The long-awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in theaters this week. For some, this movie will be their first exposure to the Star Wars universe, and for others, it is a much-anticipated return to a well-loved story. This list is meant to give newcomers a primer to the saga before they go see The Force Awakens
Set a long time ago in a galaxy far away, Star Wars tells the story of the Skywalker family over two generations – The Force Awakens has promised to continue this generational story by introducing the next generation of the Skywalker family. The prequel trilogy focuses on the transformation of the Jedi Anakin Skywalker into the Sith Darth Vader. The original trilogy tells the story of Vader’s children, Luke and Leia, as they fight the Empire and ultimately redeem their father.
At the center of the conflict are Force-users. The Force is a mystical energy field that is present in all living things. Force-sensitive individuals are able to learn how to control and interact with the Force, giving them many abilities, including telekinesis, heightened reflexes, and even limited mind control. The Jedi Order is a group of Force-users who utilize the “light” side of the Force; they fought for order, peacefulness, and temperance against the “dark” side of the Force, which is fueled by emotions of fear, anger, and hatred. The dark side of the Force is a constant temptation, and is wielded by the Sith and other dark Force users. The Sith are an ancient order who are bent on destroying the Jedi; because of a rule put into place by Darth Bane, there are only two Sith at any time, a Master who has power and an apprentice who craves it.
There are a multitude of planets, characters, species, and events that make up the Star Wars universe, but some characters and events are more important than others. The events that are collected here are designed to prepare a viewer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens by looking at key characters and events from the Star Wars canon, including the six Star Wars movies, the two Star Wars television shows (The Clone Wars and Rebels), and other Star Wars canon material (the novels Lost Stars, Aftermath). Events and characters from Star Wars: Legends are not discussed, as their affect or influence on Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unknown. Not all of the events of the movies or other canon materials are discussed; instead, the major events are presented in chronological order. A “major” event is defined as a necessary plot point that affected the story of the previous six movies, along with information that will most likely be helpful or relevant when understanding the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Here are the 20 Plot Points to Catch You Up on Star Wars Before The Force Awakens:
20. Darth Sidious Orchestrates a Plot to Become Chancellor
The Sith had planned to destroy the Jedi for thousands of years, but the events of the Star Wars series begin with Darth Sidious, also known as Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Having killed his master, Darth Plagueis, Sidious became the Dark Lord of the Sith. He set into motion a series of events, first creating a conflict on Naboo, his home world, against the Trade Federation. This conflict convinced Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to call for a vote of no confidence on the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, and Sidious became Chancellor Palpatine in his stead.
Sidious already began to plan the Clone Wars, which would be the next step in his plan to destroy the Jedi (who use the Force to keep the peace in the Republic, and rule over the galaxy. Taking Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) as his apprentice, he created a clone army on the planet of Kamino, and began to empower the Confederacy of Independent Systems in order to manufacture a civil war that would in turn give the Chancellor authoritarian power.
19. Anakin Skywalker is Found by the Jedi
After escaping a Trade Federation blockade, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi Ewan McGregor) stop on the Outer Rim planet of Tatooine to repair Queen Amidala’s ship. While on the planet, the two discover Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young slave and gifted pilot, who proves to be strong in the Force. When Qui-Gon learns from Anakin’s mother that Anakin had no father and was conceived through the Force, he comes to believe that Anakin is the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force by destroying the Sith. He makes a wager on Anakin’s pod race in order to win Anakin’s freedom. Anakin’s victory leads to him leaving Tatooine and being brought back to the Jedi Council on Coruscant. His mother, unfortunately, is forced to stay behind.
On Coruscant, the Jedi Council, led by Grand Master Yoda, is skeptical of training Anakin, because he is too old and his emotions make him reckless. Qui-Gon wants to train Anakin, but the Council is reluctant and initially refuses.
18. Qui-Gon Jinn Dies
Only after the death of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn at the Battle of Naboo against the Sith Apprentice Darth Maul does the Jedi Council reconsider training Anakin. It is decided that Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the place of his old master, will train Anakin as his Jedi apprentice.
