The Star Wars universe is filled with nuanced, complex, and interesting characters, be it smuggler-turned-Rebel-war-hero Han Solo or the elegant, gentlemanly Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. As many characters as there are occupying George Lucas’s extensive sci-fi universe, though, the individual who has the best claim to being the main character of the series has to be Anakin Skywalker.
Arguments made in favor of Luke Skywalker aside, Anakin’s story – from his earliest days in the Jedi Order to his gradual fall to the Dark Side – makes up a bulk of Star Wars’ central storyline. From his training period as a fledgling but emotionally uncertain Jedi to the rampaging, hate-filled Sith Lord Darth Vader, Anakin’s fall from grace to his eventual redemption has been a focal point time and time again in the Star Wars canon.
As you can expect then, it’s a given that Anakin has been featured in numerous movies, TV series, video games, and comic books over the years, many of which provide details about his chronological past.
Whether you want to refresh yourself with Anakin’s story by watching the movies or want a deeper understanding of what he was up to in-between films, here is every one of Anakin Skywalker’s chronological appearances in Star Wars, from his first linear appearance to his last.
The complete linear history of Anakin Skywalker
For a shortened, more comprehensive look at Anakin’s canonical history in Star Wars, we recommend relying on this easy-to-understand guide, featuring each of the Chosen One’s appearances prior to the Clone Wars up to his death on the Death Star II:
- The Phantom Menace
- Attack of the Clones
- The Clone Wars (film)
- The Clone Wars (TV series)
- Revenge of the Sith
- Darth Vader (Charles Soule)
- Star Wars: Lords of the Sith
- Jedi: Fallen Order
- Jedi: Survivor
- Obi-Wan Kenobi
- Rogue One
- A New Hope
- Darth Vader (Kieron Gillen)
- Empire Strikes Back
- Return of the Jedi
While it admittedly may take some time and a little bit of effort watching or reading some of this material, we also provided short summaries detailing Anakin’s appearances in each of the abovementioned movies, books, comics, and games.
The Phantom Menace
The first linear entry in Lucas’s Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace takes us all the way back to 32 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin, as depicted in A New Hope). At this point, Anakin is an ordinary nine-year-old boy. Enduring the hardships of slavery on Tatooine alongside his mother, Shmi, the precocious Anakin escapes the harsh reality of his life through numerous hobbies, like building and piloting his own podracers (not to mention C-3PO).
After being discovered by Qui-Gon Jinn – who immediately senses the boy’s strong connection to the Force and believes him to be the prophesied “Chosen One” – Anakin wins his freedom from his Toydarian owner, Watto.
Now free from the bonds of slavery, Anakin leaves Tatooine for Naboo with Qui-Gon, taking part in the decisive Battle of Naboo against the Trade Federation. Following Qui-Gon’s death, Anakin’s training falls into the hands of Qui-Gon’s padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, fulfilling Qui-Gon’s dying request.
Attack of the Clones
Ten years after The Phantom Menace in 22 BBY, the now 19-year-old Anakin continues his padawan training under Obi-Wan Kenobi. Though possessing great talent, the young, boastful Jedi struggles with his inner emotions, punctuated by frustrations with Obi-Wan and the Jedi Order, his conflicted feelings over leaving his mother on Tatooine, and his romantic longing for Padmé Amidala.
Assigned to protect Padmé from potential assassination attempts on Naboo, Padmé soon reciprocates Anakin’s feelings, breaking strict Jedi Codes forbidding emotional attachments and leading to a deep-seated affair between the two. Traveling to Tatooine to free his mother, Anakin temporarily gives into his rage upon learning of Shmi’s death, slaughtering the village of Tusken Raiders responsible.
Trying and failing to rescue the captured Obi-Wan on Geonosis, Anakin takes part in the first battle of the Clone Wars on the planet, personally dueling Count Dooku, losing his left arm in the process. Now outfitted with a robotic surrogate for his missing limb, Anakin secretly marries Padmé in a private ceremony on Naboo.
The Clone Wars (film)
A few short months into the Clone Wars following Attack of the Clones, Anakin (now a Jedi Knight) and Obi-Wan have joined their Jedi brethren in combating the galaxy-wide threat of the Separatist Army. Assisted by the 501st Legion and Clone Captain Rex, Anakin and Obi-Wan lead the Republic assault on the planet Christophsis. During a small lull in the battle, the two are greeted by teenage Togruta padawan, Ahsoka Tano, who has been ordered to learn under Anakin as his apprentice.
