For some reason, I woke up on May the 4th (Be With You) and chose violence because I decided that today would be a swell day to post my rankings of the eleven Star Wars films and likely engage in social media warfare over my selections. So be it. Here are my rankings of the eleven Star Wars films, including the three trilogies, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Rogue One.
11 – Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
I’ll mention a few times over the course of covering the prequel series that I personally thought it was a mess, but I do appreciate what it did in introducing a new generation to the intergalactic battle. Unfortunately, Attack of the Clones showcases peak CGI-overload in what is an uneven and unfocused craze of a story. Obi-Wan and Anakin are all over the place in this movie, the latter going all Hot Topic on everyone he encounters. Then the clones are happening in the background and IT’S ALL JUST TOO MUCH! The shoddy writing truly throws this in the dumps for me: Padme: “You’re not all powerful”; Anakin (in angry teen screaming voice): “WELL I SHOULD BE!” Sad. Thankfully the final battle is quite impressive and saves the film from being completely unwatchable, especially when it comes to Yoda going one-on-one with Count Dooku in a lightsaber battle. Were it not for Lucas’ obsession with trilogies, the main plot points of Episode II could have been folded into another film. For all of the hate that Episode I gets, this is truly the pits.
10 – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to go back to Star Wars for George Lucas so many years after the original trilogy concluded. Expectations of fans and studio involvement likely resulted in unwelcome rising pressures. Episode I follows a somewhat scattered, bloated plot that attempts to accomplish more than it should in this first entry back into the Star Wars universe. Much of what made the original series an unprecedented joyride is lost to a tamed family adventure clearly aimed at gaining new fans. Neeson and McGregor bring their characters to life with commitment and precision, though the script does not give them much in the way of good dialogue early on. Portman grows into her character as the film progresses. What overshadows their roles, however, is the presence of overused CGI, strange transitions, and the criminal exclusion of Park’s menacing Darth Maul through much of the film. Never mind the fact that Portman’s Queen eyes young Anakin creepily throughout, and we know where that leads in future films. Knocked by many, including myself, Episode I is a jumbled mess that is a fine rewatch (especially with subtitles, which are hilarious… beep beep), but not Star Wars at its best.
9 – Return of the Jedi (1983)
Return of the Jedi feels like the end of a roller coaster when you would like there to be one last thrilling drop, but you instead get that little hump that slows the car down, skidding to a stop. Much of this film feels bloated and silly, a far cry from its two predecessors. There is not much to like here in a film that relies on humor and poor dialogue to advance to the climactic battle we all came here for. It’s as though Return of the Jedi was strung together from previous ideas that Lucas could not find a place for. Much of our time is spent with the Ewoks, little creatures who apparently have incredibly strong mini-arrows to shoot at Stormtroopers, who run away as they float through the air. Han Solo also plays the old “tap the shoulder and run the opposite way” to get a Stormtrooper to run after him (“Hey, get back here!”). There simply did not feel like there was a point to this film for much of it until the Rebellion goes after the Death Star (a recycled concept) and Luke battles Vader (a worthy, yet short scene). Lucas seems to have run out of gas by the time it comes to Return of the Jedi and wrapping up the story that we have come to love (something we have learned is not so easy).
8 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Rogue One is highlighted by a wild third act filled with aerial battles, WWII-esque ground battles, and a phenomenal final scene with Darth Vader. Much of what makes this film work seems like fan service with subtle nods to established lore and battle after battle. Comedic relief is provided throughout by Alan Tudyk as a reprogrammed Imperial security droid with an over-analytical, honest, sarcastic sidekick to Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor. When compared to the prequels, Rogue One is a masterpiece, though when judged as a standalone film it can best be described as a fun action film that expands the universe if only by confirming that yes, other people exist and have challenges beyond the Skywalkers. Not only that, but we see the first real evidence/recognition of diversity throughout the galaxy, a much-needed advancement in the contemporary Star Wars universe. A bit uneven and perhaps forgettable (though surprisingly more impressive on rewatch), Rogue One delivers a thrilling experience filled with palpable tension and heart, solid acting and breathtaking CGI-powered visuals, providing a deeper look into a key moment in Star Wars history.
