‘The Acolyte’ raises a pressing question: What’s the correct Star Wars order now?

This article contains brief spoilers for “The Acolyte.”

The proper viewing order for the Star Wars franchise has been a source of contention among fans (and new parents) for decades. Do you watch everything in release order, starting with the originals, then the prequels and then the sequels? Or do you watch chronologically, starting with Anakin Skywalker’s downfall through Luke Skywalker’s hopeful defeat of the Empire and on to the most recent trilogy? Or perhaps a more exotic agenda, such as the “flashback order” that crams parts one, two and three in between parts five and six?

However you do it, it’s about to get a bit more complicated thanks to “The Acolyte,” a new Star Wars television series that premieres on Disney Plus on Tuesday. The hook? It takes place before anything we’ve seen in Star Wars live-action history. 1999′s “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” is no longer the beginning of the story. “The Acolyte” is.

The eight-episode series centers on the hunt for an assassin who is creeping her way across a galaxy far, far away with the intention of murdering a specific set of Jedi. To make matters worse, this assassin might have ties to the Sith, the dark-side enthusiasts who have supposedly been dead for a millennium.

The show is packed with the usual Star Wars tropes — lightsaber battles, bar fights, philosophical questions about the Force and even some Force-sensitive twins. But it also shuffles the deck of what we know Star Wars to be. Since “The Acolyte” takes place decades before “The Phantom Menace,” it pulls the Star Wars franchise even further away from being largely a family story about the Skywalkers and their fated role in saving the galaxy. Along with the other newish installments in the Star Wars mythos (“Rogue One,” “Andor,” “The Mandalorian” and much more), “The Acolyte” deepens a saga containing a galaxy’s worth of heroes and villains.

On the other hand, Star Wars has always been in the process of rewriting itself.

Since George Lucas put pen to paper, the timeline has always been a little confusing. The original films, released in the ’70s and ’80s, are episodes four, five and six of a nine-episode saga. The late-’90s/early-2000s prequels were parts one, two and three. Disney acquired the franchise in 2012, and its newer animated shows, spinoff projects, comics, novels and movies have all worked to reshuffle the timeline.

It gets confusing faster than you can say “midi-chlorians.” So here’s what to expect from “The Acolyte,” and a rundown of its changes to a story that keeps expanding in every direction.

What is ‘The Acolyte’ about?

“Before the Empire. Before the Menace. There was an acolyte.”

That’s the tagline for the new Disney Plus show, which depicts the Jedi at the peak of their powers.

The series focuses on a former Jedi named Osha, who has been framed for killing a slew of Jedi. (It’ll turn out she has something in common with the murderer.) The show centers on the order’s investigation into the deaths.

You can bet it has something to do with the Sith, the evil cohort to which Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and other Star Wars baddies belong. The assassin serves an unidentified and (in true Star Wars fashion) masked “master” who seems to embrace the dark side and carries a red lightsaber. That’s about all we know.

In general, the show attempts to show what the Jedi were like in their prime and how they tackled threats before the likes of Anakin Skywalker came along.

When does ‘The Acolyte’ take place?

“The Acolyte” happens roughly 100 years before the prequel trilogy begins. This is the “High Republic” era, when the Star Wars galaxy was relatively chill. No Death Stars here!

“We’re looking at a time period where there is peace throughout the galaxy,” showrunner Leslye Headland told Entertainment Weekly in July 2023. “It was very challenging and interesting to make a Star Wars with no war in it.”

How does ‘The Acolyte’ connect to the Star Wars movies?

We don’t really know. Yet.

Headland told Den of Geek that the greater Star Wars lore plays a role in the show. She mentioned that some Sith who have appeared in video games and books influenced the show’s villains.

“I really toyed with utilizing Darth Bane or mentioning Bane. We do not do it in the first season,” she said, referring to a legacy Star Wars character known by fans as the creator of the master-apprentice “rule of two.”

There is one scene in “The Phantom Menace” that inspired some of the show, according to Headland. In that movie, when Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) told the Jedi council about a Sith attack, the wise Master Ki-Adi-Mundi replied, “The Sith have been extinct for a millennium.” Mace Windu agreed, adding, “I do not believe the Sith could have returned without our knowing.”

Headland told Den of Geek that specific moment implied that there was some recent knowledge and history with the Sith, an idea that’s being explored in “The Acolyte.”

Are there any comics or books to read first?

Yes, if you’re trying to be a superfan. When Disney bought the franchise, it wiped away the Star Wars “expanded universe” stories (novels, comic books) from the official canon. But it has since filled in the High Republic era in novels, comics, manga, audiobooks and animated projects. “The Acolyte” is the first time that a live-action show will explore the characters and concepts from that time period. In fact, a Jedi named Vernestra Rwoh (Rebecca Henderson), who first appears in the 2021 High Republic novel “Light of the Jedi,” shows up in “The Acolyte’s” opening four episodes. And Kelnacca, a Wookiee Jedi, is reportedly getting his own Marvel comic this fall.

Some general familiarity with that time frame certainly will offer die-hards some additional context. It’s a mostly peaceful time in the galaxy, save for tensions between the Republic and a group of villainous space pirates called the Nihil and the nightmarish Drengir, an amorphous alien species. You can get all this from the early High Republic novels like “The High Republic,” “The Rising Storm” and “The Fallen Star,” as well as comic book series like “Eye of the Storm” and “The High Republic Adventures.” Audiobooks like “Tempest Runner” and “The Battle of Jedha” provide even more context.

But for the most part, you’re good and won’t need extended knowledge of the High Republic era going into “The Acolyte.”

“I would say this is a fresh entry point,” Headland told The Holo Files, a Star Wars-centric news outlet. “It can definitely elevate the show if you have had the experience of immersing yourself in that beautiful world, but you certainly don’t need to have read anything or know any references to it.”

OK, so what’s the new Star Wars viewing order?

To paraphrase a certain Force guru: Order matters not. Feel free to watch Episodes IV, V, VI, and then I, II, III, followed by the sequels and whatever Disney Plus marathon binge you want. You do you. (Although that would ruin “machete order.”)

But if you’re going to embrace “The Acolyte” as a full-on Star Wars show and project, then you’d watch this show before “The Phantom Menace.” That means the story of Jar-Jar Binks, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme, Anakin, Watto — all of that — is no longer the kickoff point for Star Wars. Instead, your first step into the larger world begins with high-level Jedi being attacked by a Force-sensitive assassin.

Chronologically, you’d move from this to the prequel trilogy, then some animated shows, followed by “Andor,” “Rogue One” and “Solo,” before you hit the originals. After a brief break in the Mando-verse (“The Mandalorian,” “Ahsoka” and “The Book of Boba Fett”), it’s time for the sequel trilogy. However you felt about it.

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