RANKED: The Star Wars Films

SWranked

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”

LASTJEDI

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”

SOLO

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”

ATTACKCLONES

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”

PHANTOM

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”

ROGUEONE

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”

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”

FORCEAWAKENS

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”

NEWHOPE

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”

REVENGESITH

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”

RETURNJEDI

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”

EMPIRE

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.

44 thoughts on “RANKED: The Star Wars Films

  1. Well it’s good to have a ‘thing’! 😊 had to google to see the chronological order, I’ve only ever seen the original 3 back in the day, but never got hooked enough to continue, I think the backwards and forwards of it all did me in! It’s bad enough with the MCU!

    • Just the original three? Well, at least you saw those! I love them dearly. SW has been a part of my life since the late 70s. That’s plenty of history. 😁

  2. I still recall as a 12 year old in a sold out theatre and entering into a thrill ride. Loved the original 3. But after that my ride with the movies since are murky. My list is as follows. Top 3, New Hope 1st , Empire 2nd and Return 3rd. Then it’s Rogue One 4th. I was really invested, loved it .Solo 5th. Really enjoyed it. Reminded me why I loved the originals , it was fun. Next up Force 6th. Decent return.Rise 7th. Solid ending .Revenge 8th. The only one I really like of the Lucas return. Menace 9th. Disappointed me to be honest.Attack 10th. Even my sons were bored in the theatre with this one .Last 11th. Decisive and I after watching it a few times again, I really dislike Johnsons deconstruction of Star Wars mythology( which JJ attempted to correct in Rise). It’s always fun to make list and debate, discuss and exchange views. I’ll always love those first 3 and watch them regularly. My brother is more forgiving of the newer movies than I but that’s what’s fun we can have differing takes.

    • It’s definitely fun and Star Wars gives you tons to talk about. I’m having a blast going through all of the canon again. About to start the new season of the Clone Wars. Playing through Jedi: Fallen Order again (a great game that’s also canon). And FINALLY reading through the recent Darth Vader comic run.

  3. RETURN OF THE JEDI; THE PHANTOM MENACE; ATTACK OF THE CLONES; SOLO – 4/10

    THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – 5/10

    A NEW HOPE; THE LAST JEDI – 7/10

    REVENGE OF THE SITH; THE FORCE AWAKENS; ROGUE ONE – 8/10

    I would like this opportunity to point out that my favorite “anything” in this franchise (and one of my favorite shows of all time) is the 2003 CLONE WARS mini-series.

  4. I usually stick with 9 as the Skywalker Saga while I put Rogue One and Solo in a related camp with those 2 Star Wars TV movies from the 80s, The Clone Wars, and the atrocity that is… The Star Wars Holiday Special. If I was to rank the 11 films…

    1. The Empire Strikes Back
    2. Star Wars
    3. Rogue One
    4. The Last Jedi
    5. The Force Awakens
    6. Return of the Jedi
    7. Revenge of the Sith
    8. The Rise of Skywalker
    9. Solo
    10. Attack of the Clones
    11. The Phantom Menace
    6

    • I think Revenge is really good and easily the best paced film of the prequels. You definitely like TLJ more than me. But as I wrote, I genuinely like them all so I enjoy any enthusiasm for the franchise. 👍🏼

  5. I would by no means call myself a Star Wars nerd, but I usually try to see the movies when they come out. I’d say your rankings are pretty sound, although for my part, I would put Rogue One much higher. I definitely got the most excited about that one. 🙂

    • Rogue One was such a great surprise. I didn’t know what to expect from it but loved it. My daughter has it much higher too. Again, it proved that there was a place for those one-shot movies. Sadly we probably won’t be getting those any time soon.

