As fans flock to the new standalone “Star Wars” movie “Rogue One,” let’s look back over the last seven films in the “Star Wars” saga and rank them from worst to best.
Are you an old-school traditionalist that grew up with the original trilogy? Or are you an unabashed George Lucas loyalist that appreciates the often-maligned prequels? Or was your faith in the force restored in all of its giddy glory when J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” reboot introduced a whole new generation to jedis, wookies and the dark side? Princess Leia or Queen Amidala? Jar Jar Binks or Chewbacca? Han Solo or Qui-Gon Jinn? These are some of the serious questions many of us “Star Wars” nerds ponder when asked to rank the seven films in the series.
Which film is your #1? Vote in the poll below and be sure to check back to see how your favorite is doing.
#7: Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
The second film in the Lucas-helmed prequel trilogy features dazzling special effects, a credible performance by Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi and a couple of memorable scenes such as the climactic final lightsaber duel between the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and the surprisingly agile Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz). But “Attack of the Clones” also features too many cringe-worthy romantic interludes between Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), who share little if any on-screen chemistry while coldly reciting Lucas and co-writer Jonathan Hales’ stilted dialogue. And the film employs so much CGI that it far too often looks like a Saturday morning cartoon rather than a live action blockbuster. And as we trudge through the unnecessarily boring political intrigue that also marred predecessor “The Phantom Menace,” as well as the misguided Kiwi accents of the clones referred to in the title, this film all too often felt like a two and a half hour presentation reel for the toys and merchandise slated for department store catalogues that Christmas and not a worthy chapter in this celebrated film franchise. I give this misstep in the “Star Wars” saga a Z for snoozzzzze.
#6: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Perhaps “The Phantom Menace” was never going to live up to the absolutely deafening hype surrounding its release near the turn of the century. After decades of solemn worship of the first trilogy, there has perhaps never been a more highly anticipated film follow-up than this. There was much to admire about “Menace,” like the dazzling production and costume design and the mastery of the film’s visual and sound effects teams. The performances by Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi were also commendable, despite the so-so screenplay by director George Lucas. And the film features one of the best ever villains of any sci-fi spectacular in the nefarious Darth Maul, who barely utters a word but is so imaginatively designed and portrayed (by actor and martial artist Ray Park). But the negatives outweighed the positives as this film will forever be tarnished by three awful words: Jar Jar Binks. Is there any other character in popular culture that has garnered as much disapproval than poor old Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best)? Unlikely. What was presumably meant to be the loveable comic relief of the film was a jarring (pardon the pun) and irritating misstep that brought the film down every time he appeared on screen. Couple him with the uncomfortably wooden performance given by Jake Lloyd as the young padawan Anakin Skywalker, and for much of this film, audiences were disappointed with what was supposed to be the next great chapter in their beloved franchise.
#5: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
It is difficult to knock a classic, especially one I watched over and over again as a child. But let’s be honest, “Return of the Jedi” has its flaws. There are some great characters, sequences and locations in the film, like Jabba the Hut and his fortress on Tatooine, the awakening and coming of age of the true and powerful Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the chase sequences through the forests of Endor, the ultimate lightsaber duel between Skywalker and the greatest villain of all time, his estranged evil father Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), and the final attack by the Rebellion on the Galactic Empire’s Death Star monstrosity. But then we’re still stuck with the Ewoks, who bog the film down in endless weirdo cultural sequences that are as interminable as they are annoying and unnecessary. “Jedi” was always going to have a hard time living up to the astronomical success of the first two films in the original saga trilogy, and perhaps that was one of the main reasons why it doesn’t appear to inspire the same kind of excitement and respect as its predecessors. Or maybe it’s just the Ewoks.
#4: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
After the shattering disappointments of the first two chapters in Lucas’ prequels, fans hoped that the master storyteller was simply off his game and would finally deliver a worthy successor to the cherished classics he created thirty years prior. Thankfully, “Revenge of the Sith” was a much better film than its predecessors, as it distanced itself from some of the less-effective elements of the first two films (less boring political nonsense, less quirky characters), and doubled down on the fundamentals that worked and which the fans were clamoring for (more epic battles between good and evil, more emotion, better pacing). According to review aggregators Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic, “Revenge of the Sith” is by far the best reviewed of the prequels. It garnered 79% at Rotten Tomatoes (compared with 55% for “Phantom” and 65% for “Clones”) and a 68 score at MetaCritic (compared with 51 for “Phantom” and 54 for “Clones”), and it is easy to see why. Although it still comes off as a little cartoonish in parts, and Christensen is only marginally improved as the profoundly anguished Anakin Skywalker, “Sith” ultimately works because visually and aurally, it is a visual and aural tour-de-force, it is a much darker film than the first two prequels, and it has closer thematic links to the first trilogy because it gives audiences long-awaited insights into the making of uber-villain Darth Vader and because its final scenes effectively set up the events of the first trilogy as Padme dies while giving birth to Luke and Leia.