Qui-Gon’s death may not seem like a major event in the Star Wars story, but the ramifications have a massive effect on the trajectory of Anakin’s life. If Qui-Gon Jinn’s death had not occurred, then Anakin may not have been trained as a Jedi, or if Qui-Gon had trained Anakin in Obi-Wan’s place, Anakin’s future may have been drastically different.
Qui-Gon’s death also led to the discovery of Force spirits. Qui-Gon had studied the possibility of returning as a spirit through the Force, and after death, he assisted Yoda and Obi-Wan in learning how to manifest as Force spirits. Without this technique, neither would have been able to return to help Luke Skywalker on his path of becoming a Jedi.
17. Anakin Skywalker Marries Padmé Amidala
Members of the Jedi Order are not allowed to marry, as personal relationships were seen as emotional attachments that could be manipulated and leveraged by the dark side of the Force. Instead, Jedi’s monastic lives showed their devotion to the light side of the Force.
Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), however, had a close relationship to Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), who is the Queen and later Galactic Senator of the planet Naboo. When they grew older, the two acknowledged their romantic feelings for one another. At first, they attempted to ignore these feelings, but after nearly dying at the Battle of Geonosis, the two realized that they could not suppress their desires. They married in secret.
16. The Clone Wars
The Battle of Geonosis sparked a civil war that was felt throughout the galaxy. The Grand Army of the Republic, also known as the clone army that Sidious had created on Kamino, fought with the Separatists, or the Confederacy of Independent Systems, led by Count Dooku. The Jedi acted as generals in the Grand Army, leading clone troopers into battle. Little did they know, over the three years of fighting, that Count Dooku was Darth Tyranus, the Sith apprentice to Darth Sidious, and that both sides of the war were controlled by the Sith.
During the Clone Wars, Anakin Skywalker became a Jedi Knight, fighting alongside his Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and his apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. The battles waged saw heavy casualties on both sides, and Anakin was hardened by combat.
15. Darth Sidious Grooms Anakin Skywalker to Be His Sith Apprentice
Darth Sidious, in his role as Chancellor Palpatine, meets with Anakin, grooming him to be his next Sith apprentice. When Palpatine is “captured” by Count Dooku during the Clone Wars, Anakin and Obi-Wan fight Dooku to save the Chancellor. Obi-Wan is knocked out in the fight, and Anakin chops off both of Dooku’s hands. Palpatine convinces Anakin to kill Dooku.
Palpatine makes Anakin his liaison with the Jedi Council, even though Anakin has not reached the level of Jedi Master. Palpatine tells Anakin of Darth Plagueis, and his pursuit of immortality; he coerces him to join the dark side, appealing to Anakin’s emotional connection to Padmé and his desire to keep her alive at all costs. When Palpatine is revealed to be Darth Sidious, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) goes to apprehend him. Palpatine appears to be helpless against Mace Windu, and convinces Anakin to help him. Then, Palpatine murders Mace Windu, and names Anakin Darth Vader, his Sith apprentice.
As Darth Vader, Anakin joins Palpatine in his plan to exterminate the Jedi. He even murders the Jedi younglings that live in the Jedi temple as Darth Sidious commences Order 66.
14. Order 66 is Executed
When Darth Sidious ordered that Order 66 be executed, all clone troopers turned on their Jedi Generals, killing them. The Clone Wars, and even the Separatist leaders, are revealed to be another scheme on Darth Sidious’s part – the war existed merely so that he could destroy the Jedi. By building their trust with the Clone troopers and involving them heavily in the War, Sidious was able to ensure the destruction of most Jedi.
He controlled both sides of the war in order to crush his real opponents, the Jedi, while simultaneously building up support for executive power, paving the way to his becoming the Emperor of the galaxy. Sidious successfully creates his Empire, destroying the Galactic Republic and the Jedi.
