“Ranking the Star Wars movies is easy. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway, probably.
All right, Rise of Skywalker is about a week in the past for me, which is far enough in the past to take a stab at the ranking the Star Wars movies. I’m going to see it again some time in the coming weeks, and my evaluation of that movie might change, but for now, I’m content with where I have it.
It’s also worth noting that if you’ve been following my recent posts on this blog, the results of this list will not surprise you. Needless to say, it is tailored to my totally subjective tastes.
SPOILERS FOR RISE OF SKYWALKER
Without further ado, let’s get started.
- Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones really has the least going for it, by a country mile. It’s quite bad. I tend to do a double-take whenever I see a ranking of these movies and this one isn’t in the last place. The colosseum fight is too much of a cluster-fuck to be great, the duel with Count Dooku fight at the end feels deflated, there’s a romantic pairing with absolutely zero romantic chemistry, and Obi-Wan’s investigation into the mysterious clone army does its very best to be interesting but can’t quite succeed.
I mean, I guess to highlight a few things that work: in my Favorite Scenes post I wrote about one aspect I liked about Hayden Christensen’s acting, the chase scenes on Coruscant and off of Kamino are worth-watching, and Christopher Lee and Ewan McGregor give standout performances.
- The Phantom Menace
This movie is marginally better than Attack of the Clones, so it has that going for it. The action sequences never get overwhelming, podracing is an absolute blast, and the Duel of the Fates is probably the best thing to come out of the prequel trilogy. But again, the plot struggles to be engaging or interesting and the acting feels wooden. Jar-Jar Binks is an attempt at comedic relief that really makes me cringe, but perhaps it amuses children (I watched this one as a kid, and I don’t remember finding him funny).
An aside; I always roll my eyes when people say that the humor in the sequels are too “quippy” and inspired by the Marvel movies, because I suppose they would prefer Jar Jar Binks stepping in shit on the streets of Mos Espa.
This is a movie where the strengths certainly do not outweigh the negatives – accordingly, it finds it’s place towards the bottom of this list.
This movie has some elements that really, really work, like Paul Bettany as Dryden Voss, Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra, and Donald Glover as Lando. That being said, this movie does something that makes me cringe frequently throughout, where they feel the need to explain everything we know about Han Solo. I would have preferred to see an adventure with a young Han Solo, but no, it has to be excruciatingly detail-oriented. The movie thinks we need to know why Han calls Chewbacca “Chewie” instead of saying his name every time, or why Lando pronounces Han’s name differently, or why the Millenium Falcon is shaped the way it is. I love Star Wars, but I never had any interest in what the Kessel Run was, but hey, Solo is going to show us exactly what that is.
Perhaps the most annoying example of this is that the movie goes just a few minutes longer than it should have. After it has reached a logical conclusion when Han and Chewie have learned of a “gangster on Tatooine” which is implied but never actually said to be Jabba the Hutt – and that’s good, that’s comparatively tasteful fan service. And this would be a good place to end the movie: Han and Chewie walking off into the sunset with the potential for their next adventure, but without a ship. But no, the movie thinks that we have to see Han winning the Falcon from Lando, as though our brain couldn’t fill in the gaps.
In short, this movie has pieces that were full of potential, but a troubled production and a need to explain everything to fans really bogs this one down.
- Rise of Skywalker
As I said, I’m writing this after seeing Rise of Skywalker once, but I will see it again fairly soon. As of right now, this one is the most open to move – initially, I put it above Rogue One (which felt wrong) and Revenge of the Sith (Which didn’t feel that wrong). I think on the merits of the movies alone, I would put this in an equal spot to Revenge, but as of this moment, it’s still too fresh. I haven’t had time to fully wrap my head around this movie and really comprehend everything that worked and didn’t. But I’ll gladly put it below Revenge on the basis of disappointment; Last Jedi deserved a better follow-up that didn’t try to over-correct all of Rian Johnson’s bold decisions, and the Skywalker Saga deserved a more satisfying ending.
There’s a laundry list of things I didn’t love about it.
- Palpatine didn’t need to be physically alive, why couldn’t he just be a force ghost?
