The rate Disney is going, Star Wars could end up as the longest and most expansive shared universe ever (consider that a challenge, Marvel). It's already the most complicated, even discounting all the old extended universe stuff that is no longer canon.
If you've ever thought about revisiting the whole Star Wars epic but don't know how to approach it, we've got just the thing for you – a chronology featuring all the films, animated shows and spin-offs out there (but not the books and comics, or we'd never finish).
Note: To follow this properly, you're going to need to understand two acronyms – BBY (before the Battle of Yavin) and ABY (after the Battle of Yavin). The Battle of Yavin was an attempt to destroy the Rebel base of Yavin IV that ended in the destruction of the first Death Star as seen in A New Hope.
BBY dates count down to that event, and ABY count up from it. Congratulations! Now you're a little bit more of a Star Wars nerd than you were before.
(Warning: Contains major spoilers for the Star Wars movies and television shows)
Episode I: The Phantom Menace – 32 BBY
The infamous opening text crawl explained lots that – it quickly transpired – didn't warrant explaining. It saw Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) sent to officiate in a disagreement between the Trade Federation and Naboo, which led to the planet being blockaded.
They escape with Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) and exiled fish-rabbit clown Jar Jar Binks to Tatooine, where they meet young and incredibly annoying space Jesus Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and badass villain Darth Maul. A droid invasion is halted at the cost of Jinn's life, but it all turns out that was all an overly complicated double-cross to hand power to Naboo's senator and future Sith tyrant
How anyone could possibly blockade an entire planet is never explained.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 are introduced chronologically for the first time
- The existence of the Sith is revealed
- Darth Maul dies (or does he...?)
- Palpatine becomes the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic
Episode II: Attack of the Clones – 22 BBY
Ten years later, Anakin (now Hayden Christensen) has developed from annoying to the worst. We meet Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) a former Jedi and secret Sith Lord Darth Tyranus, who is trying to lead a load of planets called the Confederacy of Independent Systems (or Separatists) out of the Republic for very important and definitely clear reasons.
Terrible undercover bodyguard Anakin takes Padmé into protective seclusion and despite extended exposure she still falls in love with him. They all end up on the planet Geonosis, where droids kill a load of Jedi until a secret army of clones discovered by Obi-Wan shows up and carries the day.
No surprises for guessing that it was all a lot of flummery to give Palpatine emergency powers which he promises to give up at the end of the conflict. We totally believe you, Palps.
- Padmé and Anakin are married in secret
- Anakin's mum Shmi is murdered and he takes dark side-y revenge on her killers
- The Clone army is created
- The Clone Wars kick off between the Republic and the Separatist planets
- Palpatine acquires emergency powers over the Republic
The Clone Wars (movie) – 22 BBY
The setup for the long-running Clone Wars animated series, the feature-length movie expands the conflict between the Republic and the Separatists with a plot to frame the Jedi for the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt's son.
We meet Anakin's troupe of clone soldiers, and the future Darth Vader is assigned his own Padawan – Ahsoka Tano.
- Ahsoka Tano is introduced
- We meet Rex, Cody and the other clone troopers of the 501st Legion
The Clone Wars (TV series) – 22-19 BBY
The six-season show desperately tries to shore up the gaping holes in the prequel trilogy... and succeeds fairly well.
The series covers everything from clone-fought conflicts with the Separatists, Count Dooku's plotting with his dark-side assassin Asajj Ventress, political intrigue and the Jedi being useless and wrong about everything.
The Clone Wars fleshes out the Republic/Separatist conflict, the corruption and issues plaguing the Jedi and Senate, and even managed to make Anakin (not voiced by Christensen) into a likeable and relatable character. Don't believe us? Check out this guide to the essential episodes.
- The return of Darth Maul (really!)
- Ahsoka leaves the Jedi Order
- Saw Gerrera is introduced
- Yoda discovers how to return as a Force ghost
- The clones' secret Order 66 is almost exposed
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – 19 BBY
Three years after Attack of the Clones, the war comes to a head here. Goaded by Palpatine and visions of Padmé's death, Anakin explores new depths of awful, eventually killing his fellow Jedi and a bunch of children, and being dismembered by Obi-Wan and left for dead.
Meanwhile, the Republic is on the verge of victory when Palpatine activates Order 66, causing the clone troopers' "bio-chips" to activate and turn them against their Jedi generals. The order of knights is all but destroyed, and Yoda and Obi-Wan go into hiding.
Padmé gives birth to Luke and Leia then dies for no reason, Anakin is transformed into Darth Vader and everyone breathes a sigh of relief that the prequels are finally over.
- First chronological appearance of Chewbacca
- Obi-Wan defeats Anakin on Mustafar
- Luke and Leia are born in secret and hidden
- Order 66 is activated and the Jedi Order is destroyed
- Padmé dies
- The creation of the Empire
- Anakin becomes Darth Vader
Solo: A Star Wars Story – Between 11 and 14 BBY
The solo Han Solo film will star Alden Ehrenreich as a younger version of the character some time after his ejection from the Imperial flight academy. Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) will feature in it, alongside a new mentor figure for Han called Beckett (Woody Harrelson).
It will apparently be set more than ten years before A New Hope, so don't expect it to segue into Episode IV the way Rogue One did.
- First chronological appearance of Han Solo
- ? Han meets Chewbacca and Lando for the first time
- ? Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc
Star Wars Rebels – 5 BBY - 1 BBY (Epilogue after 4 ABY)
This ongoing animated series deals with the early days of the Rebel Alliance, starting off as a series of scattered cells and building into a threat to the Empire.
