When is Alien: Covenant set and how does it link to Prometheus? The Alien story so far
In space, no one can hear you scream – even if you're screaming in frustration because the ins and stomach-bursting outs of Xenomorph history are leaving you feeling supremely confused.
As Alien Covenant, the latest instalment in the space franchise – although it's technically a prequel – hist cinemas, here's a quick, chronological rundown of Alien history, and an explanation of how the various films in the series link to each other.
We've kept the Covenant spoilers to a minimum, but if you prefer to know absolutely nothing about the film ahead of seeing it, you may want to skip that section.
Ridley Scott's Prometheus was released in 2012, but the events that take place in it predate the first four Alien movies, effectively making the film an Alien prequel – albeit one with a marked dearth of actual Aliens.
Set in the year 2093, it tells the story of a mission to seek out a mysterious alien (with a small a) race, known as the Engineers, and assumed to be the forefathers of humanity/life on Earth.
After arriving at the believed homeland of the Engineers, a moon named LV-223, the crew of the Prometheus discover that the apparently long-since abandoned location was in fact a sort of outpost, where the Engineers were developing a horrifically dangerous biological weapon (a black, liquid substance, that causes various nasty things to happen to anyone who comes into contact with it).
One crew member, Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), is impregnated by a colleague who has been exposed to the liquid, and later aborts, with the help of an on-board medical machine, a nasty tentacled creature that rapidly grows in size. After a surviving Engineer awakens from stasis and pursue her, she sets her sort-of infant on the creature – and, in the very last scene, we see what finally looks like a bonafide Xenomorph-style Alien burst through the Engineer's chest.
It's all pretty confusing – although atmospheric, suitably splattery and darkly stylish, with a very cool android – and it's unclear whether the film is suggesting that what we're witnessing is the definitive answer to how the Alien species came about, or just part of an older, more complicated story. Furthermore, as many fans have pointed out, it's all but impossible that the Alien we see in the film is the very first Xenomorph, as a mural depicting one of the monsters is seen in on LV-223 earlier on.
Scott himself has said that the film is only loosely connected to his 1979 Alien, which is set roughly 30 years later, and sees a crew explore an abandoned ship with the destroyed body of an Engineer (later dubbed a "Space Jockey" by fans) on it.
"For all intents and purposes [Prometheus] is very loosely a prequel, very, and then you say 'But how did that ship evolve in the first Alien?' Then I would say 'Actually he [the Engineer in Alien] is one of the group that had gone off and his cargo had gotten out of control, because he was heading somewhere else and it got out of control and actually he had died in the process and that would be the story there,''" the director revealed.
"That ship happened to be a brother to the ship that you see that comes out of the ground at the end. They are roughly of the same period give or take a couple hundred years, right?"
"Other than that, there’s no real link except it explains I think who may have had these capabilities, which are dreadful weapons way beyond anything we could possibly conceive, bacteriological drums of s--- that you can drop on a planet."
Alien: Covenant (2017)
The Ridley Scott-directed Alien Covenant, released earlier this month, is set after the events of Prometheus, and focuses in part on android David (Michael Fassbender) and his post-Prometheus adventures.
But it also tells the story of a colonisation expedition, whose members include terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who later emerges as the film's lead.
After their ship runs into trouble, the crew are awakened from deep sleep, seven years ahead of schedule - and not all of them make it.
Understandably wary of returning to their sleep pods, the survivors are intrigued to intercept what seems to be human signal coming from a nearby planet, and decide to investigate further, believing that, instead of heading to their original destination, they could perhaps start their colony on the seemingly idyllic new location.
Only Daniels has her doubts - and subsequent events soon prove her right...
When is Alien: Covenant set, and how does it link to Prometheus?
The film is set around a decade or so after the events of Prometheus, in 2104, and 20 years or so ahead of the events of Alien (2122). But a short film, detailing what happened to Shaw and David, helps bridge the gaps between Prometheus and Covenant.
In it, we see how the pair strike out towards the home planet of the Engineers, determined to find answers, and eventually reach their destination, which comes complete with some imposing architecture.
"Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" muses David, employing a quote from the poem Ozymandias that suggests that the mighty civilization he is gazing at is about to fall very soon...
