The Star Wars Universe is rapidly expanding at all times. Far more than an ongoing series of movies, Star Wars plots unfold across a variety of media, filling in details for famous characters and launching new ones. The latest high-profile addition to the canon is “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” set to premiere at Cannes next month and open theatrically on May 25 — but it’s far from the only recent update to this 41-year-old franchise. It can be tricky to keep tabs on so many narrative threads at once, so consider this primer a good place to start as the Star Wars Universe undergoes another major growth period.
But first, a bit of history. Bear with us, because context is necessary to understand where the franchise stands at the moment.
After “Return of the Jedi” finished rolling credits in 1983, the “Star Wars” story was done as far as George Lucas was concerned — so other storytellers swarmed in. The fantasies of telling a nine-part epic fizzled under the reality of making blockbuster films every few years and the world of “Star Wars” was turned over almost entirely to licensees. Games, novels, and comics all pushed the story in new directions: Luke became an all-powerful Force user, Han and Leia had twins, a moon fell on and killed Chewbacca.
Then, around 1996, Lucasfilm became engaged again. The Special Editions of the original trilogy and the “Shadows of the Empire” multi-media project started to bring order to the “Expanded Universe” and some semblance that some stories were “canon” and others were larks. Lucas made three more Star Wars movies from 1999 to 2004, and booted up the canonical “The Clone Wars” animated TV series before selling off his creation to Disney in 2012. The company promptly cleared the slate and started almost from scratch. The only Star Wars plots that remained canon were the two movie trilogies and the animated series “The Clone Wars.”
Six years later, the Star Wars Universe has managed to maintain an official continuity (leaving out Young Adult Reader books, sticker books, and the “separate” Lego Star Wars universe) across several media, ensuring there’s always some new Star Wars material in between each film.
As the Skywalker Saga of films winds to its conclusion with J.J. Abrams returning to direct Episode VIII, Disney has been finding ways to ensure the continuation of the property for years to come. Director Rian Johnson was awarded a trilogy of films from Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy, three movies that won’t be bound to the galaxy George Lucas created, but will focus on a new set of characters and a new trilogy arc.
In February, we learned that “Game of Thrones” showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff will also be conceptualizing a “series” of Star Wars movies on their own. Soon, the comics, books, video games, and internet shorts we’ll be watching will feed into a whole new set of characters and situations in the Star Wars lore, and it’ll be a story created by Johnson or Weiss and Benioff, not solely George Lucas.
Below is an outline of the different projects that are currently building off the Star Wars Universe canon and how each medium covers a certain type of Star Wars experience. Certain children’s books, browser games, the “Forces of Destiny” shorts, and promotional comics in magazines have been left out for the sake of streamlining this vast universe and clarifying its various narrative threads.
The backbone of the Star Wars universe will always be the films. The original 1977 movie unleashed an experience that writer-director George Lucas thought was missing from modern children’s entertainment: the thrill of the old fashioned adventure and science fiction serials of his youth. Each Star Wars movie released in theaters steals this method of plotting, with escalating action, broad characters, and a story that forces (pun intended) forward motion and grand gestures.
The basis for what we know as the “Star Wars Universe” is still the eight movies that form the retroactively labeled “Skywalker Saga” tracing the descendants of Anakin Skywalker and their impact on the galaxy.
- The films spotlight major events in the lives of the Skywalker family, often omitting world-building details in favor of large set pieces.
- The movies retroactively became “The Skywalker Saga” when George Lucas devised the prequel trilogy as the tragedy of Darth Vader in the late 90s.
- The “Star Wars Story” entries have so far been used to ensure there is a Star Wars movie released every year after 2015’s The Force Awakens.
Star Wars Movies in Universe Order:
“The Phantom Menace”
“Attack of the Clones”
“The Clone Wars” (Animated)
“Revenge of the Sith”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“Star Wars (A New Hope)”
“The Empire Strikes Back”
“Return of the Jedi”
“The Force Awakens”
“The Last Jedi”
The Future: We don’t know much about “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which hits theaters in May, except this: It’s going to be a prequel featuring Han Solo who (at some point) washes out of the Imperial Flight Academy, meets both Chewie and Lando and — if trailers are to be trusted — flies the Kessel Run, a hyperspace route used by smugglers. The Skywalker Saga of films will presumably end with Episode IX in December 2019 with J.J. Abrams returning to the franchise to direct the finale.
