If you have been a follower of this site or my Twitter feed you probably know I have an insatiable appetite for Star Wars. From my days as a young boy watching the original trilogy in the theaters to now, Star Wars has been and remains a huge part of my life. The movies, the books, the three animated series, the new live-action shows – I love everything about it.
Considering all of that I’m a little surprised I haven’t done a Ranked post focused on the Star Wars films. With the Skywalker Saga wrapping up last year what better time than now to rank the eleven feature films in the Star Wars franchise. As with every Ranked post, we will start at the bottom and work our way to what I think is the very best Star Wars film. But as someone who likes every single SW movie (to varying degrees), even the least of these are close to my heart. So here we go.
#11 – “The Last Jedi”
Look, I’ve heard all of the bitter debates, from the seething animosity to the overblown adulation. TLJ‘s spot on my list may appear like I’m in the “anti” camp. But remember, I like all of these films and that includes Rian Johnson’s controversial take on the Star Wars universe. For me TLJ doesn’t fall short in its handling of Luke Skywalker or by its interpretations of the Force. Instead it’s in the sluggish mid-section storytelling where Johnson’s script bogs down. Weird character logic, flat and uninteresting new faces, and a seemingly pointless side mission still leaves me scratching my head. Johnson’s combative reactions to criticism didn’t help either. Yet TLJ is a movie with several thrilling moments, incredible effects, and a good Star Wars feel despite some shaky writing.
#10 – “Solo: A Star Wars Story”
Coming on the heels of “The Last Jedi”, “Solo” released in a precarious space. Fans were still stewing over their disappointment (whether fair or not) in where Rian Johnson left the franchise. This led to many skipping out on “Solo” altogether. The results were sub-par box office numbers and the sad demise of the one-shot feature films. The sad thing is “Solo” is actually pretty good, better than I ever expected. It has good characters with fun chemistry and a killer ending that teased something I guess we will never see. Was it up there with the best of the series? Not at all. But “Solo” was a satisfying and entertaining Star Wars picture that felt right at home within the franchise.
#9 – “Attack of the Clones”
For what it’s worth Episode II of the Skywalker Saga has the distinguished honor of being the movie I’ve seen the most times at the theater. I was enamored with it when it first came out in 2002. I still like it mainly as a setup to Episode III (more on it later) and for how it sets the landscape for the terrific “The Clone Wars” series. It’s far from perfect. The Anakin/Padme romance scenes, though pivotal, are sometimes cringe-inducing. It’s also a prime example of Lucas’ obsessive use of CGI that far too often overpowers his scenes. But Dooku is great, I actually like the political table-setting, and watching the emergence of the Jedi Council is really fun to watch.
#8 – “The Phantom Menace”
Here is another Star Wars film that people love to hate but that I enjoy. “The Phantom Menace” was met with praise for its ground-breaking special effects and scorn for pretty much everything else. And even in this day where many are re-evaluating the prequels, TPM doesn’t get much love. Look, I get it – midi-chlorians still make no sense to me and Jar Jar was cutesy comedy overkill. But for me the good far outweigh the bad. Lucas does a good job laying the groundwork for the many things that follow. Plus, it gives us the single greatest lightsaber battle of the franchise pitting Obi-Wan and Anakin versus the sinister Darth Maul. Simply put, I’ve always enjoyed Episode I.
#7 – “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
I was thrilled when I first heard about the stand-alone Star Wars movies and their endless potential. I was even more excited after seeing Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One”. Set as a lead up to Episode IV, “Rogue One” follows a group of…well…rogues as they attempt to swipe the Death Star plans from the Galactic Empire. “Rogue One” stands out as feeling different from every other film in the franchise yet still very much capturing the essence of a Star Wars movie. Great characters, gritty action, and a final five minutes that still makes the hairs on my arm stand. This and “Solo” were evidence that these single-shot movies could work. It’s too bad they were shelved.
