Star Wars is a pop culture phenomenon that knows no bounds. Its tales of family conflicts and war and intergalactic adventures are universally adored and everyone has their favorite picks out of its lovable cast of characters. George Lucas’s truly unique space opera creation is timelessly enjoyable, so much so that even now, forty years after the original movie blasted its way into theaters and Star Wars fever first swept the nation, new installments in the saga are still grossing well over $1 billion at the worldwide box office. People can’t get enough of it! After the original trilogy wrapped everything up in a neat bow, the demand was so strong for more that Lucas went back and told everyone’s origin stories in yet another trilogy, this time with some very controversial prequels. And then after that wrapped everything up in an even neater bow, the demand for more was still strong, and Disney went and bought Lucasfilm so that they could start pumping out a new Star Wars movie every year, some of which don’t even take place inside the confines of the central saga! The new Disney movies are showing no signs of ever slowing down, as we’ve had two new saga installments and one spin-off, with a Han Solo-focused prequel coming out later this year and Episode IX taking the world by storm next year. But for now, we’ve got nine theatrically released Star Wars movies to watch and rewatch as much as we want. Here’s a definitive ranking of all of them!
9. Attack of the Clones
Really sorry, Attack of the Clones, because you do try, but boy, are you bad. Like, really bad. For starters, the tone of the movie is all over the place. One scene will be a bloody massacre at the hands of a Jedi, and the next will be some Laurel and Hardy in outer space-esque slapstick involving C-3PO getting his parts swapped around in a droid factory. It’s dumb! It’s a dumb movie. A screw in the creative part of George Lucas’ brain must’ve come loose between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy (and then tightened back into place in time for the brilliant Revenge of the Sith), because here, it’s all gone. Hayden Christensen’s acting is a huge problem, too. At least The Phantom Menace didn’t have Hayden Christensen. What an awful actor. There’s a lot of action in this one, which is a good thing. There’s a ton of lightsaber battles, with one highlight being the fight between Yoda and Count Dooku near the end of the third act. But the movie as a whole is hollow. It’s like a pie with no filling – it’s all pastry! And to continue this metaphor, that is to say that if you like pastry, then you’ll love Attack of the Clones. But if you want your pie to have some filling – to mean something – then you’ll be sorely disappointed by it.
8. The Phantom Menace
Has there ever been a more disappointing movie than this one? For starters, you’ve got the fact that it was a brand new movie in a franchise that was thought to have ended, so that’s always exciting. And it was coming out more than a decade and a half after the last one had left fans desperately wanting more. And it was the prequel, going back to tell the story of how one of the greatest villains to ever hit the silver screen, the ominous Darth Vader, came to be so evil, which sounded good on paper. But what we got was Anakin Skywalker, a whining, snivelling little kid who lives with his mom, and some nonsense about midichlorians that totally devalued the Force we’d all come to worship. The opening scene sets this up to be a very lame movie. There’s crummy jokes, action that isn’t thrilling, predictable plot points – the second that Jar Jar Binks appears as the braindead ‘comic relief,’ you want to kill yourself. Liam Neeson’s performance as Qui-Gon Jinn, Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi (one of the very few parts of the prequel trilogy that remained strong and dependable for all three movies), and Darth Maul – as well as the trio’s epic climactic lightsaber duel – are the only good things in this movie.
7. The Last Jedi
The latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, was not necessarily a bad movie, or even a disappointment. It was just really weird, man. There was that scene where Princess Leia (sorry, General Leia) got blown out the side of her ship and went flying into outer space, where she started to freeze over, and then somehow, by some stretch of the Force, managed to fly back into the ship like Peter Pan and recover. Yoda’s ghost made an appearance for no reason other than to give fans an intense nerdgasm and make lame, unfunny jokes at Luke Skywalker’s expense. Great characters are dispatched with no frills and a dumb one-liner like, “Chrome Dome.” There are books and references to God and phone calls are put on hold – it’s like they weren’t even trying to set this in the Star Wars universe. We were promised the secrets of Rey’s parentage and those promises were not kept. There was a massive, completely unnecessary detour to a casino planet where points are made about animal cruelty and the class system – for no reason whatsoever. Still, the emotional payoff at the end with Luke Skywalker’s awesome redemption and subsequent quiet death made the experience of sitting through two and a half unusual hours of this movie worthwhile.
6. Return of the Jedi
If it wasn’t for those damned Ewoks, this would be a far better movie. But instead, we’re treated to all of their cutesy crap and their booby traps and their high pitched gibberish for like the whole second half of the movie. They’re infuriating. They’re like anthropomorphic teddy bears with spears. Not until Jar Jar Binks came along did we realize just how much more annoying the creatures in Star Wars could get. Aside from the Ewoks, Return of the Jedi is a pretty good movie. It has a thrilling opening act that ties together all the loose ends that were left after the overly ambiguous ending of The Empire Strikes Back and brings all the characters back together for the exciting final chapter in the Star Wars trilogy. On its own, Return of the Jedi would seem like a much better movie, but it had that problem that all trilogy closers have (The Matrix Revolutions, The Godfather Part III, Spider-Man 3 etc.) in that it not only had to live up to the first two movies, but it also had to be even better and bring everything to a natural conclusion. On the whole, the conclusion of Return of the Jedi and of course the entire original Star Wars trilogy brings fans a satisfying end for every character: Vader found redemption as he saved Luke from the Emperor, Luke made peace with his father, and Han and Leia finally got together. These characters all got what we were hoping they would get.
