This article was originally published in 2018, with updates and rewrites being published 3rd May 2020.
It’s tough to think of a cinematic landscape without Star Wars. For upwards of forty years, audiences worldwide have clamoured to cinemas to see the films on the big screen and have paid hard earned money to make the franchise the most successful merchandise selling film IP in history. Arguably the most popular franchise ever, and certainly a cultural point of reference for the vast majority of us living in the west, the Star Wars films have dominated cultural discussion for longer than most of us have been alive, the franchise’s many iconic moments working their way into the popular zeitgeist and thus transcending the world of film altogether.
From the very first title scroll that burst onto the screen to the sound of John Williams’ most epic and recognisable score, the galaxy far, far away has ignited imaginations, the under-pinning of mythology in its narrative, its otherworldly visual effects, rich selection of characters and spectacular thrills offering generation after generation a special movie memory.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re looking at all of the Star Wars film franchise’s live-action incarnations and ranking them from worst to best based on artistic merit and the overall popular consensus. We’ll be comparing work from directors with such large reputations as George Lucas, Ron Howard and Rian Johnson, and will be pitting all nine movies from the Skywalker saga, as well as the two spin-off films released to date, against one another in pursuit of finding out which Star Wars movie is the best and which is the worst.
With a franchise as beloved as Star Wars, we’re sure this list will spark controversy, so make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments or send us a tweet.
11. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
What happens? – The origins of Han Solo’s journey in a galaxy far, far away see the exuberant young renegade team up with a band of merry men and women to conduct a heist that’ll keep him away from the slave-like existence of his youth.
For all of its production problems (and there are many), Solo: A Star Wars Story actually turned out better than could have been expected. It was coherent, which is always a bonus, and actually felt like a Star Wars movie at times, owing much to the course correction of incoming director Ron Howard and a cast of talented performers playing characters each with a previously earned legacy.
It wasn’t without its issues however, many of which stemmed from its plaster-covered screenplay that jotted between some very non-Star Wars self-referential comedy and traditional Star Wars mythology, and ultimately the film felt very light in terms of stakes. It was as if Solo ended too close to where it began, with many characters having only minor evolutions by the film’s end and the story failing to bring us any closer to the events of the original Star Wars trilogy – an aspect of the screenplay that was apparently by design, Disney pushing for their first major character spin-off to become a trilogy of films leading into the original Star Wars movie, their eyes apparently fixed on profits and little else.
The studio’s decision to fire screenwriter-director duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) three quarters of their way into shooting, and to then spend a reported $100million to “fix” it, was a guttural reaction from the studio to ensure their next big IP was as “audience pleasing” (read: bland and generic) as possible so they could milk the cow for three whole films. That’s why Solo: A Star Wars Story sits at the bottom of this list – it was a passionless money-grab from a studio that did an audience poll and realised that Han Solo was one of their most popular un-mined character IPs; a far cry from the rebellious creative endeavour George Lucas’ series had started as – a black mark on the history of the franchise that, even after all of Disney’s meddling, never earned the studio a penny.
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10. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
What happens? – Anakin and Padmé begin a forbidden romance as Obi-Wan discovers a clone army built to destroy the Jedi.
Episode II was Episode I‘s madness turned up to 11 and the magic turned down to 1, the shallow love angle between Anakin and Padmé taking centre stage against the will of everyone who had seen the relationship develop in the first film, the politics of the jedi council earning extra screen time despite obvious opposition, and George Lucas’ over-reliance upon under-developed CGI leaving an awful impression on a franchise that had always been at the forefront of special effects.
The troubled child of Episode I had become a petulant young adult in Episode II, Attack of the Clones painting young Anakin as an entitled brat with the emotional range of a Russian doll. The character who was destined to become the most iconic villain in the history of cinema was shown monologuing about hating sand, and desperately longing for a woman he’d developed a crush on in his childhood. When remembering the most embarrassing or soul destroying moments of the prequel trilogy, more often than not the moments referenced are from this film.
It wasn’t all bad however, Attack of the Clones offered us our first glimpse at Yoda fighting in what we can assume was close to his prime, and the addition of horror movie legend Christopher Lee (as Count Dooku) was one welcomed by most. Seeing Mace Windu behead the enemy with his iconic purple lightsaber also offered a thrill.
While Attack of the Clones is not so much a good movie as a bad one with good intentions, it still feels like a Star Wars movie that carries the original trilogy’s ideologies and themes, and is very much in the mold of Lucas’ vision for his universe, placing this much-maligned franchise entry above Solo: A Star Wars Story on this list.