Since “Skywalker Saga” has officially ended, and the franchise-to-end-all-franchises has met a sort of impasse, it seems right to rank the current theatrical released films. That is to say, we won’t be including the animated Clone Wars movie, or the two Ewok movies from the 1980s.
Personal feelings definitely enter into construction of this list, and Star Wars has become quite a fiercely divisive franchise lately. The sequel trilogy hasn’t fulfilled its promise that a lot of fans yearned, while other fans believe this to be an overreaction, much like the prequel trilogy suffered from; the prequels are now seeing more appreciation these days. Sufficed to say, there’s a lot of arguments over Star Wars, and you will have to forgive this list not matching your own!
11. Attack of the Clones
So much had gone wrong.
Many people would say that the infamous Phantom Menace is the “worst” Star Wars film, mostly due to its infamy at the time of release. But those viewers tend to overlook the travesty that is Episode 2. A foul mixture of terrible actor direction from Lucas (look, McGregor, Portman, Lee, Samuel L. Jackon, are all amazing actors, there’s only one person at fault) god-awful romance writing that is supposed to be the most compelling and character-driven moment of the entire Anakin storyline, and a slew of excessive and bad CGI, and confusing editing. Coupled with all of this, bizarre choices: Boba Fett as a kid, Yoda fighting like a possessed yo-yo, C-3PO being overused for slapstick comedy, and Jar Jar Binks basically giving the green light to the formation of The Galactic Empire.
The good elements in this film are purely surface level, and maybe Ewan McGregor.
10. The Phantom Menace
It didn’t take long to appear on this list.
The Phantom Menace was an eye-opening experience for fans in 1999, a sort of realisation that George Lucas is not someone who should have exclusive control over all aspects of his projects. Indeed, since Episode 1‘s release, it has become common knowledge that Lucas nearly botched the original 1977 film, if it weren’t for others taking control of the product. Episode 1 attempts at expanding a universe too quickly; opening with trade deals of all things, but also having flashes of brilliance (namely, Darth Maul, and the Sith threat during a time of Jedi prosperity.)
But, we cannot easily forget Jar Jar Binks, the annoying young Anakin, or the lore-defying midichlorians.
9. The Rise of Skywalker
“The End of a Saga” has never felt more unearned than this.
C-3PO saying he is taking “one last look at his friends” is the most absurd trailer-bait line in the Star Wars franchise, and is a decent example of what’s inherently wrong with the sequel trilogy; it never built up to any of this. There was no plan or story structure in place.
The final act of the Skywalker Saga feels rushed, and worst it feels like it is retconning its own predecessor deliberately. Not that this is new to the franchise, but Episode 9 took things too far. A relentless and meaningless plot, compounded by requiring books to explain it. It may look and sound pretty, and C-3PO actually succeeding at comedy, along with Kylo Ren being the one constant validation of this trilogy… ultimately it all fell flat at this “end”.
8.The Last Jedi
The turning point for many Star Wars fans.
The statistics are undeniable, when one looks at the box office earnings for the sequel trilogy for their opening weekends, Episode 8 was a hard nose dive for Disney. Something went wrong, and that something also turned Episode 9 into a clustered mess; director Rian Johnson and producer Kathleen Kennedy.
The middle act of a trilogy needs to build characters, and needs to setup a finale. While Rey and Kylo benefited, every other character did not. Half of the audience over-analyse the character assassination of Luke Skywalker, but the greater aspect of this issue is Johnson’s pride to not edit his film in light of actress Carrie Fisher’s passing. Thus passing an impossible task for Episode 9.
The Last Jedi might have paved new possibilities and suggest a wider universe, but the final trilogy of a saga should not have had this narrative blackhole in the middle of it.
7. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Apart from the ridiculous notion that audiences can accept someone else playing the titular character, Solo is slightly closer to what audiences want from more Star Wars.
The creative decision to give Han Solo a prequel movie is vacuous and single-minded; and as such Solo is relegated to the “middle ground”. Not bad, but not great.
With superb character and environment design, good production value and straight-forward storytelling, the only thing wrong with Solo is… Solo. If the film had been about another mercenary-for-hire, and expanded the universe in the same way (without the shoehorned references to the original trilogy) the film would have been better received.
But then… that would require original thought.
