Some ground rules first, though. This list will only contain the films that consist of “The Skywalker Saga,” so Rogue One and Solo will not be included. They’d be in the middle of the ranking at five and seven, respectively, if they were included. And it should also be stated that each and every one of them has issues and problems, some more than others, but this writer doesn’t find any to be truly bad. In the end, this list will also differ from whoever reads it, so let us know your list down in the comments. Now, to quote Anakin Skywalker, “This is where the fun begins.”
9. Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones is the Star Wars film that is the closest to being considered a downright bad film. It has the most issues of any of the films released so far. The biggest problem stems from the love story between Anakin and Padmé. While their relationship was expanded and made to be something worth caring about in The Clone Wars, its introduction stumbles hard. It’s boring, uninteresting, and often nonsensical.
Based on what is shown throughout the film, it’s truly hard to understand why Padmé would fall in love with Anakin. This portion of the film also boasts some atrocious dialogue, which is odd considering this is the only prequel film that credits a writer other than George Lucas. One would think this would help Lucas build better dialogue, but that’s not the case.
There’s a lot to like about this film though, and that comes from Obi-Wan’s storyline. Everything revolving around the mystery of the Clone army to his chase with Jango Fett to his capture on Geonosis is great. There are a couple of problems in execution throughout these portions, but most are forgivable. The ending, with Jedi and Clone army swarming the colosseum, is also astonishing and incredibly fun to watch. There are plenty of other moments in the film that have solid ideas behind them, but lackluster execution, which is pretty much the most common detraction of this film. Decent idea, bad execution.
8. The Rise of Skywalker
Easily the most flawed film of the sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker had several impossible tasks. It had to wrap up a 42-year-old story, the sequel trilogy’s story, as well as fit in an ending for Leia three years after Carrie Fisher’s death. This is an unenviable situation to be put in as a filmmaker, and J.J. Abrams did a decent job. It’s a film that is very rough around the edges and a bit uninspired at times, but it’s a fun ride that is absolutely gorgeous to look at.
The best part of The Rise of Skywalker hands down is the story of Rey and Kylo Ren. Their story has consistently been the best part about the Sequel Trilogy and that carries into this film. There are some twists and turns that some people are bound to dislike, which is understandable, but that doesn’t take away from how compelling the two are together. To put it simply, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren steals the show.
As for the rest of the film, it’s a weird, often convoluted, series of events that has the same problem of serialization that Return of the Jedi has. The difference is that, instead of being slow and sometimes boring like Return of the Jedi, it’s extremely fast-paced and has no time to breathe. The parts are enjoyable, but it doesn’t come together into the most cohesive whole.
7.The Phantom Menace
In what can be a boring and monotonous slog at times, there’s a solid film to be found within The Phantom Menace. Arguably the most philosophical of the Prequel Trilogy, there’s a good amount of time in this film that builds the universe in important thematic ways. Sure there are midichlorians but, in the context of the trilogy as a whole, the focus on this portion of the Force could be viewed as one of their mistakes — caring more about the science of the Force than the belief. This film does a great job of setting up the failures of the Jedi Order that pervaded the Prequel Trilogy, and it does so in such subtle ways.
The action throughout, such as the Podrace and just about all of Darth Maul’s scenes, is fantastic as well. The final lightsaber duel is still one of the best fight scenes in the franchise. Basically, whenever Maul shows up in the film, it’s fantastic. The rest of the fight scenes range from decent to good as well.
As mentioned though, this film fails largely because it’s unable to grab the viewer’s attention. The talk of trade negotiations is uninteresting, and the idea that an invasion needs to have something signed to make it legal is nonsensical. Young Anakin is often quite annoying at times but, after several rewatches, he can become a bit endearing.
6. The Last Jedi
The most divisive film of the franchise, The Last Jedi is a Star Wars film that is willing to play with the formula, and that’s what makes it great. It does its own thing and creates a compelling story because of that. Unlike many Star Wars films, there are shades of gray in every part of this film, and there are no easy answers to be given. It’s something unlike anything else in Star Wars. The film has some lapses in execution, namely Canto Bight, but the good greatly outweighs the bad.
The best thing about The Last Jedi is its consistent theme: failure. The entire film is about failure. Luke’s failure to live up to the legend that others think he is. Rey’s failure to turn Kylo to the light. Poe’s failure that he thinks is a success. Finn and Rose’s failure in every part of their plan. There’s not a single character in this film that doesn’t fail at something, except for Yoda, and that’s what makes this film compelling. These characters are not perfect, and The Last Jedi shows that exquisitely well.
The consistent theme of failure is what makes the finale of The Last Jedi so enthralling. Every little failure that has occurred throughout the film has led to this so, even in seeing the Resistance on its back foot, seeing Luke Skywalker and the rest learning from their failures is captivating.
5. The Force Awakens
The first film of the Sequel Trilogy is a rollercoaster of fun. As an introduction to our new cast of characters, it succeeds effortlessly and, as a passing of the torch, it’s also executed quite well. There are plenty of familiar beats from previous Star Wars films but, when The Force Awakens is viewed as what it should be — a soft reboot to the franchise — they’re very forgivable. Plus, to quote George Lucas, “It’s like poetry, they rhyme.”
