The space opera that is Star Wars spans more than 45 years, three trilogies, and two anthology films, not to mention countless animated releases, an ever-growing amount of live-action streaming series, comic books and video games. And there's more on the horizon in the galaxy far, far away.
At the time of its release, 1977's Star Wars was simply titled that: Star Wars. (That first film received 10 Oscar nominations and went on to win six.) It was eventually subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope upon its theatrical re-release in 1981, when it became the fourth film, canonically, in the nine-film Skywalker Saga. The original trilogy was succeeded by a prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), and then both trilogies were followed by a sequel trilogy (Episodes VII - IX). If that weren't enough to keep straight, there are also standalone films, each with their own specific place in the canon.
Lucasfilm recently announced the next slate of Star Wars movies will hail from two-time Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (continuing Rey's story after the events of The Rise of Skywalker), two-time Oscar nominee James Mangold (a film set at the dawn of the Jedi), and Dave Filoni (a cinematic conclusion to the interconnected stories told in The Mandalorian, Ahsoka and more Disney+ series).
This May the 4th, A.frame put together this viewing guide to watching the movies in order, from Episode I – The Phantom Menace all the way through to Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.
Directed and written by: George Lucas
In the '90s, George Lucas returned to his space opera for a prequel trilogy that would expand upon the elaborate backstory he created for the original trilogy, revealing how Anakin Skywalker, a Tatooine boy with dreams of being a Jedi Knight, becomes Darth Vader.
The fourth Star Wars film released but the very first in the saga, chronologically, The Phantom Menace introduces Anakin as a junk dealer's slave, rescued by Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Jedi Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), in hopes that Anakin will be the one to bring balance to the Force.
The Phantom Menace earned three Oscar nominations for Best Sound, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.
Directed by: George Lucas | Written by: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Star Wars goes full space romance in Attack of the Clones, as a grown-up Anakin (Hayden Christensen) confesses his feelings for Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), sparking a forbidden relationship and culminating in their wedding.
All the while, a threat of a galaxy-wide civil war grows and Obi-Wan uncovers a clone army created by the Galactic Republic. Temuera Morrison, who would later star in Disney+'s The Book of Boba Fett, makes his debut here as the bounty hunter Jango Fett, whose DNA is used to create the clones.
Attack of the Clones earned one Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
Directed by: Dave Filoni | Written by: Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy
This animated movie is set after the events of Attack of the Clones and in the three years before Revenge of the Sith. Amid the titular clone conflict, Anakin takes on a Jedi apprentice of his own, Ahsoka Tano, as they attempt to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. While new voice actors assumed many of the roles, Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Daniels notably reprised their roles as Mace Windu and C-3PO, respectively.
The Clone Wars was designed as a lead-in to the animated TV series of the same name, which ran for seven seasons from 2008 to 2020.
Directed and written by: George Lucas
The final episode in Lucas' prequel series, Revenge of the Sith completes Anakin's tragic journey to the dark side and simultaneously plants the seeds of everything that had come before — but chronologically after — in the original trilogy.
Backdropped by a galactic war between the Jedi and the Separatists, Anakin succumbs to the manipulations of secret Sith Lord Palpatine, who bestows upon him the armor of Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Padmé prepares to give birth to their twins, to be whisked away by Obi-Wan and Yoda to be seen in future episodes.
Revenge of the Sith earned one Oscar nomination for Best Makeup.
Directed by: Ron Howard | Written by: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
Having scripted the birth of Luke and Leia into Revenge of the Sith, Lucas tapped Lawrence Kasdan to pen a movie about a young Han Solo. (Solo is the second anthology film, but comes before Rogue One in the Star Wars timeline.)
Set 10 years before the events of A New Hope, Solo reveals the backstory of everybody's favorite smuggler (played here by Alden Ehrenreich), including how he first crossed paths with the likes of Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, assuming the role previously played by Billy Dee Williams).
Solo earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards | Written by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy
Rogue One is Disney's first Star Wars one-off, set right before the events of A New Hope, and providing context as to how, exactly, Princess Leia managed to get a hold of the Death Star plans used to take down the Empire's ultimate weapon. This anthology film introduces the unlikely Rebel Alliance heroes, including Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), on that very mission.
