How I Rank: Star Wars Movies
With Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi opening in theaters this weekend, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put out another installment in my editorial series, "How I Rank". Here, I take something in the film world. It could be a director, an actor, a franchise, or anything really along those lines, and I rank the films within it based upon my personal preferences. Some of these rankings you may agree with, and some of them you may view differently. Please feel free to jump into the comments section to voice how you think these movies should be ranked. These aren't necessarily based on how objectively good the film is; it's all based on my own personal preferences, and how I would rank these movies based on my individual enjoyment of them. So take a look at the lists I've crafted, starting with how I currently would rank all of the Star Wars movies. Please note that I am only ranking the live action movies, so the animated Clone Wars film will not be included. Careful, there may be spoilers for each of the films.
#8 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Let me get this out of the way now: I do not like the Star Wars prequels. I think they're all bags of shit, so they easily come in last place on this list. However, I do think each film varies in the degree of shit it actually is. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is the worst of the prequels. It's the least memorable. While Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is certainly terrible, it does have some redeeming qualities. Whereas, with Attack of the Clones, I don't think it has any redeeming qualities. Maybe Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, but that's about it. It's just a barrage of half-baked CGI madness with no story. And, of course, this is our first introduction to Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. He gives his worst performance as the character in this film. They reworked him a bit in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and gave him a bit more to do. But here, Christensen is completely wooden and bland. And we get his infamous "I hate sand" line in this film. Attack of the Clones is the lowest point for the Star Wars franchise, and hopefully it does not steep that low ever again.
#7 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
I think many look at The Phantom Menace as the worst of the Star Wars movies because it's the one that shocked everyone. People went into this film with through-the-roof expectations, not even considering the possibility that it could be bad. And, of course, we all know what happened with that. But when Attack of the Clones came around, people were hoping for a good movie, but they weren't nearly as duped as they were by The Phantom Menace. However, when you look at the films objectively, I do think The Phantom Menace has more redeeming qualities. Darth Maul is a solid villain, and he has a cool lightsaber fight at the end. Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jin and Ewan McGreggor as Obi Wan Kenobi are great casting choices, ones that have risen above the quality of the film. If this movie didn't have Jar Jar Binks at all, then I think people would look upon it more favorably. But it does, and it brings down the film significantly. He's a ludicrous character, and one who shatters any sense of seriousness The Phantom Menace had built up. A problem with the prequels is that they are made exclusively for children. While the original trilogy is certainly accessible to kids, they are intelligent enough movies that adults can enjoy them too, perhaps even more so than children. But the prequels are exclusively for kids, alienating adults. And The Phantom Menace is probably the best representation of that issue.
#6 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith is the best prequel movie, but that's the same as saying this particular nugget of shit is the best piece of shit in the whole pile; it doesn't really hold that much value. Revenge of the Sith has the most ideas that work. I've always said that the ideas and concepts behind the prequels are fantastic; it's the execution that derails them. This film is the best executed of the prequels. There are a lot of great ideas that work. General Grevious is a great villain. The lightsaber duels in this film are the best of any of the prequels. The execution of Darth Sidious' (Ian McDiarmid) Order 66 is intense, and has me on the edge of my seat. However, there is still a lot of bad things in there. Anakin's transition to the dark side is forced and rushed, without any kind of natural development. There are tons of pointless cameos and connections to the original trilogy that feel forced as well, and don't serve any sort of narrative purpose. And the utter ridiculousness of Padme's (Natalie Portman) death can go without saying. Out of all the prequels, Revenge of the Sith has the most in it that works, but it is still a weak and flawed film that does not hold a candle to the other movies in the franchise.
#5 Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is weakest of the original trilogy, and it's because it is the most prequel-esque of the original films. Those fucking Ewoks. I know some people defend them, but there's really no defending them. They are cute, cuddly bears introduced just to sell toys. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back introduced a new level to the series, being a perfect amalgamation of childish fun and darker, more serious themes. And while Return of the Jedi does have mature themes, the Ewoks represent the series going in the wrong direction, a direction taken to the extreme with the prequels. Everything involving Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and the Emperor (McDiarmid) is fantastic. The space battles are incredible to look at, even with the 1983 special effects. All the dramatic beats are perfectly realized. But it's the sillier moments that make it hard to take certain parts of this film seriously. I don't need Star Wars to be dark and brooding, but I do want it to take itself seriously, and not just be a joke for the enjoyment of little kids, and Return of the Jedi was the beginning of that damning path the prequels ended up taking.
