It’s Star Wars week this week (which is basically my Hanukkah) and to celebrate, I decided to do something that I’ve honestly been avoiding for several years now: Ranking the Star Wars films. It’s like trying to pick your favorite child, only harder, because some kids are just genuinely awful, and Star Wars is pretty fantastic on the whole. After spending about a week ruminating and second-guessing myself, here’s the totally correct and completely non-subjective order that I ultimately settled on. I will not be taking questions or comments. I have spoken. May the Force be with you all.
11. Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
I don’t think I’ve ever been as disappointed with a film, Star Wars or otherwise, than I was with The Rise of Skywalker. This movie had everything going for it: The legacy of 8 previous films and three separate eras, the return of J.J. Abrams, who delivered a solid reintroduction for the franchise with The Force Awakens, and some truly fascinating thematic threads left dangling by The Last Jedi. And somehow, this film squanders all of it. There is almost nothing in The Rise of Skywalker that delivers on its potential. Touted as being the endcap to the entire Skywalker saga, the film ends up barely acknowledging anything other than Abram’s other Star Wars installment, completely ignoring the prequels save for an egregious shoe-horning of Emperor Palpatine for seemingly no other reason than for nostalgia. A terrible, jumbled plot, the sidelining of certain characters and plot threads simply because of fan backlash (poor Kelly Marie Tran), and a nonstop parade of cheap fake-out deaths and interesting character twists make this The Rise of Skywalker not only a poor conclusion to the saga, but a terrible standalone film in its own right. It’s less of a movie, more of a nearly three-hour long apology for The Last Jedi, which was completely unneeded. Adam Driver deserved better, damnit.
Best Moment: The ONLY genuinely cool thing this movie does: Acknowledges animated characters like Ahsoka Tano and Kanan Jarrus, if only as disembodied Force voices. Also, Hayden Christensen!
10. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
I’ll be the first to admit that I have some pretty intense rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the prequel-era of Star Wars. Being born in the mid-90s, the prequels were technically “my” Star Wars, the movies that I grew up with and got to see happening on the big screen in real time. They hold a special place in my heart, simply because of how large a role they played in my childhood. That being said, as an adult, its pretty difficult to justify a lot of the decisions that George Lucas made with the trilogy, both in its story and its direction. Overly convoluted plots, horribly-written dialogue, and super-stiff acting plagued Episodes I-III at nearly every turn, at times compromising what was overall a pretty great exploration of Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace and the collapse of the Republic. Attack of the Clones is probably the worst offender in that regard, giving us a tortuously-elaborate plot about a secret clone army that wouldn’t be fully resolved until an episode of the animated Clone Wars series over a decade later) and a creepy, borderline-sociopathic Anakin that screamed less “tortured soul” and more “future school shooter.” The only thing that puts this above The Rise of Skywalker is that fact that it still serves to advance the ongoing story in a mostly satisfying way, when taken as a whole. That, and Ewan McGregor’s long-haired, Jesus Obi-Wan look.
Best Moment: The sound of Jango Fett’s seismic charges will forever be burned into my brain.
9. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
A lot of people hate this movie, and with good reason. For one thing, it reduces Darth Vader, one of cinema’s most iconic, sinister, and intimidating villains into an obnoxiously precocious little kid. For another, Jar Jar Binks. Enough said. But for all of its terrible dialogue and mind-numbingly dull scenes about trade disputes and senatorial legalities, it also has some pretty fantastic additions to the Star Wars universe. John Williams’ score for this film is arguably his best work in the franchise, with “Duel of the Fates” being one of the greatest pieces of music in film ever. The fight choreography is top notch, and Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber (backed by the incredibly acrobatic Ray Park’s performance) makes for some of the best action in the series. The podracing scene is immensely exciting and delivers just as much thrill as anything else in the series. And you can never go wrong with Liam Neeson playing a Jedi. The Phantom Menace may be an objectively bad movie, but it’s still a fun installment in the Star Wars saga.
Best Moment. “Duel of the Fates,” man. You gotta love it.
8. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo isn’t a bad film. In fact, all in all, its pretty fantastic. In stark contrast with the epic fantasy tone of the rest of the films in the main Star Wars saga, this prequel/spin-off is a quirky, irreverent crime/heist story that helps make it one of the most unique stand-outs in the franchise. Alden Ehrenreich is about as close to a young Han Solo as you can reasonably get without actually cloning Harrison Ford, and Donald Glover is pitch-perfect as Lando Calrissian. The rest of the cast is equally fun, with Emilia Clarke playing an excellent feminine foil to Solo’s roguish charms and Woody Harrelson playing, well, Woody Harrelson, which is always great. It’s a thoroughly entertaining and delightfully charming movie, that only ranks this low on the list because of how unnecessary it is. Not every character needs an origin story, especially one like Han, who we learn everything we need to know about him in A New Hope 40 years prior. Virtually nothing of value is gained from this film, despite how enjoyable it may be. And I can’t help but wonder what kind of film we could have gotten had original directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord been kicked off the project by Disney and Lucasfilm for “creative differences.” A solid entry, just not one I would consider essential viewing.
Best Moment: Darth Maul lives! A moment that both legitimized The Clone Wars animated series as well as confused the living hell out of anyone who hasn’t seen it.
7. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens was our first new Star Wars film in a decade, and was also the first to feature original trilogy characters like Han, Luke, and Leia in over 30 years. So naturally, it had quite a bit of pressure to perform. Luckily, director J.J. Abrams, who had already breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise (to mixed reception from hardcore fans), was up to the task, delivering a pitch-perfect reintroduction to the franchise for cinema audiences and fans both old and new alike. Slick visuals, gorgeous set design, and intriguing new characters and mythology, coupled with a tone and feel that hit closer to the original trilogy than Lucas’s own prequel films ever managed even at their best made The Force Awakens a resounding success, and a stellar addition to Star Wars canon. That being said, the film suffers from some annoying story problems, namely its insistence on copying A New Hope nearly beat-for-beat. Also, the film has aged somewhat poorly since its release, thanks to Abrams ruining much of his own set-up in The Force Awakens when he returned to finish out the trilogy with The Rise of Skywalker.
Best Moment: What a great introduction for arguably the sequel trilogy’s best-written character.
6. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Closing out George Lucas’s tonally-inconsistent and narratively-middling prequel trilogy comes Revenge of the Sith, the film that almost single-handedly redeems its two predecessors strictly on its own merits. While by no means a perfect film, its sharp departure from the goofy, toy-peddling antics of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones into much more mature territory makes it a fitting cap on the tragedy of young Anakin Skywalker, finally showing his fall to the dark side and subsequent destruction of both the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic. Somber, shockingly dark, and at times downright heartbreaking, Revenge of the Sith delivers both Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor’s best performances of the trilogy, as well as some of the most deeply moving story beats in the entire saga. I still can’t watch the final confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan without getting emotional, to this day. Revenge of the Sith may not be the best Star Wars film, but its easily leagues ahead of the other prequels.
Best Moment: The duel on Mustafar. Man, that score is so good.
5. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Following J.J. Abrams’s well-made yet somewhat overly safe and familiar The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi may have been the most anticipated Star Wars film of all time at that point. The previous film had set up a plethora of interesting ideas and characters to explore, and fans were dying to see what came next. And with Rian Johnson’s earlier work including cult-hits like 2012’s Looper and several highly-acclaimed episodes of AMC darling Breaking Bad, expectations were high, to say the least. Unfortunately, The Last Jedi released to perhaps the most violently divisive reception of any film I’ve ever encountered, Star Wars or otherwise. There’s no lukewarm opinions on this film (no pum intended): You either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it. I absolutely adored the brave, unexpected directions that this film takes with the franchise. This is a film where the plucky heroes don’t luck out at every turn. Failure is the central theme, with even legendary fan-favorites like Luke Skywalker appearing as burnt-out and world-weary. But it’s because of this that the film is able to reach such incredible heights in the end, with the lowest pits of despair being able to create much more thrilling and moving highs of triumph in contrast. In my opinion, The Last Jedi is the bravest, most thematically-unique installment in the Star Wars saga, and solid proof that fans will rabidly attack anything even remotely different to the image that they’ve built up in their heads.
Best Moment: Puppet Yoda makes me cry.
4. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Picking the worst of the original Star Wars trilogy is a ridiculously difficult task. They’re all incredible films, and are all equally iconic and influential in both cinema as well as pop culture as a whole. The number 4 slot of this list goes to Return of the Jedi only because they can’t all be the best (and, frankly, because an hour and a half of Ewoks is about an hour too long). Directed by Richard Marquand, this film, which serves as the conclusion to the story of Luke Skywalker’s journey to both becoming a Jedi as well as redeeming his father, Darth Vader, is no doubt an incredible addition to the series. The conflict between Luke and his father, as well as their ultimate reconciliation and defeat of the evil Emperor Palpatine, is perhaps the single most compelling and rewarding narrative thread in all of Star Wars. It’s poignant, moving, and solidifies Luke as one of cinema’s most enigmatically complex and morally righteous heroes of all time. Return of the Jedi is truly a near-perfect conclusion to the tragedy of Darth Vader, and a wonderful film in its own right.
