Jeremy hopes the Force is with him as he pursues a forensics career in the swamps of Louisiana.
The Star Wars Timelines
Star Wars has always carried a messy placement. The "first" movie was actually the fourth episode, and we didn't witness the prequel trilogy until years later. However, now we're seeing the sequel saga (plus Rogue One and Solo's mid-placement), so you can tell we're lightspeeding all over the place.
And there's the twin timelines. Prior to the release of The Force Awakens, we had dozens of novels and games that formed the EU (expanded universe) and offered tales beyond the movies; however, now these are treated as part of the Legends timeline, whereas the new trilogy (and newer material like the Rebels television series) occupies the new main timeline. Confused yet? Before you turn to the dark side, let's take a quick look at all main entries across Star Wars media, letting you know what order (and which timeline) they take place in!
Knights of the Old Republic
Takes place: Thousands of years BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin in Episode 4)
The Knights of the Old Republic trilogy of video games takes place many thousands of years before Episode 4, chronicling the ancient Republic's battles against the Sith Empire.
Technically, events from the KOTOR era are no longer canon, but even the new Star Wars timeline borrows several ideas that stemmed from the Old Republic, so they're not fooling many of us, and it's strange that Disney wanted to retcon prequel material when it was post-episode 6 film content they were designing. Fun fact: the famous Sith "Rule of Two" is often credited to Darth Bane, but he himself based his philosophy on the teachings of KOTOR's Darth Revan.
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Takes place: 32 years BBY
The divisive beginning of the series (on the silver screen, that is) introduced fans to the Republic, the Jedi Order, and younger versions of Obi-Wan and Anakin. Hype for the film was extraordinarily high, but the prominence of Jar-Jar Binks's goofy antics disappointed many fans.
Still, with an epic score ("Duel of the Fates" in particular), awesome lightsaber battle, and fun throwbacks (Tusken Raiders, Jawas, etc.), I find Episode 1 gets more hate than it deserves, and it's still a worthy inclusion to the franchise. Regardless of your feelings on the film, it takes place 32 years before Episode 4, showcasing a 25-year-old Obi-Wan, nine-year-old Anakin, and slightly-less incredibly old Yoda.
Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
Takes place: 22 years BBY
10 years after Episode 1, Attack of the Clones occurs, showcasing a teenage Anakin whose skills have given him a touch of arrogance. Obi-Wan and his apprentice embark on separate missions to discover an assassin's identity and protect Padme Amidala, the senator from Naboo, but Anakin and Padme's relationship soon becomes more than professional, continuing the romance tradition of the series mid-film.
The longest film until Episode 8 took the mantle, AotC was also the first movie to feature a CGI Yoda, granting more flexibility to have him in action scenes. This is also where we really see our first glimpses of the darkness within Anakin, and the film bears a surprising number of similarities to Episode 5 (romance subplot, hand lopped off in the lightsaber battle, and so on).
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Takes place: 22-19 years BBY
The original 2D Clone Wars program featured short but succinct cartoons chronicling the war that takes place between Episodes 2 and 3. Unlike the prequel films' mixed reviews, this show was generally well-received and helped keep the Star Wars franchise prevalent in a time of declining faith.
Years later, we also saw the 3D Clone Wars series (plus its feature length film), which produced full-length episodes and also acquired a generally-favorable following. Anakin is now a Jedi Knight, and he and Obi-Wan quickly become some of the Order's most prominent warriors thanks to their war efforts. The 3D Clone Wars also introduced fan-favorite Ahsoka, Anakin's Togruta apprentice. Thankfully, the 3D show and its film remained canon even after the timeline split, allowing more opportunities to see characters like Ahsoka and Asajj Ventress in future material.
Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
Takes place: 22 years BBY
3 years after Episode 2, the dark side rises as Anakin must choose between his Jedi comrades and his secret wife. A few over-the-top cheesy moments ("unlimited power!") aside, Episode 3 delighted with its vast pool of action and lightsaber duels.
This was also the first time we saw the Emperor/Darth Sidious engage in a lightsaber duel, and his skills did not disappoint. Here's a trivia tidbit about the Emperor: Sidious is one of very few characters whose lightsaber form hasn't been revealed.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Is Solo an absolute must-see for diehard Star Wars fans? No. But does it contain an enjoyable stand-alone adventure that deviates from the usual galactic war scenario? Definitely. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford filling Han Solo's boots, but Alden Ehrenreich performs surprisingly well, as does Donald Glover in Lando's role.
If you're fatigued with the epic good vs evil clashes between Jedi and Sith, Solo offers a more focused tale that showcases the galaxy from a non-Force attuned perspective. If you're a Star Wars buff or just a movie fan looking for a fun adventure that doesn't require knowledge of past movies to fully enjoy, Solo's a worthy story starring everyone's favorite good-hearted scoundrel.
Star Wars Rebels
Takes place: 5-1 years BBY
I've got mixed feelings about the Rebels series, but it has its triumphs. Not only is it canon to the main-film timeline, it also showcases an older Ahsoka and her touching realization of her old master's fate. Darth Maul and Obi-Wan also finally settle their feud, and all the while Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus learn the ways of the Force.