- There’s a spy in the First Order, who could that be? Oh, it’s Hux, he gets to serve as a Deus-Ex-Machina and then die without any further development. Great!
- Oh cool, they’re going to kill Chewbacca off-screen, I’m sure that will stick. Oh, he’s still alive? Geez, who’da thunk?
- Oh, Rose, who was set up to be one of the new main characters, gets sidelined for no reason at all? Awesome, love it.
And there’s just as many things I really liked.
- The Kylo Ren/Rey Force connection was used as an interesting mechanic to enrich their duels (and the moment at the end where Rey hands him the extra lightsaber is great.
- Against my better judgement, I was always glad to see Lando
- Han and Ben having their heart-to-heart which mirrored their scene from Force Awakens was well-done.
This movie is a mess – history might not be kind to it. I had a good time while watching it, but in the back of my mind, I knew I shouldn’t be.
- Revenge of the Sith
Often called the best of the prequels it’s… still not that good. It’s got some excellent elements, but each of these is undercut by something else. Sure, the opening sequence when Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting to get aboard General Grievous’ ship is an awesome space battle and shows how the two characters work well together, but it raises the question of why this wasn’t the whole movie or the whole trilogy. Ewan McGregor is great, but he has to act against actors who are not at the top of their game. The drama and duel on Mustafar gets undercut by lines like “Love can’t save you, only my new powers can,” or “From my point of view the Jedi are evil!”
Nothing epitomizes this more than having a moment where Anakin has completed his transformation into Darth Vader, finding out that he killed Padme, and undercutting it with a melodramatic, goofy “NOOOOOOOOOO!” when a devastated silence would have said so much more.
This movie has some truly sublime moments – again, the drama on Mustafar is good enough almost to redeem the whole prequel trilogy – but Revenge of the Sith is not nearly as good as most people think it is.
- Rogue One
Rogue One – while we won’t know everything that happened with it – is likely the result of considerable studio intervention. If you believe the rumors, then it’s worth thing that what happened with the directors of Solo likely would have happened with Rogue One if director Gareth Edwards hadn’t cooperated. What we got instead is… fine. The characters feel flat and lack development. Saw Gerrera is shoehorned in to give viewers of The Clone Wars a familiar face. The movie seeks to establish Cassian as an interesting morally gray character in his first scene, but then refuses to do anything interesting with that idea. Not to mention, this movie has the same issue as Solo, trying desperately hard to explain something from the originals (but that being said, I think this case is almost necessary. I’d be interested to know why the Death Star has a flaw built into it, but I don’t care to learn why Han calls him Chewie instead of Chewbacca).
But Rogue One’s strengths are more memorable than it’s weaknesses. Ben Mendelhson rocks it as Director Krennic, Darth Vader appears in two of the movie’s best scenes, Ip Man star Donnie Yen is a maestro of martial arts action sequences, and Alan Tudyk does amazing voice acting as the droid K2SO. All of this comes together quite spectacularly in a third act that is absolutely relentless in the best way. I’ve heard it said that this movie is one that tries to show the war element of Star Wars, and in a way, it does. Tonally, it feels rather unique when placed side by side with the rest. I give it props for trying.
- The Force Awakens
I don’t care if it’s derivative of A New Hope; a good movie is a good movie and this is damn good.
And anyway, to write this movie off as entirely derivative is a little misguided. There are little twists – and some might even say improvements – on New Hope’s template. Han and Finn boarding Starkiller base is supposed to mirror the rescue mission for Leia, but Rey has begun to use force powers and has already managed to escape. The counterpart to Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, becomes violent when angry, but does it in a way that seems far more childish and emotional, in a way that sets him apart from Vader. And perhaps most importantly, the confrontation between Kylo Ren and Han Solo is a thousand times more personal than Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. This movie introduces young heroes, all of whom are likeable and interesting and well-performed.
Force Awakens felt like a blessed return to form after the reviled prequel era. Anyone who says it’s bad is kidding themselves.
- Return of the Jedi
It’s a pattern that Star Wars movies have terrible pacing. Both this and Revenge of the Sith have opening sequences that are way too long. The sequence at Jabba’s Palace, while fun, could be 15-20 minutes shorter. Similarly, I don’t hate all the action with the Ewoks but at the same time, don’t you think this goes on for way too long? The revelation that Leia is a Skywalker and by extension a force user is interesting eventually, but what impact does it have in this movie? Do Han and Leia actually have any character moments that are particularly interesting in this movie?