Best Moment: Anakin Skywalker’s redemption. Beautiful.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One is a wonderful departure from the standard Star Wars formula in that it’s the first film in the franchise that’s actually about, well, war. It’s a gritty, ground-level approach to elements of the Star Wars universe that are normally cast aside in favor of grand, mythic clashes between fantastical space wizards. The lines between cliché good and evil are blurred here, giving way to a mature, realistic depiction of the moral compromises that many real-life political conflicts have brought about over the years. Think a Cold War drama, set in space. Thanks to Gareth Edwards’s expert sense of scale and gravitas, the Galactic Empire, the Death Star, and Darth Vader have never been so intimidating, even terrifying. Rogue One is easily the most interesting of the Disney-era Star Wars films, if only by virtue of being the only true deviation from the tropes that we’ve all come to expect from these movies after all this time. Plus, you get Alan Tudyk as a sassy Imperial droid, which is just the best.
Best Moment: Coolest. Scene. Ever.
2. Episode IV: A New Hope
The film that started it all. Arguably the biggest pop culture phenomenon of all time, spawning one of the most influential and profitable media franchises in history, Star Wars wasn’t just a film: it was an event. No one had faith that this strange, fantasy/science fiction hybrid from dorky little Modesto, California native George Lucas would be anything other than a colossal flop, and were all proven wrong almost immediately. It is impossible to overstate the impact that this film had on both the film industry (in sound design, special effects, scoring, editing, and virtually every other technical aspect imaginable, as well as single-handedly kickstarting the idea of merchandising as we know it today) as well as pop culture on the whole. And all of that is owed directly to that fact that A New Hope (as it was later retitled) is a genuinely incredible film, front to back. Sweeping, operatic drama, swashbuckling adventure, and a (seemingly) completely fleshed-out mythology that stands toe-to-toe with even the likes of Tolkien make this film impossible to forget once you’ve seen it. It’s a high fantasy film. It’s hard sci-fi, it’s a western, it’s a Kurosawa Samurai adventure. Lucas’s ability to cherry-pick so many wonderful elements from all over and coalesce them into something so fresh and so unique is nothing short of miraculous. Everyone remembers their first time with Star Wars, because it’s the closest thing in film to genuine magic.
Best Moment: The granddaddy of all space battles.
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
With as big a phenomenon as A New Hope was at the time of its release, a follow-up was inevitable, especially given Lucas’s dream of a multi-film storyline. But how do you top the biggest, most popular, most successful film ever made at the time? By making the greatest sequel of all time, too (obviously). Much like A New Hope before it set the standard for science fiction and high fantasy films from years to come, The Empire Strikes Back did the same for sequels. Nearly every single big-budget franchise since Empire was released in 1980 has tried to emulate the framework set up by this film: “Infinity War is the Empire Strikes Back of Avengers movies.” “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is the Empire Strikes Back of animated kids movies about dragons.” And on and on and on. And there’s good reason why everyone wants to copy it: It’s damn-near perfect. It does what every good sequel should do: Expands the mythology, ups the stakes, makes the conflict more grand and yet more personal as well, and leaves its characters significantly changed by the time the credits roll. A New Hope is a fun, light-hearted adventure film. Empire is the darker, more mature war film that deals with its consequences. The Empire Strikes Back is not just the best Star Wars film: It’s genuinely one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever made. For anything else to be at the top of this list would be nothing short of blasphemy.
Best Moment: What else could it have been?
The beauty of Star Wars, as with most things, is that quality is entirely subjective. All joking aside, I’m sure your lists all look very different than mine. Some of you probably (who am I kidding, definitely) hate The Last Jedi. Some of you love the prequels more than the original trilogy. That’s great! It’s wrong, but it’s totally within your rights to do so! One of you weirdos probably even likes Solo the best, and I wish you luck in what is probably a lonely, friendless existence. Either way, regardless of your preferences, we can all agree: Star Wars is great.
And if you hate Star Wars, and think they’re all terrible, just remember: Only a Sith deals in absolutes.