It stars a collection of original characters – pilot Hera Syndulla, former Padawan Kanan Jarrus, young Jedi trainee Ezra Bridger, Mandalorian weapons expert Sabine Wren, Lasat warrior Zeb Orrelios and obnoxious astromech droid Chopper – as well as featuring familiar faces including Leia, Obi-Wan, Lando, Saw Gerrera and Mon Mothma.
The fourth and final series ends shortly before the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion starts to heat up, with an epilogue set at an unspecified time after the Battle of Endor.
- Mon Mothma and Wedge Antilles join the Rebellion
- Darth Maul dies
- Ahsoka fights Darth Vader
- The liberation of Lothal
- The life and death of Kanan Jarrus
- Ezra Bridger and Grand Admiral Thrawn disappear
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – 0 BBY
The first Star Wars spin-off movie draws heavily on the war-film genre to fill in the gaps of A New Hope's opening crawl. Felicity Jones's Jyn Erso is reluctantly recruited by the Rebellion to contact her former mentor (Forest Whitaker as an ageing Saw Gerrera) and, eventually, her father, Death Star weapons designer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen).
Jyn leads her merry(ish) band of Rebels in a desperate attack to steal the Death Star plans, leading to the almost total destruction of the Rebel Alliance fleet. It ends with the escape of Princess Leia Organa in a very familiar ship, leading right into the opening of A New Hope.
- The Death Star plans are stolen
- The Death Star's fatal weakness is revealed and explained (retcon!)
- The Rebellion's fleet is decimated
Episode IV: A New Hope – 0 BBY - 0 ABY
Even if you haven't seen the original Star Wars film (which you have, obviously), The Hero's Journey™ has been repeated a million times before and since.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is an ordinary (moisture) farm boy until he is thrust into the adventure he always wanted. He finds a mentor in Obi-Wan (now played by Alec Guinness), a roguish ally in Han Solo (now Harrison Ford), a princess to save in Leia (Carrie Fisher) and a monster to battle in Vader.
We're more than halfway through our timeline now, but Star Wars really begins here.
- Luke begins to learn the ways of the Force
- Aunt Beru and Uncle Lars are killed
- Obi-Wan reunites with Darth Vader and is killed
- The Death Star destroys Alderaan
- The Rebels destroy the first Death Star
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – 3 ABY
The sequel goes darker in the more serious follow-up to George Lucas's surprise hit.
Our heroes are nearly killed in their escape from Hoth. Luke discovers a new mentor in the weird form of Yoda, Han and Leia seek refuge with Lando on Cloud City, and everything goes to hell.
It also includes the most famous reveal in cinematic history, or did until the prequels came along and spoiled it, from the chronological-viewing perspective. Something about someone being someone else's father. We forget.
- Luke meets Yoda
- Han and Leia declare their love. Well, she does
- Han is frozen in carbonite
- Darth Vader tells Luke a devastating secret
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – 4 ABY
The final part of the trilogy begins with an attempt to rescue Han from Jabba's palace that doesn't quite go according to plan.
That achieved, the Rebellion enter into a final battle with the Empire to stop them from completing another Death Star. The revelations fly thick and fast while the Emperor and Darth Vader try to tempt Luke to the dark side. Instead, it is Vader who is returned to the light, and the Emperor's death marks the end of Imperial dominance in the galaxy.
The ewoks try to ruin everything, but they don't (quite) succeed.
- Leia kills Jabba the Hutt
- Darth Vader kills the Emperor
- The second Death Star is destroyed
- Leia and Luke are revealed to be twins, which we already knew if we watched it in chronological order
- The redemption and death of Darth Vader
- The Empire is (partially) defeated
Episode VII: The Force Awakens – 34 ABY
30 years later, everything has gone to hell. A new Resistance (led by General Leia) battles Supreme Leader Snoke's Imperial remnant, the First Order.
Into this mess comes Finn (John Boyega), a rogue stormtrooper who meets a young scavenger with a mysterious past called Rey (Daisy Ridley). They soon team up with Han, Chewie and Leia and are recruited to help destroy a planet-killing superweapon. Now where have we heard that one before?
On the way, Rey discovers some Force powers, and Jedi traitor Kylo Ren/Ben Solo has a fatal meeting with his father. The film ends with Rey using a secret map to locate the missing Luke Skywalker.
- Finn betrays the First Order
- Rey is discovered on Jakku
- The Republic capital and senate is destroyed
- Kylo Ren kills Han Solo
- Rey finds Luke in hiding on Ahch-To
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – 34 ABY
Following directly on from The Force Awakens, the Resistance is left scrambling to escape the First Order. Mistrusting the intentions of their new leader, Vice Admiral Holdo, Finn, Poe and their new ally Rose hatch a desperate plan to save their friends – one which does not go as planned.
Meanwhile, Rey discovers that Luke Skywalker is not the man she expected. He reluctantly agrees to teach her, but insists that the Jedi Order is finished and that he cannot help the Resistance. Rey finds herself connected to Kylo Ren and makes her own plot to save his soul.
Kylo eventually confronts both his masters (new and old), and Rey is left to lead the Jedi into a new age and tip the scales for the embattled Resistance survivors.
- The First Order decimates the Resistance
- Rey convinces a reluctant Luke Skywalker to train her
- Kylo Ren murders Supreme Leader Snoke and seizes command of the First Order
- Luke comes out of hiding for a final fight with Kylo
- Rey becomes the inheritor of the Jedi legacy
- Luke dies/joins the Force