13. Padmé Amidala Gives Birth to Twins, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa
Padmé discovers that she was pregnant with Anakin’s twin children. However, Anakin, consumed by the dark side, chokes Padmé in a jealous rage, because he believes that Obi-Wan had turned her against him. After Padmé witnesses how the dark side of the Force has taken hold of Anakin, she has her children in secret, and sends them away to be hidden and protected. Her son, who she names Luke, goes to live with his step-uncle on Tatooine. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who avoided the slaughter of Order 66, goes to watch over Luke, and also hides on Tatooine. Padmé names her daughter Leia, who she puts into the charge of Bail Organa, a Senator from Alderaan. Padmé dies shortly after giving birth to her children.
Because of a lie from Darth Sidious, Vader believes that he had killed Padmé before she had given birth, and so he did not realize that his children survived.
12. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi Fight on Mustafar
Obi-Wan confronts Anakin, who he realizes has gone to the dark side and is working against the Jedi. Anakin, meanwhile, believes that Obi-Wan has turned Padmé against him. The two begin to argue on the volcanic planet of Mustafar, and their verbal fight quickly becomes a lightsaber duel.
Obi-Wan cuts off both of Anakin’s legs and one of his arms. He cannot bring himself to kill Anakin, even after Anakin’s body catches on fire. Obi-Wan leaves him for dead. Anakin’s burned and mutilated body is saved by Imperial forces, and the Emperor saves his life. However, because of the damage that he has sustained, Anakin must wear a robotic suit of armor – Darth Vader is born.
11. The Rebel Alliance is Created
The Rebel Alliance built up as different factions that opposed the creation of the Empire. They included the dissatisfied Senators Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, military leaders Jan Dodonna and Admiral Ackbar, the Lothal Rebels led by Jedi Kanan Jarrus, and Ahsoka Tano, the former Jedi Padawan of Anakin Skywalker.
The Rebel Alliance sought to counter the Empire’s abuse of power, at first acting as a network of support and information between like-minded organizations and individuals, and then slowly building up a military presence that could counter and resist Imperial forces. As Darth Sidious became more and more transparent in his desire for authoritarian rule, the Rebel Alliance grew in number and began to pose a threat to the Empire.
10. The Imperial Senate is Disbanded
At the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) notes to his Imperial officers that the “last remnants of the Old Republic” have been removed, and the Senate has been completely disbanded. Instead, the regional governors will control their systems directly; this is made possible because of the completion of Tarkin’s super-weapon project, the Death Star, which has the capability to destroy planets. Instead of using bureaucracy of the puppet government, fear of destruction will keep order on the planets that are under Imperial control.
The Death Star is a menacing threat to the Rebel Alliance, because of its massive capabilities of destruction. Recognizing this threat, Rebel spies stole the plans of the Death Star, and worked to smuggle them to Rebel leaders through Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). When Leia’s ship is intercepted, she hides the plans with R2-D2 and sends him to the care of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) on Tatooine, who she knows was a friend of her adopted father’s in the Clone Wars.
In order to show the power of the Death Star, Tarkin destroys Leia’s home world of Alderaan. This display of power is not only a punishment for her, but also a power-play that is necessary because the Imperial Senate has been disbanded.
9. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo Join the Rebel Alliance
On the planet Tatooine, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), along with the protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), are picked up by Jawas and sold to Owen (Phil Brown), Luke’s step-uncle. Luke (Mark Hamill) discovers that R2-D2 is looking for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and ends up crossing paths with Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, a nomad that lives nearby. Stormtroopers come searching for the droids, knowing that they have the stolen plans, and kill Owen and his wife. Luke decides to join Obi-Wan in his journey to deliver the plans to Alderaan.
At a cantina in the spaceport Mos Eisley, Obi-Wan and Luke buy passage on the smuggler ship the Millennium Falcon, piloted by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). While Han initially plans on simply getting paid in order to pay off his debt to the crime lord Jabba the Hutt, when they arrive to Alderaan to deliver the plans, they discover that the planet has been destroyed.
Their ship is captured by the Death Star’s tractor beams, and, when they discover that Princess Leia is being held captive there, they rescue her. She leads them to the Rebel base on the remote moon of Yavin IV.