#6 – “The Rise of Skywalker”
Here’s another movie effected by the TLJ fallout and one that deserves better than the reactions it gets. After my first viewing “Rise” would have been lower on this list. But I’ve seen it three times since and I’ve discovered more layers to its story and depth of characters than I did the first time through. It had a lot to manage – the sad passing of Carrie Fisher, course correcting from the previous movie, and closing out the entire Skywalker Saga. Frankly, it had too much to cover and it’s remarkable it came out as good as it did. It really brings a new perspective to the entire saga and it leaves several things open (as usual) for fans to explore and discuss. I love it’s mix of the old and new and it left me excited for what it accomplished and sad that to see it end.
#5 – “The Force Awakens”
Talk about pressure to meet ungodly expectations. “The Force Awakens” was Disney’s first film following their gazillion dollar acquisition of the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas. The film teamed J.J. Abrams with Star Wars veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and Oscar-winner Michael Arndt to launch a fresh trilogy for a new era. At the same time their film was intricately connected to its predecessors, full of exciting throwbacks and fun nostalgia. Most importantly they eased the worries of franchise fans by delivering a true Star Wars experience with new characters and new mythology to plow.
#4 – “A New Hope”
A part of me is always tempted to put “A New Hope” as the best Star Wars movie simply because it’s the one that started it all. The sheer audacity of George Lucas to invest so much into something so few believed in is impressive. It’s even more amazing how well it turned out. Lucas ushered us into his marvelous, sprawling universe with a movie full of great characters and an old-fashioned space story that has stood the test of time. Han, Luke, and Leia. R2-D2, C-3PO, and Chewie. They were introduced into pop culture through “A New Hope” and have been with us ever since. This film dramatically changed my childhood, and I can honestly say for the better.
#3 – “Revenge of the Sith”
As an ardent defender of the prequel trilogy I always point to Episode III as the reason the prequels work. Sure they are three separate movies, but they work together as one and Lucas’ vision really comes together in “Revenge of the Sith”. This movie has so much riding on it. Not only did it need to wrap up the prequels, but it had to make sure everything fit with the original trilogy. That’s no easy task. It’s the darkest of any Star Wars film featuring some purely riveting storytelling culminating in the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of Darth Vader. The visual effects seemed more focused and work to serve the story while John Williams’ music has never been better. Ultimately it is a fantastic conclusion to the prequels and a satisfying segue to the classic original films.
#2 – “Return of the Jedi”
Man I love this movie. By the time “Return of the Jedi” came out in 1983 I was a die-hard Star Wars fanboy. I had action figures, toy blasters, my own lightsaber, Han Solo pajamas, the lunchbox and thermos set, you name it. “Jedi” only reinforced my adoration. It does everything you want from a Star Wars movie: it continues the story, expands the universe, and enriches its characters. Most importantly it finishes up the storylines and character arcs on exactly the right notes. “Jedi” is a movie filled will exhilarating highs and memorable moments that you never forget. It’s such a satisfying and fitting conclusion to the original trilogy that also left room for more stories to be told and more adventures to be had.
#1 – “The Empire Strikes Back”
This probably comes as no surprise to anyone but “The Empire Strikes Back” gets the top spot. Not only is it the best Star Wars movie, but it’s easily one of the best sequels ever made. “Empire” is the movie that really opened me up to the power of cinema. I still remember leaving the theater as you young kid in utter awe. Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate even more about it, namely in how it grows its characters and truly makes them the centerpiece. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t full of iconic moments such as the invasion of Hoth, the carbon freezing chamber, and the inevitable revelation that at the time shook the world. “The Empire Strikes Back” is an absolute masterpiece and it’s the film most responsible for Star Wars becoming the cultural phenomenon it still is today.
So now you have my ranking of the eleven Star Wars feature films. I would love to here your thoughts on where you think I got it right and/or wrong. Hit the comments below and share what your list would be like. And of course, may the Force be with you…always.