Before “The Last Jedi” was released, Lucasfilm announced that Rian Johnson would be developing a trilogy of Star Wars films that will have new characters and new locations, but no additional details have followed. The most recent news is that “Game of Thrones” showrunners Weiss and Benioff would be developing a “series” of films, but that doesn’t specify how many movies make a series.
Finally, it’s also possible that Lucasfilm will launch spin-offs from the Skywalker Saga. Although it now seems unlikely that we’ll see another director take on whatever project Josh Trank walked away from in May 2015 (common speculation was it was a Boba Fett movie), both Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi remain popular candidates for spin-off entries.
Lucas had long wanted to do a live-action Star Wars series that would focus on the underworld of the Star Wars Universe — namely, the smugglers and bounty hunters The problem with a live-action TV series up until recently had been the massive production costs, a necessity for any running Star Wars tale — and one that can easily go awry (see: the Christmas Special — or don’t). That’s why only two television entries survived the canon-cleansing of the Disney sale and they were both animated.
Dave Filoni, one of the creators of “The Clone Wars,” followed Lucasfilm into the new Disney era by booting up a new animated show that is airing its fourth and final season. “Star Wars Rebels” is set before the events of “Rogue One,” and has brought characters from “The Clone Wars” into the new era, portraying both Ahsoka’s showdown with Darth Vader, Maul’s rematch with Obi-Wan Kenobi. The show was also able to re-introduce the blue-skinned Imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn.
- Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that several Star Wars TV projects are in the works, including live-action shows and at least one for Disney’s new streaming network.
- “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is the only non-film material to carry over from the old canon to the new.
- Timothy Zahn created Grand Admiral Thrawn for the novel “Heir to the Empire” in 1991 which many fans see as kicking off the old Expanded Universe.
Star Wars TV Shows In Order:
“The Clone Wars”
The Future: “Star Wars Rebels” wrapped up its four-season run on Disney XD this year and Dave Filoni has already been developing an animated follow-up for Lucasfilm. Nothing besides the project’s existence has been revealed, but “Rebels” managed to open up the possibilities of an animated in-canon story with its final episodes, expanding the powers of the Force to include something akin to time travel, and revealing many main characters (including former Skywalker Padawan and The Clone Wars hero Ashoka Tano) lived on in the Star Wars Universe beyond the Battle of Endor in “Return of the Jedi.” Some fans expect the new series to jump ahead in the Star Wars Universe timeline like the “Rebels” finale coda, building into the plot of the sequel trilogy of films.
Per Iger’s confirmation that several Star Wars television series are in development, it’s looking like a Star Wars live-action series will debut along with Disney’s plans for a new streaming service, expected later this year. Director Jon Favreau was recently tapped to develop his own series for the platform, though details are appropriately slim. The newest rumors suggest that the streaming service will have no R-rated content — that all goes to Hulu — so expect something closer to the animated series in tone.
Since Disney has unified the canon, publisher Del Rey has been using the Star Wars novel as an occasion to go deeper into the psychology of various characters. There are thrilling lightsaber showdowns and daring space-vehicle escapes in almost every Star Wars novel, but the written word is better at getting into a character’s head or exploring the overall mood of the galaxy, while providing larger context for a movie or television series’ adventures. “Thrawn” was released before the character’s debut in “Rebels,” as a way to position him as the main antagonist for the final two seasons.
The Aftermath trilogy, written by Chuck Wendig, takes place entirely after “Return of the Jedi.” “Bloodline” and “Leia, Princess of Alderaan” both follow Princess Leia but in different moments in the timeline, that build her character leading into “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.”
- The third book of the Aftermath trilogy, “Empire’s End,” includes the Battle of Jakku, where the last Imperial forces are destroyed, and contains some hints as to where The First Order originated from.
- “Battlefront: Twilight Company” and “Battlefront II: Inferno Squad” are both tie-in novels with their respective video games. The first Battlefront didn’t have a single player campaign or any core story at all, “Twilight Company” was the solution — it followed a group of Rebels who fight the Empire through settings from the movies with some recognizable characters.
