I’ve decided that next month, I’ll start taking a look at the Harry Potter film series. I’ll also include the Strange Beast movies (I’ve only seen the first one so far), but first, this post has been delayed far too long. Today, I’m looking at all of the live-action theatrically released Star Wars movies, and figuring out which are my favourites.
Because Star Wars is a trilogy of trilogies, with a couple of extra movies on the side, I’ll block this post into three categories. The three categories will be: ranking the episodic movies individually, ranking the trilogies, and ranking the two A Star Wars Stories movies. I’m not including the animated Clone Wars movie because in truth it’s a pilot for the Clone Wars TV show. I’m also not looking at any of the other movies. The Holiday Special won’t be mentioned after this sentence, nor will the Ewok movies. And just so I’m clear, these rankings are based on my personal taste, not which movies I think are the best or the worst.
Category 1: Episodic movies
This movie commits the sin that no other Star Wars movie commits. It’s boring. That’s not to say there isn’t anything salvageable in this movie. The chase scene with the assassin in the first act is kind of exciting. Obi Wan’s detective work is fairly well done, and Ewan McGregor really starts to shine as a younger version of the role made famous by Sir Alec Guinness in the original trilogy. Jango Fett, while short lived, is awesome. Christopher Lee is very charismatic as Count Dooku. But overall, it’s a slow movie with trash romantic dialogue, acting that’s all over the place, and serious story flaws. It’s also visually aged very poorly thanks to its overuse of dated CGI.
I’m not saying that this movie is bad, but it’s a complete mess. The first half hour tries to tell a full movie’s worth of story to make up for the way The Last Jedi ended. It feels rushed, there are too many new characters introduced for the climax of a trilogy, while playing down some of the characters we already knew and cared about. For example, Finn doesn’t really get to do all that much in this movie, and it feels like large chunks of his role were chopped out in the editing room. The final battle feels kind of underwhelming and over the top at the same time. Some of the hokey dialogue from Poe doesn’t help either.
There are some fantastic dramatic moments when the movie slows down, a couple of awesome fight scenes, and some decent comedy. It shows at least some potential here and there, but the overall product is a complete mess and the worst conclusion to a Star Wars trilogy that we’ve seen.
This movie actually has a lot of nostalgic value for me, being the first Star Wars movie I saw in theaters. But I could throw almost all of the criticisms I tossed at The Rise of Skywalker at The Phantom Menace as well. There are too many characters, making it hard to latch onto anyone if this is your first Star Wars experience. The second act feels stretched out with all the political talk that’s too vague to feel relevant. And of course there’s Jar Jar Binks. He doesn’t bother me nearly as much as some people, and in a strange sense his character is even a bit tragic, but I find him mildly annoying at times.
What this movie has going for it is everything about Darth Maul, the Pod Race scene that’s uniquely exciting for the Star Wars franchise, and some actual decent foreshadowing for what happens in the later prequel movies. Those three things are enough for me to say that this movie is better than Rise of Skywalker, even if not by much.
I wasn’t able to fully decide where to place this movie until about half a year after seeing The Rise of Skywalker. On the one hand, there are a lot of fascinating ideas about the force in this movie. It’s also got the best cinematography in the franchise, and some brilliant scenery to add to it. As much as a lot of people hated what they did to Luke Skywalker’s character, I actually enjoyed this take. My review of the movie explores why in detail.
But with all that said, this movie feels like a stretched out version of The Empire Strikes Back, while at the same time, the ending made it very difficult to conclude the Skywalker Saga in one more movie. By killing Snoke in the second part of the trilogy, while also nearly wiping out the resistance, this movie pretty much set up The Rise of Skywalker to fail. I’ll talk about that more when I get to the trilogy section of this post, but that’s enough reason to rank this movie in the bottom half of the list. The fact that the entire Canto Bight sequence feels tacked on, and is the least Star Wars-y thing we’ve seen in a Star Wars movie certainly doesn’t help. Some of the writing also feels like it doesn’t belong in the Star Wars Universe, like how this is the first Star Wars movie to use an undeniable swear word (whether “damn” is a swear word or not kind of depends on who you ask.)
