I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since my father sat me down and shared his old, worn out VHS tapes. Then, in the late nineties, I was first in line to witness the theatrical special edition re-releases. Finally, I was able see Han, Luke, and Leia in their original widescreen format, and it was beautiful; even though I disagreed with some of the creative changes George Lucas imposed.
Han shot first! You hear me, Lucas? You revisionist bastard!
With the recent release of The Force Awakens, and the excitement surrounding Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the world is once again reminded of the juggernaut franchise that is Star Wars. With all the intergalactic buzz in the air, I thought it was a good time to lay down exactly what I think of each film.
Here is a list of every Star Wars movie, ranked from worst to best.
Alert: Minor spoilers, but if you haven't seen the movies already it's your problem, not mine.
7. The Phantom Menace
Released May 19, 1999
This installment’s ranking should not surprise anyone. Released sixteen years after Return of the Jedi, everyone was hungry for a new chapter in the Star Wars saga. The Phantom Menace was hyped to be the epic prequel to the original three movies. Finally we would know how it all began!
Unfortunately this movie was a complete disappointment. The characters were flat, the plot was too linear, and the phantom didn’t seem all that menacing.
6. A New Hope
Released May 25, 1977
Not to be confused with Episode 1, this was the first Star Wars movie ever released. A New Hope, originally just called Star Wars, was the one that started it all. The sprawling space epic that all following sci-fi creations would attempt to replicate. So why is it so low on this list?
Try and watch the film with fresh eyes. Go on, I’ll wait. If you can put aside your nostalgia for a moment ask yourself, What was so great about it? In 1977 the effects were amazing and the plot was better than anything in contemporary science fiction. Today, not so much.
Don’t get me wrong, It’s still head and shoulders above most of the crap Hollywood tries to throw at us these days. There are a lot of great things about it, but compared to the rest of the franchise it feels… small.
5. Attack of the Clones
Released May 16, 2002
The sequel to the first prequel that was actually the fourth movie released and would never be as good as the original three.
From the beginning this film seems to correct some of the sins of The Phantom Menace. It feels less like a children’s movie and more like the Star Wars we remember. We see a wider world, and there is a sense of impending doom to drive the plot forward.
Apart from the glossy look and general overuse of CGI, my biggest problem with Attack of the Clones is with the actor they chose as the main protagonist. Hayden Cristiansen wasn’t ready for this role. Chosen less for his acting ability, and more for his pouty lips and teen heartthrob appeal, his deliveries aren’t convincing. He simply doesn’t pull me in and make me believe the story.
4. The Force Awakens
Released December 18, 2015
DIrector J.J. Abrams pulled off a bit of a miracle. Ten years after Revenge of the Sith, and thirty-two years after the end of the beloved original trilogy, The Force Awakens opened to impossibly high expectations… and it wasn’t a complete disappointment! Sure it doesn’t have all of the charm that we remember from the first three, but it was a fun romp through the galaxy that didn’t feel dumbed down.
Disney gobbling up Lucasfilm led to much apprehension in the lead up to Episode VII. Even more when they asked the director of the recent Star Trek reboot J.J. Abrams to take the helm. To my delight, Mr. Abrams put together a movie that actually felt like Star Wars. His success was due, in no small part, to the fact that he brought in heavy hitters from the original trilogy, like writer Lawrence Kasdan. Even more amazing, he was able to convince the original cast to reprise their roles! To leave them out would be sad and to recast them would be down right criminal.
In addition to the cinematic success, there are also cultural and social implications. In a time when the racial and sexual inequality of Hollywood is now thrust into the limelight, The Force Awakens proves that a film with a black man and a woman cast as the leads can be not just popular, but one of the highest grossing movies ever!
3. The Empire Strikes Back
Released May 21, 1980
The Empire Strikes Back begins with the rebels once again under attack by the mighty and evil Empire. This is a bit confusing since the previous movie, A New Hope, ended with the rebels having a big party. Seriously, they handed out medals and everything. Alas, we find that the Empire is now bigger and badder than ever.
This film is where George Lucas began to hit his stride. There is a much bigger story here than in A New Hope, and a much more involved plot. I began to see exciting new places and interesting new characters like the popular Lando Calrissian, and infamous Boba Fett making their first appearances.
Some of the most iconic pieces of dialogue in cinematic history occur in Empire. We have all heard them. Lines like “Luke, I am your father” are so ingrained in pop culture that some might not even know where they came from.
2. Return of the Jedi
Released May 25, 1983
This was a tough call. Return of the Jedi comes right after The Empire Strikes Back, and is every bit as good. The only reason Jedi ranks higher than Empire is the emotional factor.
The previous film left us teetering on a frustrating cliffhanger, and Return of the Jedi picks up the with the same sense of mystery. Almost immediately, you are reminded of the emotional toll the characters endured at the hands of Darth Vader.
The film ramps up from there, leading to grand battle between good and evil that keeps you on the edge of your seat. You are left with an ending that touches you to the emotional core. It is a fitting conclusion to the original trilogy’s story.
1. Revenge of the Sith
Released May 19, 2005
I know what you are thinking. How could my number one Star Wars pick not be one of the original three? For that matter, how can one of the prequels that are so reviled by the general fandom be better than Empire Strikes Back?
First of all, unlike the other two prequels, Revenge of the Sith wastes no time getting to the action. This is the only time we see the galaxy in all out war. Christiansen has developed more as an actor and delivers his lines with more authority (he also looks less like a N*SYNC reject). The overall tone of the film is darker, and It even uses the same transitions between scenes as the original series.
Best of all, we finally get to see all the important events that were so heavily referenced in the ‘70s. The clone wars, the formation of the evil Empire, the corruption of Darth Vader, are all things not adequately explained before. Plus the end has the two most amazing lightsaber battles ever!
Revenge of the Sith is the link that brings everything together, and in doing so, elevates all other films in the franchize. That is why it wins the coveted number one spot in my heart.
This is my list, best to worst. If you disagree then you have been blinded by the dark side. Good day, and as always, May the force be with you!
Note: I chose to not include any films other than those along the central plotline. Movies like The Clone Wars and any of the god awful straight-to-television incarnations (look up Star Wars Holiday Special. I dare you) simply muddy the waters. This list is confusing enough as it is.