The Gear Shift order: How to watch Fast & Furious in a new, meaningful way
Crack open a Corona (the beer not the deadly virus). It's time to experience the best story of a generation in a whole new way.
It is a coincidence the novel coronavirus pandemic shares a name with Corona, the popular Mexican light beer favored by Dom Toretto of the Fast & Furious series. With millions around the world in quarantine, now is as good a time as any to binge-watch the entire saga, especially since Fast & Furious 9 is delayed until 2021.
But where to begin? Even if you're new to the series, you may know about its confusing, non-linear timeline. Centered on the — spoilers! — the death of fan-favorite character Han (Sung Kang) in 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Han's role in 2011's Fast Five and 2013's Fast & Furious 6 means the third film released in the series is actually the sixth in chronological order... or something. Point is, it's confusing.
As the series' enduring popularity added more movies and more lore, there's no shortage of guides on the internet that tell you how to watch this saga in a linear fashion. But what if, in the words of Yoda, "there is another" way? In reverse-engineering the famous Star Wars Machete Order and taking inspiration from the original Star Wars series itself, here's a new way to journey through a world of racing, super-criminals... and family.
[SEE ALSO: THE 2020 ULTIMATE BINGE-WATCH AND PLAY GUIDE BY INVERSE]
Below, I submit to you for your quarantine binge-watching: Fast & Furious: The Gear Shift Order.
The Gear Shift Order
While the chronological order places Tokyo Drift after Fast & Furious 6 and before Furious 7, the "Gear Shift Order" moves Tokyo Drift back after The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious. It also adds Justin Lin's 2002 movie Better Luck Tomorrow, a necessary move to establish Han as a more important character.
The order is as follows, starting from the top:
- Fast & Furious (2009)
- Fast Five (2011)
- Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
- Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)
- The Fast and the Furious (2001)
- 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
- The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
- Furious 7 (2015)
- The Fate of the Furious (2017)
- Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
The New "Original Trilogy": A NOS Hope
Just as the Star Wars movies began with its most influential saga first, so too will Fast & Furious.
1. Fast & Furious (2009)
Begin the "Gear Shift Order" with Fast & Furious (2009). In this order, this movie "introduces" Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) in their archetypical roles: Dom, a wanted criminal who pulls off heists with a tight-knit crew, and Brian, a devil may care FBI agent. This is the movie's central conflict, and it's mighty familiar to anyone who's watched any other action movie before: Will these two men put aside their differences for a greater cause?
With regards to the saga's other characters, such as Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), there's just enough for newbies to understand everything without seeing the previous movies. With Fast & Furious, you get that Dom and Brian have a history. You get that Dom doesn't trust Brian. You get that Brian and Mia had something together they lost. And you get that Dom loved Letty, who is presumed dead in the movie. The movie properly sets all of these pieces in place and embarks on the ride from there.
The movie also introduces Gal Gadot as Gisele, who becomes a far more important character than she initially seems.
2009's Fast & Furious was the first in the entire saga to de-emphasize racing and expand on the series' action/crime elements. It was also the second film directed by series veteran Justin Lin; though Lin did not create these characters, he has directed the most in the series (including Fast & Furious 9 in 2021) and knows these characters better than anyone.
As a basic buddy cop movie, there really is no better way to enter the franchise. You've got the series' two most important characters butting heads, only to grow and love each other as brothers. The film's ending leads directly into Fast Five.
2. Fast Five (2011)
The true turning point of the series, Fast Five takes the role of The Empire Strikes Back in the Gear Shift Order: Bigger, meaner, and just plain better. In my humble opinion, Fast Five is the absolute best in the series.
The movie's significance boils down to who it brings in: Dwayne Johnson as DSS Agent Luke Hobbs, who debuts as the antagonist in hot pursuit of Dom and Brian. In this movie, Dom and Brian unite their crew (all characters from previous movies) to steal the fortune of a Brazilian drug lord.
While the fun of Fast Five was for fans was to see old, familiar characters meet and hang out for the first time, that's not its appeal in the Gear Shift Order. In this order, these "new" characters' lightning chemistries and colorful personalities help define for newcomers what Fast & Furious is all about today.
Admittedly, Fast Five isn't an ideal second movie in the Gear Shift Order; supporting characters like Vince (Matt Schulze) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) represent histories that new viewers have yet to fully understand. But they will in due time, and really, it's the explosive fun that's worth watching here.
3. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
This is where Fast & Furious started gunning after James Bond. With a new villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and the "return" of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who suffers amnesia, Fast & Furious 6 turned up the volume with potentially world-ending stakes and villains whose ambitions were bigger than hoarding drug money.
This is also where the importance of fan-favorite Han (Sung Kang) gets real. Since Fast & Furious, Han has spoken about wanting to go to Tokyo. It's almost like his Paris. He mentioned it at the beginning of Fast & Furious, he put it off to Gisele in Fast Five, and by the end of Fast & Furious 6, it becomes the place he would have settled down. At the end of Fast & Furious 6, he's even more than determined to get there.