Initially hesitant to assume the responsibilities of a master – and clashing repeatedly with the brash, stubborn, but inwardly confident Ahsoka – Anakin ultimately accepts Ahsoka as his student, seeing much of his former self in his new padawan. Together, they help rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt from Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress, securing a treaty between the Hutts and the Republics early on in the war.
The Clone Wars (TV series)
Taking place from 22 to 19 BBY, The Clone Wars TV series chronicles most of the major battles of the titular Clone Wars, detailing the Republic’s repeated conflicts against the Separatists and their Sith allies. Like his fellow Jedi, Anakin (along with Ahsoka and Obi-Wan) serves as one of the main heroes of the war effort, helping the Republic defeat the Separatists in several large-scale conflicts.
As the war escalates and Anakin endures a gradual swaying to the Dark Side, he is shown committing increasingly amoral acts defying Jedi Codes – such as torturing Geonosian Archduke Poggle the Lesser for information.
These instances illustrate Anakin’s subtle descent into the Dark Side, as well his personal fondness for his friends (especially Ahsoka and Obi-Wan). The events of the show lead directly into Revenge of the Sith, with Anakin last shown bidding farewell to Ahsoka before departing on his mission to rescue the Chancellor over Coruscant.
Revenge of the Sith
Set in 19 BBY, Revenge of the Sith covers the final few months of the Clone Wars, illustrating the Republic’s transformation into the Galactic Empire under former Chancellor Palpatine. Early in the film, following a successful mission of the Chancellor, the 22-year-old Anakin learns that Padmé is pregnant, prompting him to experience horrific visions of her passing away in childbirth.
Distraught by these visions and terrified of losing his one true love, Anakin is convinced to embrace the enigmatic teachings of the Dark Side by Palpatine, who reveals himself to be the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious. Reluctantly pledging himself to the Chancellor, Anakin is rechristened Darth Vader, spearheading the 501st Legion’s assault at the Jedi Temple and ushering in Order 66.
After eliminating most of the Jedi on Coruscant and the Separatist leaders on Mustafar, Anakin engages in a fiery duel with Obi-Wan. Relying too greatly on his confidence, a fatal mistake results in Anakin losing his three remaining limbs and suffering severe burns from the planet’s lava flows. Left for dead by Obi-Wan, Anakin’s mangled body is recovered by Palpatine, who barely manages to revive the weakened Anakin through a hasty, painful surgery.
Now outfitted in a black suit with mechanical limbs, Anakin is told by Palpatine that Padmé has died – seemingly killed by Anakin’s rage. Devastated by the loss and knowing that he’s betrayed his friends for nothing, Anakin dejectedly submits to Palpatine’s rule, serving him faithfully as the Republic is reorganized into the Empire.
Darth Vader (Charles Soule)
Following Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars, related Extended Universe stories fell into the hands of Marvel. This change of power led to dozens of new stories surrounding each Star Wars character, the finest among them being Charles Soule and Kieron Gillen’s work on Marvel’s Darth Vader series.
Unlike Gillen’s earlier work on Darth Vader – which mostly details Vader’s time in-between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back – Soule’s series tracks Vader’s life immediately after Revenge of the Sith.
Specific storylines in the series include Vader’s various missions hunting down remaining Jedi, obtaining a new lightsaber, training the Inquisitors, constructing his private fortress on Mustafar, and officially abandoning his past life as Anakin Skywalker, completely embracing his new identity as Darth Vader.
Star Wars: Lords of the Sith
One of the few new canonical novels released since Disney acquired Star Wars, Paul S. Kemp’s 2015 novel, Star Wars: Lords of the Sith, takes place in 14 BBY, roughly five years after the fall of the Jedi and the rise of the Empire. In it, the 27-year-old Vader and Palpatine himself head to Ryloth, personally battling the planet’s large contingent of rebels to capture the world’s abundant supply of spice.
Facing a heavy onslaught of freedom fighters on their own, Lords of the Sith explores the tumultuous relationship shared by both men, and their obvious reluctance to trust one another (owing to the Sith’s infamous habit of betrayal, duplicity, and manipulation). The novel ends with the two managing to put aside their differences long enough to defeat the rebels and capture Ryloth, temporarily smothering the spark of an organized rebellion against the Empire.
Jedi: Fallen Order
Set in 14 BBY (around the same time as Lords of the Sith and the aforementioned Battle of Ryloth), Jedi: Fallen Order follows Order 66 survivor turned Jedi fugitive Cal Kestis as he attempts to outrun Imperial forces and reestablish the Jedi Order.
Unlike other entries on this list, Vader’s appearance in Jedi: Fallen Order is extremely limited, akin to his small but integral appearance in Rogue One. In the final level of the game, after the Second Sister is defeated by Cal on the moon Nur, Vader appears, dispatching the reformed Inquisitor and chasing Cal through the Imperial facilities. Barely surviving Vader’s relentless onslaught, Cal narrowly escapes Nur with a Jedi Holocron in hand, opting to destroy it less it fall into hands of the Sith.
Five years after his failure to stop Cal from fleeing Nur with the Jedi Holocron, Vader returns in Jedi: Fallen Order’s sequel, Jedi: Survivor, which takes place in 9 BBY. In it, Cal and his Jedi Master Cere Junda continue their work trying to rebuild the Jedi Order, all the while launching strategic attacks against the Empire.
Near the end of the game, Vader appears before Cere on Jedha. Engaging in a duel in Cere’s meticulously-recreated Archive Room, Cere proves more than a match for the Sith Lord, gaining an upper hand against Vader several times in the fight. After a small misstep on her part, though, Cere is killed by Vader’s hand – though she manages to fulfill her primary mission, buying enough time for the resistance movement known as the Hidden Path to escape Vader’s clutches.
Ten years after their fateful encounter on Mustafar, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series details Obi-Wan and Vader’s lives in 9 BBY. Believing his former apprentice was killed in their battle, Obi-Wan leads a tormented, guilt-ridden life on Tatooine, hiding from the Imperial authorities and severing his ties to the Force. It’s only when a young Leia Organa is kidnapped that Obi-Wan leaves the planet – an opportunity Vader has been waiting for for close to a decade.
Nearly defeating Obi-Wan in their initial duel on the planet Mapuzo, Vader and Obi-Wan meet again on an unknown planet, engaging in a fierce back-and-forth duel that ends in a stalemate. Rather than pushing his advantage and killing his former pupil/best friend, Obi-Wan openly comes to terms with Anakin’s death, acknowledging that the broken man before him truly is Darth Vader.
Spared by Obi-Wan, Vader reports his failure to Palpatine, who subtly threatens him to forgo his vendetta against Kenobi, encouraging him to focus on helping the Empire grow instead.
Star Wars: Rebels
Following his master’s orders, Vader dedicates his subsequent efforts to helping the Empire stamp down any threats across the galaxy for the next several years, putting down rebel insurgencies wherever they crop up. By the time of Rebels (set from 5 to 0 BBY), Vader is called in to help crush the rebel cell on Lothal, putting him into conflict with renegade Jedi Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus.
During this time, Vader learns that his former apprentice, Ahsoka – whom he’d long since presumed dead – is still alive and has become a critical member of the Rebellion. On the ancient Sith world of Malachor, the former Jedi allies come face-to-face, dueling amid the ruins of a derelict Sith temple. Sensing the remnants of Anakin still buried within him, Ahsoka opts to stay behind with Vader, the two departing separately the planet after an ambiguous ending to their final duel.
As with his appearances in Jedi: Fallen Order and Jedi: Survivor, Vader doesn’t have an altogether massive presence in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – though he manages to expertly use what limited screen time he has. Set in 0 BBY, just before A New Hope, Vader summons Death Star developer Orson Krennic to his private residence on Mustafar. Furious at the destruction of Jedha City by Krennic’s super-weapon, Vader orders him to tighten his hold over the Death Star’s security.
In the final act of the film, Vader appears as the battle rages over the Imperial facility on Scarif. Attempting to stop the Alliance from fleeing with the stolen Death Star plans, Vader brutally slaughters several Rebels, nearly recapturing the plans. However, Leia’s flagship, the Tantive IV, manages to escape with the plans in their possession, laying the groundwork for the opening of A New Hope.