As mentioned before, the best part of the Sequel Trilogy is the story of Rey and Kylo Ren. They don’t have many interactions here, but the ones they do are fantastic. Plus, their individual stories are great as well. Rey finally gets to go on the journey she’s been hoping for long before the film begins. Kylo’s struggle within himself and the subsequent murder of his father are extremely compelling. Combine both and you have the through-line of the trilogy.
But c’mon, the best part of this film is Han Solo. It’s wonderful to see Harrison Ford back as the character, even if it’s heartbreaking to watch him die. It’s wonderful to see how much this character has changed since we last saw him, but he’s still that same rogue at heart. The only wishful thing about his role here is the thought that he should’ve spent more time with Leia.
4.Revenge of the Sith
The best of the Prequel Trilogy, Revenge of the Sith suffers from the same issues The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones suffer from. However, it doesn’t suffer from them quite as much, and its strengths are much, much stronger than the other two. As a finale to the rise of Darth Vader, it absolutely could’ve been better, but it’s still pretty good.
The main things Revenge of the Sith suffers from are stretches of boring political sequences, which is disappointing because, when the political elements of Star Wars are done right, they’re great. There’s also a plethora of bad dialogue. Neither are as bad as the previous films, nor go on excessively long in the case of the political sequences, but they are still very noticeable.
Where the film excels, however, is the action sequences. Every single one, from the first twenty minutes to the final fight on Mustafar, is exhilarating, character-driven, or both. George Lucas is not a great screenwriter, but he devises fantastic overall stories. He’s proven himself to be a visionary director, and it shows in Revenge of the Sith. Lucas hasn’t directed many films over the course of his career, but this film shows just how capable he is when he has everything he needs to craft the story that he wants to tell.
3. Return of the Jedi
When compared to both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi really falls flat. It’s not that it’s a bad film in the slightest and most of the individual parts work incredibly well. That’s the key though, this film feels entirely like individual parts and comes off as the most serialized film of the series. It honestly feels like three episodes of a television show, two of which are good, one of which is okay.
The entirety of the first act is simply an adventure to save Han from his carbonite imprisonment that occurred at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a fun adventure that establishes Luke as a Jedi, but it doesn’t feel connected to the next two acts in the slightest. The back half of the film is much more intertwined with the two stories it’s telling, but only one is continuously interesting. Seriously, a good portion of the second act is C-3P0 reciting the events of the two previous films to Ewoks. It’s hard to understand why this is the longest film of the Original Trilogy.
Where the film completely redeems itself is the third act, which is absolutely perfect. It’s exciting, character-driven, and pushes forward the themes the series is known for. The lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader is incredible. The space battle is nail-biting. And even the battle of the forest moon of Endor is fun. Plus, this is the real introduction of the Emperor after only having glimpses of mentions of the character in the previous film.
2. A New Hope
The film that started it all, a film that had everything riding against, a film that only got made because the president of 20th Century Fox at the time, Alan Ladd Jr., liked Lucas’ previous film American Graffiti. Yet here we are, forty-two years later, recounting the best Star Wars films. That is all thanks to Star Wars, later given the subtitle A New Hope.
This film takes influences from around several different genres, and around the world and makes them its own. From westerns to samurai to Flash Gordon, A New Hope takes those influences and reinvents them. Because of that, A New Hope manages to introduce its entire cast of characters in fun, familiar ways that still feel entirely different from all of its influences. The tropes are there, but they feel different because it subverts and allows the characters to build naturally out of the surrounding world. That’s the key to this film’s success; not the plot, but the characters. The characters, and the groundbreaking effects, are why this film stays in the public consciousness. Darth Vader, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3P0, each and every one of these characters are and will forever be in the public lexicon because of this film.
There are admittedly some wonky things present here, such as wooden acting and gaffes that would be ridiculed endlessly if made today, but that’s part of the charm of the film. Despite everything working against it, the Star Wars franchise is a juggernaut today, and it’s all thanks to the original film.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
This may be unsurprising and cliché at this point, but The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. It’s the closest thing to perfection that the Star Wars films have gotten to. It’s also the film that benefited the most from George Lucas’ specialized editions. Sure, just like every film on this list, there are problems but less so than most. In fact, most of the problems end sounding more like nitpicks than actual issues and, if you’re nitpicking, it’s not an actual problem.
Like The Last Jedi, this film is the most thematically resonant of its respective trilogy, and it handles a similar theme: failure. When the film starts with Luke being attacked by a Wampa and then almost getting killed escaping from it, you know you’re in for a different kind of film than A New Hope. That continues throughout the rest of the film. The Rebellion gets stomped repeatedly. The first appearance of Yoda is shocking and surprising beyond all belief. Lando’s betrayal, which leads to Han being frozen in carbonite, is heartbreaking. And finally, there’s Luke’s loss of his hand and the reveal of who Darth Vader is. It’s a twist that will live on forever.