This article was originally posted in 2015, after the release of The Force Awakens. With the release of Rogue One (reviewed by Jack here) I thought I’d update it. Expect to see it again at the end of 2017 with the release of Episode VIII!
Well, this was quite a daunting task. Ranking the Star Wars films is not as easy as you’d first think especially if you plan to stick to your guns and risk provoking the millions, if not billions, of Star Wars fans across the globe. I suppose I could have made it easy and predictable and put the films into the almost universally accepted order but no, I’ve decided to go with what I believe, even if it will anger a few of you out there. First up it’s the worst (or rather, the least best) film of the lot!
8. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Ok, ok, maybe putting The Phantom Menace at the bottom of the list doesn’t come as a complete surprise, but despite its low ranking and its universally crap reputation, The Phantom Menace actually has some great moments in it. Liam Neeson’s Qui Gon Jinn, however ineffective he turns out to be, is pretty awesome. As is the villain, Darth Maul, who soon became a fan favourite and was brought back from the dead in the extended universe, a fate reserved for the best supporting characters such as Boba Fett. Although when the list of characters from the film is examined it does seem that there are more irritating characters than there are good. We might get Darth Maul for about ten minutes of screen time but we then get Jar Jar Binks, who seems to be in every single scene. And the while the hatred of the film itself is excessive, the hatred for Jar Jar certainly isn’t. In fact saying Jar Jar is the worst thing about the entire Star Wars franchise is probably still an understatement and I’ve seen the Star Wars holiday special. Not only does his whole exaggerated appearance and accent have an unpleasant air of racism about it, he’s just not funny either. But George Lucas must’ve thought he was because he pops up in most scenes throughout the film and hardly does anything worthwhile. Most of the film’s crimes are forgotten about in an instant though when at the climax of the film, when the awesome John Williams score starts, the hanger doors open, and Darth Vader stands there, double ended lightsaber in hand. Awesome moments like these are fewer and far between in The Phantom Menace than in the other Star Wars films but there are certainly enough to make the weakest Star Wars film worth a watch.
7. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Like the film before it, Attack of the Clones does have problems, especially in the acting department. Luckily none of these match the sins of Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace and for the most part Attack of the Clones is a great step in the right direction for the prequels. The standout moments in the film, and the prequels as a whole, are those kickass Jedi battles and Attack of the Clones has one of the best with the colosseum fight. Seeing all the different Jedi appear in one massive and awesome battle is one of the reasons I’ll always defend the prequels; this sort of stuff was new and unique and couldn’t have been done in the originals. The film’s attempt at a sort of Jedi neo-noir early on, with Obi Wan and Anakin snaking through the lowly lit, seedy clubs of Coruscant in pursuit of a killer is another highlight. Seeing our Jedi heroes doing some gum shoe detective work is a fun sight and this investigation pays off in one of the most stylish and badass scenes in the entire franchise with a rain soaked fistfight between Obi Wan Kenobi and Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fight. The low point of the film is the dialogue, with particular awfulness coming from Hayden Christensen as Anakin and Natalie Portman as Padme. I’m one of the few defenders of Christensen as Anakin but some of the lines between Anakin and Padme are just painful. And while the scenes of Anakin and Padme spending time together on Naboo are necessary for the building of their relationship, surely they could they have been a little less awkward. Luckily the good parts are more than enough to make up for the bad bits and the prequels improve substantially by the next outing.
6. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
I can hear the outrage from here. Why is the original Star Wars in the bottom half of a best of list? Well for me there is one big reason: the best parts of the film are even better in the eventual sequels. I do love this film, I really do. It’s a perfect self-contained narrative and is the only film able to exist completely alone. The best character of the entire franchise, Han Solo, is introduced wonderfully here as is the runner up for best character, the face of Star Wars itself; Darth Vader. The action is fun and frantic, the music is outstanding, and the characters are interesting and creative. Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is instantly likable and the perfect hero for the series. A New Hope is the original Star Wars. But as you can see from its ranking on this list, I don’t think it’s particularly the best. The awesome characters just more awesome in the sequels once they have come into their own and had their quirks worked out. The lightsaber battles in the sequels are much better than the Obi Wan vs. Vader fight in A New Hope, just think about the Vader vs. Luke fight in Return of The Jedi for example. The relationships between the characters are great in A New Hope but they become outstanding later on when plots such as Vader being Luke’s father are revealed. A New Hope is still a brilliant film though, and deserves even more praise for starting of such a wonderful and iconic series.
5. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Traditionally speaking, Return of the Jedi is often thought of as the weakest of the original films. It’s the point when the bad parts of Lucas’s filmmaking reared its ugly animatronic head in the form of the child-friendly ewoks. The way some people talk about them you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise before Jar Jar Binks. But they’re not that bad, and the film itself has only gotten better with age. Ok, so it’s not the dark follow up that The Empire Strikes Back was but the film is still great. The battle for Endor finale is still awesome and the final battle between Luke, Vader, and The Emperor is almost certainly the best one of the original films. The final moments of Vader’s life, when he takes off the helmet is heart-breaking, it’s a brilliant moment. The film has a few low points, Boba Fett’s pathetic death being one of them. For such a badass character he goes out in quite an embarrassing way. The whole slave Leia parts of the film are also a bit strange. The fact that they take a cool, commanding character and reducing her to eye-candy is a bit uncomfortable. But apart from these moments, Return of the Jedi is a fun and fitting end to the series, and features some of the best scenes of the entire franchise.
4. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
The (second) newest entry in the Star Wars movie canon shot right to the top end of the list when I wrote it last year. Since then it’s lost a place. That’s more to do with my re-evaluated opinion of Episode III rather than TFA though. Some critics have pointed out it’s similarities between TFA and A New Hope but whether you see this as a good thing or a bad thing it’s hard to argue that The Force Awakens isn’t a fantastic film. With J.J. Abrams on directing duties, the world(s) of Star Wars have never looked better. Using some of the skills he honed on the Star Trek films, and toning down his use of laughably over the top lens flares, the film pops with his great use of colours and his expert understanding on how inject an action scene with a unique brand of kinetic energy. The action just flows wonderfully and his input into Lawrence Kasdan’s already brilliant script means there is a good dose of humour too. The new cast members do a fantastic job fitting into this established world and interacting with series stalwarts like Han and Leia and occasionally the new kids even stole the show. Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn are awesome and hilarious in equal measure and Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron is probably the coolest guy in the galaxy. Look out for a fun little cameo by underrated character actor Greg Grunberg too, who gives us larger fans someone other than Porkins to cosplay as. The film does have one or two problems; a couple of plot points could’ve been expanded, such as just who The Republic is, but I suppose that’s what sequels are for. The ending perfectly sets these up and for me Episode 8 can’t come soon enough.
3. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Yeah it hurts me too, putting a prequel after two of the originals and TFA, but I couldn’t avoid it. I love Revenge of the Sith. It makes all of the wooden acting and terrible, terrible side characters that came before worth it. And there are so many good bits to it. The descent from Jedi to Sith that Anakin goes on is a real highlight and Hayden Christensen is great as an evil but conflicted Anakin. Some of his line reading is still a little off but for the most part he is brilliant in the role. The always brilliant Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan has some great scenes as well and his fight with Grievous is so well done. His “You were the chosen one!” scene at the climax of the film is also great and his performance really conveys the dramatic elements of Anakin’s transformation without ever being too hammy. The film contains perhaps my favourite scene in the series as well, when the Emperor tells the clones to carry out ‘order 66’. Beautiful shot and scored, reminiscent of the famous baptism scene in The Godfather, it’s the perfect way to show how the world of the prequels became the world of the original series. The lightsaber duel between Obi Wan and Anakin is another awesome moment. The two Jedi’s fighting it out on what is pretty much a planet made out of magma, teamed with one of the best John Williams scores will go down as one of the iconic moments of the franchise, up there with the Darth Vader’s Imperial March. Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequels and the nearly the best Star Wars film of all.
2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The newest entry in the Star Wars canon marks the best the franchise has been since 1980. The Empire Strikes Back just about takes the grand prize but the fact that Rogue One got so close is an achievement in itself. Especially so, considering it’s standalone status and apparently ‘troubled’ production. Casual viewers will find complaints somewhere in the film I’m sure but for Star Wars fans such as myself it’s near perfect. It fits into the established canon and simultaneously feels like something new. It’s completely extra material; you could take it out of the series and viewers wouldn’t notice, but that wouldn’t be a huge mistake. Rogue One contains some of the best writing, direction, action, and characters of the entire Star Wars universe. Every single cast member is wonderful, and that’s no small feat with a cast including Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Diego Luna, Wen Jiang, Riz Ahmed, and Alan Tudyk. Gareth Edwards’ direction is often stunning and the Vietnam War-esque imagery works incredibly well for the Star Wars universe. The doesn’t pull it’s punches either; The Empire Strikes Back has nothing on the downbeat ending of Rogue One. After TFA, Rogue One was seen simply as the film that would tide us over until Episode VIII. Now it’s the film Ep VIII has to live up to, and that will be quite the challenge.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
To be honest, this couldn’t have been much of a surprise. The best Star Wars film actually is the one everyone says is the best. But they’re not wrong, The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series for a number of reasons, but for me the main reason is that it is the one where everything works. Every scene is good, even the cave scene on Dagobah, a scene some criticise. The characters are all pitch perfect and the new ones introduced, like Boba Fett and Lando, are some of my favourites. The pace of the whole film is also great; it’s brilliantly frantic and it never really lets up. The ending reveal of Vader being Luke’s father is perfect, as the fact that it is now one of the most iconic movie scenes ever shows. The set design and matte painting backgrounds are stunning, as is the direction by Irvin Kershner. And although I am a fan of George Lucas’s traditional direction, the direction in this is probably the best in the entire series. The moody lighting, the dry ice, the claustrophobic locations, they all set a wonderfully atmospheric tone. That and the brilliant and inventive set pieces all work to create the most gorgeous looking film in the series. People are right when they say The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. But not only that, The Empire Strikes Back is also one of the best films ever made. Period.