Star Wars movies in order: the chronological way to watch the films

 (PA Media)
(PA Media)

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, George Lucas launched a film franchise that won the hearts and minds of sci-fi fans around the world.

The filmmaker created one of the most enduringly popular worlds in Hollywood when, in May 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope lit up cinema screens. The five subsequent Star Wars films – two from the original trilogy and three from the prequel trilogy – were also released in May, marking the month out as a time of celebration for fans of the franchise.

So while there’s never been a more perfect time to catch up on all of the action, it can be difficult knowing where to start with the space-opera franchise – especially as the films weren't released chronologically.

For instance, the Phantom Menace was released in 1999 but set more than three decades before the events of the first film. Similarly, 2015's The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the end of the Galactic Civil War in 1983's Return of the Jedi, and 2016's The New Hope is set just before the events in 1977's A New Hope. Confused yet?

While the original intention may have been for fans to watch the films in the order they opened in cinemas, doing so means the story gets muddled. Here we set out how to best watch all of the Star Wars films and what order they should be seen in.

Star Wars films in chronological order, within its own universe

Star Wars consists of three trilogies, two stand-alone films and an animated one. The titles of the main features – episode one, episode two and so on – is a fairly big hint at the best way to enjoy them.

The prequel trilogy

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (released 1999)

Darth Maul is an iconic character
Darth Maul is an iconic character

The first film of the prequel franchise was released to much fanfare in 1999, 16 years after 1983's Return of the Jedi closed the book on the original, seminal, trilogy.

Set 32 years before the events of 1977's A New Hope during the days of the Great Republic, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi knight master Qui-Gon Jinn are sent to resolve a huge inter-planetary trade dispute between the Trade Federation and Naboo. The pair are also tasked with protecting Naboo's Queen Amidala to secure a peaceful end to the blockade.

Poorly received on its release despite extensive media coverage, the film unfortunately also introduced us to the excellent Darth Maul but also the annoying weird toad creature Jar Jar Binks – considered by fans to be among the worst characters in the entire franchise.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (released 2002)

Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones
Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones

Set a decade after the events of The Phantom Menace, the second installment of the prequel trilogy sees Jedia Padawan Anakin (who is training under Obi-Wan) sent to protect Padme Amidala following an assassination attempt. Obi-Wan meanwhile investigates the assasination attempt, while all around them the Republic is on the brink of civil war thanks to the threats of growing separatist movements.

Culminating in the Clone Wars between the Republic and the separatists it serves as a fairly important film in the franchise as it sets up events nicely for the The Clone Wars movie.

However, it didn't fare much better than The Phantom Menace on its release, and was criticised for underwhelming and dull action scenes and flawed dialogue.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (release 2008)

Clone War is set during the three-year period after the events of Attack of the Clones
Clone War is set during the three-year period after the events of Attack of the Clones

The first animated film in the franchise is set during during the Clone Wars in a three-year period after the events of Attack of the Clones and before Revenge of the Sith.

Anakin is now a Jedi Knight and he and his apprentice Ahsoka are sent to rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt, Rotta, as Obi-Wan tries to negotiate a treaty between the Hutts and the Republic.

Considered one of the worst Star Wars films, The Clone Wars was heavily criticised for its animation and script. Still, it performed well at the box office and sets things up nicely for the next film.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Master jedi: Yoda makes an appearance in Revenge of the Sith
Master jedi: Yoda makes an appearance in Revenge of the Sith

The third and final installment in the prequel trilogy finally sets up the introduction for one of the greatest and recognisable villains of all time – Darth Vader, albeit towards the end. Set three years after the onset of the Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith is the culmination of nearly 10 years of filmmaking as the war reaches a massive and deadly conclusion which sees the Jedis wiped out and Anakin turn to the dark side.

Emperor Palpatine is finally revealed as the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious while Obi-Wan and Yoda are forced to go into hiding. A mutilated Anakin is left for dead following a battle with Obi-Wan, before he is rescued and given his famous black armoured suit while his secret wife Padme dies after giving birth to Luke and Leia.

Often considered to be a high point of the prequel trilogy, critics praised its action and its effects.

Anthology series

Solo: A Star Wars Story (released 2018)

A neat origins story for Han Solo
A neat origins story for Han Solo

Disney's stand alone spin-off that serves as a neat origins story for Star Wars hero Han Solo. The young pilot joins a gang of galactic smugglers who, indebted to crime boss Dryden Voss, hatch a plan to steal valuable coaxium.

Set 10 years before the events of a New Hope, the film introduces us to both the plucky pilot and his Wookie friend Chewbacca, and also explains how Solo got his hands on the Millenium Falcon.