5. Revenge of the Sith
Out of the three prequel movies, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best. It seemed like George Lucas was saving the best for last – all the best settings and sequences and characters were being reserved for his big finale. The fight with General Grievous and the opening sequence on the plummeting space cruiser and all of these great scenes and moments were all being saved for the third movie – the best movie. Revenge of the Sith finally serves up the tragic downfall of Anakin Skywalker that fans were expecting from this prequel trilogy. We saw a once prosperous and wayward Jedi Knight turn to the Dark Side and do terrible things. He strangles his wife to near death, he slaughters a bunch of children, and he colludes with Palpatine to bring down the Jedi Order. We get a definitive answer to the question: where did it all go wrong? The climactic duel on Mustafar between Anakin and Obi-Wan finally injected the prequel trilogy with that substance it had been missing. Sure, there had been tons of action, but it had no emotional depth to it. Finally, as the relationship of these two characters came to a head and they were fighting to the death, we got that emotional depth. When Obi-Wan cries out, “You were my brother, Anakin!” you get chills! And with the masking of Darth Vader and the adoption of babies Luke and Leia by guardians on different planets, Revenge of the Sith sets up the original trilogy perfectly.
4. The Force Awakens
Despite being essentially a remake of A New Hope with all the names of things changed (the Rebel Alliance becomes the Resistance, the Empire becomes the First Order, the Death Star becomes Starkiller Base, Princess Leia becomes General Leia etc.), The Force Awakens is still one of the best Star Wars movies of all time. Let’s be honest, the plot is a total rip-off of A New Hope. There’s no disguising that. It’s the exact same thing. But the characters and their development are very strong. The Force Awakens makes us fall in love with Rey, Finn, and Poe and enjoy watching them, even when we could be watching our old favorites instead. And unlike the plot, these new characters are not just lazy rip-offs of earlier characters – they’re actually original creations and they’re instant icons. The flight sequences are really tense and exciting, like when the TIE fighters chase the Millennium Falcon through the wreckage of a Star Destroyer on Tatooine. Have you ever seen a more thrilling airborne pursuit in the history of cinema? J.J. Abrams really knows how to put the new visual effects technologies to good use (unlike a certain bearded somebody when he made the prequels in the early 2000s). Plus, the cliffhanger ending on Ahch-To is delightfully enticing. Rey flies out to see the mysterious, grizzled, older Luke Skywalker and extends his lightsaber to him. Cut to black. Credits roll. What an ending!
3. Rogue One
It’s fair to say that no one was expecting Rogue One to be all that remarkable, since it was basically the Suicide Squad of the new Star Wars movies – that is to say, it was the one that got rushed into production as soon as the studio decided they were going to make a shared cinematic universe out of their newly acquired characters and properties. But as it turns out, it wasn’t the Suicide Squad of Star Wars at all. It was a precise, intricate, deeply considered piece of work. It was fitting that this was the first Anthology movie (that’s the name they’ve given the spin-off series), because it’s a story that needed to be told, and yet it’s one that doesn’t involve any of our beloved characters. A New Hope opens with the Rebels having stolen the plans for the Death Star, but that is brushed off in a few words in the opening crawl. That always felt like it could be expanded into a movie of its own, and now, it has been. Rogue One is kind of like a Star Wars heist movie – and it’s awesome. The production design is so distinctly Star Wars-y, and yet it’s also totally original. The dogfights in Lucas’ original Star Wars movie were inspired by those in World War II, but the battles in the third act of Rogue One are clearly inspired by the Vietnam War aesthetic. And plus, no spoilers, but Rogue One has a tragic ending that comes out of nowhere and is uncharacteristic of a Disney movie. It’s a surprise – it’s exciting.
2. The Empire Strikes Back
A lot of fans and critics would cite The Empire Strikes Back as the greatest Star Wars movie. You have to hand it to them – they’re onto something. There is a lot in The Empire Strikes Back that makes it a truly spectacular movie. There’s the intensifying romance between Han and Leia, the increasingly complex conflict between Luke and Darth Vader, the training of Luke by Master Yoda, the trading of banter between the lovable rogue Han Solo and the anal retentive droid C-3PO – a lot of the things in this movie make it great. Its plot is constructed of terrific and iconic sequences: the battle on Hoth, the chase through the asteroid field, the swamps of Dagobah, the boiling pot of tension that is Cloud City. And oh my God, that twist! The plot twist in The Empire Strikes Back has lost some of its spice since the movie was first released, since it’s pretty much common knowledge now that Vader is Luke’s father, but back then, when no one knew what to expect, it was a total mind-blower! Unfortunately, though, The Empire Strikes Back is not the best Star Wars movie, because it is let down by an ending that resolves nothing. Still, until then, it’s a hell of a ride.
1. A New Hope
The original Star Wars movie, retroactively retitled A New Hope to reflect the naming formula that came from the wider expansion of the saga, still stands as the best in the franchise, and that’s because it is more or less the perfect movie. The production design transports us to a world like no movie ever had before. The world of Star Wars felt rustic and lived in. The movie was just, through and through, a staggering achievement. It felt huge, it felt epic – it was a moviegoing experience unlike any other. This was something completely new! What makes the first Star Wars movie even more amazing is the fact that no one involved in the financing or production of it ever believed it – apart from George Lucas and a select few cast members. To them, it was the weird little space movie that would probably turn out to be a huge blunder. Boy, were they wrong. The world caught Star Wars fever for the first time in 1977, when they were lining up around the block to see that weird little space movie for the eighteenth time. It went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time – and no other movie has ever deserved that honor more.