(ranked from worst to best)
11) Attack of the Clones
What could have been an interesting plot on the secretive programs of governments who wish to wage war for profit and power, Obi-Wan’s discovery of a factory creating expendable clone soldiers for the Empire is treated as side-material for an unwatchable romance between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.
10) The Rise of Skywalker
The Rise of Skywalker is devoid of any ideas at all. As J.J. Abrams constructs a roller-coaster ride of new characters and locations for mere milliseconds of screen time, our heroes work their way through a self-constructed maze that turns out to be a straight line to the villain of a previous trilogy.
Although I remain grateful that they didn’t try to de-age Harrison Ford for an entire film, Solo not only failed to give Han Solo an interesting back-story, but watching Ehrenreich portray him felt more like a Bohemian Rapsody or Rocketman kind of film more than it felt like Star Wars.
8) The Last Jedi
A film in which the heroes’ plan is to sit and see how much battleship fire they can take, The Last Jedi sends its main characters on side-missions that don’t really matter before their unnecessarily mysterious Palpatine stand-in, Snoke, is killed off before we can learn an ounce of anything about him. Kylo turns to the dark side because Luke Skywalker, the hero of the first three films, is never allowed to be a great Jedi, and the film is unable to add any more weight to a story in which the majority of the cast is finally not all white dudes. It had some good ideas, such as Rey being a force user without the Jedi lineage, but that, and this entire movie, was written out of existence by J.J. Abrams in The Rise of Skywalker.
7) The Phantom Menace
Arguably the largest let-down for audiences of any Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace introduced interesting origin stories for Obi-Wan, Anakin, and the Emperor, as well as a plot built on the workings of the Star Wars government that led to a fascist empire in A New Hope. Sadly, it was weaved largely around unbearable characters not only imbued with racism, but a hero more in tune with Christian imagery than ever before. It did give us one of the greatest songs in Star Wars however, with “Duel of the Fates.”
6) Revenge of the Sith
Everything missing from the previous prequel installments exists in Revenge of the Sith, but that still didn’t make up for the fact that none of the important groundwork was laid for the finale to truly have a deep impact. General Grievous is by far one of the coolest villains in the series, but he’s thrust into a film that loves to start us off in the middle of other plots like James Bond films (despite being a way more linear franchise), and he’s killed off before he can really be explored. Putting aside when Anakin murders the Raiders for killing his mother in Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith completely contains Anakin’s turn to the dark side, just at whiplash inducing speed akin to the final season of Game of Thrones.
5) The Force Awakens
It had been an entire decade since the last Star Wars film, and the nostalgia captured in The Force Awakens was enough to make every child-now-adult or adult-reborn-as-child weep at the mere sound of the John Williams score during the opening crawl. In what was essentially A New Hope re-twisted for the next generation, The Force Awakens wasn’t inherently all original, but the makings for a decent sequel trilogy were all laid out before us well before we saw what would happen down the road.
4) Rogue One
When a story involves the fate of the galaxy over and over again, the best thing for a franchise to do is tell smaller stories in what should be, by now, an expansive and diverse universe. Rogue One took to the approach and while some characters didn’t felt fully fleshed out, they were able to tell a small and compelling story in the vast Star Wars universe while still incorporating it into the film that started it all.
3) Return of the Jedi
The end of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi wrapped everything up as nicely as it could. Sure, they built another Death Star, but Star Wars fans would later come to know how easy it is to build giant evil space weapons. On the lovable Ewok-filled planet, audiences got to see our good boy save the galaxy and take down the Emperor with the help of his repentant father, and that’s all you really need.
2) A New Hope
It all started here, and this independent sci-fi western hit it incredibly big. From the cinematography to the John Williams score, the Shakespearean-like space tragedy gave us iconic characters in Han Solo, the coolest guy in the galaxy, and Darth Vader, one of the greatest villains of all time. The franchise has had such a hard time besting the classic film, mainly because it’s just been trying to recreate it again and again. Balancing the campiness with the action and drama, A New Hope succeeded in not taking itself too seriously, and only one other film in the franchise has been able to blow audiences away even more.
1) The Empire Strikes Back
The first film on this scale where the bad guys win, anyone in awe of Marvel’s two-film-split for Infinity War owes a huge debt to Empire. Excelling at expanding the universe A New Hope created while continuing to develop the epic story, Empire gave us not only Lando and the lovable Yoda, but one of the most iconic twists of all time when Darth Vader was revealed to be Luke’s father. It might seem like a simple conclusion now, but it blew people’s minds at the time. In what could have been pure set-up for the conclusion, Empire was full of even more action, world building, and drama that make the eventual end in Return of the Jedi that much worth it. Empire stands as one of the few sequels greater than the original, and it’s widely regarded as the greatest film in the franchise.
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