6. Revenge of the Sith
It may have all the trappings of the other prequel films, from bad acting and overused CGI, but Episode 3 is the accumulation of a story audiences had been waiting for for years.
Perhaps Episode 3 benefits from lowered expectations since Attack of the Clones, but there was a real sense of pathos and storytelling within its events. A story that had been on the minds of audiences since Empire Strikes Back over twenty years earlier. For the most part, the film succeeds in representing an end and the beginning of something new. The slow bleed of more familiar designs, as we get closer to the 1977 film’s appearances, and the destruction of the prequel trilogies’, was actually quite exciting and compelling.
5. The Force Awakens
What a promising start. If only it meant anything anymore.
After audiences were thoroughly divided by the prequel trilogy, and even more divided by Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, this was the film best designed to bring people back. It worked. Sure, it had too many similarities to the 1977 original, but in some regards audiences needed familiar and nostalgic sights to remind them why they enjoy the franchise again. Successful damage control.
A cool villain, a return of practical effects, a mysterious hero, and a host of new characters to develop over time. The stage was set. Hopefully they know how the story develops from here. Hopefully no one comes along and ruins it…
4. Return of the Jedi
Probably the first, maybe second time, you’ve protested aloud at this list.
There’s a lot to love about the sixth (and arguably, final) act of the Saga, from the best lightsaber battle in the franchise with Luke Skywalker facing his destiny in the Emperor’s throne room, to the colossal space battle that juxtaposes it. This is how a trilogy should end; with a real sense of urgency and earned pathos.
But, there is an inescapable sense of goofiness, of over-confidence, that comes with Lucas’s awareness of what he has created. The severity seen in Empire Strikes Back is felt, but juxtaposed with teddy bears overwhelming Imperial troopers, or how Han and Lando are just Generals now. Just like that. There’s also the niggling impression of retconning: Obi Wan Kenobi’s retcon of his own words in the original film “from a certain point of view”, is remarkably overlooked today.
It is a film, much like the next entry on this list, that benefits from having a spectacular final act.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Upon rewatching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, there is tremendous creativity used here, as well as respect given to the original trilogy.
Despite having a shaky start; throwing the viewer for a loop with time-jumps, many planetary locations, and many characters, Rogue One does a lot that other Disney produced films do not. It is completely immersed in the original trilogy’s aesthetic and, with the exceptions of cameos by Darth Vader and Tarkin, relies on a whole new cast of characters. Not only this, but it even fixes one of the few plotholes in the original 1977 film without ruining it.
Not to mention the final act of the film, which is one of the best acts in the entire Saga; with Disney (for once) not shying away from depicting a losing battle for our heroes. This is what the Disney era of Star Wars should try and emulate.
2. The Empire Strikes Back
Perhaps the reason this list exists: Empire Strikes Back is perhaps my favourite Star Wars film, but for one very specific reason it is not at the top spot.
Empire Strikes Back is absolutely one of the best sequels ever made, doubling down on practical effects that had never been seen before, giving the characters established more depth and heart. It includes one of cinema’s most shocking twists, likely to never be matched. It is shocking how the sequel trilogy failed to deliver this quality of development. The music is fantastic, John Williams completely owning this film,
But why is it not number one?
In one perspective, this film is why the franchise is a sprawling mess today. One neat little fantasy film is blown into a sprawling universe, and the cat was out of the bag, as they say.
It is an extremely close second, or rather, the top to are virtually inseparable.
1. Star Wars
Do you ever wonder what the face of cinema would have been like today had Star Wars not become a franchise? Or was never released?
The 1977 film shook the world of cinema to its very core; this sort of cinema was not financially viable back then, studios and producers had no reason to believe it would work. Star Wars, when viewed in isolation, is a wonderful piece of escapist storytelling, an unapologetic adventure across the stars.
It is also a testimony to the crew behind the scenes. Sure, Lucas can take a lot of the credit for pioneering such a story without any budget or reason for it to succeed, but considering how close it was to failing… The final sequence against the Death Star, was documented as saved by Lucas’s wife and editor at the time, Marcia Lucas, who retooled the entire final of the film to make it the tense, cinematic marvel it is today.
In a lot of ways, Star Wars was lightning in a bottle, only matched since by the likes of Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings films.