4. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
By Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Lucas was so close to connecting his prequel trilogy to the magic of his original creation that his 3rd turn-of-the-century movie couldn’t fail but to offer at least glimpses of the magic of what made Star Wars so popular, making for a much more watchable prequel entry than both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Here, Lucas offered answers to questions he’d teased for decades and hit his stride in presenting the philosophy of the dark side and therefore the spiritual stakes at play in each of the film’s battles. But with a prequel comes the inherent problem of having very low physical stakes – audiences know who’s going to live and who’s going to die – and therefore a struggle with connecting audiences to the narrative twists and turns they may ordinarily get hooked to. While some elements of this film were to a standard long associated with Star Wars and therefore Lucas himself, other elements were simply ill-fitted to such a beloved series and such a well respected creator. Lucas has, to this day, never directed again; his issues in bringing the prequel trilogy to the big screen compounding his clear lack of passion for the role. In the hands of any other director, Revenge of the Sith, just like the other prequel entries, would have been panned by critics, ripped apart by audiences and denounced as less-than Star Wars by just about everyone who came into contact with it – which illustrates everything that anyone needs to know about the film’s quality – but because it was Lucas, it got a pass, and a pass that just-so happened to be slightly wider than those given to the other two films.
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3. THX 1138 (1971)
A film that was released to an absent chorus of appreciation, Lucas’ first feature THX 1138 paints the picture of a filmmaker with an immensely vivid imagination and a mind sensible enough to control it. The 1971 release, that stars Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, and chronicles humans living underground 500 years in the future, has a lot in common with the visually appealing science fiction offerings of the period, not least the 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1984 and Soylent Green. Though criticised at the time for being somewhat formulaic as a narrative (where have we heard that before?), THX 1138 remains watchable for its imaginative and in some places timeless visuals, Lucas’ arrival in the industry under the recommendation of Francis Ford Coppola being one that would lay the groundwork for the following two releases – his best ever – and marking a clear standard-bearer that his prequels (released in some cases 30 years later) sadly couldn’t live up to.
2. American Graffiti (1973)
A love letter to his adolesence, Lucas’ American Graffiti was a strong (albeit vastly different) springboard onto his Star Wars franchise, the filmmaker’s work in this 1973 sleeper hit being touted as inspiration for a number of the following decades’ best directors including Richard Linklater (who would revisit the era of his own youth with Everybody Wants Some and Dazed and Confused) and Steven Spielberg.
Like American history being contained within a snow-globe, this All-American affair speaks of a loss of hope in the American dream to contemporary audiences, keeping the value of the film high even in the more spectacle-focused era we currently live in. Starring Richard Dreyfuss (who would later star in Jaws), this entry into the Lucas filmography can be considered one of American cinema’s very best offerings of the 1970s; a certifiable list-topper for almost anyone else, but not this extraordinary filmmaker.
1. Star Wars (1977)
Was it ever likely to be anything else?
Star Wars (1977) was not only an incredible movie filled to the brim with exciting set-pieces, relateable characters, remarkable CGI and riveting narrative stakes, but it was a spectacle unlike almost anything cinema had ever seen. The concoction of sci-fi and western tropes Lucas combined for this record-shattering movie confirmed the establishment of the blockbuster just years after Lucas’ good pal Steven Spielberg created it with Jaws (1975), and set into motion the pop culture machine that is the Star Wars IP in the modern day.
With all the circus surrounding Star Wars in the contemporary space, it is perhaps uncommon that people look more deeply at its first release than they should; this arguably cinema-saving piece forming a connection with people around the globe like nothing else in movie history through the above-mentioned factors, iconic characters (with performances to match) and one of the most instantly recognisable scores ever made, courtesy of John Williams.
Regardless of what the consensus reads regarding Lucas’ prequels, his creation of Star Wars as a brand shall be his legacy, though his direction of the first Star Wars film should not go without praise. A filmmaker and creator as important to film as the great authors are to literature and the artists are to painting, Lucas’ contribution will be remembered as being vast and progressive in a lot of the industry’s sectors, but it will be Star Wars (1977) that will provide the visuals to any career retrospective.
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But what do you think? Would you have ranked the films differently? Make sure to let us know in the comments!