In this edition of Ranked, we’re going to rank every live-action Star Wars movie from worst to best. As is always the case with this column, some of you may disagree with the order. If so, feel free to leave a comment in the designated section at the bottom of the piece or tweet me directly and I’ll get back to you personally and quickly in order to answer any criticisms or queries regarding these (always controversial) choices. Just try to keep it fun!
Now that the formalities are out of the way…
10. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
What happens: Obi-Wan Kenobi and jedi master turned mentor Qui-Gon Jinn confide in a young Anakin Skywalker in the hope that he may one day bring balance to a force that the Sith is battling to take control of.
Star Wars Episode I was probably the most underwhelming movie ever released. After waiting 16 long years, audiences clamored to see The Phantom Menace, yet it seemed like every single one of them was left disappointed. The worst thing… It wasn’t even good as a standalone sci-fi film.
Star Wars Episode One’s CGI didn’t stand up against the advances in technology that brought the likes of Jurassic Park, Independence Day and Armageddon to life in 1993, ’96 and ’98 respectively; the slow-moving political drama that the plot was centered around had little by the way of risk and therefore lacked any reason to become invested in the characters involved, and the “romance” story was not only incredibly shallow but its blossoming was also portrayed on-screen by 9 year old Jake Lloyd and the much older (17) Natalie Portman… and that’s just wrong. I’m not even going to get into how stupid it was to make the first Star Wars movie in 16 years be, for all intents and purposes, a sci-fi version of Home Alone.
Luckily for the Star Wars fans who’d rather forget that most of the film ever happened, The Phantom Menace had one awesome trick up its sleeve, Darth Maul. The red and black painted sith-hired-assassin was not only an epic on-screen presence, but he also possessed the first dual lightsaber ever seen in the Star Wars movie universe. His unveiling of the weapon, as John Williams’ iconic score kicked in, will forever be a memorable sci-fi and Star Wars movie moment and acted as the catalyst for one of the best sword-fighting action scenes ever. It was the best of a bad movie and by far the worst in the Star Wars franchise.
9. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
What happens: Anakin and Padmé begin a forbidden romance as Obi-Wan discovers a clone army built to destroy the jedi.
Episode II was everything that Episode I was with the dial turned up to 11.
This was both bad and good, as it meant that we were not only subject to way more of the shallow love angle that was heavily criticised in its predecessor, but it also meant that we got a whole heap of jedi fights; and who doesn’t love those? The biggest criticism of Attack of the Clones was that Anakin Skywalker, the guy that we all knew was set to become the baddest man in the universe in Episode IV, had developed from the annoying brat kid of the first instalment to an even more annoying teenager who was portrayed with as much emotional range as… well… Hayden Christensen. The character was supposed to be torn between what he wanted and what he was meant to do, with a traumatising history to boot, but Christensen played him as moody in the most shallow sense, switching audiences off from his emotional journey and essentially removing us from a position of empathy for the picture’s key protagonist. Was it all bad? No. We got our first chance to see Yoda fight during his prime, and seeing Mace Windu epically beheading the enemy was more than worth the price of admission. Even so, it wasn’t good, and that’s why it’s the second worst Star Wars film of all time.
8. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
What happens: Anakin gives in to his urges and is consumed by the dark side of the force. After battling with his master Obi-Wan and losing Padmé, he is reconstructed as the iconic Darth Vader figure.
Revenge of the Sith was the undisputed classic of the prequel trilogy, if such a thing exists. Padmé died, we got to see the very best of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker finally became Darth Vader. If that doesn’t sell this film to you, then I don’t know what will.
The dark tone of the movie was central to this picture’s success as Anakin’s journey finally became identifiable to the hopeful and equally expectant fans. The CGI was perhaps the best it had been at any other point in the prequel franchise too, making the opening battle scenes and the fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin that bit more special. Yoda was specifically well portrayed in this movie, with the animated character showing so much emotion that it really hit the hearts of the die-hard fans who’d followed his development as the wise and driven jedi master who had otherwise seemed free of emotion. The pinnacle of Revenge of the Sith however, was the scene displayed in the gif above: the becoming of Darth Vader and the return of James Earl Jones for the final dialogue of the prequels – “Nooooooooooooooooo”. Sure it was cheesy, but what wasn’t cheesy about the Star Wars prequels?
7. Solo: A Star Wars Story
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 its production problems, Solo: A Star Wars Story actually turned out pretty well. It was coherent, which is always a bonus, and actually felt like a Star Wars movie, owing much to the course correction of incoming director Ron Howard and a cast of talented performers playing characters each with a previously earned legendary status or a notable presence within Solo’s narrative. It wasn’t without its issues however, with the multiple times the movie seemed to come to an end before continuing being one of them – it’s not often you feel yourself checking for your watch in a Star Wars movie. Solo also seemed light on stakes and/or consequences, and much of the story didn’t seem to move far from where it began. Most of all, this film suffered from not having the level of connections to the central franchise as Rogue One had, because despite the presence of Han, Chewwie and Lando, little was done to enhance their importance as regards the entire Star Wars universe and as such left a distinct aftertaste of disappointment for the first time under the Disney banner.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
What happens: A team of good guys defy the orders of the rebel alliance and attempt to steel 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 was surely enough to set aside such concerns. 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 centring on non-Jedi characters with a difficult yet easy-to-understand goal, the film was able to build on the universe’s mythos of fulfilled destiny and everyone having an importance to a grander story in what was a thrilling film filled with phenomenal visuals. It didn’t hurt that this film featured the first true female lead of the franchise and showcased a Darth Vader cameo so spectacularly that he seemed scarier than at any point in the franchise’s rich history.
