How Rogue One Fits Into the Star Wars Timeline

10 minute read

Is Rogue One a sequel? A prequel? A spinoff? The answer is yes—to all of the above. It’s the first standalone Star Wars story that doesn’t fit directly in the Darth Vader-Luke-Rey storyline. Rogue One is set just before A New Hope and introduces an entirely new cast of characters—Rebel spies who set out to steal the plans to the Death Star.

The events of the film fit right into the middle of the Star Wars timeline, which will get even more complicated with several planned sequels and spinoffs hitting theaters in the coming years. Star Wars fans measure time in the universe relative to the Battle of Yavin, the clash that led to the destruction of the first Death Star in A New Hope. Events that take place before that battle are called BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), those after ABY (After the Battle of Yavin).

Here’s where all the movies all fit on the fictional timeline and (spoiler alert!) summaries of the plots for those who have forgotten what’s happened so far.

MORE Here’s Everything We Already Know About Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 32 BBY

Release Date: 1999

Plot: Two Jedi—Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor)—who go on a political mission that’s too boring to explain find a boy named Anakin Skywalker. They believe he will bring balance to the Force, this vague power that good guys (Jedi) and bad guys (Sith) use. They want to train him, but the Jedi Council says no because they sense a darkness inside him. (Spoiler: They’re right.)

Anakin wins a pod race. Jar-Jar Binks begins his campaign for most racist sci-fi character ever. A young Natalie Portman plays a planet queen. At the end, a Sith with a red face and spikes coming out of his head kills Qui-Gon, but before he dies, Qui-Gon asks that Obi-Wan Kenobi train Anakin. The Jedi Council agrees because can you really begrudge a man his dying wish, even if it might wreak havoc on the galaxy?

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Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Star Wars Attack of the Clones
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 22 BBY

Release Date: 2002

Plot: Anakin, now played by actual adult Hayden Christensen, is assigned to protect Padme (Portman), and the two fall in love. Obi-Wan discovers both the Republic’s secret clone army and the Trade Federation’s secret droid army—what are the odds?—information that allows Chancellor Palpatine to lobby for emergency powers. That turns out to be a big mistake because he was a Sith Lord the whole time. (Gasp!)

Meanwhile, Anakin gets really emo after his mother dies, and he slaughters her killers. Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme all have to fight alien monsters in a gladiatorial arena because it looks sorta cool. A former Jedi named Count Dooku cuts off Anakin’s arm. (George Lucas has a bizarre preoccupation with severed limbs.) A robot-armed Anakin marries Padme in secret.

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Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 19 BBY

Release Date: 2005

Plot: The Jedi Council orders Anakin to spy on Chancellor Palpatine. Palpatine uses the opportunity to drop hints to Anakin that he knows how to stave off death. Since Anakin has been having visions of Padme dying during childbirth, the whole “turn evil to save his wife’s life” thing sounds pretty good. He takes the name “Darth Vader” and becomes very evil—like, murdering a bunch of angel-faced baby Jedi padawans evil. He also chokes his wife using the Force—you know, the wife he was trying to save by becoming a Sith.

Obi-Wan cuts off all of Darth Vader’s limbs and leaves him a torso burning up in a river of lava. (That’s six missing limbs and counting in this series.) Darth Vader is saved and gets a snazzy suit. All the Jedi, save Obi-Wan and Yoda, die. So does Padme as she gives birth to twins. Obi-Wan and Yoda decide to split the twins up, so Leia gets to go live in the lap of luxury while Luke is sent to a pit in the desert.

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Han Solo Movie

Han solo
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: TBD

Release Date: 2018

Plot: Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) plays a young Han Solo and Donald Glover (Atlanta) a young Lando Calrissian in this spinoff about the space smuggler. The Khaleesi herself, Emilia Clarke, has also been cast in the film.

Rogue One

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 15 – 0 BBY

Release Date: 2016

Plot: Ordinary Rebel spies endeavor to steal the plans to the Death Star—the very same plans that eventually help Luke Skywalker destroy the weapon in A New Hope. Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) do their best to stop them, even though we have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen.

Expect many of the same tropes employed in previous Star Wars films. Our hero Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is yet a another scrappy orphan, who is hunting down her long-lost Imperial scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen). There’s also a wise-cracking droid with a British accent.

