6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
What happens? – Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren seek to eradicate the growing resistance to their regime, facing off with the Skywalkers and Rey along the way.
Arguably the most controversial and divisive Star Wars movie in the entire franchise, The Last Jedi was likened by some to the somewhat revolutionary and similarly as shocking Empire Strikes Back, but compared less favourably to Attack of the Clones by others. We’re leaning more towards the former, but with a backlash so large and profound as this movie had, we’re not going to deny that The Last Jedi had its problems.
What wasn’t arguable is that the movie looked excellent, the new Disney-led trilogy having got out from under the shackles of the prequels’ visual legacy, and there was some really creative work on show in terms of set design particularly, with the big armoured vehicle battles seeming more epic than they had at any time since The Empire Strikes Back. The movie also featured one of the most exciting cameos in the franchise’s history and made bold steps in redirecting the narrative away from the older generation and towards the new.
While The Last Jedi was questionable tonally – countless moments of tension ramping up to a comedic rather than cathartic or dramatic pay-off; Luke Skywalker’s shoulder wipe breaking the fourth wall by referencing our universe’s culture in the midst of a final act battle occurring moments after almost the entire fleet of rebels had been killed; the ever-so-divisive “Mary Poppins moment” that provoked a whole range of emotions (depending on the person) at one of the film’s most impactful moments – it was also brave, new and worth talking about, the opposite of Disney’s safe Solo: A Star Wars Story, and it genuinely had some of the best moments in the entire franchise including the lightsaber battle following Snoke’s death and the beautifully constructed warp-speed obliteration of the imperial fleet.
The Last Jedi will always be a point of contention for Star Wars fans, and it’s easy to see why given the promise handed back to the community by The Force Awakens, but for all of its missteps and poor decisions there is an equally powerful or beautifully constructed moment, sitting it above the prequels in the middle of our list.
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5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
What happens? – A team of good guys defy the orders of the rebel alliance and attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star after hearing it has a previously unidentified weak spot.
If ever there had been trepidation in creating spin-offs to the central Star Wars franchise, then the work of Gareth Edwards and his team on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was surely enough to set aside such concerns. At least for a while.
Rogue One was a fantastic introduction to a side of the Star Wars universe that hadn’t been celebrated so often in the central franchise, the resistance. And, in focusing on non-Jedi characters with a tasking yet easy-to-understand goal, the film was able to build on the universe’s mythos of fulfilled destiny and everyone having an important part to play in a grander story. In what was a thrilling film filled with phenomenal visuals, it didn’t hurt that Rogue One also featured the first true female lead (not co-lead, not new lead assisted by old male characters) of the franchise.
Embracing the mythos of the Jedi in a truly moving and inspired fashion, and presenting its Sith leader Darth Vader as more terrifying than ever before in one of the scariest scenes put to screen in the 2010s, Rogue One was leaps beyond its fellow A Star Wars Story spin-off Solo despite reports of similar issues in production, the film as a whole seeming to be way more in-keeping with the spirit of the Star Wars franchise’s best anti-authoritarian good versus evil explorations and a damn good planet-hopping sci-fi action film to boot.
A few issues with pacing and general editing aside, Rogue One was largely a welcomed addition to the Star Wars canon, and certainly one of the best releases of the Disney era.
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4. Return of the Jedi (1983)
What happens? – Luke and company bring balance back to the force by overthrowing the empire in the final installment of the original trilogy.
Return of the Jedi seemed like the perfect wrapping up of an excellent trilogy that changed the lives of millions of people between the release of A New Hope in 1977 and this film’s release in 1983.
Cute Ewoks aside, this film was filled with some truly iconic moments of power and bravery, as well as some of the greatest and most recognisable Hollywood fights in history. These elements contributed massively to the emotional roller coaster of a narrative that culminated in the epic final act in which Darth Vader aptly sacrificed himself to save his son and restore balance to the force once and for all (or so we thought).
It’s perhaps a given that Return of the Jedi is considered the most emotional of the franchise, but this film was also a spectacular example of how special effects can greatly improve certain cinematic stories. It may not have the same level of peril as ever-present as its predecessors from the original trilogy, or feel as natural and awe inspiring as episode’s 4 and 5 (thus placing it lower on our list), but it’s still a fantastic film that wrapped up a three film narrative in a satisfying way, Return of the Jedi remaining a truly remarkable cinematic achievement even to this day.