The show also harbors its flaws, but it helps explore the large 19-year gap between Episodes 3 and 4 while also showing the origins of the Rebellion.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Takes place: 0 years BBY
Despite not being a numbered episode and lacking the iconic opening text crawl, Rogue One impressed viewers with its darker story and reappearance of Darth Vader. The majority of this film takes place right before Episode 4, showcasing the days leading up to Luke and Han's adventures.
The original trilogy has its darker moments, but our heroes usually sprang through relatively unscathed. Rogue One showcases the gritter side of the galaxy, demonstrating that not everyone gets to be a hero and live through the war.
Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope
Takes place: 0 years BBY
The movie that started it all, A New Hope may have outdated graphics compared to modern special effects, but its likable cast, epic score, and thrilling action scenes impress even to this day. With Alec Guinness at his peak as wise Obi-Wan and the debut of Darth Vader, A New Hope started the Star Wars fever that lasts to this day.
The titular Battle of Yavin takes place in the film's climax as several Rebellion fighters desperately attempt to eliminate the planet-destroying Death Star. This climatic battle formed the basis of the calendar most fans adopt, referring to events before as BBY and those after as ABY (after the Battle of Yavin).
Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
Takes place: 3 years ABY
Often cited as the best Star Wars film of all time, continued our space adventures without having the laggy opening of its predecessor. Here's where Luke really begins his Jedi training (alongside the iconic Yoda's introduction), we witness our first fast-paced lightsaber battle, and the darker side of the galaxy emerges. Unlike Episode 4, the Empire tends to dominate throughout this movie, constantly keeping our heroes on their toes. Threepio gets destroyed, Han freezes in carbonite, Luke loses an arm, and the Rebellion base on Hoth is almost eradicated as the sheer numbers of the Empire plow through the Rebellion.
Darker than Episode 4 but without losing the classic Star Wars charm, Empire remains the pinnacle that all Star Wars endeavors hope to match.
Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi
Takes place: 4 years ABY
With a short time-gap than usually seen between episodes, RotJ only takes place about a year after Empire. Luke's sporting a hand-made green lightsaber now, and his skills have advanced from rookie warrior to serious threat. We briefly saw the Emperor in Empire, but Return is where he really makes his big entrance, showing the twisted and powerful Imperial mind that reigns over even Vader.
Despite a few divisive elements (like the Ewoks), Return remains a well-liked and enjoyable film that superbly wrapped up the original trilogy and brought the galaxy relative peace—for a time.
Star Wars The Expanded Universe
Takes place: Varies
While we've seen several prequel expanded universe stories, the majority took place after Return of the Jedi and now belong to the alternate Legends timeline. In this continuity, Luke eventually marries the former Imperial assassin Mara Jade and the two have a son, Ben (not to be confused with Kylo Ren from Episode 7), while Han and Leia have three children: twins Jacen and Jaina as well as Anakin Solo.
With many dozens of books chronicling various wars and galactic conflicts, our heroes are never inactive for long, but they do an overall better job of holding the galaxy together; Luke successfully rebuilds the Jedi Order (with some needed modifications like allowing marriage and removing the age limit), Han lives, and Boba Fett finally rejoins his Mandalorian culture. Still, without spoiling too much, let's just say that despite their overall success at keeping the peace, many beloved characters fall in the EU. To find out exactly who makes it through, you'll have to read it for yourself!
Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Takes place: 34 years ABY
Kicking off the canon timeline for the sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens garnered generally positive reviews for its diverse cast and entertaining adventure. In this continuity, the First Order is quickly overpowering the New Republic, with only the Resistance to stop them. Sound familiar? It should, because these are basically reskins of the Rebellion and Empire.
The parallels don't stop there. A desert-living orphan (Rey) finally leaves her home planet and shares a unique relationship with a black-clad figure (Kylo Ren), just as Luke did with Vader in the original story. Luckily, the film does enough different to separate itself from its inspiration, and its updated graphics and stellar action scenes round out an impressive return to the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi
Takes place: 34 years ABY
With the shortest gap between numbered episodes yet, The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey finding a self-exiled Luke Skywalker. Despite the introduction of the ridiculed toy-selling porgs (they're hardly in it anyway), Last Jedi astounded fans with a wealth of plot twists, action scenes, and heart-wrenching deaths.
Kylo Ren's shifting moralities help him stand out from the firmly-dark side Vader (until the very end) and Sidious, and we finally see the daunting capabilities of an aged Luke Skywalker. Resistance ace Poe Dameron also enjoys much deeper character development, and we even encounter glimpses of Leia's latent Force abilities. The longest Star Wars movie yet, The Last Jedi has us more excited than ever for the upcoming Episode 9.
The Future of Star Wars
There you have it, a complete list of the main events throughout the galaxy far, far away. Despite two timelines and several jumps back and forth in time as movies release, it's surprisingly easy to keep track of the galaxy's events.
I noticed that the Coruscant galactic calendar actually measures 368 days, so a character turning 15 in Star Wars would presumably be a few weeks older than someone in real life. By this logic, the gap between Episodes 1 and 8 is actually a half-year or so more than it sounds on paper. But nerdy trivia outside, as we eagerly await future space adventures, vote for your favorite film and I'll see you at our next Star Wars review!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Liz Westwood from UK on August 28, 2018:
This is an interesting article. I was always confused by the Star Wars timeline.