#3: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
There is so much to love about “The Empire Strikes Back,” the 1980 sequel directed by Irvin Kerschner that is frequently cited by critics and fans as the best in the series. The film opens on the stunning ice planet of Hoth, which features some of the most breathtaking battle sequences ever produced as giant equine machines (the AT-AT- walkers) stampede over the ice dunes in the Empire’s assault on the Rebel base. The film swiftly propels the story forward from ice planet to swamp planet to cloud city, as the malevolent Darth Vader hunts down our heroes Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) across the galaxy while Luke Skywalker trains with Jedi master Yoda and learns of his true destiny and the power of the force within him. And it features the iconic scene between Vader and Skywalker in which their familial links are finally revealed. It’s gorgeous old-school sci-fi that is so beloved the world over that it is difficult to fault. According to the IMDB’s Top 250 List of the best films of all time (as rated by IMDB users), “Empire” is the top rated “Star Wars” film in the list, currently sitting in 12th place, eight places above its predecessor. Still, “Empire” only makes it to number three on the list, perhaps because it is the “middle child” of the original trilogy, picking up on the events of the first film, but still setting up the ultimate pay offs that “Return of the Jedi” eventually delivers. Or perhaps the two remaining films in this list simply warranted an even higher ranking.
#2: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
When Disney acquired all distribution rights to the “Star Wars” phenomenon in 2012, fans were promised a whole new series of sequels in the “Star Wars” saga, the first of which would effectively reboot the series with a mix of new characters and returning favorites from the original trilogy. After the relative disappointments of the Lucas-helmed prequels, the high hopes of fans were inevitably tempered by lowered expectations. Could J.J. Abrams, who had successfully re-launched the “Star Trek” franchise a few years earlier, actually deliver a film that would be as well-received as the original trilogy? Remarkably, the answer was a resounding yes as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did just that. Despite some complaints that the film was a mere rehash of the original 1977 classic, the overall consensus appeared to be that Abrams delivered a dazzling sci-fi spectacle that pleased diehard fans, who fell head over heels for the nostalgia and familiarity of tried-and-true characters and plot points, and enchanted new audiences, who loved the new characters, particularly the girl-power narrative of the Rey character, beautifully brought to life by relative newcomer Daisy Ridley. Film critics fell hard for this one too. As Manohla Dargis in The New York Times said, “Abrams made a movie that goes for old-fashioned escapism even as it presents a futuristic vision of a pluralistic world that his audience already lives in. He hasn’t made a film only for true believers; he has made a film for everyone.” I for one have never been so captivated by a summer blockbuster as I was for this instant classic. Sure, it has its flaws, but I will never forget sitting in that darkened theater as the spectacle washed over me, comforted in the realization that Abrams stuck the landing and delivered on his promise that “Force Awakens” was going to be a quasi-religious experience for a life-long fan like me.
#1: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
“Star Wars” is not only the most beloved sci-fi film of all time, but is often cited alongside other motion picture classics like “The Godfather,” “Citizen Kane,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Schindler’s List” as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time, period. It is difficult not to overstate the cultural significance of the original film that not only spawned numerous sequels and prequels, but infiltrated so many other aspects of pop culture and also influenced filmmaking as an art form. But in any list of the best of this hallowed space opera saga, the question remains, is this, as a self-contained film, worthy of the number one spot? I say, without hesitation, that it is. It’s a relatively simple, yet richly crafted story of a galaxy in turbulent upheaval, a young man coming of age, and the ultimate battle of good vs. evil. It was an instant hit with fans and critics upon its release almost 40 years ago, garnering 11 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director for Lucas) and winning seven of them. It sits at number two on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Sci-Fi Films of all Time (behind Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and to this day, for me, nothing else compares to the instant gratification of the jolt of first few bars of John Williams’ thunderous and iconic score as the opening preamble text crawl flies through the stars across the screen at the start of the film. This is a film for the ages, and is deservedly our number one pick for the best of the “Star Wars” saga.