The Right Order

I recently ran across an essay on the right order to watch the Star Wars films. Rather than settling for release-order or chronological-order, he prefers what he’s calling Machete Order which treats the prequels as a flashback between “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”.

The idea is to tell it as the story of Luke (not Anakin) and then take a time-out in the middle to explain how [SPOILER] came to be. Notably, he also leaves out “The Phantom Menace” entirely, so you can save yourself from Jar-Jar. Go ahead and check out the link above. He makes a convincing argument for that as the best through-line for the story as well pointing out a couple of glitches along the way.

I was originally going to show Star Wars to my daughter in release order, but as she is now freaking out over Empire’s ending, switching over to Machete order might be a good idea. (An official hat-tip to Shanna Swendson for pointing this out.)

This also got me to thinking about the right order to read/view other multi-episode series. For most series it’s a moot point. Release order and chronological order are the same, and other than intentionally skipping a low point (i.e. Rocky 4, Aliens 3, Star Trek 5, etc.) there’s very little to be gained by mucking around with the order. But some series weren’t written in chronological order.

Notably, the Asimov’s unified Robots and Foundation series was not written in chronological order. Much of this was because they weren’t originally the same story, but in time he decided to patch them together. Frankly, I’m not a fan of the patchwork that was done – it has far too many retcon’s for my taste – but if I had to recommend it to someone, I would urge them to start with the original Foundation trilogy (i.e. the collected Foundation short stories & novellas) and then proceed in publication order. Anything else, and too many secrets and surprises are compromised.

Another one was Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai and related novels, a.k.a. the Childe Cycle. They jump forward and backwards in time, and it’s great seeing things from multiple perspectives. Alas, it doesn’t look like he was actually able to finish it before his death, so I haven’t gotten myself to go past “The Chantry Guild”. I think this one should be read in release order, not chronological order, because some of the prequel books make a lot more sense once you know what happens in the later Dorsai stories.

I have been told that Bujold’s Vorkosigan series was written in non-chronological order, but I flamed out after a book and a half, so I don’t have much of an opinion on the proper order to read this one.

There have been a few TV series that have suffered from being shown out of order. Notably, Fox messed around with Firefly, showing the episodes out of order. The Babylon 5 series Crusade was also shown out of order when TNT ordered a new pilot and different sets and uniforms halfway through the aborted first season. I don’t have strong opinions on the order in which those should be viewed.

I recently asked an author friend about his series. Should I read it chronological or publication order? He said his official answer was that it shouldn’t matter, that he worked to make each of the books sufficiently stand-alone that they did not need to be written in order. My disappointment in his answer must have been obvious in my face because he quickly amended it to say, “But the consensus among my fans is that they should be read in publication order.”

So how about the rest of you? What series have you run into that can – or should – be consumed out of order?