  6. I know I have spent far too much time going down this rabbit hole of ranking or debating Star Wars movies. I once eviscerated The Phantom Menace on an imdb board (when those were a thing under each movie) only to have someone click my Twitter profile and come back at me with, “Why is a 40 year old guy lecturing kids about a kids’ movie?” Kind of takes the wind out of the sails. But rated as movies and as cinema, the ranking from best to worst should be: Empire, Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, Solo, The Force Awakens, The Rise of Skywalker, Clone Wars animated feature, Attack of the Clones, The Last Jedi, The Phantom Menace. I can’t claim to like all Star Wars movies, since Phantom Menace rendered moot years of defending SW as something more than kiddie fodder and The Last Jedi despite superficial amusements, able use of the frame, and a couple of memberberries like Leia’s SOS, it forced into canon the idea of Luke premeditating murder of his sleeping nephew and made his isolation on the island even more incomprehensible within the Kennedy Trilogy. (He left a map so that… even though he went away to die someone could come after him so he could rebuff her and be lectured by her ?) The only reason I put Rogue One AFTER Sith is that while neither is a great movie Rogue One is telling an alternate version of obtaining the plans, contradicting previous lore. But Sith contains the continuity flaw that is a head scratchier: Padme’s apparent death, contrary to Leia’s memory of her in Jedi. The earlier-made film should have set that as a constraint of canon.

    • Great comments. I genuinely can say I like them all mainly because of how closely knit they all are. Individually some are certainly better than others, but it’s so hard for me to separate them. They all make up this universe that I’ve been a part of since A New Hope. I tend to find enjoyment any time something new is added or explored. Doesn’t make me the most objective critic when it comes to SW films, but I am honest about it. Now bring on Mandalorian Season 2! 😁

  7. I tend to be very forgiving when it comes to the Star Wars films. However, I consider the Attack of the Clones to be the worst of the bunch. Between the god-awful dialogue and the weak-ass chemistry between Anakin and Padme, Clones is the weakest entry in the series from a narrative stand-point. I dug the detective aspect of Obi-wan trying to figure out who was trying to assassinate Padme, but everything else felt ham-fisted. It’s the one I watch the least, as well. Revenge of the Sith was fantastic, though. Lucas pulled no punches with that one and I commend him for that. Rise of Skywalker is a bit of a mixed bag for me. From a visual standpoint, it’s an amazing movie, but from a narrative perspective, it spends way too much time trying to correct the issues that were brought up in The Last Jedi, which was a much better film in my opinion. Of the new Disney Star Wars films, Rogue One is easily the best one. Empire Strikes Back, though, is the quintessential Star Wars movie. That was a movie that took some serious risks back in 1980 with one of, if not the biggest twist in cinematic history. Empire is as close to perfection as a Star Wars film can get.

    • You’re so right about Empire. I love everything about it. I get what you’re saying about Clones, but I do really like several things about it. Last Jedi is both exhilarating and frustrating for me. The lapse in logic of its middle section drives me nuts. But it is book-ended by some really great stuff.