He does — and there in Tokyo, he's killed by Owen's brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, in a surprise cameo) in the film's credits scene.
For longtime fans, the scene carried weight because it revealed that Han's death in Tokyo Drift was actually intentional. Without having watched Tokyo Drift, this context is lost. But for newbies, the scene still functions as a big, dramatic cliffhanger in the style of Darth Vader's reveal to Luke in Empire Strikes Back.
The New "Prequel Series": The Han-tom Menace
With the death of Han, this new arrangement places Sung Kang's character in a more pivotal role than perhaps even the filmmakers considered. It also reframes the earlier years of Dom and Brian, imagining the franchise's first few movies as prequels in the vein of The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith. (But, you know, better.)
4. Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)
Though not officially part of the Fast & Furious series, Justin Lin's 2002 drama Better Luck Tomorrow is considered by Justin Lin and Sung Kang to be canon to the saga. The movie predates any in the Fast & Furious franchise, with Han looking after a bunch of restless Asian-American teenagers in an affluent California suburb. Better Luck Tomorrow gives a deeper look into Han and his outlook on life prior to running jobs with Dom. (Consider it the Solo: A Star Wars Story of the franchise.)
Han famously spends the entire movie chain-smoking, which is referenced in Fast Five when Gisele calls him out for his finger-to-mouth habits.
5. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The one that started it all is now the fifth in the Gear Shift Order. Taking place after Better Luck Tomorrow, the movie gives viewers who are now familiar with Dom, Brian, Letty, and Mia a look at their younger, wilder years, as well as the events that drove them all apart. It also creates an "origin story" for Dom's infamous love for outdoor barbecues, rather than make it a recurring thing that's evolved over time.
Because these actors are actually younger in these movies, and not just played by younger actors from The CW or digital puppets, there is an added texture that makes watching this movie feel like a real flashback.
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
There's honestly not much here to say except that Brian's story continues in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Now on the run from the law after he let Dom go at the end of The Fast and the Furious, Brian is roped into working with an old friend, Roman (Gibson), who resents him for framing him and sending him to prison.
Consider 2 Fast 2 Furious a prequel spin-off in the style of Rogue One: It tells a pivotal chapter that we've never seen before. Watch Brian and Roman mend fences, an experience that teaches Brian what he'll have to do when he reunites with Dom Toretto further down the road.
7. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
In chronological order, you watch Tokyo Drift after Fast & Furious 6. But in the Gear Shift Order, you watch Tokyo Drift as the climax to the "prequels" — with Han's life and death firmly established, you can now watch Tokyo Drift in the same way you watch Revenge of the Sith: The pieces are all in place, and there is no running from the inevitable.
While Tokyo Drift mostly centers on an American transfer student in Japan, a "teenager" named Sean Boswell (played by a 24-year-old Lucas Black, who looks like he's 30), Sean finds himself under the wing of a cool stranger: Han, who teaches Sean how to drift like the best racers in Japan. But it's in Tokyo Drift where Han is caught up racing again and meets an unfortunate demise.
With knowledge that Han's death was actually intentional, we can now resume the saga with a new "trilogy."
#JusticeForHan: The Furious Awakens
With the "prequels" done, it's now time to embark on the equivalent of Star Wars' sequel trilogy. While Furious 7 isn't a perfect match to 2015's The Force Awakens, it is an ideal start with the death of Han still raw.
8. Furious 7 (2015)
Fueled by vengeance over the death of Han, Dom and his crew seek to take down Deckard Shaw (Statham), who challenges Dom for what he did to his baby brother. Pushing the stakes and scope of the series even further, Furious 7 features the introduction of a super hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emanuel) to the ensemble, as well a shady government figurehead, a Men in Black cosplayer named Mister Nobody (Kurt Russell).
Emotionally, the film is Brian's goodbye, not unlike Harrison Ford's Han Solo in The Force Awakens. In 2013, Paul Walker died in a car accident, which happened during the production of Furious 7. The movie was delayed from its 2014 release date to 2015 to accommodate extensive script rewrites to account for Brian, whose scenes were completed with the help of Paul Walker's real-life brothers. Truly, the theme of family runs deep with the Fast & Furious.
9. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
In one of the most confusing turns of the franchise, Deckard Shaw — still responsible for Han's death — is recruited onto the team to catch Cipher (Charlize Theron), a master hacker with scary tools of destruction.
As the team reluctantly teams up with the killer of their friend, The Fate of the Furious busies its plot with the sinister "turn" of Dom, who is forced to work for Cipher and fight against his own family. It's not the strongest in the series, but for completionists, you just have to. It's also one more reminder of Dom's dedication towards his family, which will be challenged in 2021's Fast & Furious 9.
10. Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
For no reason other than it takes place after The Fate of the Furious, the Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham spin-off movie is your last stop before Fast & Furious 9 in 2021. Although Dom and the rest of the crew are entirely absent from the movie, it still picks up the family baton as both Deckard and Luke wrestle with that concept when they go up against an enhanced superhuman, Brixton (Idris Elba), who works for a villain we've yet to know.
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