There was a time when streaming Star Wars movies was a little tricky. Fortunately, Disney+ has made Star Wars movie marathons exponentially easier — with a little help from Netflix (until their streaming deal for Solo expires, that is).
Disney’s streaming service is the only place you can find the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, animated series like The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and live-action TV shows like The Mandalorian all in one place. They’ve never looked better, either. The original trilogy and the prequel trilogy are both available in 4K Ultra HD for the first time, while The Force Awakens and other Disney-produced movies support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos streams (just ignore the weird new edits).
Still, Disney+ has over 600 other shows and movies to enjoy. If you only have time to catch three or four Star Wars movies, here’s what we recommend.
Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope
Given how iconic Star Wars has become, it’s easy to forget just how strange A New Hope really is. Try to watch it with fresh eyes, and you’ll see what we mean. A New Hope might’ve defined the modern Hollywood blockbuster, but its first hour is paced more like an art film. It throws ideas at you at a breakneck pace, and never stops to explain. Sure, we know what the Clone Wars, the Kessel Run, and Jabba the Hutt are now, but at the time? They were all unknowns, leaving plenty of room for our imaginations to run wild. It’s fun, exciting, mysterious, and just a little dangerous. It’s great.
Besides all that, A New Hope is the only Star Wars film completely unburdened by a larger mythology, meaning it’s able to tell a complete, self-contained story. It’s satisfying all on its own. Many of the other Star Wars movies are great, but they’re also unnecessary. George Lucas nailed it the first time.
Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back
A New Hope laid the foundation, but The Empire Strikes Back established the template. It’s the movie that introduces the Jedi’s pacifist philosophy and some of the most iconic Force powers. It has Luke’s first lightsaber duel. Before The Empire Strikes Back, Luke was a random farm boy from Tatooine. By the end, he’s a pawn of destiny, part of the most important family in the galaxy, and the Rebel Alliance’s one and only hope for peace. The Empire Strikes Back takes a pulp adventure and turns it into a grand mythological saga, and the franchise has never looked back.
Throw the best plot twist in movie history (at least so far), and you don’t just have a worthy sequel. You have the movie that made Star Wars into, well, Star Wars. If you’ve enjoyed any of the Star Wars sequels, prequels, comic books, novels, video games, or television shows that have appeared since 1980, you have The Empire Strikes Back to thank.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
No, the third item on this list isn’t Return of the Jedi. It could be. Every scene in Episode VI between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor is great, the speeder bike chase is a lot of fun, and it wraps up the original trilogy in a very satisfying way. However, Rogue One is better suited for a limited re-watch. It’s a self-contained story. When it ends, the mission is complete and its characters’ arcs are finished. In addition, by delving into the more questionable side of the Rebellion, Rogue One complicates Star Wars’ morality in all kinds of interesting ways. Before Rogue One, everything was black and white. Now, there are shades of grey, and the franchise is better for it.
Finally, Rogue One was the first Star Wars movie to upend the traditional formula on the big screen, establishing that a Star Wars film doesn’t need to strictly follow Joseph Campbell’s heroes journey. The Star Wars Universe is big enough for all kinds of stories. So far, Disney hasn’t really followed through on that promise, but there’s still time. Also? Rogue One is hands down Darth Vader’s best showing. It’s worth watching for his end-of-movie massacre alone.
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
Yes, we’ve heard the complaints. Yes, The Force Awakens‘ plot is so heavily inspired by A New Hope that it almost qualifies as a remake. Yes, the movie poses lots of questions but doesn’t necessarily set up interesting answers. Yes, Chewbacca and General Leia should’ve hugged.
None of that matters. Director J. J. Abrams infuses The Force Awakens with giddy energy that makes it easy to ignore plot holes, and the cast does the rest. Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren are all great additions to the Star Wars universe, and charismatic performances from Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver instantly make each and every one of them just as iconic as Luke, Leia, Han, and Vader. You’ll come for the fan service, but you’ll stay for the delightful new characters. Sure, it’s derivative — but when the movie is this much fun, who really cares?
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