The Star Wars live-action films have long been held in great esteem by cinema fans the world over, their mix of sci-fi and western-inspired beats and tropes becoming the stuff of legend under the tutelage of creator George Lucas and the Disney-branded version of Lucasfilm that followed his watchful reign over the franchise. Characters as iconic as Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Kylo Ren, Rey and Darth Vader have pierced the zeitgeist to etch themselves into the public consciousness, while moments as profound as an orphaned child being the catalyst for ending the evil in the universe have come to be as memorable as anything put to screen in the 40-plus years since we were first invited back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Somewhat miraculously, the Star Wars franchise has, in this time, survived numerous hits – direct-to-TV spin-off abominations, underwhelming sequels, a sale to a massive media conglomerate, more ill-fated spin-offs and increasingly toxic audience engagement – to remain one of the most significant, relevant and celebrated media franchises in history, and this is in no small part due to the filmmakers behind the franchise’s most prized assets: its live-action movies.
Despite there being 10-plus cinematic releases spanned across 40-plus years by 7 different filmmakers, Star Wars has for the most part remained Star Wars, the new creators sitting in the director’s chairs more often than not managing to achieve the difficult task of merging the already existing feel of the universe with their own unique styles, each entry therefore feeling somewhat unique despite its recognisable elements.
In this edition of ranked, it will be these 7 filmmakers we’ll be focusing on, comparing their careers in terms of the quality and significance of their overall output in order to establish who the best (and the worst) Star Wars directors are.
Please note: the following ranking will consider the work each director offered over the course of their entire career, not just their respective Star Wars movies.
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7. Irvin Kershner
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
The director of the best Star Wars movie of all time, it’s fair to claim that Irvin Kershner hit something of a surprise home-run for his work on Empire Strikes Back, the surprise being that the rest of his filmography had been filled with underwhelming sequels, forgettable releases and almost totally throwaway trash. Other than Empire Strikes Back, Kershner is best remembered for helming the relatively poor Robocop 2 and the not-legally-Bond 007: James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery. The director of the best Wars film he may be, but the best director in the franchise’s history he is not.
Recommended for you: Star Wars Live-Action Movies Ranked
6. Richard Marquand
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Richard Marquand may have brought the original Star Wars trilogy to an end in a safe and less genre-testing way than may have been expected following Kershner’s Empire Strikes Back, but in his relatively short 10 year career the director managed to accumulate a number of reasonably successful releases, including Eye of the Needle and Until September, the films which he released either side of Return of the Jedi. The Welsh-born filmmaker may not have had a loud and shouty career, but his solid (albeit short-lived) work makes for better reading than Kershner’s, despite his lesser job on the Star Wars franchise itself.
5. Gareth Edwards
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Ranked so low in the pecking order more because of his relatively small number of releases – only three to date: Monsters; Godzilla; Rogue One – Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars movie was one of the better received of the Disney-branded selection, his testing movie featuring the scariest scene of the decade but his other work being little more than glimpses as to the director’s full potential. A filmmaker with a creative eye for monster-making, Edwards will undoubtedly increase as a filmmaking presence in the years and decades to come, but for now he’s only just inside of our top 5.