Rogue One earned two Oscar nominations for Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
Directed and written by: George Lucas
The movie that first transported movie-goers to the galaxy far, far away and introduced them to a Force-sensitive moisture farmer named Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill).
Caught up in a galactic conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion, Luke must rely on Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) to destroy the Death Star and stop Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones).
Upon its release, Star Wars became the all time highest-grossing film (until the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982) and earned 10 Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director. The film ultimately won six Oscars, plus a Special Achievement Award for sound effects.
Directed by: Irvin Kershner | Written by: Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Despite the massive success of the original Star Wars, Lucas opted to take on a supervising role for its sequel, tapping his Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter, Kasdan, to pen the screenplay based on his outline for the trilogy, and hiring Kershner to direct.
The Empire Strikes Back picks up three years after the destruction of the Death Star and introduces two iconic figures into the canon: Yoda, Luke's teacher in all things Jedi, and Darth Vader's bounty hunting muscle, Boba Fett. The film culminates in what remains one of the most memorable movie twists in cinema history.
The Empire Strikes Back earned three Oscar nominations and won for Best Sound, along with a Special Achievement Award for visual effects.
Directed by: Richard Marquand | Written by: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
The final film in the original trilogy saw Lucas once again turning over directing duties. Though the likes of Steven Spielberg, David Lynch and David Cronenberg were in contention, Lucas chose Marquand, who had directed Eye of the Needle to much acclaim.
Following the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke's father, Return of the Jedi doubles down on the family drama by revealing that Leia is Luke's twin sister. (This is also the movie where Leia dons the infamous metal bikini.) Meanwhile, Luke must stop Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from constructing a second Death Star and crushing the Rebel Alliance once and for all.
The film earned four Oscar nominations and won a Special Achievement Award for visual effects. Years later, Disney+ returned to Return of the Jedi as a jumping off point for their first live-action series, The Mandalorian.
Directed by: J.J. Abrams | Written by: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt
A decade after the closing of the prequel trilogy, Disney set out to create a sequel trilogy that would officially conclude the Skywalker Saga. The Force Awakens introduces a new hero in Force-sensitive scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who finds herself caught up in a galactic conflict between the First Order and the Resistance. Fisher returns as General Leia Organa, along with Ford as Han Solo, Mayhew as Chewbacca and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.
Alongside reformed First Order stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Rey sets out to locate Luke Skywalker and stop the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of Leia and Han, who has fallen to the Dark Side.
The Force Awakens earned five Oscar nominations, including another nomination for John Williams for Best Original Score. (Williams was nominated for Best Score for all three of the films in the original trilogy.)
Directed and written by: Rian Johnson
Perhaps the most polarizing episode in the canon, Johnson's The Last Jedi is a darker, more morally ambivalent installment in the saga that rewrites Star Wars lore as we know it.
Having located Luke in self-imposed exile on Ahch-To, Rey attempts to recruit him to train her in the Force, despite his claims that he's renounced his Jedi ways. Kylo, meanwhile, comes into conflict with his own master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The movie also marks the introductions of Kelly Marie Tran as Resistance maintenance worker and would-be hero Rose Tico and Laura Dern as the purple-haired Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo.
The Last Jedi earned four Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
Directed by: J.J. Abrams | Written by: Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams
More than 40 years after Lucas began the Skywalker Saga, it came to an end — for now — with The Rise of Skywalker. Although Jurassic World's Colin Trevorrow was originally slated to direct Episode IX, he departed due to "creative differences" and Abrams returned instead to helm the conclusion.
The Rise of Skywalker sees the Resistance making their final stand against Supreme Leader Kylo Ren and the First Order, with new characters introduced like Naomi Ackie's Jannah and the scene-stealing Babu Frik, more familial twists and turns, and the resurrection of a certain long-dead Galactic Emperor. The movie was also the first made without the late Fisher, who appears in the film via unused footage from The Force Awakens.
The Rise of Skywalker earned three Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.
Directed by: John Korty | Written by: Bob Carrau
This made-for-TV movie isn't technically part of the canon anymore, but if you've already made it this far down the list and you're looking for even more Star Wars content to consume, why not, right?
George Lucas himself came up with the story — about the Ewoks helping a sister and brother relocate their parents after the family's cruiser crashlands on Endor — and Warwick Davis reprises his role as Wicket W. Warrick. There's a sequel too, 1985's Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, waiting to be watched once you've screened this.