Star Wars Movie Timeline Explained
A long time ago in…well, Hollywood, George Lucas created Star Wars. Ever since that time it has been delighting its fans. And, as is so often the case with stories that take place in space, everything has been straightforward, linear, and easy-to-follow ever since.
Just kidding. The Star Wars story can be super confusing for newbies to the franchise.
For instance, the first movie is actually Episode IV, which is technically the sixth movie in the timeline. So, yeah, things can get confusing. That’s where we come in with a Star Wars movie timeline that will help you navigate the movies. And yes, a Star Wars movie timeline still isn’t complete as it doesn’t include the TV shows or the novels or…you get the point. But we have to start somewhere, so we might as well start where Star Wars did: at the movies.
Star Wars by Release Date
Ever since the release of the first movie, Star Wars has gained the love and devotion of many fans. Worldwide, fans are able to get their hands on a Star Wars mystery box, merch, sabers, and even Lego Star Wars. Every enthusiast has a different Star Wars film or top Star Wars characters they love above the rest. But one of the truest Star Wars facts that almost every fan can agree on is the confusion of the Star Wars timeline. If you’re confused about it too, don’t worry because we’ve broken it down for you.
This Star Wars film timeline will mostly be focused on the order of the story and where things take place in that chronology. But before we get to the order of events on Tatooine, we should address the chronology of how things occurred in our world. After all, if you start watching the movies without knowing when they were made, the changes in special effects alone are liable to give you whiplash.
The order of the movies as they were released is:
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
- Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
- Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
As anyone with a basic understanding of Roman numerals can see, things are a bit out of order. And what’s up with the two Star Wars stories that don’t have episode numbers? Patience you must have, my young padawan. (A padawan is an apprentice Jedi and this is a quote Yoda says to Luke during Luke’s training…we should move on.)
Star Wars Story Timeline
So, we’ve established that the order in which the movies were released is not the order of the story. To clear things up, let’s reshuffle the films into the order they take place for the characters involved and give a brief synopsis of each movie while we’re at it (minor spoilers ahead).
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Despite being released two decades after the first Star Wars movie hit theaters, this film contains the first events we have seen in the Star Wars universe. While this movie taught us a good deal about how the Star Wars universe functions, including some of the inner politics, the main plot is pretty straightforward.
Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi find themselves on the planet of Tatooine with the queen of Naboo, Queen Amidala (who they are protecting from the villainous Darth Maul). Here, they meet Anakin Skywalker, a young boy they suspect may be able to bring balance to the Force.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The events of Star Wars Episode II take place ten years after the events of The Phantom Menace, and things aren’t going great in our favorite galaxy far, far away. Count Dooku, a Jedi who has broken from the Galactic Republic, has amassed an army and the threat of civil war looms. Meanwhile, Anakin has grown and is now an apprentice under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
When there is an assassination attempt of Senator Amidala (oh, yeah, she’s a Senator now), Anakin is called in to protect her while Obi-Wan investigates. He soon discovers an army of clones. During this time, Anakin and Amidala discover something of their own: a burgeoning love. But soon everyone is drawn into the start of the Clone Wars.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
There’s another time jump, but this time only three years into the future. The Clone Wars are still ongoing, Anakin is now a Jedi Knight and Amidala is pregnant with his child. But the pull of the dark side of the force and Emperor Palpatine prove too strong for Anakin.
Soon, Anakin has gone to the dark side, and the Jedi are defeated. Obi-Wan and Yoda are forced into hiding, but not before a showdown between Obi-Wan and his former apprentice Anakin. While these two men face off, Amidala gives birth to twins: Luke and Leia.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Let’s take a break from our regularly programmed Skywalker saga (the name given to the three trilogies that all deal with Skywalkers and their legacy). This movie takes place between the events of Episodes III and IV and gives us the backstory of Han Solo (a major figure, as you’ll soon see).
In this film, we learn the origins of Han’s last name, how he became friends with the Wookie Chewbacca, and how he came to be the pilot of the Millenium Falcon.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Another stand-alone tale that takes place between the action of Episodes III and IV, this story introduces us to a whole new cast of characters led by Jyn Erso as they attempt to steal the plans for the Empire’s dangerous weapon: The Death Star. Can they retrieve the plans and get them back to Princess Leia?
Episode IV: A New Hope
Okay, back to the Skywalker Saga. Although Episode IV in the Star Wars movies timeline, this was actually released first. In this Star Wars film, we meet Luke Skywalker (remember him?) on Tatooine when he meets droids C-3PO and R2-D2. They are carrying a message from Princess Leia (remember her? because Luke doesn’t) that is intended for Obi-Wan (remember him? Luke knows him as Ben). Obi-Wan decides now is the time to tell Luke about his father (kinda…he leaves out an important detail or two) and that his father passed down Jedi abilities to him.
Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids then embark on a mission to rescue Princess Leia. They are eventually joined by Han Solo and Chewbacca who allow the use of their ship, The Millennium Falcon. Will they save Leia in time? Will the Rebel Alliance be able to destroy the Death Star? And will Obi-Wan have one more face off with his old apprentice, now known as Darth Vader?
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
This movie is technically the seventh in the Star Wars timeline. But anyways, Despite things looking pretty good for the rebels at the end of A New Hope, the war with the Empire continues. Luke and R2-D2 travel to Dagobah so he can finish his Jedi training with Master Yoda. Meanwhile, Han, Leia, Chewie, and C-3PO head to cloud city where they meet up with Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian.
Things devolve from there. Luke ends up battling Darth Vader (who has some disturbing news for him). This is one of the most iconic and best Star Wars fight scenes in all films. Han and friends are double-crossed, which leaves Han stuck in a difficult position. And by the time Luke and Leia reunite, the future of the rebels seems greatly in doubt.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The final movie of the original trilogy starts with our heroes figuring out a way to retrieve Han from the unfortunate place he was left in the last film. Then, we set up for the final battle between the rebels and the Empire. The Empire is working on a new weapon: the Death Star (yes, again).
The rebels, aided by the Ewoks of Endor, must destroy the new Death Star and for Luke, it’s time to deal with some serious family issues (and help save the galaxy in the process.)
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Thirty years have passed since the Empire was defeated, but it hasn’t been a great time. Luke is gone. The First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, has taken over where the Empire left off, and Leia is back leading rebels (now named the Resistance). Did we mention, Han and Leia had a kid named Ben, but he now goes by Kylo Ren and is evil? Also, Han and Leia split up.
Not a great time indeed.
This movie focuses on the quest of Rey, a scavenger with a mysterious past, and Finn, a former stormtrooper. They carry with them the coordinates of Luke, who may be the only one who can save the Resistance. Along the way, they meet Han and Chewie and Han is forced to face what his son has become and the consequences of what has happened.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
This film finds Rey trying to tap into her Jedi powers under the reluctant tutelage of an older, disillusioned Luke. Meanwhile, Leia and the Resistance try to hold out against the overwhelming force of the First Order.
This film also explores the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren as she tries to bring him back from the dark side. But in the end, Kylo Ren and the first order will be pitted against the Resistance, and Luke may be the only one who can save what’s left of the Resistance forces.
Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Palpatine’s back! And he’s been involved with the First Order from the start. Plus, Rey finds out bad news about her family. But she won’t have much time to process that as she is now the only person who might be strong enough to thwart the plans of the First Order and the evil Palpatine. Still, she can’t do it alone…will Kylo Ren see the light in time for the galaxy to avoid a dark fate?
Star Wars at Culturefly
So there you have the Star Wars movie timeline. If you're new to the Star Wars universe or just confused about why Star Wars Episode I was released way after Star Wars episode IV, we hope this might have helped a bit. But to truly appreciate Star Wars, you can’t just read a very quick (and incomplete) synopsis. You have to see the movies for yourself. The great thing is that things like Disney Plus exist where you can binge-watch all the movies anytime. And once you do, you may find that you’ve become a superfan who can’t get enough of this galaxy. Whether you’re wanting to get your hands on Star Wars merch for yourself or looking for Star Wars gift ideas, we’ve got you covered.
At CulturFly, we get that instinct because we’re superfans too. And that’s why we create the subscription boxes for you to show off your fandom, including our Star Wars Galaxy Box subscription. Just sign up and every quarter a new box will arrive at your door with the Star Wars collectible and merchandise that will feed your fandom. The force is strong with you…use it to get your subscription box today!
Disney. A Star Wars Movie Timeline of Every Film in Order of Release. https://www.disney.com.au/movies/a-star-wars-timeline-of-every-movie-in-order-of-release
StarWars.com. What Is a Padawan? https://www.starwars.com/news/what-is-a-padawan
Rotten Tomatoes. Star Wars Movies in Order. https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/guide/star-wars-movies-in-order/Cinema Blend. Star Wars Timeline Explained: All Star Wars Movies And TV Shows In Chronological Order. https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2486645/star-wars-timeline-explained-all-star-wars-movies-and-tv-shows-in-chronological-order