • Episode 1 – The Siege of Lothal
  • Episode 2 – The Siege of Lothal Part 2
  • Episode 3 – The Lost Commanders
  • Episode 4 – Relics of the Old Republic
  • Episode 5 – Always Two There Are
  • Episode 9 – Stealth Strike
  • Episode 10 – The Future of the Force
  • Episode 11 – Legacy
  • Episode 12 – A Princess on Lothal
  • Episode 15 – The Call
  • Episode 16 – Homecoming
  • Episode 17 – The Honorable Ones
  • Episode 18 – Shroud of Darkness
  • Episode 19 – The Forgotten Droid
  • Episode 20 – The Mystery of Chopper Base
  • Episode 21 – Twilight of the Apprentice Part One
  • Episode 22 – Twilight of the Apprentice Part Two

A main figure in the saga appears and has a fateful encounter with The Ghost crew. Another key character resurfaces to aid the crew and their ally, Fulcrum. 

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Season 3: 1-5, 9-12, 14-17, 20-22

  • Episode 1 – Steps Into Shadows
  • Episode 2 – The Holorcrons of Fate
  • Episode 3 – The Antilles Extraction
  • Episode 4 – Hera’s Heroes
  • Episode 5 – The Last Battle
  • Episode 9 – An Inside Man
  • Episode 10 – Visions and Voices
  • Episode 11 – Ghosts of Geonosis: Part 1
  • Episode 12 – Ghosts of Geonosis: Part 2
  • Episode 14 – Trials of the Darksaber
  • Episode 15 – Legacy of Mandalore
  • Episode 16 – Through Imperial Eyes
  • Episode 17 – Secret Cargo
  • Episode 20 – Twin Suns
  • Episode 21 – Zero Hour Part One
  • Episode 22 – Zero Hour Part Two

Reeling from the events of last season, the Ghost crew deals with a key character from the movies and series just as a new shrewd Imperial commander arrives who’s able to predict and counter their major initiatives.

Season 4: 1-4, 6-15 

  • Episode 1 – Heroes of Mandalore Part One
  • Episode 2 – Heroes of Mandalore Part Two
  • Episode 3 – In the Name of the Rebellion Part One
  • Episode 4 – In the Name of the Rebellion Part Two
  • Episode 6 – Flight of the Defender
  • Episode 7 – Kindred
  • Episode 8 – Crawler Commandeers
  • Episode 9 – Rebel Assault
  • Episode 10 – Jedi Night
  • Episode 11 – Dume
  • Episode 12 – Wolves and a Door
  • Episode 13 – A Wood Between Worlds
  • Episode 14 – A Fool’s Hope
  • Episode 15 – Family Reunions — and Farewell

The Ghost crew return to Mandalore to rally the clans and have a final standoff with the imperial commander. Stop episode 15 at the 41:55 mark as it features an epilogue that teases developments that haven’t been paid off yet.

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13. Rogue One — As the Rebels begin making more of an impact in their clash with the Empire, a spy is called in to help retrieve plans that can cripple the Empire’s planet destroying super weapon. This spinoff shows in further live-action detail the reign of terror of the Empire and despite the somber tones, ends on a hopeful note.

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14. Return of the Jedi — It’s all led to this epic finale of the saga. We saw Luke have a basic interest in becoming a Jedi and after this extended flashback, we learn their fate and why Luke’s confrontation with Darth Vader will finally see the prophecy fulfilled at the hands of the Chosen One.

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15. The Mandalorian (S1-2) — There’s no episode splits and no need to fit anything else into the timeline (for now). Just enjoy the ride of a character with no connection to the Force or care about the Jedi and Empire.

Ok, but what about that Sequel Trilogy? The Sequel Trilogy is a narratively conflicted story where each subsequent film negates what occurred before it. After watching the Original Trilogy, character portrayal comes off suspect, the plot is recycled from earlier films and the new characters have little depth. The best part of the sequel trilogy? You can ignore them with no impact or repercussions to the marathon story you’ve enjoyed.

Got all that? Don’t be overwhelmed. Star Wars is actually one of the best serialized stories of all-time. You’ll be less concerned with trying to watch it all and more on remembering to sleep. Let me know if you’re up to the challenge.

Photo Credit: Disney

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