  8. Thanks for the list Keith! I too am a pretty big Star Wars fan (just realized I’m wearing my SW t-shirt as I write this, lol) and although I have mixed feelings for the films, in general there isn’t one that I would try to count out of SW canon. I recently re-watched all 11 (including a second watching of Ep. 9) and if I really had to choose an order, this would be mine:
    1. The Empire Strikes Back – Fantastic character building and laying plans for a SW future (i.e. Han & Leia relationship, Luke given a choice to go Jedi or Sith, and revelation of familial ties). There is a very short list of films which comprise the target for all movie sequels to aim for, and this is one of them.
    2. The Force Awakens – Initially, I was a little peeved that it seemed like a plot-for-plot remake of A New Hope, but I really enjoy this film’s new characters, connections with all of the previous films, and the ending is legit!
    3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I love pretty much everything about this movie, it just falls short of how much I love the previous two! The Force takes a backseat to the mission at hand, but it’s highlighted moments still make me giddy.
    4. A New Hope – Iconic. Good vs. Evil. Phenomenal score. Bunch of nobodies becoming overnight A-list actors. What’s not to love?
    5. The Last Jedi – I walked away from this one right on the fence, but a second viewing did me in. I enjoyed everything Rian did that made this a little less SW and more RJ. The lightsaber battle in the throne room is epic, and the divisive nature of Kylo Ren is maybe my favorite plot point. Also, curmudgeon Luke in the opening scene kills me.
    6. Return of the Jedi – Highlighting how far Luke has come but also keeping an open mind about where things could go with literally the last trained “Jedi” that we know exists, I think Lucas both wrapped up and opened wide the SW franchise in a great way. Not a big fan of the Battle of Endor though…sorry Ewoks.
    7. The Revenge of the Sith – Like you said, this one is dark and gritty, but also wraps up the prequels in a way I was mostly satisfied with, until Rogue One and Star Wars: Rebels came along to make me so much happier. Man I love Rebels.
    8. Solo: A Star Wars Story – I didn’t enjoy this film nearly as much (obviously) as an entry in Star Wars canon as I did just a decent heist film. Maybe it’s because I knew the actors better that it took me out of it a little more, but I just didn’t connect with it as much.
    9. The Phantom Menace – I was just a kid when this hit theatres and I remember loving it. Skip ahead to a revisit many years later and I was pretty bored and disappointed (except for The Duel of the Fates). I enjoy the prequels because of the existence of so many Jedi and the battles that occur, but the dialogue is atrocious and pretty much all character development apart from Obi-Wan is poorly written.
    10 & 11. The Last Skywalker & The Attack of the Clones – I cannot for the life of me decide which goes where, there is so much I dislike about them both sprinkled in with so little I enjoy. I left both feeling thoroughly disappointed in the writing/story development. AotC has some great battle sequences and I really like Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dooku, plus it’s cool to see Padme as a fighter in some sequences. But the love story (which feels like the whole film) makes me gag, and the politics are way over the top. Then there’s TLS, which for me was such a letdown. Everything about the film felt wrong in the theatre, including the re-introduction of Darth Sidious. The quest for the “wayfinder” played too much off positive feelings associated with holocrons in Rebels and The Clone Wars animated series. I’m fine with introductions of new Force powers, that’s cool, but the way it played into the plot was very uncool in this finale.
    Not a great note to end on, maybe I should have written them in reverse order like you? Lol but yeah, that’s my list and some of my feelings about something I hold very dear. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and may the force be with you…also.

    Find me on Facebook @redbeardmoviereviews!

    • Thanks for reading and for the great comments. One thing about Star Wars, it gives true fans SOOOO much to digest and talk about. That’s one reason I love it so much. Combine the films with the different animated series and the comics/graphic novels. Oh, and of course The Mandalorian. It’s such a great world to immerse yourself into.

  9. I can respect a list that likes all Star Wars movies. I can enjoy Star Wars even when it’s bad; the only ones I downright dislike are Solo, The Rise of Skywalker (my dislike for which affects what I like about the rest of its trilogy), and Attack of the Clones. My rankings go:
    11. Attack of the Clones – The most lifeless Star Wars movie.
    10. The Rise of Skywalker – The most desperate Star Wars movie.
    9. Solo – Terrific action scenes with a bland story.
    8. The Last Jedi – The most conflicting Star Wars movie.
    7. The Force Awakens – One of the best-directed Star Wars movies but made pointless by the rest of its trilogy.
    6. Rogue One – Not the most necessary Star Wars movie, but the most gorgeously shot, with one of the best Darth Vader moments.
    5. The Phantom Menace – The most endearingly bad Star Wars movie.
    4. Return of the Jedi – A potentially great finale with too much tone-deaf filler.
    3. The Empire Strikes Back – The most dignified Star Wars movie.
    2. Revenge of the Sith – The best Star Wars story with an often bad execution.
    1. A New Hope – The purest Star Wars movie.

    • While we may not agree on each of them I do love your takes on the individual movies. I truly love how the movies speak to different people in a host of different ways. I genuinely find things I love in every Star Wars picture. Am I too invested? Perhaps. Does nostalgia come into play? Probably. Still, I love the franchise and love hearing other takes on it. Thanks for reading and sharing yours.

