“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” marks the end of a cinematic journey spanning nine movies over 42 years, and there’s a sizable audience that can hang on every detail – smiling or laughing at references to parsecs, or someone saying “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Others, however, might be more casual visitors to the galaxy that George Lucas created, drawn by the hoopla surrounding the film. For them – and even, with everything else that’s going on in the world, some of those who haven’t seen the earlier movies recently – here’s a brief refresher course on key moments in the series, and for those inclined to do homework, where you can find them.
In terms of how these elements might impact “The Rise of Skywalker,” we know this much: Ian McDiarmid, who played the Emperor in the original trilogy, is somehow featured in the movie, despite his character’s apparent death; and Carrie Fisher will appear as Princess Leia, using footage shot prior to her death in 2016.
While the trilogies didn’t unspool in chronological order, they’re presented here in that fashion, either to simplify matters or complicate them, take your pick.
Key events by film
‘The Phantom Menace’ (1999)
Anakin Skywalker joins the Jedi: Young Anakin is extraordinarily powerful with the Force, a collective energy source, so much so that Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn thinks he’s the prophesized “chosen one” to bring balance to the Force.
The Sith returns: The Jedi learn that the Sith – representing the “dark side” of the Force – have returned. The Sith, we’re told, always consist of a Master and an apprentice.
Obi-Wan Kenobi honors his master’s dying wish, taking Anakin as his padawan, paving the way for him to become a Jedi despite Yoda’s concerns.
From: Lucasfilm (Attack of the Clones).
‘Attack of the Clones’ (2002)
Anakin falls in love: Although Jedi are forbidden from doing so, a now-grown Anakin falls in love with Padme Amidala, and secretly marries her.
Anakin’s mother is killed, unleashing dark and violent feelings within him.
Darth Sidious, the Sith lord, inches closer in his plan to assume power, with a clone army now at his disposal.
‘Revenge of the Sith’ (2005)
Anakin turns: The Sith lord Darth Sidious reveals himself, and brings Anakin to the dark side with the promise that he can help save Padme, as he becomes Darth Vader.
The Emperor, a.k.a. Darth Sidious, takes control of the galaxy, after wiping out the Jedi.
Padme secretly gives birth to twins, Luke and Leia, who are raised by others to protect them from the Sith, with Darth Sidious having become Emperor and consolidated his power.
From: Lucasfilm (A New Hope).
‘A New Hope’ (1977)
A new hope: Luke joins the Rebellion against the Empire, under the tutelage of Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, who tells him that his father was once a Jedi knight, “betrayed and murdered” by Darth Vader.
Obi-Wan dies — becoming one with the Force — after a battle with Darth Vader.
Luke destroys the Death Star, the ultimate weapon, with the help of Han Solo.
‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)
Luke meets Yoda, a Jedi master who trains him to become a Jedi, and warns about fear, anger and aggression leading to the dark side.
Darth Vader and the Emperor learn of Luke Skywalker, and discuss turning him to the dark side of the Force.
“I am your father.” Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father, and Vader – after defeating him in a lightsaber duel – tells him that together they can rule the galaxy.
‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983)
Luke learns that Leia is his twin sister.
Luke battles and defeats Darth Vader, and is on the verge of being killed by the Emperor when Vader intervenes, throwing the Emperor to his death, and redeeming himself.
The Death Star is destroyed, and the Empire is overthrown, as the universe celebrates.
From: Lucasfilm (The Force Awakens).
‘The Force Awakens’ (2015)
Years after the Empire’s fall, a new malevolent force, known as the First Order, is ruthlessly seizing control of the galaxy.
Rey emerges, an orphan who is strangely powerful with the Force.
Leia and Han Solo’s son, Ben, has turned to the dark side, under the tutelage of a mysterious figure known as Snoke. He seemingly cements that fall by killing his father, before battling Rey in an inconclusive lightsaber duel.
‘The Last Jedi’ (2017)
Luke Skywalker reluctantly counsels Rey, before eventually sacrificing himself – and becoming one with the Force – in order to help save the Resistance, which is reeling under assault by the First Order.
Kylo Ren kills Snoke, asking Rey to rule with him, saying, “It’s time to let old things die.”
Kylo Ren prods Rey to remember that her parents were no one of importance – telling her “you come from nothing” – blowing up countless fan theories about her lineage. But that assumes that was the truth.
‘The Rise of Skywalker’ (2019)
The Emperor – somehow – is back in the mix.
The Resistance seeks to regroup against the First Order.
Photos: Lucasfilm/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images, and Lucasfilm