A New Hope
Moments after his failed attempt to steal back the Death Star’s plans, Vader leads the Imperial assault against the Tantive IV. Shortly after boarding the Rebel vessel, Leia hides the plans within R2-D2, sending the droid with his faithful companion, C-3PO, to Tatooine via an escape shuttle. There, they locate struggling farmer Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan, who unite with smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca in an epic quest to rescue Leia and deliver the plans to the Rebellion.
Vader’s pivotal moment in the film comes with his fourth and final battle with Obi-Wan, ending with the former Jedi Master dying and becoming one with the force. Later in the film, Vader very nearly manages to kill Luke during the climactic Death Star trench run. Moments before he can, Solo intervenes, sending Vader’s ship spiraling out of control and giving Luke the opportunity to destroy the first Death Star – but not before Vader senses Luke’s strong connection to the Force.
Darth Vader (Kieron Gillen)
With the destruction of the Death Star, Vader is granted seemingly unlimited access to the Empire’s resources, commanding entire armies and conducting an extensive crusade in the hopes of destroying the Rebel Alliance. At the same time, now aware of Luke’s deep connection to the Force, Vader also tries to learn the identity of the Rebel pilot who’d destroyed the Death Star, hiring bounty hunters, smugglers, and other criminal elements for the job.
This fascinating point in Vader’s life comes courtesy of Kieron Gillen’s excellent Darth Vader comic book series for Marvel, covering Vader’s career from 1 ABY to 2 ABY. In addition to introducing fan-favorite characters like Doctor Aphra and Black Krrsantan, Gillen’s Darth Vader reveals Vader’s immediate reaction to learning of Luke’s identity, and his initial plan to usurp power from the Emperor and establish himself and Luke as rulers of the galaxy.
Empire Strikes Back
In 3 ABY – three years after the Empire’s defeat at Yavin 4 – Vader leads a relentless manhunt for the Rebel Alliance, hoping to capture Luke Skywalker in particular. With the Emperor now aware of Luke’s existence, Vader feigns ignorance to his master, expressing surprise that the son of Anakin Skywalker lives. For the purposes of his own secret plans, he agrees to follow the Emperor’s plan to turn Luke to the Dark Side, inwardly plotting to convert Luke into his own apprentice.
Meeting in Bespin’s Cloud City, Vader takes part in a duel against Luke, using a toned-down, mostly defensive style of combat in lieu of his usual attack-heavy offensive preference. Defeating Luke by cutting off his hand, Vader reveals his familial connection to Luke, fruitlessly trying to convince him to join his side. Horrified at this revelation, Luke throws himself into an air shaft, shell-shocked by the news of his father’s lineage even as Vader reaches out to him, assuring Luke that it’s his “destiny” to join the Dark Side.
Return of the Jedi
One year, after Empire Strikes Back in 4 ABY, Vader, oversees the final stages of the Death Star II’s construction. At the same time, he faces mounting pressure from the Emperor to locate and convert Luke into a Sith acolyte, seemingly bending to his master’s will and giving up on his own plans for a father-son galactic dictatorship.
Meanwhile, Luke has completed his training and has become a full-fledged Jedi Knight. Confirming that Vader is his father, Luke resolves to turn Vader back to the Light Side of the Force, sensing some good in him still (an assertion that Obi-Wan and Vader both reject).
Momentarily giving into his anger on the Death Star II, Luke nearly kills the Emperor before Vader intervenes. The two escalate their battle against one another, warring against their own internal conflicts within, with Vader learning of Leia’s connection to him during the fight. Gaining the upper hand, Luke refuses to deliver the fatal blow to his father, preferring to die as a Jedi Knight than become a slave to the Sith, much to the chagrin of Palpatine.
Enraged, Palpatine begins electrocuting Luke; seeing his son slowly tortured before his eyes by the man who’s caused so much suffering in his own life, Vader picks up his former master and hurls him to his death, renouncing his identity as a Sith Lord.
Redeemed by his actions and emboldened by his son’s efforts to save him, a fatally wounded Anakin asks Luke to remove his mask, allowing him to see his child for the first and last time with his own eyes. Thanking him for his belief and expressing his love for Luke and Leia, Vader peacefully passes away at 45-years-old, and is laid to rest on Endor by Luke.
As the Rebels celebrate their victory on the forest moon, Anakin’s spirit – taking the form of his youthful self before his fall to the Dark Side – appears alongside Yoda and Obi-Wan, silently watching with a fond smile as Luke and Leia embrace.