With The Last Jedi now in theaters, I decided to take a look back at the entirety of the Star Wars saga. How does the latest film in the decades-spanning series match up to its illustrious predecessors? And how do those films compare to each other?
Full spoilers below.
Ranking the nine main films in the series (for the purposes of this list, this includes only numbered “episodes” and official “anthology” releases) is no easy task. Though some of my placements may prove divisive — particularly my esteem for the Disney-produced films — rest assured that this list is not final. I’m constantly changing my mind, particularly with my estimation of The Last Jedi, specifically.
As it stands, however, here are my favorite Star Wars films, listed below from worst to best:
9. Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Even the worst of the series provides a raucous good time. Attack of the Clones elicits the same classic bravado and giddy adventurism that first popularized the Star Wars universe, making it an enjoyable, if uneven, tale of its own.
However, the second of the prequel-trilogy films is bogged down by a wooden script, uninspiring performances and an incomprehensible amount of CGI. Additionally, the central romance between Anakin and Padmé is, frankly, hard to believe, as the movie’s central hero is just so unlikeable — from start to finish.
The positives? Detective Obi-Wan Kenobi, his ongoing feud with bounty hunter Boba Fett and the climactic showdown of the Battle of Geonosis. And, of course, Jedi Master (and surly librarian) Jocasta Nu.
Best Scene: Jedi vs. battle droids in the Geonosian colosseum
Worst Scene: Padmé and Anakin fall in love on Naboo
8. Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
The first of the prequels just barely outdoes its successor, due to the inclusion of a well-loved villain, an unorthodox Jedi master played by Liam Neeson and the mid-act set piece that first introduced podracing into Star Wars canon.
Unfortunately, this film, too, has its problems, and they’re similiar to those of Attack of the Clones. The main hero, a plucky young boy, gives a performance that is, well, a bit annoying, to be honest. A new comic relief character, Jar Jar Binks, is somehow even worse.
Best Scene: Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon face Darth Maul
Worst Scene: Anything with Jar Jar
7. Rogue One (2016)
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the company decided to do something a little different with the Star Wars series. A new “episode” would be released every other year, with the off-years being saved for so-called “anthology” films, which would show as-to-yet unseen side stories apart from the main fight between Jedi and Sith.
Rogue One, the first of these anthology projects, more or less succeeded. Many of the characters are forgettable, but the film’s Third Act will stay with you long after the credits roll, as will the re-emergence of an onscreen Darth Vader, a villain no less terrifying (and perhaps more so) than in his iconic late-1970s debut.
Best Scene: Darth Vader slaughters rebel troops desperately trying to preserve Death Star schematics
Worst Scene: “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations”
6. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
The first of my controversial decisions: Placing an original-trilogy film in the bottom half of the rankings.
Nostalgia aside, Return of the Jedi is simply the worst of the original films. The pacing lags, some plot points are mildly perplexing and the ending plays out much like you would expect, dampening the suspense.
However, the final act is still riveting. The lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader is raw and emotional. The space battle expands upon the Death Star trench run, giving audiences a first taste of true naval warfare in the Star Wars universe. And the speeder chase on the forest moon of Endor is both innovative and fun.
Best Scene: Luke removes Darth Vader’s mask
Worst Scene: Boba Fett meets an anticlimactic end in the Sarlacc pit (as far as the films are concerned, at least)
5. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Revenge of the Sith is an epic, but an epic concluding a not-so grand prequel trilogy. The same travails that dog The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are present here, as well. CGI is overused. The acting leaves much to be desired. And the primary hero is still unlikeable.
That being said, it’s impossible to overlook the film’s strengths. The story opens in media res during an epic space battle. A primary villain is killed in the film’s First Act, and a new threat, the cyborg General Greivous, steps in to take his place. The Jedi are finally outgunned, out-manned and overpowered. It’s devastating — and thrilling.