This was much better than fellow spin-off Solo and marks the beginning of the top echelon of Star Wars films in this list, but misses out on the top 5 because of slight editing problems caused by re-shoots and the disjointed nature of the movie being a prequel to A New Hope, a movie that already had three prequels. It only made the “which order should I watch Star Wars in” debate that much more intense.
5. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
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.
Undoubtedly 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 by some, but compared less favourably to our number 9 Attack of the Clones by others. We’re leaning more towards the former, but with a backlash so large and profound as what 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 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 ever due to some excellent CG work. The movie also featured one of the most exciting cameos in the franchise’s history and made bold steps in redirecting the franchise; for better or for worse. Whether the shoulder wipe was your cup of tea or not, and whether the somewhat debatable Mary Poppins moment was too Disney or not, The Last Jedi did everything in its power to ensure that the future of the franchise was placed in the hands of new, interesting, youthful characters with their own journeys to complete, and as such reaches our number 5 spot.
Sometimes bravery is worth appreciating, even when lots of things don’t hit the mark.
4. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
What happens: Luke and company bring balance back to the force by overthrowing the empire in the final instalment 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 film fights in history. These elements, when cut together, made for an emotional roller coaster that culminated in the epic final act in which Darth Vader 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 CGI and other special effects can greatly improve certain cinematic stories. It may not have the same level of peril as its predecessors, or feel as natural and awe inspiring as episode’s 4 and 5, but it’s still a fantastic film and the 4th best Star Wars movie in the franchise.
3. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
What happens: A new crop of heroes are led by Han Solo across the universe as, nearly three decades after Return of the Jedi, the battle between good and evil continues to rage.
The Force Awakens is officially the second highest grossing movie of all time, and the highest grossing movie ever in North America, making it officially the most successful of the entire franchise (though this could be argued when inflation and merchandise is taken into account, of course). This JJ Abrams directed entry returned the franchise to its roots with some excellent storytelling that hit all of the key notes through an excellent blend of fresh characters and nostalgia that left everyone clamouring for more, as well as some good old fashioned celluloid delivering some heart-stopping action. It was almost the perfect movie, with only slight criticism of the new Sith’s performance and some incredibly minor problems regarding the rendering of CGI to the film reel being the only thing keeping the movie from reaching a perfect 24/24 rating on this very site [our review]. Under the banner of Disney for the first time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens managed to erase the wrong-doings of the prequel trilogy and marked the re-emergence of one of the most popular, successful and influential sci-fi sagas of all time, all the while engaging with audiences in such a way that fan theories sprung up left, right and centre trying to uncover the reveals that were sure to come. Made with talent and an intimate appreciation for what had come before it, The Force Awakens has burst its way through the original trilogy to mark its spot in the top 3 Star Wars films of all time.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
What happens: Fate brings a young Luke Skywalker across two droids who lead him to Ben Kenobi, a man who helps Luke to find his inner Jedi and begin a battle against an oppressive empire.
If you weren’t there at the time, just imagine what it must have been like to go and see the first Star Wars movie in the cinema in 1977. A New Hope changed the game for the film industry and fired big budget special effects driven pictures into the mainstream – it also did a lot to make such movies the norm in the decades that followed. Episode IV was a huge international success at the box office and in merchandising, making it not only vitally important for the film industry at the time, but also a cultural phenomenon that won the hearts and minds of just about everyone, ever. Each character introduction felt necessary and who could forget the drama of Obi-Wan’s death? A New Hope was the catalyst for one of the best movie franchises of all time and acted as our first glimpse at the wider galaxy that was to come in the decades to follow, and is therefore a deserved second place on this list.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
What happens: Luke is trained by jedi master Yoda as Darth Vader pursues his friends in an attempt to find the young protege.
“Dum, dum, dummm, dum, dum, dummmm, dum, dum, dummmmm..”
The most emotionally engaging and thought provoking picture of the entire Star Wars franchise is without a doubt The Empire Strikes Back. This movie contains so many iconic and fantastic moments that it has changed film and has even forged its own corner in pop culture. “I love you”, “I know”, is the perhaps the coolest moment of the franchise and is, without a doubt, one of the most quotable movie moments of all time. “Luke, I am your father” is another great piece of this fantastic picture that seemed to be a hit in every single way, from performance to script, and from the direction to the music. Empire was a visual extravaganza that introduced some of the best sci-fi characters of all time (Yoda, etc.) and seemed to kill others off (Han Solo), all the while focusing on the most intriguing and charismatic movie villain (arguably) ever: Darth Vader. Because of Yoda, Vader and some of the most iconic moments of all time, The Empire Strikes Back is by far the greatest Star Wars film. Our undisputed number 1.