Planetary gear noise and vibration are primary concerns in their applications in helicopters, automobiles, aircraft engines, heavy machinery and marine vehicles. Dynamic analysis is essential to the noise and vibration reduction. This work analytically investigates some critical issues and advances the understanding of planetary gear dynamics. A lumped-parameter model is built for the dynamic analysis of general planetary gears. The unique properties of the natural frequency spectra and vibration modes are rigorously characterized. These special structures apply for general planetary gears with cyclic symmetry and, in practically important case, systems with diametrically opposed planets. The special vibration properties are useful for subsequent research. Taking advantage of the derived modal properties, the natural frequency and vibration mode sensitivities to design parameters are investigated. The key parameters include mesh stiffnesses, support/bearing stiffnesses, component masses, moments of inertia, and operating speed. The eigen-sensitivities are expressed in simple, closed-form formulae associated with modal strain and kinetic energies. As disorders (e.g., mesh stiffness variation. manufacturing and assembling errors) disturb the cyclic symmetry of planetary gears, their effects on the free vibration properties are quantitatively examined. Well-defined veering rules are derived to identify dramatic changes of natural frequencies and vibration modes under parameter variations. The knowledge of free vibration properties, eigen-sensitivities, and veering rules provide important information to effectively tune the natural frequencies and optimize structural design to minimize noise and vibration. Parametric instabilities excited by mesh stiffness variations are analytically studied for multi-mesh gear systems. The discrepancies of previous studies on parametric instability of two-stage gear chains are clarified using perturbation and numerical methods. The operating conditions causing parametric instabilities are expressed in closed-form suitable for design guidance. Using the well-defined modal properties of planetary gears, the effects of mesh parameters on parametric instability are analytically identified. Simple formulae are obtained to suppress particular instabilities by adjusting contact ratios and mesh phasing.