Star Wars is the most iconic franchise in the history of film. Everyone has seen these movies, and more importantly for this blog, everyone has their own rankings of the films. I am consistently impressed by just how long this franchise has been able to remain relevant and captivate generation after generation. George Lucas released the first film over 40 years ago and so many people, from young kids to grown adults, still obsess over this franchise today. Take 2019 for example, Star Wars was the catalyst behind two of the biggest moments in culture of the entire year with both The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian.
Despite its continued cultural relevance, it is important to note that the films of Star Wars have certainly not all been consistent from a quality standpoint. Of course the original trilogy is what started it all and is still beloved by millions today. But, we all know about the misfire that was the prequel trilogy. And, there have perhaps been no more divisive films this century than Disney’s newest trilogy. I wrote about some of my own mixed feelings about those films on this very blog, in a piece entitled 12 Reasons Disney’s Star Wars Trilogy Failed. Star Wars is a franchise that has both entertained us and disappointed us. Regardless of your feelings on the 11 films I am about to list though, Star Wars‘ place as perhaps the most important franchise in the history of cinema is one thing that is not up for debate. We can argue about the quality of the films, and trust me Star Wars fans do love to argue, but we have to appreciate and respect what George Lucas was able to create all those years ago, even if we have mixed feelings about the form it takes today.
Here is my completely biased, totally subjective, and based on nothing other than personal preference ranking of the Star Wars films:
(Since I feel these films have been dissected on the internet far more times than necessary, I will not be giving a formal review of each film, nor will I give a total overview of their plots. Instead, I am going to be focusing on why I placed each film in its given spot.)
11. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
My selection for the worst Star Wars film in history is Attack of the Clones. This film contains many of the problems that the prequel trilogy as a whole possesses, such as an overly heavy reliance on CGI, bland characters, clunky dialogue, and convoluted plot lines. The reason this film gets the dishonor of being placed last on my list though is because it has more unremarkable moments than the other two prequel films. I’m willing to bet that the average movie fan, not a devoted Star Wars fan, does not remember a single thing about this film, except for maybe the fact that Anakin hates sand. I know the popular pick for this spot is The Phantom Menace but I mean, at least you remember things about that film, even if it is for the wrong reasons. Attack of the Clones, on the other hand, is just boring and unmemorable. The best part of the film is Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-wan Kenobi, but besides that there isn’t really much to take away from this film. The dialogue in this film is the worst of the entire series, and Hayden Christensen gives an even less compelling performance in this film than he does in Revenge of the Sith. Unfortunately, Attack of the Clones is the lowest moment in Star Wars history.
10. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
At the time of its release, The Phantom Menace was probably the most anticipated film in history. Unfortunately, the movie itself did not come anywhere close to living up to that hype. I almost feel bad criticizing this movie because it’s obviously been done enough at this point. We know the problems, we’ve made the Jar Jar Binks jokes, we get it, it’s not a good movie. Truthfully, we probably could have made that conclusion during the opening crawl. But, what I will say about The Phantom Menace is that, to its credit, there are some enjoyable moments in this film. The podrace scene is fun, Darth Maul is an interesting, if underutilized, villain, and some of the lightsaber fights are, for lack of a better word, kind of cool. Also, one thing no one can take away from this film, for better or worse, is its notorious placement in the history of pop culture. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is aware of this film and the flaws that it ultimately does possess. There really isn’t a whole lot more for me to say, the film is a mess from start-to-finish and kicked off the most disappointing trilogy in the history of Star Wars. But, hey, at least it didn’t come in last.
9. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Some people may have this film a few places higher on their list and I have absolutely no problem with that. There is far more to enjoy in this film than there is in either of its predecessors. Sure, the performances are still underwhelming, the direction is still somewhat poor, the CGI can still be distracting and unnecessary, and certain characters (Padme) are not exactly sent off in a way that sits well with fans. That being said, the point of the prequel films was to see Anakin’s turn to the dark side and this film at least handles that transition in a somewhat effective way. As I noted earlier, I find Christensen’s performance in this film to be better than the one he gave in Attack of the Clones. The story in this film is more concise and tightly constructed than in either of the other prequel films. I’m aware that being the best of the prequels is kind of like being the tallest kid in kindergarten, but still there is a decent amount to enjoy with Revenge of the Sith, and perhaps it has had its value somewhat diminished by its attachment to the prequel trilogy as a whole. I’m not prepared to call Revenge of the Sith a good movie, but I do confess there are several things about it that I am entertained by.
8. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
The most recent Star Wars film lands at the number eight spot. This film was the big disappointment of 2019 for me and so many others like me. I’ve talked extensively about my issues with this film so I won’t go in full detail on all of them but I’ll briefly mention some of the bigger ones. Palpatine’s return did not work, it felt as if they were scrambling to figure out what to do after the death of Snoke in The Last Jedi. There is an undeniable lack of stakes in this film that removes all tension or anxiety the viewer is meant to feel while watching it. And, I would argue those in charge made a mistake by playing it safe and trying far too hard to please fans, rather than create an original and compelling story, or actually follow the story set up in The Last Jedi. In some ways, this film was given an impossible task because it had to essentially tie together and conclude two films, A Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, that truthfully didn’t have a lot to do with each other besides the fact that they shared the same characters. By the end of The Rise of Skywalker, it becomes clear that there was no real plan for this new trilogy, and if there was one, then it got ran off the tracks at some point. As with all the Disney films, the performances were great, highlighted by great work from Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley. But, besides that, there just wasn’t a whole lot for me to enjoy with this film. Perhaps as time goes by my feelings about it will change and its position on this list could be altered in one way or the other, but for now, it is a movie I do not consider to be good.
7. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
The biggest box-office disappointment in Star Wars history, Solo, is a film that I actually find to be underrated. I appreciated the isolated story of this film. This may sound strange, but I actually think I would enjoy it even more if the main character wasn’t Han Solo. This film’s biggest flaws lay in its overload of fan service and need to tie everything we know about Han from the original trilogy to this film. If they had just told an interesting story about a character in the Star Wars universe that we had never met before, I actually think it would have been better received than this film. Of course I understand why they can’t do that though. In terms of Solo, I consider its cast to be the greatest thing about it. I really enjoy the performance of Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clark, and especially Donald Glover, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. If you have not seen this film since the time of its release, I would recommend rewatching it because I think, despite its flaws, there is a lot to appreciate about it if you are a fan of this universe.
6. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
And we’ve finally arrived at what is the most divisive film in the history of Star Wars, and truthfully one of the most divisive big budget franchise films of all time. I actually like The Last Jedi more now than I did when I first saw it. Over time, I have grown to appreciate more and more what Rian Johnson did with this film. Unfortunately, there are still just a few too many things that keep me from loving it. My biggest problems with this film are the handling of Luke, the Canto Bight storyline, and the use of humor throughout. Besides those three things, I have come to really appreciate what Johnson did with this film. I actually become irritated with The Rise of Skywalker for completely disregarding the story that The Last Jedi set up. One of the biggest problems with the newest trilogy is that those three films just felt so disconnected from a story standpoint, and The Last Jedi certainly feels like the biggest outlier among the three. I respect the choices Johnson made in this film and his willingness to try something new. I just wish there had been a more clear plan from the beginning so the trilogy as a whole didn’t feel like such a mess. Much like some of the other Star Wars films, The Last Jedi will certainly hold a distinct place within the history of pop culture for the way it riled up and divided the entire fanbase. I wish I loved it, but unfortunately because of the flaws I previously mentioned, it lands just outside of the top five for me.
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Of all the Star Wars films released after the prequel trilogy, I would argue that Rogue One is the least divisive. Most people generally enjoy this film. I wouldn’t consider this to be a great film, but I did enjoy it when it came out and still do today. Unlike Solo, this film knew how to tie into what we’ve already seen before, but still tell an interesting and unique story that works on its own and doesn’t rely too much on fan service. I love the group of characters we are introduced to in this film. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna both do a great job in their respective roles. Perhaps the thing I appreciate the most about Rogue One is that, similar to The Last Jedi, it feels different from many of other other Star Wars films we’ve received in the past. Gareth Edwards clearly had his own unique vision for this film and implemented that vision effectively. He did not try to simply copy what had already been before, or rely solely on the “magic of Star Wars” to make his film work. This film benefits from that fact that it differs aesthetically from all other films in the Star Wars universe. It is certainly not without its flaws but that doesn’t change the fact that Rogue One is one of the bigger accomplishments of the modern era of Star Wars.
4. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
With Return of the Jedi coming in at number four, the original trilogy finally makes its first appearance on my list. I think most would agree that this film is the lesser amongst the three original films but that doesn’t take anything away from the film itself or its place in the history of cinema. Regardless of how you feel about this film as a whole, it successfully concluded one of the biggest and most important trilogies of all time, and that is an achievement in and of itself. Sure, we can, and do, complain about the Ewoks, but there is so much in this film deserving of praise. From the opening moments in Jabba’s palace this film presents itself as a worthy follow-up to the iconic Episode V. It is in that opening scene where this film hooks you, and it keeps you engaged until the final celebratory moments. If I had one word to describe Return of the Jedi, it would be satisfying. Especially now that we know the disappointment of the prequels, and saw the mess that was the Disney trilogy, I appreciate the satisfying way in which Return of the Jedi concluded the original trilogy. This is a film that knows its audience and how to properly captivate them. It may not be as great as the first two Star Wars films, but it is a historic and special film nonetheless.
3. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
This is another opinion that can be seen as controversial, but I consider The Force Awakens to be the greatest film of the new trilogy and the third greatest Star Wars film of all time. I’ll admit, there are two things that can really be held against this movie though, 1) the messy nature of the trilogy that it set up, and 2) the fact that it re-did a lot of what was already done in A New Hope. The A New Hope gripe is legitimate. There is no denying that The Force Awakens took a lot from that film, in terms of plot, and if you fault it for that then I can’t really blame you. However, I think it is unfair to criticize this film because of the way the new trilogy turned out as a whole. I am attempting to, as well as I can, judge each of these films in a vacuum. At the time of its release, The Force Awakens was a breath of fresh air after the prequel trilogy. It introduced us to interesting characters with a lot of potential. It set up intriguing questions and storylines for the following films in the trilogy to tackle. It brought back iconic characters from the original trilogy in a way that seemed somewhat natural and not out-of-place. Compared to films like The Rise of Skywalker or Solo, this film does a great job of balancing the new with the old. I wish this film had led to a better trilogy, but I can’t deny the fact that, at the time of its release, it entertained the hell out of me. I understand those who criticize it, or place it lower on their own personal lists, but for me The Force Awakens is one of the best Star Wars films of all time.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
Truthfully, once you reach the final two spots on a Star Wars ranked list, the hard part is over. A New Hope, the film that started it all, is my number two Star Wars film of all time. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t have this legendary franchise if it wasn’t for George Lucas and this film. It is almost unfathomable to think that this simple tale of the hero’s journey led to what it led to. And that really is a great way to describe A New Hope: simple. This film is simple in the best way though. It seamlessly takes you on a journey step by step and never tries to do much. This is a film that knows what it is and who its characters are. I also have to give praise to the effective world-building that Lucas was able to pull off with this film. Right away the viewer understands the dynamics of this universe, who the good guys are, who should be feared, and what the end goal is. It’s hard to say anything about A New Hope that hasn’t already been said before because it is quite literally one of the most famous and important films of all time. As much flak as he has received over the years, we should all be grateful towards George Lucas for creating this film and this franchise as a whole.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Sometimes the obvious pick is obvious for a reason. I could have tried to be interesting and gone with something else as my number one but I would have been lying to myself. The Empire Strikes Back is quite simply the greatest Star Wars film that has ever been made. I don’t even have to get into the reasons why that is so, because I’m so confident that anyone reading this already knows them. That’s the point. As great and important as A New Hope is, this film took Star Wars to another level. Everyone knows this film, everyone loves it, and everyone inevitably thinks of moments and scenes from it when they think of the Star Wars franchise as a whole. It’s iconic nature, historic value, and genuinely great quality is what has made it the easy number one choice on my list, and so many other people’s lists as well. It is rare that you can talk about a film and say, “the history of film and filmmaking would be different if this film never existed,” and have that be true. But, that statement is absolutely true for both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.