  10. Nice post Keith. i think you may be a bigger star wars fan than I, considering your interest in the animation films and current tv series. Plus am only guessing Star Wars is very much an American movie (am referring to the spirited western gung ho sensibility, if that makes any sense). I was born and raised in the Philippines.
    But, the impact of Episodes 4, 5, and 6 was universally felt at the time of its theatrical release. Here is my instinctive ranking list of all 11.
    1) Empire Strikes Back
    2) Retum of the Jedi
    3) A New Hope
    4)Solo: A Star Wars Story- am surprised this didn’t click too well with audiences. Very entertaining action scenes
    5) Rogue one – has a raw appealing quality to it.
    6)Attack of the Clones – lack of chemistry between the Romantic couple, but how can anyone look past the scene of 2 Jedi’s Plus Anakin struggling against 1 Sith Lord. And that amazing sight of that planet with a sequence between Jango Fett and Obi One.
    7) Revenge of the Sith – a strong conclusion to Anakins transformation..
    8) Phantom Menace
    9) Rise of Skywalker – quite good
    10)Force Awakens
    11)Last Jedi- which I regret purchasing in pay per view.

    • I love your take on Attack of the Clones. I think people often latch onto the admittedly bad points and look over the really good scenes such as the Jango/Kenobi fight on Kamino. And I’ll never forget the crowd going wild when Yoda pulls out his lightsaber to go at it with Dooku.

  11. We’ve got some similarities, but a lot of differences. Mainly, I think Attack of the Clones is far and away the worse movie of the franchise and Rogue One is one of the best.

    1. The Empire Strikes Back.
    2. A New Hope
    3. Rogue One
    4. The Last Jedi
    5. Revenge of the Sith
    6. Return of the Jedi
    7. The Rise of Skywalker
    8. The Force Awakens
    9. Solo
    10. The Phantom Menace
    11. Attack of the Clones

    • Interesting list. I like several of your placements. Interesting to see The Last Jedi so high especially ahead of Return (which I think is extraordinary). I get what you’re saying about Clones, but I think people often overlook the good stuff in that movie. Granted though, it has its rough patches.

  12. Subject to not-infrequent change, my list is:
    1. Revenge of the Sith
    2. The Last Jedi
    3. The Rise of Skywalker
    4. The Empire Strikes Back
    5. A New Hope
    6. Rogue One (OK, I’m uncertain about having it this low)
    7. The Force Awakens (another one I’m uncertain about ranking this low)
    8. Return of the Jedi
    9. Attack of the Clones
    10. Solo
    11. The Phantom Menace
    I enjoy them all, of course.
    (Ironically, my family’s watching A New Hope right now.)

  13. Oh my god! I leave town for a few days and this happens. Just a couple of comments – All the muppet-like things running around in Return of the Jedi knock it down a few notches for me, just gets a little goofy. Empire Strikes Back is one of the good ones, just has that problem that middle stories of trilogies all have – it doesn’t have an ending, it leaves you hanging. The movies with Hayden Christensen suffer from one of the worst lead performances I think I’ve ever seen in a movie, and Portman isn’t a whole lot better. Partly Lucas would be to blame for not insisting on doing about 50 takes of a few of those scenes until Christensen came up with a decent delivery.

    I always rate the first one as best, just because as you say- the originality factor, and it’s a lot of fun.

    • HaHa! I don’t mind the Ewoks. Yes they’re a little too cutesy but there is also a nice theme behind them that I like. Plus they offer up some nice moments for the main characters. I’m not as down on Christensen’s performance. It’s not great but I find it to be serviceable and even better in Episode III. But I do think he’s terrible in the romance scenes. Some of that falls on the cringe-inducing dialogue Lucas gives him. But he doesn’t sell it at all in “Clones”. It’s baaaaad.

  14. Pingback: RANKED: The Star Wars Films — Keith & the Movies | First Scene Screenplay Festival

  15. I’ll always love star wars, and I definitely agree about your first pick. It’s kind of sad to see that the last two films could’ve been so much more but really could’ve used some better direction. For me Force Awakens was the only good film in the last trilogy. Not sure if you’ve seen the clone wars franchise but it’s been really amazing in fleshing out characters and expanding the star wars universe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s