But forget all that, this movie’s strengths outweigh its flaws. It introduces vibrant new characters, like the Emperor (kind of), Admiral Ackbar, and Mon Mothma. Following Lando and Nien Nub during their Death Star assault is a definite highpoint. The plotline following Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor makes this movie feel like a worthy successor to Empire Strikes Back. (And no, Rise of Skywalker does not ruin it.)
Return of the Jedi is an imperfect movie, but it overcomes those flaws to give audiences a thrilling third act and a compelling conclusion.
- The Last Jedi
Last Jedi’s flaws – it’s actual flaws, not “I disagree with their treatment of Luke,” “They shouldn’t have killed Snoke before they explained him,” “Why didn’t Holdo explain her plan to insubordinate and mutinous Poe?” Or “This movie dOeSnT gEt StAr WaRs” – have never felt as detrimental as Return’s.
Sure, Canto Bight wouldn’t have been as interesting as just having Rose and Finn sneaking aboard the First Order ship. Sure, the pacing gets messy. Sure, this movie doesn’t quite know what to do with Finn’s character. But for me, those flaws have never ruined my experience watching the movies. If they ruin your experience, I hesitate to say “you’re watching movies wrong,” but I would say you should perhaps actively consider how you watch movies, what you’re looking for, and whether or not you’re actually trying to enjoy yourself.
This movie is thematically rich, visually stunning, and severely misunderstood. It has many lessons to impart. Failure is a part of life we must overcome. A great commander must know when it is best to fight and when it is better to run. Anyone can be a hero. And sometimes, the best way to fight hopelessness is to become a legend.
The online discourse about this movie disappoints me, but the clumsy misinterpretations of it only make me more passionate about defending it.
Don’t just take my word for it. Below, I’ll link to some fantastic videos that help explain this movie’s strengths:
- Star Wars (A New Hope)
At this point in the post, explaining my selections feels less necessary. Everyone knows New Hope is a classic, and I don’t exactly need to explain why I have it this high on the list. But what the hell, I will anyway!
The world presented in A New Hope is one that has captured audiences and never let go. We are thrust right into the middle of a galactic conflict that we can sympathize with and understand. The worldbuilding is effortless, and watching 1984’s Dune can show just how properly acclimating an audience to a world can be done poorly, and how that can sink a movie.
This movie’s got all-star performances from Alec Guinness, Carrie Fischer, and Harrison Ford, but the person who never gets enough praise in my books is Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, played perfectly arrogant and formal.
The action set pieces mostly age well, outside of the lightsaber duel, which would have been enough of a novelty in 1977, but is nothing amazing now. The same cannot be said for the Death Star trench run, which remains thrilling and fun.
This movie made an empire, and the world has never been the same since. Everything we love started here.
- The Empire Strikes Back
One flaw of Empire Strikes Back is the fact that it’s so successful we take it for granted. People who haven’t seen Star Wars know that Darth Varer is Luke’s father. Even if this reveal hadn’t happened, the Vader/Luke duel would still be one of the best in the series. The setting is used wisely, the choreography is superb, and the action conveys character as Vader goes from testing him to toying with him. The revelation that Vader is Luke’s father is essentially icing on the cake for that sequence, but in the scope of the whole series, it is the moment that all the movies revolve around. It’s an important statement about the nature of good and evil in the Star Wars universe, and it is the axis on which all other movies are balanced.
What’s more, it introduced so many integral elements to Star Wars – Yoda, Lando, Boba Fett, the Emperor, “The Imperial March,” Hoth, Cloud City, Dagobah, AT-ATs, Carbonite Freezing, and “I love you” “I know.” And each of these things point to a strength of the movie; the characters, the acting, the score, the settings, the action, the romantic subplot… all of these things are so well-done you end up overlooking the fact that this movie basically ends on a “To Be Continued.”
This movie is objectively one of the all-time greatest sequels, and one of the best genre movies ever made. For me, there is no movie more deserving of this top spot.