8. Luke Skywalker Destroys the First Death Star
The Imperial forces track the Millennium Falcon to Yavin IV, and the Death Star slowly moves into range to destroy the moon. Rebel forces, in X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters, launch to attack the Death Star, as the plans that Princess Leia had shown a weakness – a thermal exhaust shaft that connects to the main reactor – that can be attacked by small fighter ships. Han Solo initially plans to leave with his reward money, but instead returns to help provide cover for Luke as he pilots.
At the pivotal moment when Luke is able to shoot the thermal exhaust shaft, the Force spirit of Obi-Wan encourages him to use the Force to steer his shot, instead of the targeting computer that his ship is equipped with. Luke chooses to use the Force, and is able to destroy the Death Star before it can destroy Yavin IV and the rebel base.
Darth Vader (David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones) leaves the Death Star to pilot a TIE fighter in the battle, and is shot into space by Han Solo. Because of this, however, he survives the destruction of the Death Star.
7. Yoda Trains Luke Skywalker
In the three years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel heroes continue to fight against the Empire. Luke Skywalker continues to explore the possibilities of the Force, but without a mentor, he has to navigate and learn what is possible through the Force.
After the Battle of Hoth, Luke chooses to travel to Dagobah, a remote swamp planet that the Force spirit of Obi-Wan tells him to visit in order to find Yoda (Frank Oz). Yoda went into hiding shortly after Order 66 was executed. While Luke does not recognize Yoda as a powerful Force wielder upon first meeting him, he realizes his mistake after he hears Yoda speaking to the Force spirit of Obi-Wan.
Under Yoda’s tutelage, Luke learns about the philosophy of the Jedi as well as increasing his practical abilities and capabilities through the Force. He has a Force vision of Han and Leia being held captive by Darth Vader on Cloud City, and leaves Yoda to save his friends. Yoda worries that his training has not been completed, and that the dark side of the Force will tempt Luke, but Luke promises to return.
6. Luke Skywalker Learns that Darth Vader is His Father
At Cloud City, Luke discovers that the Force vision was part of a trap so that Darth Vader could capture him and take him to Darth Sidious. Darth Vader tests the carbonite freezing technology on Han Solo, and plans to use it on Luke, as it incapacitates and freezes a person without killing them. Luke evades this part of the trap during the ensuing lightsaber battle with Darth Vader.
Darth Vader tempts Luke with the dark side of the Force, saying that he and Luke could rule the galaxy together. Vader cuts off Luke’s hand, and Luke loses his lightsaber. Luke refuses to join him, saying that he would never join Darth Vader, because Obi-Wan told him that Darth Vader killed his father. In one of the most famous scene in cinematic history, Vader reveals that he is Luke’s father. Luke escapes, using the Force to communicate with Leia, and they fly off in the Millennium Falcon. Luke’s ability to communicate with Leia through the Force helps him to realize – and the Force ghost of Obi-Wan confirms – that Leia is Luke’s sister.
Luke learning that Vader is his father changes his outlook on Vader, and it greatly impacts his choices in Return of the Jedi, because he believes that his father will not hurt him and can be redeemed.
5. Han Solo and Leia Organa Fall in Love
Han Solo and Leia Organa certainly had some romantic chemistry since the moment that they met… and immediately began to fight. Han did not shy away from expressing his interest, asking Luke, “You think a princess and a guy like me…?” only to get cut off by Luke saying, “No.”
Over the years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Han and Leia’s relationship continued to be rocky. They shared a brief kiss when escaping from the Battle of Hoth, which was interrupted by C-3PO. It was not until they were held captive in Cloud City, moments before Han was frozen in carbonite, that Leia told Han about her feelings for him, saying, “I love you.” Han responded, “I know.” Their relationship continued through Return of the Jedi, when Leia explained to Han that Luke was not his competition because Luke was her brother. By the end of Return of the Jedi, the two were together.
