By Nick Maylor
I’m not a huge fan of having to rank things in numerical order. It’s hard to decide which performance, moment or movie is objectively better than any other (at any given time). However, there have been 10 theatrically-released, live-action films in the series; Episodes I through VI in the “saga” films and two anthology installments.
Since the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney, I have given my seal of approval to each picture they have released. I have no doubt that the entire idea of this post is blasphemous to some die-hards. And if it isn’t, the order I chose will certainly trigger some anger, hate, and all that nasty stuff that draws people to the dark side.
There may be some surprises here. The first and last entries not among them.
10. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Was there any doubt that this would take the bottom spot? Universally considered the weakest of all the films; this snore fest is so boring and useless that you literally don’t even have to watch it to view the series as a whole. You can start from Episode II onwards and not be lost. The film doesn’t provide any relevant plot information. Skip the nonsense and watch the lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul. Check out the pod racing sequence if you’re in the mood. The infamous “Machete Order” (IV, V, II, III, VI) omits The Phantom Menace entirely.
9. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
The prequel trilogy contains at least two redeeming features. the lightsaber battles and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan. While containing some cringe-worthy dialogue between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, we do get some genuinely cool moments. I won’t lie, the kid in me squealed fairly emphatically when I saw Yoda bust out his light-saber. Ewan McGregor again steals the show, and despite appearing in the weakest of the films, he makes Obi-Wan Kenobi my favourite Jedi.
8. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
This film had a checklist of things it needed to get done. People had to die. Others had to disappear into exile. The big thing was seeing the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. We see Anakin’s fall from grace before he gets his classic black costume. This film deserves points for having the best light-saber fight of anyone Star Wars film to date; with Obi-Wan and Anakin’s duel living up to the expectations, even if Vader’s final reveal didn’t quite work. NOOOOOOOOO!
7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
The first anthology film had a simple enough plot, tell the story of the band of rebels who stole the Death Star plans for the Rebellion and help them destroy it. It was a cool idea. The story works well and gives us a look into the world of Star Wars without focusing on the ninja superheroes (Jedi). The appearance of Darth Vader here also washes out any of the bad taste left lingering in my mouth from the prequels. The film ends about twenty minutes before the events of the 1977 film and Vader dominates most of those moments. Much like Solo, this film was capitalized upon by Disney to explain away a perceived plothole.
Also, CGI resurrected Peter Cushing worked for the most part; even if Leia didn’t
6. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Although many would disagree with me, I liked this one. The whole movie succeeds or fails on one thing; whether or not one can accept Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. I did. Quite easily, actually. Basically, all this movie needed to go to get my seal of approval was: Pull off the Kessell Run, show us how Han got the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian and give me some satisfactory bromance between Han and Chewie. I believe that the picture accomplished these tasks. Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany and the rest of the cast provide solid performances and the plot moves along just fine. Despite losing its directors mid-way through filming, Ron Howard came and picked up the pieces to deliver a satisfying Solo origin story.
5. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
You might be surprised to see the entry so early in the list. Well, ranking this is problematic. However, this solid picture goes here because I genuinely think good things of the sequel trilogy. Yes, we get Vader redeemed and lots of great stuff but… Ewoks. A bit too cutesy. Also, in hindsight, I’m not sure I’m willing to forgive Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader for all the genocide just because he pulled through for his estranged son at the last minute.
4. Star Wars – The Last Jedi (2017)
Yup. I dug it. I dug it a LOT. Leia’s space-walk lets me awestruck. Luke was awesome and I enjoyed the hermit angle. Carrie Fischer delivers her best performance in any of the films in the series (as Leia is given her biggest role). I could have gone without Benicio Del Toro and the casino side plot but the biggest thing this movie did to score points with me?
It left me wondering what was to come next. We won’t know until Episode IX next year but honestly, where does the story go from here? For the first time in my life, I genuinely have no idea what will follow, and that is exciting.
3. Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015)
This film’s main criticism is that is basically retreads over the plot of the 1977 original. It’s a valid argument. However, J.J. Abrams pulled of something awesome here. He introduced us to interesting new characters, took the series back to its roots by not using greenscreen after greenscreen, and made us excited for more. Seeing Han and Chewie return to the bridge of the Millenium Falcon, Han uttering: “Chewie, we’re home!” got me right in the feels.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
The original. The one where we met Luke, Han, Leia, Obi-Wan, Vader and the Death Star. The best picture in the series directed by its creator, George Lucas, Star Wars changed everything about cinema, pop culture and set the standard for merchandising and marketing. Those action figures have pulled in a few dollars since 1977. The twin suns on Tatooine. John Williams’ sweeping and epic score. The Cantina band. Alec Guinness. The birth of modern space opera. More like The Wizard of Oz than Star Trek as Mark Hamill so wisely put it.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The darkest of the films, Irving Kershner’s directing made this the sweeping tragedy that puts it above the rest. The film has a down ending, as so many great pictures do. I’ll never know what that reveal felt like for viewers in 1980. I knew that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father before I ever saw a frame of these movies. Thanks to Homer Simpson for that one.
Who knows what will come at this point. The Anthology films seem to have been put to bed and where the saga will go after Episode IX is anybody’s guess.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor