The Star Wars movies have a complicated timeline. With sequels and prequels and spin-offs coming at us from every different direction, it can be difficult to keep track of the chronology of these movies. We’ll be following a couple of chapters of the Skywalker saga and then, all of sudden, the Death Star is back or Darth Vader is alive or Princess Leia’s in her twenties again.
It’s been even more confusing since Disney removed “Episode” from the titles of its movies. Now, there isn’t even a numerical system to keep track of these darn things. So, to save you some anguish, we’ve put every major Star Wars movie in chronological order.
11 Episode I: The Phantom Menace
A lot of fans who’d waited 16 years since Return of the Jedi for a new Star Wars movie were disappointed by the first movie in the prequel trilogy, The Phantom Menace. The original Star Wars trilogy had defined their childhoods, so George Lucas had a lot to live up to.
It would’ve been impossible to satisfy those fans, but showing young Darth Vader as an adorable, bright-eyed little boy and bringing Jar Jar Binks into the mix certainly didn’t do him any favors.
10 Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The second prequel movie confirmed fans’ fears that George Lucas would be relying heavily on new CGI technology. The bad omens started to appear in his Special Editions of the original trilogy, in which he made Greedo shoot first and crowded up Mos Eisley Spaceport with a hundred different creatures. But the arrival of the Clone Army on giant CGI ships in a CGI gladiatorial arena on a CGI planet made it abundantly clear we were in for a mostly computer-generated trio of movies.
There are also some cheap slapstick gags in this movie, like C-3PO’s adventure in the Battle Droid factory, and far too much time is spent on the least romantic romance ever written. It was such a shame, especially since Lucas did such masterful, groundbreaking work with practical effects and miniatures in the original trilogy.
9 The Clone Wars
The Clone Wars is, so far, the only animated Star Wars movie to get a theatrical release, and unfortunately, it falls flat. While the TV series it’s based on is fun and colorful and action-packed, the movie is none of the above.
Both tell the story of the three-year break between Episode II and Episode III in which Anakin and Obi-Wan were kicking ass on a constant basis, but the movie’s plot is boring and the animation is bland.
8 Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Easily the best of the prequel movies, Revenge of the Sith sees Anakin Skywalker complete his journey from Jedi Padawan with a friend in the Galactic Senate to fearsome Sith Lord under an evil tyrant’s thumb. It’s almost on par with the original trilogy, at least in terms of iconic moments.
This movie has General Grievous, Chewbacca’s home planet, Yoda exiling himself to Dagobah, and of course, Anakin and Obi-Wan’s emotionally charged lightsaber duel on Mustafar followed by the masking of Darth Vader. All in all, the fans who stuck around after the disappointment of Episodes I and II finally got the prequel movie they deserved.
7 Solo: A Star Wars Story
The modest box office returns of this movie terrified Disney. It showed them that the Star Wars franchise isn’t invincible and audiences won’t always turn out in droves to visit a galaxy far, far away -- they’ll have to be more careful in future.
While Solo: A Star Wars Story does make some mistakes -- the ham-fisted backstory of the Solo name, the forced social justice warrior droid character etc. -- this was still a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon. It’s a fun, escapist, intergalactic adventure, and that’s all we asked for.
6 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
We’ve had two “Anthology” movies in Disney’s Star Wars franchise so far and they’ve both been set between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. But since this one tells the story of how the Rebels stole the Death Star plans from the Empire and ends with the beginning of A New Hope, this one is set later in the saga’s timeline.
The crown jewel of this spin-off is its jaw-dropping finale in which every single character is wiped out -- this is a Disney movie! It gave a lot of fans faith that the Mouse House wouldn’t water down the violence and death in the Star Wars saga.
5 Episode IV: A New Hope
As hard as it is to believe, no one had any faith in Star Wars when George Lucas first pitched it. The studio gave him a shoestring budget for what they saw as a weird little space movie, cut his pay in exchange for what they saw as worthless merchandising rights, and swept the movie under the rug by tagging it onto their more in-demand upcoming releases just to get theaters to even show it.
But then it took the world by storm and that cultural phenomenon has continued to attract new fans to this day. Lucas then capitalized on his merchandising rights and turned Star Wars into one of the most recognizable and profitable global brands. Who's laughing now?
4 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Many fans still rank The Empire Strikes Back as the greatest Star Wars movie ever made. It has a classic narrative structure tying everything together: its opening act breaks up all the main characters with a conflict on Hoth, the second act sees them all go on transformative emotional journeys, and the third and final act brings them all back together to show how they’ve changed.
So, it’s basically the perfect movie in terms of its writing. Its cliffhanger ending means it doesn’t work too well as a standalone piece, but it’s not a standalone piece. It’s part of a saga, and it’s easily the best part of said saga.
3 Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
It's hard to round out a trilogy, especially when the other two parts are A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. But, sickeningly cute Ewoks aside, Richard Marquand did a fine job of directing the movie.
He depicted the Rebels defeating the Empire, Darth Vader achieving redemption, Leia and Han finally getting together, Luke finding his own inner happiness, and peace being restored in the galaxy in a suitably fun and cinematic way.
2 The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens may have followed the same basic narrative structure and character roles as A New Hope, but there’s also a lot that sets it apart. We catch up with Han, Leia, and Chewbacca (and, briefly, Luke) after all these years and see where their lives ended up.
We were also introduced to a great new cast of characters. It wasn’t a total rip-off -- the mirrored plot is a symptom of this being a nostalgia trip. The familiar faces, music cues, scene transitions, and political powers are there for the same reason. Not the most original story, but it's still a heck of a ride.
1 The Last Jedi
Ah, the black sheep of Disney’s Star Wars movies. J.J. Abrams may have been criticized a lot for sticking to an established formula with The Force Awakens, but that was nothing compared to the vicious backlash Rian Johnson got for trying something new with The Last Jedi.
From the bitter, cynical characterization of old Luke to the underwhelming death of Snoke, Johnson took a lot of risks with this movie and fans were not biting.