- “Catalyst” and “Rebel Rising” both give more background to the Erso family from “Rogue One.” The first is about Galen Erso and his Kyber crystal research and the second is about Jyn’s actions preceding the movie.
Novels In Order:
“Lords of the Sith”
“Star Wars: Most Wanted”
“Star Wars: Last Shot”
“A New Dawn”
“Battlefront: Twilight Company”
“Leia, Princess of Alderaan”
“Battlefront II: Inferno Squad”
“Heir to the Jedi”
“Aftermath: Life Debt”
“Aftermath: Empire’s End”
“Star Wars: Last Shot”
Future: June 26, 2018 sees the release of “Thrawn: Alliances,” Timothy Zahn’s sequel to “Thrawn” that will explore his relationship to Vader. Besides the “Junior” novels and “The Last Jedi” novelization by Stephen Fry, no other “The Last Jedi” spin-offs have been announced. As recently as this February, the tie-in books for “Solo: A Star Wars Story” were announced, the most notable being “Star Wars: Last Shot” by Daniel José Older, which tells a Han and Lando Calrissian story that takes place in three time periods: before Solo, after Solo, and after “Return of the Jedi” in the time period where Han and Leia are raising tiny Ben Solo.
“Last Shot” will be released on April 17, 2018. Also among the Solo tie-in canon books is the Young Adult novel “Star Wars: Most Wanted” by Rae Carson that will cover the adventures of young Han and his companion Q’ira (Emilia Clarke in the film) before the events of the spin-off movie. “Most Wanted” hits stores on May 25, 2018, the same day as “Solo” arrives in theaters.
Marvel Comics acquired the exclusive publishing rights to all the new-canon Star Wars content and have tried to bolster whatever upcoming movie was on the horizon as much as possible.
The ongoing “Star Wars” main title mostly takes place after “A New Hope” and before “The Empire Strikes Back,” probably because you want Han Solo not in carbonite for most of these stories. The mini-series are usually character-based stories that come in four or five parts. The Darth Maul, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan and Anakin, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Lando series are all based squarely on their titular characters, often not featuring other core Star Wars characters.
“Darth Vader: Lord of the Sith” (Ongoing) picks up directly after “Revenge of the Sith” to show the early days of earning the Emperor’s trust, and “Darth Vader” #1-25 deals with the Sith Lord’s actions directly after “A New Hope.” During the latter time period, Vader makes a friend in smuggler/doctor/mechanic Doctor Aphra, a character introduced in the Vader comics that has expanded to get her own ongoing series.
- A few tie-in comics that give backstory to characters who only get under-explained introductions in the movies. Both “Storms of Crait” and “DJ: Most Wanted” fill in extra plot for the planet and the character that appear in “The Last Jedi.”
- The “Poe Dameron” ongoing series takes place before “The Force Awakens” and tells the story of his search for Lor San Tekka and the map to Luke Skywalker.
- In “Darth Vader” #1-25, which take place before “Empire Strikes Back,” Vader learns that Luke Skywalker is his son from Boba Fett.
Star Wars Comics In Order:
Star Wars 26-30: Yoda’s Secret War
Darth Maul 1-5
Obi-Wan & Anakin 1-5
Jedi of the Republic – Mace Windu 1-5
Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir 1-4
Kanan: First Blood
Kanan: The Last Padawan
Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith 1 – ongoing
Star Wars 7,15,20 – Journals of Ben Kenobi
Lando: Double or Nothing 1-5
Star Wars: Rogue One – Cassian And K-2SO
Princess Leia 1-5
Star Wars 1- Ongoing
Darth Vader 1- 25
Dr. Aphra 1 – Ongoing
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Storms of Crait
Han Solo 1-5
Shattered Empire 1-4
Poe Dameron 1-Ongoing
Captain Phasma 1-4
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – DJ: Most Wanted
Future: Star Wars, the main line, “Doctor Aphra,” “Darth Vader: Lord of the Sith” and “Poe Dameron” titles are all ongoing. To tie into “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Lando Calrissian will get a second five-issue mini-series called “Lando: Double or Nothing” that takes place immediately preceding the events of “Solo.” Issue 1 goes on sale May 29 so as not to spoil anything from the movie.
And as for that movie? Time will tell. It opens May 25.