It's OK to admit it. You're going to see Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith. The critics are united—it doesn't suck as bad as the other two prequels—and it is, after all, a cultural event. But now you're in trouble. Because unlike the geeks who are going to be at the first midnight show (who, me?), you are a perfectly normal person. At this point in George Lucas' attenuated narrative arc, you have precisely no idea what the hell is going on.
We're here to help. If you don't know Sith from Shinola, the following glossary of people, places, and things from the Star Wars universe will shed a little light. It'll have some spoilers in it, so if you want to be surprised by what happens in the movie … well, you still might be, because I haven't seen it yet. But I read the Internet, and the Internet is to Star Wars nerds what the forest moon of Endor is to cute little merchandising opportunities (if you didn't get that reference, you really need this glossary). This list is by no means complete, but it does have the important bits.
The first Star Wars came out in 1977. It was later subtitled Episode IV—A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi comprised episodes V and VI. The new films are prequels, and the latest one, Episode III, is actually the final installment. At least, that's what George Lucas, the creator, claims; back in the day he said he had another trilogy in mind, taking place after the IV-V-VI trilogy. And then there are those rumored Star Wars TV shows. …
Natalie Portman. Queen of the planet Naboo and, for a time, its representative in the galactic Senate. * Mother to Luke and Leia. In love with and secretly married to Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader). Are you getting all this, or am I going too fast?
Hayden Christensen. A high-powered Jedi messiah, discovered on the planet Tatooine by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), and Padmé. He's the father of Luke and Leia, and he becomes Darth Vader.
C-3P0 is the gold, mincing robot. R2-D2 is the one that looks like a trash can with legs. Anakin Skywalker built Threepio when he was a kid; Artoo was a semi-anonymous astromech droid on Queen Amidala's spaceship. Artoo is helpful and Threepio is an attempt at comic relief.
Advanced Lesson: The popularity of C-3PO and R2-D2 means that Lucas shoehorns them into most every scene, and this has created huge continuity problems. Why does Darth Vader seem not to recognize Threepio when they see each other again in Episode V, on the cloud city of Bespin? Why does Obi-Wan seem not to recognize either droid when he encounters them on Tatooine in Episode IV? And why does Artoo manifest new and wondrous powers throughout the prequel trilogy (he can fly!), when in Episode V, he can barely wrestle a candy bar out of Yoda's hands? Umm … you don't want to know the answers to those questions. This glossary is satisfying your curiosity. Move along.
In the Star Wars universe, accents = evil unless you are Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Oh, come on. You know who Obi-Wan Kenobi is. What, are you kidding me?
Jedi use this magical energy for various superpowers—telepathy, telekinesis, precognition, and so on. Somewhere between episodes III and IV, using the Force turns into something to be embarrassed about in the increasingly technological Empire. Only losers say "may the Force be with you," and one of Darth Vader's officers describes his faith as a "sad devotion to an ancient religion." Vader chokes him.