There are a lot of individual things I like about this movie, and if this was a quadrilogy that gave the creators enough time to properly conclude the story, this would probably be higher. But as a chapter in the Star Wars saga, it causes more harm than good, and that’s why The Last Jedi is in the bottom half.
The next three movies on this list are actually very close in my opinion. It was actually kind of difficult to choose between them, so for argument’s sake, you could call this a three-way tie for third.
This movie is simply glorious. There’s a small list of movies that, no matter how I feel before I watch them, I’m always in a good mood by the time it’s done. This is one of them. The music feels victorious. The action is epic and intense without going overboard. It’s just a fun movie, but not without its dramatic moments and some well-written closure. So why isn’t this higher on the list? Because despite how much I love this movie, it’s got some serious structural problems.
There isn’t all that much story, and what little is there is a partial repeat of A New Hope. Harrison Ford clearly didn’t care as much as he did in the first two, so he loses his edge. As fun as I find the Ewoks, they’re not explored at all. Instead of telling us of some of the horrors they could have potentially faced, we instead get C-3P0 giving them story time for the things that have already happened in the trilogy. The entire last third of the movie is one big battle. As much as I love that battle, it does exemplify this movie’s pacing problems and the lack of a standalone story. As much of a mess as The Rise of Skywalker is, at least it has enough of a story to justify its running time.
It’s a shame the sequel trilogy turned out to be the mess that it is, because The Force Awakens kicked it off with a lot of potential. Sure, it also feels like a partial repeat of A New Hope, but that’s what the Star Wars franchise needed at the time. It was also a fun introduction to the new cast, while also giving us Han Solo at his best, Kylo Ren as a compelling villain from a dramatic standpoint, and a return to practical effects after the CGI sploogefest that was Episodes 2 and 3.
It concludes with a strong contender for the best lightsaber fight in the series. It’s got a good mix of raw intensity and fight choreography. The fact that it’s in a forest also makes for a more dynamic fighting ground than usual. As much as the sequel trilogy ended in disappointment, I won’t hold that against the movie that gave it so much potential.
Revenge of the Sith is not a perfect movie. It contains a lot of the same writing flaws as Attack of the Clones, and it relies too much on telling us things instead of showing us things. It also wastes Count Dooku’s potential in favour of General Grevious, when they probably should have only put Grevious into the Clone Wars TV show. But for all its flaws, I’ve got several reasons why I’m putting this above the other two.
First, this movie is not afraid to get dark, and that’s actually important to the plot. But once you get to the movie’s second half, and Palpatine’s plan goes into full action, Revenge of the Sith is very good. There’s some fantastic acting, a haunting soundtrack, and yes, the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin lightsaber fight is another strong candidate for the best lightsaber fight in the franchise, even if it is a bit over the top. It also shows that, while the other prequel movies aren’t that great, they were actually building up to something. And of course you’ve got the opera scene. That specific moment is as close to perfection as the franchise ever gets. From a trilogy standpoint, this is the best conclusion we have to a Star Wars trilogy, and that’s why I’m putting this at number 3.
It’s the movie that started it all. Everything about this movie is iconic. The soundtrack is quite possibly John Williams’ best, and that’s saying a lot. The characters are memorable. The twin suns setting as Luke ponders his lot in life, longing for adventure. The Death Star as a metaphor for superweapons and the tyrants that use them. The movie perfectly builds up to the glorious destruction of the Death Star by a desperate band of rebels. The only notable flaws with this movie can be attributed to its relatively low budget, how George Lucas had to fight to get the movie made in the first place, and all the troubles they faced while filming. But those troubles also helped the movie become what it is. It’s the perfect example of beauty through adversity.