4. Han Solo is Captured and Rescued from Jabba the Hutt
After being frozen in carbonite, Han Solo was given to the bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jason Wingreen, Jeremy Bulloch), who in turn gave it to Jabba the Hutt for a bounty. Jabba had the frozen Han used as a decoration in his palace on Tatooine.
Luke Skywalker, along with the help of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Leia, Chewie, R2-D2, and C-3PO, save Han from being killed by Jabba the Hutt. Even though (with the exception of Lando) everyone else is captured by Jabba, they are able to complete their rescue mission. In the ensuing conflict, Leia strangles Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett is defeated (flying into the deadly sarlacc pit), and a temporarily blind Han helps to rescue Lando.
3. The Battle of Endor
The Rebels discover that a second Death Star is being built, and it is protected by a shield on the Forest moon of Endor. Their plan is to send a strike team, led by Han Solo, to the moon to deactivate the shield, and their Rebel spaceships will assault the Death Star and destroy it. This, however, turns out to be a trap, and the Rebel fleet ends up trapped between an Imperial fleet of star destroyers and the Death Star, which is actually operational, and begins to attack ships.
Meanwhile, the Rebel strike team, including Leia and Han, are initially taken prisoner, but with the help of the Ewoks, a tribal race of aliens that live on Endor, they are able to fight the Imperial forces and destroy the shields. Pilot Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson), along with Lando Calrissian in the Millennium Falcon, pilot into the second Death Star and destroy it.
2. The Death of the Darth Sidious and Darth Vader
It is revealed that the trap that was set in place for the Rebels on Endor was part of another large scheme of Darth Sidious, who wanted to use the events in order to turn Luke Skywalker to the dark side. Luke willingly joined Darth Vader and Darth Sidious on the second Death Star, because he believed that he could turn his father to the light side again.
Darth Sidious failed to turn Luke to the dark side; Luke responded by saying that he was a Jedi, like his father before him. Sidious, enraged, used Force lightning to torture Luke, with the intention of killing him. Darth Vader, watching the Emperor hurt his son, threw the Emperor down a shaft to the Death Star’s reactor core. He sustained severe injuries from the Force lightning. Anakin bid his son farewell, taking off his mask to look at Luke with his own eyes before he died. Luke managed to escape the Death Star before the Rebel pilots destroyed it.
With the deaths of Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, the Sith were destroyed. Anakin Skywalker fulfilled his role as the Chosen One who would destroy the Sith, even if it was only through his own death.
1. The War is Not Over
With the second Death Star destroyed and the Emperor killed alongside Vader, the Empire was crippled, but not completely destroyed. While many planets celebrated the rebel victory, these celebrations were set upon by Imperial troops quickly – the war was not over, even after the cataclysmic defeat of the Empire at Endor.
The Empire’s admirals, captains, and leaders scramble to fill the power vacuum that has been created by the deaths of Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. They meet at a secret emergency summit on Akiva: Admiral Sloane, General Shale, Grand Moff Pandion, financier Arsin Crassus, and Sith enthusiast and advisor to the Emperor, Yupe Tashu. Pandion wanted the Empire to go on the offensive; Shale wanted the Empire to surrender; Crassus felt that they could negotiate; and Tashu suggested that they learn from the dark side of the Force and go beyond the vale, to hide and wait to strike. Their deliberations were interrupted by the Rebel Alliance, and Tashu and Shale were both captured in the battle. Sloane returned to the only remaining Imperial super star destroyer, the Ravager, and a mysterious unnamed admiral, who spoke of creating a new Empire.
A year after the battle of Endor, the Battle of Jakku raged between the Empire and the Rebel forces of the New Republic. The Imperial captain Ciena Ree, realizing that the Empire was losing the battle and fearing that her Star Destroyer Inflictor would be taken by Rebel Forces, decided to scuttle the vessel on the sandy planet of Jakku. Years later in The Force Awakens, the Inflictor appears to have remained on the planet’s surface…
Which of these events will be crucial to The Force Awakens? Are there any pieces of information that we missed that may be important for the upcoming films? Share your thoughts in the comments!