“STAR WARS” (1977), also known as “Episode IV – A New Hope,” although if you are older than 45, a purist or resistant to the repackaging of originals after they become incredibly successful, you will call it “Star Wars” until your dying day: In the ludicruously fun, zippy first part of the saga, a young man named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), raised on a dreary, sandy planet called Tatooine, discovers that the Force is within him and that, as soon as he figures out what it is, he must use it to battle the evil Empire and liberate his galaxy from the likes of characters named Darth Vader. The good guys are Jedi, the bad guys are Sith (but no one talks about Sith at this point in the story.) He also unwittingly develops a crush on someone really inappropriate (see “The Return of the Jedi”), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher); meets a wise elderly gent named Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness); and hops aboard a spaceship operated by Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who is way cooler than he’ll ever be. Luke, Han and Leia, along with a cast of charming robots and nonhuman life forms, destroy the Empire’s humongous weapon, the Death Star. Oh, and this all takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

“THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” (1980), aka “Episode V.” Whatever: Three years later. The gang of rebels are back (except for Obi-Wan) and training for their next battle on a snowy planet called Hoth. After nearly dying at the hands of a wampa (don’t ask), Luke is saved by Han. But the Empire is onto the secret base on Hoth, and the rebels flee. Luke spends time on the planet Dagobah training with Jedi Master Yoda but then dashes off to save Han and Leia after having a feeling that they are in trouble – the Force works in mysterious but always helpful ways. It is true that Han is frozen into a block of carbonite, but it is a trap, with Darth Vader as the spider. Naturally, there is a lightsaber battle as Vader tries to lure Luke to the Dark Side. After whacking off Luke’s hand, Darth Vader reveals he is the fledgling Jedi’s father. Luke chooses to drop to certain death in the sky instead of coming to papa. Fortunately, Leia scoops him up.

“THE RETURN OF THE JEDI” (1983), aka “Episode VI”: The Empire is building another Death Star. The Rebel Alliance is in trouble. And OMG, the series gets kinky. Leia saves Han but ends up held captive in a bikini by Jabba the Hutt, a cross between a land-locked whale and a toad. Yoda dies, but not before revealing to Luke that Darth Vader is definitely his father. And Leah his sister. Twisted sister! (They kissed earlier and it wasn’t on the cheek.) In an epic battle with lightsabers, Luke beseeches Darth Vader to leave the Emperor Palpatine and join him in fighting for good. Furry Ewoks help the rebels vanquish the Empire for good (well, until late 2015 anyway) by blowing up the Death Star. Han and Leia hook up. All the nice dead people show up as grinning ghosts at the celebratory party.

“THE PHANTOM MENACE” (1999), aka “Episode I”: The prequel features an interplanetary trade dispute no one understands or cares about and another cute blonde boy from Tatooine. Except this one is a bratty Anakin Skywalker, age 9, who has the Force within him, too. Anakin meets a young Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi mentor Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) when their ship breaks down on Tatooine; they’re on a mission to protect teenaged Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) of Naboo in case any of the angry trade dispute folks try to hurt her. Amidala, slipping in and out of disguise as Padmé, a handmaiden, foolishly trusts Naboo Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who is secretly the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. She’s also weirdly taken by Anakin, who Qui-Gon Jinn believes to be the Chosen One destined to bring balance to the Force. The Jedi Master Yoda, already old, already wise, is dubious; he knows a brat when he sees one. The cast includes Jar Jar Binks, a tall lizard with a Jamaican accent who might be the most reviled character in cinematic history.

“ATTACK OF THE CLONES” (2002), aka “Episode II”: Ten years later, Anakin is a quasi-adult played by pouty Hayden Christensen. Amidala is now a senator and a guardian of the free Republic. Palpatine is Chancellor, but still the Sith leader Darth Sidious. How insidious! Former Jedi Master Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is the public face of Sithdom. The Jedi are building a Clone army. But trouble brews in the form of a separatist movement and there is an attempt on Amidala’s life. Anakin is sent to guard her, and forbidden love blooms (the Jedis have a rule about keeping their pants on). Anakin’s mother is brutally killed, he takes dramatic revenge, and the Dark Side starts to emerge in him. Nonetheless, Amidala still marries him, secretly. The Clone Wars begin.

“THE REVENGE OF THE SITH” (2005), aka “Episode III”: A few years later, war continues. Palpatine declares himself emperor for life. Amidala is totally pregnant, but instead of a baby shower she gets the bad news that Anakin is headed to the Dark Side. He’s had a vision of her dying in childbirth, and nasty old Palpatine convinces him that only the Dark Side can save her. He officially becomes Palpatine’s henchman Darth Vader. In the heaviest moments in the Star Wars universe, he executes all the baby Jedi. Yoda fights Palpatine to a draw and then retreats to Dagobah to wait for a better movie to come along. When Amidala, about to give birth, makes one last attempt to persuade Anakin to leave the Dark Side, he chokes and nearly kills her. After an epic battle with Obi-Wan, Anakin falls into burning lava, catches fire, melts, and is rescued by Palpatine to be turned into more of a machine than a man. Let the good movies begin again.

– Mary Pols

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