#4 Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
I think Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a really good movie, but not a great one. It is a fantastic return to the franchise, one the series desperately needed. J.J. Abrams had a Herculean task on his hands. He needed to bridge the 30 year gap in mythology, give us convincing older versions of the original characters, give us new characters that we could latch onto, and give us an entertaining film that would win over skeptics turned off by the prequels. And Abrams manages to do all of that. In that regard, I applaud him. I love the realization of Han Solo, and I found Harrison Ford's performance to be one of the best he's given in recent years. He is certainly a highlight of the movie. However, I don't think The Force Awakens is a fantastic film. It does borrow a little too much from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for my liking. I was fine with it up until we got a third Deathstar, which I found to be too much. There's a lot to love in The Force Awakens, and I am definitely a fan of it, but I don't think it's a magnificent film worth losing your mind over.
#3 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I absolutely adore Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It is the best of the new Star Wars movies, which just may change with The Last Jedi. I understand everyone's critique of the character development, but it's not an issue for me. I bought into the characters through the performances, and I became immersed in the story. I love how they sparingly they used Darth Vader, as it makes his impact all the more powerful. And, of course, his scene at the end is one of the best scenes ever in a Star Wars movie. The third act of this film is absolutely incredible, and I ate up every second of it. But Rogue One isn't just great in of itself; it also gives new meaning to A New Hope. After I saw Rogue One in theaters, I went home and immediately rewatched A New Hope. Knowing the events of Rogue One, another whole layer of depth and purpose is added to A New Hope. When the Death Star blows up at the end, it's the culmination of two movies' worth of build-up. Rogue One is really a fantastic movie, and one that I think stands out as something quite special within the Star Wars franchise.
#2 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
While some of the other films in the series are better made than A New Hope, it has to be near the top of the list because it's the one that started it all off. This movie gives us so many things that people take for granted: all the classic characters, the actors who portray them, the initial concept, John Williams' classic themes, and so much more. It all stems from this one movie, so you cannot discount it. Yes, it has its problems; it is not a perfect film in any capacity. But you can overlook these production elements and budgetary issues because of how strong of a story it is and how well developed the characters are. And I don't hold the Special Edition changes against the film. I try to watch it and put those aside, because that's George Lucas tampering with the movie after the fact. I try to watch A New Hope (which I usually refer to simply as Star Wars, but I am calling it by its subsequently added subtitle here in order to avoid confusion) as if it doesn't have the additions, because they were never the original movie. Yes, the scene with Jabba the Hutt is horrendous and makes me cringe every time, but that wasn't George Lucas' fault back in 1977 when he made the movie. That's his fault now, so you can't blame the movie for it. A New Hope does have its flaws, but overall it's still a great film that deserves to be second on the list.
#1 Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back is easily the greatest Star Wars movie ever made. I don't think anything else in the series really comes close. It is a near perfect movie in my eyes, one that excellently blends the fun of A New Hope with darker and more mature themes. It's a serious movie, but it never loses that sense of adventure that made the first one so universally appealing, and that is an impressive feat. The opening scene on Hoth is fantastic, and is still one of the best battle sequences of the series. Mark Hamill, who came across as slightly annoying in A New Hope, gives a far more subdued and nuance performance here, one that I believe is the best he's ever given. The addition of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian is genius, as he gives the film a lot of its comedic moments without ever becoming a joke of the character. My one tiny problem with the film is I don't like how Yoda (Frank Oz) is first introduced. He is too eccentric, and it takes me out of the film. However, once they reveal him to actually be a Jedi master, he works far better as a character. I understand why they play it out in the fashion that they do, but Yoda is just too much in the beginning. But The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie by far, and I am very curious to see whether The Last Jedi ends up challenging its spot.
What do you think? How would you currently rank the Star Wars movies? Are you planning on seeing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by: Nathanael Molnár
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