7 – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
JJ Abrams has delivered a satisfying, action-packed conclusion to not only the most recent trilogy, but the Skywalker saga as a whole, though it doesn’t come without issues. The Rise Of Skywalker takes off like a bat out of hell, not letting up until the credits roll. Daisy Ridley (Rey) is flawless throughout, while Adam Driver finishes up his time as Kylo Ren with another powerhouse performance, cementing Ren as my favorite Star Wars villain. Even Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are given the time they deserve (and lacked in The Last Jedi), particularly together, leading to fun back-and-forth banter. Relegated to the background, however, is Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) and the newcomers of Naomi Ackie (Jannah) and Keri Russell (Zori Bliss).
The battles between Rey and Kylo are plentiful here, each visually stunning and unique. Their dynamic throughout the trilogy has been one of the strong points for me, and it leads to a questionable decision in this film that I am warming to the more I think about it (though I groaned at first, as I did many times). Abrams handles both of their stories remarkably well, and the addition of the Emperor into the mix simply worked. The same can be said for Leia’s story, which Abrams handled respectfully.
Had the story of The Rise of Skywalker been the goal of the trilogy to begin with, Abrams wouldn’t have had to throw so much into this film and better seeds could have been planted leading up to it, also resulting in a more cohesive trilogy. You’re asked to accept certain facts in this film that almost certainly should have come out previously. I also felt like I was just getting to know many of the players as the series was rocketing towards the conclusion.
In the end, despite cheesy writing and some questionable choices, The Rise of Skywalker was a thrilling ride that leaves me feeling fulfilled. I commend Abrams and the cast for a wild ride, for pure entertainment, and for reinvigorating the Star Wars franchise, even through division.
6 – Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
#JUSTICE FOR SOLO! With a strong supporting cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, and Paul Bettany, Solo exceeds expectations to deliver a fast-paced western-inspired space heist drama that creatively introduces us to many of the players from the very first Star Wars.
As a standalone film, Solo simplicity works thanks to a tight script and committed acting, especially from Aiden Ehrenreich (Han himself). Emilia Clarke co-stars here as well, yet is given little to work with and ultimately fades into the background. While we didn’t need Solo, director Ron Howard does a fine job of teasing out a fun backstory that is action-packed from start to finish.
Solo deserves more love than it gets. As far as Star Wars films go, this is an oddly satisfying entry that opens up new lanes for future storytelling (with a nice twist at the end). It would be loads of fun to continue exploring these new corners of the Star Wars galaxy, as well as seeing more of the cannon from books and comics make its way onto the big screen.
5 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Never have I been so nervous going to see a movie, thanks to the prequel series that did its best to ruin all of my happy Star Wars memories. The Force Awakens uses familiar structure and mixes it with fresh characters, vision, and effects to successfully launch a new era of space drama.
Director JJ Abrams embraced a unique challenge: How does one bring back life-long Star Wars fans while also catering to a new generation? He accomplishes his mission through exciting new character development, the reemergence of those we know so well, and a dynamic new villain in Kyle Ren (Adam Driver). The Force Awakens is reminiscent of A New Hope with its fast storytelling and exploration of worlds, reestablishing what made the original trilogy so fun and new. Abrams’ return to a core of practical puppetry is well-executed and welcomed.
There are some questionable choices, to be sure. The stories of Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are intriguing, yet underdeveloped (speaking from having seen The Last Jedi, as well). I don’t know how totally invested I am in anyone besides the original trio and Rey (Daisy Ridley). The strange Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) pulling the strings behind the scenes is neither threatening nor terrifying. Once again we are dealing with a planet destroyer in the new Star Killer weapon.
In the end, this was a well-intentioned, solid revisiting of the Star Wars galaxy.