Scott's Alien, the film that kickstarted the franchise, is set in 2122, and tells the story of a marvellous ginger cat named Jonesy, and his battle to survive a series of increasingly outrageous events.
Luckily, our bewhiskered hero manages to pull through, alongside Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, an office on board the commercial space ship Nostromo.
Others, however, aren't quite so fortunate. The trouble all begins after the Earth-bound crew intercept what they initially believe to be a distress signal (they later find out it's a warning call) and investigate a ship that appears to have crashed on a small, asteroid-like planet or moon (LV-426).
On board, they discover the body of an alien – a Space Jockey or Engineer, although these names weren't used invented until after the film's release – with a shattered rib cage, some eggs (free range, but definitely not laid by chickens) and a nasty face-hugging creature (known, imaginatively, as a face-hugger), which latches on to crew member Kane (John Hurt) and is consequently taken back on board the Nostromo.
A baby Xenomorph later bursts through poor Kane's chest - at this stage, it's called a Chestburster - and, after swiftly growing into a fully-fledged adult Alien, begins hunting the crew down one by one. Ripley eventually manages to blast the creature into space, but she and Jones, who escape in a shuttle at the end of the film, are the only survivors.
It is revealed during the course of the film that one crew member, Ash (Ian Holm) is an android, who has been secretly programmed to betray his crew members and ensure that the Alien is brought back to Earth no matter what.
In James Cameron's Aliens, which is set in 2179, Ripley is woken from a deep sleep, 57 years on – and promptly asked to return to LV-426, where her ill-fated former crew first encountered the Alien eggs.
The shady Weyland-Yutani corporation – who were responsible for the plot to capture a Xenomorph in Alien – have established a terraforming community on LV-426, but are worried by the lack of communication from the site.
When there, Ripley discovers that the colony has been overrun and destroyed, and that Aliens, including an Alien Queen, have now effectively taken over. Ripley also discovers a terrified young girl, Newt, and cares for her for the duration of the film.
She and the other crew members are betrayed by Carter Burke, a representative from Weyland-Yutani who plots to steal Xenomorph eggs and specimens and bring them back to Earth, but Burke is later killed by Aliens.
At the end of the movie, Ripley manages to dispatch her Alien nemesis, memorably sending the Queen hurtling into space via an airlock.
She and Newt escape in a pod, along with fellow crew-member Hicks, and android Bishop.
Brutally, director David Fincher opted to kill off Newt and Hicks at the start of this gritty third instalment in the Alien series which is set on an all-male penal colony planet inhabited by super-violent prisoners.
In the film, we discover that a facehugger managed to hitch a ride in the pod at the end of Aliens – and that Ripley herself is carrying an Alien Queen inside her body.
The rogue facehugger attacks a dog, leading to the emergence of a four-legged, loosely dog-like, and notably fastmoving Alien: confirmation that the appearance of the Xenomorph in its final form can vary depending on who the host is.
That said, according to the director's cut of the film, an identical quadrupedal Alien – known as a Runner – would have also emerged from a cow.
Biologically speaking, this makes sense: you might think that cows generally can't run as fast as dogs, but YouTube says otherwise.
After teaming up with the prisoners to help dispatch the Alien, Ripley sacrifices herself at the end of the film, to ensure that the Queen inside her will be destroyed.
Okay, so this is where the Alien franchise get seriously (although intriguingly) weird. In Jean-Pierre Jeunet's sequel, which was scripted by Joss Whedon, it's 2379, and scientists have decided to resurrect Ripley and the Alien Queen inside her using cloning technology and DNA taken from old blood samples (collected ahead of Ripley's death).
Inevitably, things go wrong. They also go very strange.
The film ends with a deeply upset Ripley (okay, a deeply upset clone Ripley) being forced to kill off a Xenomorph-human hybrid, known as a Newborn, that believes she is its mother. Genetically speaking, she sort of is its mother. But she still kills it.
It's pretty sad, actually.
What about the Alien vs Predator movies? Do they fit in with the main Alien movies? Are they still 'canon'?
In short: probably not. In the crossover AVP films, it's established that the Predator species has been secretly visiting Earth for millennia, using sacrificial human beings to create Aliens – but the genesis story suggested in Prometheus directly contradicts this version of events.