A rioutously fun escape caper, this is one for the fans and contains many nods to the franchise's past.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (released 2016)

Actors Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen starred in Rogue One
Actors Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen starred in Rogue One

The first installment of Disney's anthology series is set just before the events of A New Hope and attempts to explain some of the franchise's storyline.

It sets up the events of a New Hope Nicely as Jyn Erso is recruited by the Rebellion to contact her former mentor Saw Gerrera in order to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Not only does it have a great ending featuring supervillain Darth Vader, but it also leads right up to the beginning of a New Hope with Leia on a recognisable ship and the almost complete destruction of the Rebel Alliance fleet.

Original trilogy

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (released 1977)

Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope (1977)
Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope (1977)

The film that started it all and still one of the best. A New Hope, released in 1977, introduced us to the franchise's main characters – Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker is a simple moisture farmer who accidentally stumbles upon a holographic message from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) pleading for help in her fight against the Galatic Empire from Obi-Wan – nearly 20 years after Revenge of the Sith.

The film's plot follow's the Rebel Alliance, led by Leia, and its attempt to destroy the Death Star. Not only do we meet Luke and Leai but also Harrison Ford's Han Solo, Alec Guinness' Obi-Wan along with droids R2-D2 and C-3PO and the evil Darth Vader.

Groundbreaking on its release, the film changed the game for sci-fi movies and carved out a special place in many a film-goer's heart for the franchise.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (released 1980)

The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the greatest film in the franchise
The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the greatest film in the franchise

Widely recognised as the best Star Wars movie in its entire 40-year franchise, The Empire Strikes Back built on the cinematic world A New Hope and took the viewer much further, from the frozen landscapes of Hoth to the swamp planet of Dagobah.

Set three years after the events of A New Hope, Darth Vader is on a relentless galaxy-wide hunt to find Luke and the rest of the rebels, who narrowly escape from the Galactic Empire on the ice planet of Hoth.

Not only does it introduce us to legendary characters like Lando Calrissian and Yoda, it also features some of the most iconic moments in the series - from Darth Vader’s ‘father’ reveal to the unforgettable AT-AT Walker battle and Han Solo’s burgeoning romance with Princess Leia. Often considered as one of the best films ever made – and for good reason.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (released 1983)

Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi
Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi

The final film in the original trilogy takes place one year after the events of the Empire Strikes Back. Droids C-3PO and R2-D2 are set to rescue Han from evil crime lord Jabba the Hutt, and are soon joined by Leia and Luke.

Escaping from Tatooine, the rebels learn the Empire is constructing another Death Star under the guidance of the Emperor himself and attempt to stop it. Luke struggles to convince his father to return from the dark side while Darth and the Emperor try and turn Luke to the dark side.

Considered a good if slightly flawed film by fans, the only real problem with Return of the Jedi is that it was preceded by two really great films – despite the appearance of the irritating eewoks.

Sequel trilogy

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (released 2015)

The Force Awakens was hailed as a return to form for the franchise
The Force Awakens was hailed as a return to form for the franchise

Director JJ Abrams' first foray into the Star Wars franchise sees our band of heroes – Leia, now a general, Han Solo and Chewbaca – take on the First Order, a successor to the Galactic Empire.

Set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, the First Order, led by new bad guy Kylo Ren, wants to wipe out the New Republic but faces opposition from the Resistance, led by Leia who is searching for her brother Luke. Rogue stormtrooper Finn and scavenger Rey stumble upon a map of Luke's whereabouts and join the Alliance alongside Han, Leia and Chewy to destroy a superweapon which can obliterate planets. Meanwhile, a conflicted Kylo Ren has a fatal confrontation with his father, Han.

Praised as a return to form on its release in 2015, it introduced a new generation of compelling characters, including the most conflicted and multi-faceted villain of the franchise, Kylo Ren.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (released 2017)

Set immediately after the ending of the Force Awakens, 2017's the Last Jedi follow's the Resistance's attempts to escape the First Order.

Kylo Ren is one of the most conflicted Star Wars villains 
Kylo Ren is one of the most conflicted Star Wars villains

Meanwhile Rey is reluctantly receiving Jedi training from Luke, who insists that he can't help the dwindling power of the Resistance. Rey finds that she has an increasingly strong connection to Ren, and events come to a dramatic conclusion between them and Luke.

While some argued the film strayed too far from the franchise's roots, others insisted it was one of the best since its heyday.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker​ (released December 2019)

Set a year after the events of 2017's The Last Jedi, Episode IX bought the 42-year franchise to a conclusion.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker sees the Resistance finally facing off against the First Order, while the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith reached its conclusion.