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Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 0 BBY

Release Date: 1977

Plot: Luke (Mark Hamill) accidentally acquires a droid with a message from a captured, pretty princess asking for help from Obi-Wan, Luke’s old neighbor who turns out to be a Jedi. Obi-Wan tries to recruit Luke to save Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and recover the stolen plans to the Death Star, but Luke says he has family obligations. Conveniently, when they return to Luke’s home, Luke discovers his entire family’s been murdered.

The two hire Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca to fly them in their junky ship, the Millennium Falcon. They go to save the princess and during the breakout, Han, Luke and Leia get stuck in a trash compactor with a trash monster. (Why the trash monster doesn’t get crushed by the trash compactor multiple times a day remains a mystery.) Han and Leia bicker in the way that would mean they hate each other in real life but love each other in the movies. Obi-Wan fights Darth Vader and lets him win. Luke, Han and Leia escape, and Luke later destroys the Death Star with the Rebellion.

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Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 3 ABY

Release Date: 1980

Plot: Luke is captured by an alien Yeti-type thing on a snowy planet, escapes, and then passes out. Han finds him and shoves him inside a dead camel-like animal for warmth. It’s gross. Luke then flies to an even less pleasant planet, this one a swamp world, where he trains under Jedi Master Yoda to be a Jedi. Meanwhile, Leia and Han make out, escape a space slug and meet up with Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian. Lando betrays them to Darth Vader. Han is about to be frozen in carbonite when Leia says, “I love you,” to which he replies, “I know.” What a jerk.

Luke, sensing his friends are in trouble, runs to their rescue. He fights Vader, loses a hand, finds out Vader is his father, rejects Vader’s offer to rule the galaxy with him, and falls down an airshaft. Tough day for Luke. But he’s able to telepathically communicate with Leia, and she saves him. Lando switches sides and promises to help Luke rescue Han, who’s been handed to giant slug/Mafia boss Jabba the Hutt.

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Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 4 ABY

Release Date: 1983

Plot: Princess Leia disguises herself to save Han Solo but is caught by Jabba the Hutt. She’s then forced to wear a golden bikini and chains, which everyone including Carrie Fisher agrees was not a terrifically feminist choice on the part of George Lucas. Luke, Lando and Chewie help them escape. Luke watches Yoda die and then is told by Obi-Wan’s ghost that he has a twin sister.

The Rebels learn that the Empire is building a second Death Star. Luke tells Leia about their family ties, and she claims she’s somehow always known, which does not explain their kiss from earlier in the series, but whatever. Luke finds Vader, who takes him to the Emperor while the Rebels attack the second Death Star. The Emperor tries to turn Luke to the Dark Side and reveals that the Empire has set a trap for the rebels. The Emperor then tries to kill Luke, but Darth Vader saves his son by throwing the Emperor down a shaft before dying himself. Better late than never.

The Rebels win and all live happily ever after—until Disney bought the franchise and decided to make more films.

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Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 34 ABY

Release Date: 2016

Plot: Let me save you some time: The plot of this movie is almost exactly the same as A New Hope, except woke.

The First Order is our new version of the Empire, and our wannabe Darth Vader is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver playing a delightfully sulky bad guy who throws fits by destroying things with his lightsaber). Ren, the son of Leia and Han, was training to be a Jedi under Luke but turned to the Dark Side. Luke ran away to sulk. Leia sends her best pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) to find a clue about Luke’s whereabouts. Like in A New Hope, Poe hides a vital piece of information in a droid, this time BB-8. And, like a New Hope, it’s found by an orphan living on a desert island who happens to be powerful with the Force, this time named Rey (Daisy Ridley).

Turns out, the bad guys are building another, bigger Death Star, except they didn’t learn their lesson the first two times because there’s still an obvious way to blow it up. Rey joins up with Han Solo, Chewie and Finn (John Boyega)—a stormtrooper who turns good and follows Rey like a lovesick puppy—to save the universe. There are a lot of callbacks to the cantina scene and the Millennium Falcon being a piece of junk. In the end, Kylo Ren murders his father Han Solo, and Rey finds Luke.

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Episode VIII

Luke Skywalker
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Date in Star Wars Universe: 34 ABY

Release Date: 2018

Plot: We know next to nothing about the plot for this film except that it will break from franchise tradition and begin immediately after the last film left off, with Rey finding Luke on a hidden planet. Fans are hoping that the second film will reveal the identity of Rey’s parents.

Episode IX

Date in Star Wars Universe: TBD

Release Date: 2019

Plot: If we know nothing about Episode VIII we really know nothing about Episode IX, except that Mark Hamill is “rumored” to be in it, according to IMDb. So all the characters could be dead by this flick. We just don’t know.

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