4 – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Revenge of the Sith caps off three underwhelming films that had so much potential, yet resulted in an absolute mess of rushed storytelling, weak CGI, and cheesy writing. Episode III fast-tracks the turn of Anakin over to the dark side utilizing underwhelming instigating events. Had more time been taken to focus directly on Anakin’s turn and less time focused on the war at hand, the prequel episodes could have delivered so much more. One vicious evil antagonist, aside from Palpatine, would have been beneficial, as well (oh hey, Darth Maul).
In saying all of that, Episode III is undoubtedly the best of the three installments. It is action-packed from start to finish, even if the story jumps around and we already essentially know what is going to happen. The final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin is the best sequence of the prequel films. Finally, Natalie Portman is drastically underused in this film, yet delivers her best performance of the series.
3- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Buckle up, because this is a HOT TAKE. Rian Johnson takes the helm of the Star Wars franchise after JJ Abrams’ relaunch with The Force Awakens. In doing so, Star Wars grows up, raises the stakes, and displays an intergalactic spectacle reminiscent of the first viewing of A New Hope.
I’ve said it before, but Driver’s Kylo Ren is a worthy successor to Darth Vader, further evidenced by his emotional portrayal in The Last Jedi. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) is a powerful addition to a male-dominated trilogy thus far who complements John Boyega’s Finn in every scene shared together. Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia is packed with emotion and belief, while Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo brings a new dynamic to the Resistance’s leadership. Each performance in The Last Jedi is flawless.
There is much to like here, thanks to Johnson’s talented storytelling. The “red room fight” that sees Rey and Kylo team up is one of my, if not the, favorite fight scenes in any Star Wars film. Johnson also takes us to new worlds while folding in cannon from other mediums, such as the casino setting. Most importantly, the story refocuses on the Force, in Rey, in Luke’s use of Force Projection, and in the kids at the end. Let’s not forget about the use of Hyperspace Tracking, nor the use of Lightspeed to take down a Destroyer.
Regardless of how the trilogy (and the Skywalker saga) ended up, Johnson creatively served up one hell of a Star Wars film that has all of the references, visuals, and acting chops you could ask for. Leia’s Mary Poppins moment aside (and the ultimate misplay of Snoke), The Last Jedi is a work of art.
2 – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back is a worthy follow-up to A New Hope, further deepening the mythology and setting up Return of the Jedi after the “father” of all reveals.
The Empire Strikes Back starts off sluggish and arguably struggles through the first quarter of the film before kicking it into high gear and delivering a thrilling sequel following the heroes on multiple different missions. Much of what we have come to love about Star Wars can be found within this film, from Yoda to Walkers, Han in carbonite to Vader telling Luke he is his father, and Lando Calrissian to Boba Fett. Once again under the direction of visionary George Lucas, the story is intentional and the stakes high, delivered with humor and sincerity, supported by dazzling special effects (for 1980).
The film doesn’t leave audiences disappointed, a rare accomplishment for sequels. Aside from minor missteps (what in the hell is that snow creature at the beginning?), this is a solid film that has become iconic in its own right.
1 – Star Wars – A New Hope (1970)
Oh how I long for the days where the expectations for this little-known film called Star Wars were almost non-existent. A New Hope showcases Lucas’ unique storytelling ability, impassioned performances from all of the stars, and a satisfyingly new (at the time) space odyssey. While there are things to love about the new films, there is nothing quite like going back to where it all began.
A New Hope is simply a ton of fun with Lucas taking huge risks that pay off in spectacular fashion. Each character carries an importance to the overall development of the Star Wars universe we have come to know today, each iconic in their own right. Even for the time in which this film was made, the visual effects are stunning. The use of practical effects, from the costumes to the sets, brings an authenticity to the story that elevates the plot and quickly immerses the audience in the battle between the Rebels and the Empire. Even the dialogue, while at times elementary, features powerhouse lines we all remember to this day (“I find your lack of faith disturbing”).
In short, Star Wars defined the cinematic space of epic storytelling, overcoming numerous obstacles and naysayers. Obi-Wan Kenobi says in the film “If you strike me down now, i shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” For all of the people that struck it down didn’t give Star Wars a fighting chance, it has proven to become more powerful than anyone could have possibly imagined.