"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…" Each one of Lucas' Star Wars films starts with these lines, distancing the story from our setting. But, what if we could determine roughly how long ago is a long time ago?
Using a couple of Star Wars Expanded Universe resources and a little math, placing the events of the Star Wars Universe into our own timeline is possible, with some very interesting results.
Linking Lucas' Universe to Our Own
Using the story Into the Great Unknown from Dark Horse's Star Wars Tales #19, the events of the Star Wars Universe can be tied to our own timeline, as long as a couple of assumptions are made.
In the opening of the non-canonical Into the Great Unknown, Han and Chewbacca are forced to make a jump to hyperspace to flee Imperial attackers. (OK yes, we know it's non-canonical, but this is a thought experiment so just bear with us.) The Millennium Falcon crash lands on Earth, where Han and Chewbacca are attacked by Native Americans. Han receives several arrow wounds in the process, and Chewbacca holds his partner as the last bit of life flees from him. The second half of the story leaps 126 years into the future, with Indiana Jones and Short Round searching for Sasquatch in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, only to find Chewbacca and the bones of Han Solo.
Time Line Anchors and Assumptions
Three anchor points guide our timeline – Han Solo makes a vague reference to his children, Short Round is present in the story, and Indiana Jones' mention of a previous adventure in Atlantis. Jones visited Atlantis in 1939, during the video game and Dark Horse tie-in comic Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
Short Round and Dr. Jones also visited Atlantis in 1936 during Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #26-27, giving us a two possible "earliest" dates for the appearance of Indiana Jones in Into the Great Unknown, either 1936 or 1939. The stated 126 year difference in time between Solo and Chewbacca's arrival on Earth and the arrival of Indiana Jones places the crash landing of the Millennium Falcon on Earth in the year 1810 or 1813.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indy's film adventure with an eleven-year-old Short Round takes place in 1935, making both dates viable. However, Short Round "looks" older in Star Wars Tales #19, so I lean towards 1939 as a boundary year for the adventure told in Star Wars Tales #19, placing Han and Chewbacca's arrival on Earth in the year 1813.
Picking a Date in the Star Wars Universe for Han & Chewbacca's Departure
With the time of Han Solo and Chewie's arrival set in the year 1813, we need to establish when Solo and Chewbacca leave the Star Wars Universe. Solo's reference to children in Star Wars Tales #19 is interesting - it is either a tongue-in-cheek reference or a literal one. I side with a literal reference, placing the time of Han and Chewbacca's departure after the birth of twins Jacen and Jaina to Han and Leia. The Battle of Yavin is the Star War's Universe's year zero – every date is labeled Before Battle of Yavin (BBY) or After Battle of Yavin (ABY). The birth of Han and Leia's twins takes place roughly nine years after the Battle of Yavin and the destruction Death Star as shown in A New Hope and five years after the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
Picking a point several years after the Battle of Endor minimizes ripple effects in the Star Wars Universe. The Empire is sparse, but still active 9 years ABY in squadrons spread throughout the universe after the defeat of Thrawn and the clones of Palpatine. Han's twins are born, and Anakin Solo, Han and Leia's third child is also conceived.
If the choice of an exit point nine years after the Battle of Yavin is incorrect and Han and Chewie's arrival on Earth is on the other end of the spectrum and before the Battle of Yavin (roughly 1 BBY), only a ten year drift occurs in the timeline – far from an insurmountable amount of error. Error is also in the data set due to the use of a Galactic Standard Calendar in the Star Wars Universe, as one Galactic Standard Year is slightly longer than an earth year - 368 days vs. 365.25 days. Over the course of the 250 years covered in this timeline, an additional 687.5 days pass from the perspective of our calendar, allowing for a small amount of linear drift in the timeline.
Filling in the timeline
Below you can see our timeline - click here for the full-size version!
To fill it out completely, we used a Star Wars timeline created by the good people at Wookiepedia along with the inferences we already discussed.
At first glance, "A Long Time Ago…" is not nearly as long ago as one might think. The timeline sets the events of the Star Wars films within the 18th and 19th centuries, amongst a backdrop of slavery, national expansion, and rebellion against larger empires – themes common throughout the Star Wars hexology. Within the timeline is a "Dark Period" from the 1840s to 1940s, where no recorded events in the Star Wars Universe occur. The last recorded events in the Star Wars Universe take place in the early years of World War II and center on the adventures of Cade Skywalker, Jedi-turned-bounty hunter and likely the the great-grandson of Luke Skywalker.
One must accept the date determined from a non-canonical tale for the timeline to work, but it makes for an interesting thought experiment and a way to place the Star Wars Universe in the context our of our own world.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Dark Horse. Raw data from Wookiepedia, hyper nerdy over-analysis by Keith Veronese, and infographic creation by Stephanie Fox.