I shouldn’t need to explain why The Empire Strikes Back is at the top of this list, but I’ll try to explain in a condensed format. The Empire Strikes Back, as a whole, is the closest that Star Wars ever gets to the perfect movie. It’s one of the first examples of a major blockbuster where the heroes fail. It gets straight up philosophical with Luke’s Jedi training. The improvised love dialogue that Harrison Ford came up with is genius. It introduces the iconic Imperial March, which is right up there with the main Star Wars theme as John Williams’ best work. It cements Darth Vader among the greatest cinematic villains of all-time. And of course, one of the most shocking twists in cinematic history. I love everything about this movie.
Category 2 – the trilogies
For this section, I’ll be evaluating the trilogies as a whole, and not the quality of the movies within them.
3. The Sequel Trilogy
This should come as no surprise. If you look at this trilogy as a whole, it’s quite clear that they didn’t plan the trilogy from the start. It feels like the first and third movies were trying to tell one story, but some other guy with a completely different idea took over for the middle chapter.
Several sub-plots completely switch directions between each movie. Characters are introduced as major players in one movie, only to be reduced to bit roles in the next. Minor characters switch sides without exploring why, most notably Hux. Even if Hux’s motivation for leaking information to the Resistance makes sense, it would have been nice to learn more about his motivation.
When Snoke is killed in the second chapter, they re-introduce the Emperor, despite their being no foreshadowing in the previous movies. And as much as I can buy how he’s back, it still feels rushed. What could have been a brilliant trilogy ends up being an overall mess. It’s a decently entertaining mess, but disappointing in the end. As a trilogy, the sequels come in a distant third place.
2. The Prequel Trilogy
There are definitely things that the prequels could have done better as a trilogy. It could have explored the friendship between Obi-Wan and Anakin on a deeper level by actually showing them spending time together, instead of splitting them up in every movie. They could have given us a more consistent front villain, instead of killing Maul in the first movie, and tossing Dooku aside in the third movie in exchange for a cyborg. They also should have done a better job at keeping Palatine’s true identity a secret, instead of pretty much exposing him in The Phantom Menace with little subtlety whatsoever.
However, in general this trilogy is clearly planned from the start. The Phantom Menace foreshadows Anakin’s fall to the dark side more than once, while also implying that there’s hope that he could be a great Jedi. Several minor characters in The Phantom Menace are given much bigger roles in episodes 2 and 3. As much as the writing could have explored Anakin’s fall to the dark side better, Palpatine using his fear of losing someone he loves as a form of temptation is absolutely brilliant. Even wasting Dooku can be defended with the argument that Dooku was meant to be a disposable villain, as Palpatine clearly wanted Anakin on his side the moment he first met the extremely force sensitive boy. It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike the other two trilogies, this one ends with its best movie. That’s the way to go – ending on a high note.
1. The Original Trilogy
Yes, it’s clear that this trilogy wasn’t as well planned out as the prequels (partly because George Lucas didn’t know at the time whether or not he could finish it the way he wanted to). Yes, there were clearly some major changes in sub-plots, like Darth Vader’s true identity. Yes, Return of the Jedi is a partial repeat of A New Hope. But as a whole, this is the best Star Wars trilogy.
The original trilogy is a fantastic version of the classic Hero’s Journey. Luke starts off as a bit of a whiner, feeling trapped on a planet he doesn’t want to live on. Yet the first time he’s given the opportunity for a proper adventure, he turns it down, still feeling a sense of loyalty to his uncle. That is until he finds his aunt and uncle dead – murdered by the Empire. As the trilogy goes on, he discovers his true strength, matures a great deal, and even surpasses his masters by bringing his fallen father back to the light side of the force, which they couldn’t even imagine being possible. There are so many more reasons why the original trilogy wins, but it’s really the characters and their personal journeys that make it work.
Category 3 – the other movies
Rogue One wins – the end.
Coming soon – a look at all the Harry Potter movies.