You can either credit or blame Star Wars for Hollywood trends toward epic franchises, state-of-the-art special effects, and the use of CGI, but you can’t claim it wasn’t influential. Star Wars changed the landscape of movie-making forever, and it’s still beloved by generations.
If you just finished watching the newest season of “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus, you’re probably left wanting more. Before “Ashoka,” an eight-episode spinoff, comes out in August, let's reminisce about the franchise.
I consider myself more of a Star Wars purist than a die-hard fan, so you can probably guess which three movies are going to top this list. Everyone has a different opinion, so read on to see how our ranking compares to your own.
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12. ‘Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker’ (2019)
The verdict is in, and the final two episodes are the weakest of the bunch. As a post-Disney installment of the franchise, many fans feel that it’s overly commercial and suffers from a lack of imagination — exactly what they feared from the takeover. “The Rise of Skywalker” is incredibly ambitious, attempting to tie up every storyline and character as the final episode chronologically in the saga. As a result, though, the film feels convoluted and rushed.
11. ‘The Clone Wars’ (2008)
Is it fair to include the animated one-off “The Clone Wars” on this list? Maybe not. As a movie, it’s probably weaker than “The Rise of Skywalker,” but it didn’t feel right to put it at the bottom of the list. For many Millennials and younger audiences, “The Clone Wars” was their introduction to the Star Wars franchise. The animation was pretty bad, but the characters shine and the plot is a decent introduction to the prequels. All in all, a weird but enjoyable watch.
10. ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’ (2017)
I’m a fan of director Rian Johnson’s other projects, including “Knives Out” and “Poker Face,” which have been celebrated for their excellent storytelling. That’s why it’s surprising and disappointing that the plot for “The Last Jedi” was so poor. The film raises a lot of questions for which it doesn’t provide satisfactory answers, and it fails to build on its predecessor, “The Force Awakens.” To his credit, Johnson seems to be a true fan, and he delivers a nostalgic feeling.
9. ‘Episode II: Attack of the Clones’ (2002)
Nostalgia still makes Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen my favorite Star Wars leads, but “Attack of the Clones” is not a good movie. The actors can’t do much with the poor dialogue, which makes all the performances come across wooden. It leans more heavily than ever on expensive CGI, abandoning investment in the characters. It feels like more of a setup for future installments than a stand-alone film, and in that sense, it successfully advanced the wider plot.
8. ‘Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ (1999)
One review described “The Phantom Menace” as a “bright, noisy vacuum,” which isn’t a bad way to put it. It wasn’t helped by the hype surrounding its release as the first movie of the prequel trilogy. Fans were disappointed, but they were expecting the prequels to be the same as the original trilogy. “The Phantom Menace” wasn’t terrible and it created a fresh new setup for the prequels that marked them as different from the originals, but it lacked the heart of the core trilogy.
7. ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ (2018)
The second of the stand-alone Star Wars origin-story films, “Solo” is a middling chapter in the Star Wars saga. Some great actors, including Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson, add a welcome dash of realness to the film, but the plot suffers from low stakes and poor ties to the other films. Many fans felt that an origin story for Han Solo wasn’t necessary. It didn’t advance the wider plot nor make Solo’s character more likable, with some reviews calling it a “disposable installment.”
6. ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (2016)
Unlike fans’ feelings on “Solo,” “Rogue One” was a very welcome origin story. It does a great job of explaining and demonstrating the ideologies of the Star Wars universe and has just enough connection to the other films to feel consistent but different as a stand-alone. It looks great, it successfully diversified for modern times, and the story does an admirable job weaving itself in as an integral fable to the wider universe.
5. ‘Episode VII: The Force Awakens’ (2015)
Many fans were extremely skeptical going into the new Disney-owned sequel trilogy, but “The Force Awakens” managed to quell their fears as a surprisingly solid episode. A lot of money was spent fully revitalizing the franchise, so it looks darn good. Lovable new characters like Rey and Finn capture audiences and carry on the torch for a new generation. Combining older characters’ recognizable faces with engaging new leads strikes a good balance of fan service and originality.
4. ‘Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ (2005)
Despite the rocky first two installments, the prequel trilogy found its stride in “Revenge of the Sith.” It still suffers from some of the classic Star Wars downfalls of predictability and over-reliance on effects, but it’s an emotional and impactful conclusion to the prequel trilogy that finally gave some poorly served characters their moment to shine. Battle scenes are also fantastic, with just enough CGI to look slick while remaining consistent with the franchise.
3. ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’ (1983)
We’ve made it to the core trilogy section of the list, with the well-deserved top three spots. All of the originals were fabulous, but “Return of the Jedi” lacked some of the wonder of the first two installments as the franchise started to feel a little tired. As the third of the original trilogy, the characters are well established and loved by audiences, so watching the conclusion of their plotlines is absorbing and exciting. The story is emotional and the film is technically impressive, tying up the original trilogy very well.
2. ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ (1977)
Better known as just “Star Wars,” this is the film that started it all and captured the hearts of multiple generations. There’s some debate over whether it deserves the top spot, but as the first film, I feel like it was still wearing training wheels. For the 1970s, the effects are impressive but don’t look as good to modern audiences as later installments. The story is nearly perfect, however, and introduces us to the characters and universe we have come to love for decades.
1. ‘Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)
After the success of “A New Hope,” the Star Wars franchise truly reached its peak of mastery in “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s emotional, suspenseful, bittersweet, and meaningful. Perhaps the darkest episode, it does an excellent job expanding the universe and fleshing out key characters. The love story between Han Solo and Princess Leia is the most moving of the franchise, and the dialogue is top notch. If you’re looking for a perfect Star Wars movie, this is it.