For the first time, the series is able to delve deeply into the darkness of the Sith. Revenge of the Sith refuses to play for the kids, as other Star Wars films normally do, as is evident in its elevation to a PG-13 rating — a first for the series.
Not all Star Wars films can or should be like this one, but it sure was a heck of a way to conclude the oft-derided prequels. Everything falls apart, setting up the Empire’s eventual dominion over the galaxy.
Best Scene: Obi-Wan defeats Anakin, then leaves him to die
Worst Scene: “NOOOOOOOOoooooooooo!”
4. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
The Last Jedi is quite possibly the most beautiful film in the Star Wars canon. It’s also the most daring, introducing twists, tricks and quips the likes of which this series has never seen.
The decision to eschew from standard series plotting harkens back to the original trilogy’s second chapter, which also played with the Star Wars formula to give us a darker tale where the stakes were more intimate and personal than ever before.
The Last Jedi certainly has its flaws, such as a Second Act that drags on far too long and a few questionable jumps in logic, but this hardly destroys what is otherwise a highly enjoyable ride. The film’s beginning and end pair perfectly, and each main character undergoes an arc of his or her own, making for an interesting journey that forever changes the game. Add in a nuanced re-accounting of the very purpose of the Jedi Order, and you get a potent mix of beautiful cinematography, philosophic exploration and good-old-fashioned blockbuster excitement.
I, for one, am excited to see what comes next.
Best Scene: Kylo Ren turns on his master, slicing Snoke in half and triggering a melee with the supreme leader’s Praetorian Guard
(Runner Up: The film ends on a downtrodden, force-sensitive boy gazing up at the stars)
Worst Scene: Finn and Rose escape a prison on Canto Bight by riding CGI horse-like creatures
3. Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
The one that started it all. Need I say more?
A New Hope, originally released as just Star Wars, spawned the entire saga we know and love today. The film mixes an intriguing mysticism with science-fiction spacefaring technology, setting the scene for many grand adventures to come.
The score, composed by John Williams, is top-notch. The villain, voiced by James Earl Jones, is perhaps the most iconic cinema baddy of all time. And the message, that hope and heroism can be found in even the most unlikely of places, that we all can rise to the day and fight for faith and goodness, embodies a universal yearning that gets to the very core of the human condition.
Best Scene: The Rebels destroy the Death Star in an iconic trench run
2. Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
If someone asked an advanced artificial intelligence to compose a perfectly built Star Wars film, the result would likely look much like The Force Awakens.
After decades of sparse releases from Lucasfilm, Disney, the newfound owners of the Star Wars franchise, promised a new series film each year for the foreseeable future. The first of those films, The Force Awakens, is a perfect rendition of the entire saga in miniature — derivative of its predecessors, for sure, but so finely tuned a film that there is hardly a dull moment to be found. The script is tight, the pacing rock solid and the ultimate victory of good over evil a crowd-pleasing denouement. New additions to the cast, such as Rey, Poe and Finn, are interesting, likable heroes with distinct personalities.
What more could you ask for?
Best Scene: Han, the scoundrel, is caught between two rival smuggling gangs aboard his own cruiser
Worst Scene: Finn and Han infiltrate Starkiller Base with little resistance
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This. This is what more you could ask for.
At the time, The Empire Strikes Back represented a subversion of the series, an exciting sequel that explored new worlds, battles and ideas while giving us a closer look at the struggles of the previous film’s primary trio.
Bucking traditional structure, the film begins with what would normally be a story’s external climax, an epic battle between two warring armies, and then slowly narrows its focus. By the end, we’re down to Luke and Vader, the hero of the light and the embodiment of the dark in an intimate face-off for the future of the galaxy. And the good guys lose.
It’s thrilling and it’s real, the very film against which all future sequels would be judged.
It’s quite possibly blockbuster perfection.
Best Scene: “No, I am your father”
Worst Scene: Whiny Luke on Dagobah ■