Star Wars Films Ranked
As the Skywalker trilogy comes to an end this week in The Rise of Skywalker, I rewatched every Star Wars film, excluding the animated ones and T.V. shows in the lead-up to the final film. Before I begin my brief reaction to each film, I want to preface all of this with my admiration of Geroge Lucas and the universe he created. Star Wars brought me into science fiction. It was the first film I had ever watched in the genre, and I almost immediately fell in love with the story he told. The story of a young hero beginning his journey in the face of great uncertainty as he battles for the soul of the galaxy.
Luke Skywalker’s journey from whiny farm boy to Jedi Knight and leader of the rebellion inspired me and drove my love for sci-fi and Star Wars itself. Likewise, the introduction of Princess Leia and Han Solo only pushed me to love the universe and the characters Lucas created even more. And, while I am an outspoken critic of the prequel trilogy, I respect him for not wanting to repeat the same story beats and create something new, even if he was unsuccessful in executing that vision. In any case, let’s get to my final ranking of all the Star Wars films; from best to worst, these won’t be full reviews, rather just my brief thoughts:
1. Star Wars: A New Hope
The one that started it all, Star Wars. Before there were the prequels and Disney’s new sequels, or even subtitles, there was just Star Wars. A story spanning across the galaxy about Imperial forces, Jedi, Sith, and the balance of the force. The story of Luke, Leia, and Han as they fight together to save the galaxy from fascist rule. If you know anything about how this film was made and how it almost wasn’t (I suggest watching Empire of Dreams to learn more), it’s a miracle it was even released. This film is breathtaking, from its expert direction to its beautiful cinematography and iconic imagery. Star Wars provided audiences with an experience it never had before and changed the landscape of how the industry writes, makes, markets film forever.
2. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
The beautiful thing about Empire Strikes Back is that it reconceptualizes everything we know in the first film. In many ways, it undoes everything that was accomplished and established in A New Hope. We learn that Anakin Skywalker isn’t dead; he’s Darth Vader and Luke’s father and that Obi-Wan has been lying. Luke, Han, and Leia are separated for the entirety of the film. There is no climactic battle because it happens in the beginning. Empire is renowned today and still holds up because it doesn’t try to recreate A New Hope; it goes in bold and new directions. It’s a complete 180, and it’s all the better for it.
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I know ranking the critically praised but highly controversial Star Wars: The Last Jedi will draw hellfire from the “real” Star Wars fans. But, before you start giving me your reasons why Rian Johnson ruined Star Wars, let me explain why, I believe, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. First, let’s address the handling of Luke Skywalker. I will preface this with the fact that I applaud Johnson for doing what he did with Luke’s character in The Last Jedi. Johnson was left with the difficult task of crafting the second chapter to one of the most beloved franchises of all time.
J.J. Abrams did him no favors by excluding Luke almost entirely from The Force Awakens until the film's end. And by all accounts, Johnson nailed Luke’s arc without damaging his character's legacy or core elements. The idea that Johnson “ruined” or “misunderstood” the ultimate Jedi Master Luke is misguided. Instead of showing us the all-powerful Luke Skywalker, Johnson opts to tell the story of a Jedi Master attempting to assume his role as the last living Jedi legend and failing to do so.
Similarly, the exploration of Luke’s guilt and trauma from his failure with Ben Solo provides the audience an opportunity to contemplate the idea of legacy and the responsibilities and problems that come along with upholding it. The extreme actions he takes by secluding himself from the rest of the world are warranted, given this isn’t the first time the Jedi order failed to uphold its duty and cause the rise of an intergalactic fascist regime. By the end of the film, Yoda reminds him that failure is the greatest teacher of all, leading him to return and save the resistance. Ultimately, this demonstrating that the legend of the last Jedi is more important than the last Jedi himself.
All in all, it was emotionally resonant, incredibly poignant, and his evolution into the Jedi Master that we, as Star Wars fans, know him to be in the film’s culmination was exhilarating. Although the movie as a whole isn’t perfect, it is too long for its good, and specific story aspects like Finn and Rose’s adventure to a casino planet, while fine on their own, don’t fit in with the rest of the film’s overall themes. However, when The Last Jedi hits, it hits big, offering some of the most impressive cinematography and iconic moments of any film.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The most anticipated Star Wars film since the first one back in 1978, J.J. Abrams accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of bridging the old with the new and forging a new, if somewhat familiar, pathway forward for a new generation of fans. When it first arrived in theaters, I was overtaken with excitement and joy to be watching a Star Wars film set after the events of the original trilogy with the characters I grew to love. After several rewatches, some of the issues become more apparent, and J.J.’s knack for mystery boxes becomes tired. At times, it feels too familiar and safe with not a lot of explanation of the events happening on screen (i.e., Rey’s force ability, Maz Kanata having Luke's lightsaber, and Snoke). However, at the same time, J.J. manages to blend all of these familiar elements into a fun nostalgia ride filled with great character moments and recreate the magic of the original trilogy. J.J. kicks off the new sequel trilogy with a bang.
5. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The conclusion of the most beloved sci-fi film franchise of all time and our heroes Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. It’s no easy feat to end a series in a satisfying way, something The Rise of Skywalker will potentially struggle with given the controversial nature of the sequels. But, this film gets the job done, even if it is somewhat absurd at times. More specifically, everything on Endor with our furry little Empire killing Ewok friends. Upon rewatch, the sequences drag a little more than they used to when I was younger, with Han and Leia’s mission feeling slightly inconsequential to the internal battle of light and darkness between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor. Nonetheless, Return of the Jedi provides us one last adventure in the battle for the galaxy with the characters we’ve grown to love and an ending that ties the trilogy up beautifully.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Beloved by many hardcore Star Wars fans, including myself, in this new Disney era of the franchise. Rogue One illustrates the grittier aspects of the rebellion pre-New Hope and gives us well-rounded characters to root for throughout. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are the standouts in this film, providing much-needed character moments on the cost of war and what it means to live under imperial rule. And, of course, it offers fans one of the most excellent Darth Vader scenes in all of Star Wars. Similarly, given all the production issues that have plagued Disney’s Star Wars, Rogue One went through, it is a miracle it came out as cohesive as it did. Rogue One delivers stunning aerial dogfights, trench warfare, and compelling character moments while staying true to Star Wars mythology.
7. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
The best of the prequel bunch, Revenge of the Sith, delivers some much-needed energy and streamlined action this prequel trilogy needed. Likewise, it gives us the best look at Emperor Palpatine, brilliantly played by Ian Mcdermid, and some cool lightsaber duels. With that said, there’s not much going on in Revenge of the Sith that is all that compelling or interesting. The script is a mess with the story and eventual turn of Anakin into Darth Vader, literally the whole point of this trilogy, being rushed and nonsensical. The performances outside of Ewan Mcgregor and Ian Mcdermid are mediocre and, at times, comical. Though, as I’ve mentioned before, the prequels give us some of the most fun Star Wars moments and incredible Shakespearean dialogue. Unfortunately, Revenge of the Sith suffers from an uneven script, over-reliance on blue screens, and lack of execution. Ultimately, Revenge of the Sith is a disappointing, predictable, and uninspired end to an unfortunate set of films.
8. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Rise of Skywalker suffers from a frustrating lack of imagination and innovative storytelling. While there’s a lot in the film to love and feels like “authentic” Star Wars, it’s rushed and never allows the big moments to really sink in. It’s a real shame, too, because The Rise of Skywalker had a real opportunity to do something special. Instead, Abrams and Disney play it safe with a film that prioritizes fan service and nostalgia over bold and original storytelling. To read my full review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, click here.
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
No one can replace Harrison Ford as the charming nerf herder, Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t command the screen nor charm the way Ford did as Solo. Moreover, this film suffers immensely from recycling his character arc throughout the original trilogy begging the question, why tell this story? Revealing every aspect of his past does more to hurt than help his standing in Star Wars. Lastly, if the film's focus had been on Qi’ra and the criminal underworld that’s teased throughout, I believe it would’ve made for a more exciting and successful film.
10. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
The Star Wars film that tried to make intergalactic trade embargoes cool! It is no secret I am no fan of the prequel trilogy by any means. The characters are dull and lifeless, with Lucas struggling to make sense of this convoluted story with all of its trade wars and political fodder. More so, it lacks any sense of magic and wonder that encapsulated the original trilogy. Additionally, the technical aspect of this film, while impressive for its ambition, is overly distracting and has not aged well. The movie's best elements are John Williams score and the well-choreographed Darth Maul, Qui-gon, and Obi-wan duel. Overall, The Phantom Menace suffers from a lackluster script, poor acting, and a lack of depth.
11. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
If you don’t have anything nice to say, I was taught not to say anything. This rule applies to the Attack of the Clones. In all seriousness, across the board, the film falters in almost every way. It is plagued by bad acting and a senseless script. The on-screen chemistry between Padme & Anakin is non-existent. With unmotivated sequences of anger in an attempt to foreshadow Anakin’s turn to the dark side falling flat. Moreover, the digitally created worlds in Attack of the Clones don’t even hold up within the film compared to the backdrops of scenes shot in Spain, and Lake Como, Italy. I wish Lucas had allowed another filmmaker to refine his scripts and direct the prequel trilogy. There are some really great themes about power and corruption buried here that could’ve been interesting to see. Overall, I don’t dislike the movie as much as I used to, but it is undermined by its messy script, underdeveloped characters, and underwhelming action.
Thank you all for reading my thoughts on all the Star Wars films. This franchise is one I hold near and dear to my heart, as many of us do. I could not be more excited to watch the conclusion of the Skywalker saga this Sunday. Until then, what did all of you think of my ranking? Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments or on my social media!
I look forward to writing a full-fledged review of The Rise of Skywalker this weekend, so be on the lookout for that when I post it.