“Star Wars”: A ranking of the 11 films from a series fan

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Mia Walker

“The Empire Strikes Back” earns first place in Liam’s rankings, while “A New Hope” and “Return of the Jedi” earn second and third place, respectively.

Liam Flynn, Staff Writer

“Star Wars” is something that I hold very dear in my heart, as I have been a huge fan for as long as I can remember. Clearly, many people feel the same way, and the films have grossed over $10 billion, and the brand has made about $70 billion in total revenue to date. 

Though the films are undisputed classics, there have been ups and downs since the beginning of the saga. Here, I have ranked them all in terms of how each one stacks up against one another. While my personal rankings differ from this list, I believe this one is the best way to rank them in terms of greatness, impact, fanbase opinion, opinion from casual moviegoers, legacy and quality of movie elements presented in all 11 films. (No, I did not include the 2008 animated “Clone Wars” film, as I see that as a predecessor to the animated series that followed shortly. The structure of that film is usually identified as three “Clone Wars” episode segments sandwiched into one theatrical showing.)

 

11. “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”

At the end of the day, the biggest problem that “The Phantom Menace” suffers from is that it has absolutely no idea who its audience is. On one hand, you have a plot that centers on intergalactic politics and stuff like trade embargoes and senate hearings. On the other hand, you have characters who are essentially living cartoons and a disruptive child protagonist. When those two sides clash, what is left is a confusing mess of a movie that will forever hold a strange place in pop culture history.

There are definitely elements to love in the film, like Darth Maul’s badass design, the pod-racing scene is great fun, and “Duel of the Fates” is one of the best pieces of music that John Williams has ever created. But as for everything else? Criticizing Jar Jar Binks or young Anakin is just beating a dead horse at this point, and they are also just small elements of the much larger problems — like uneven plot structure, unengaging storytelling and unclear perspective.

 

10. “Episode II: Attack Of The Clones”

For its time, George Lucas’ “Attack Of The Clones” was certainly ambitious, but it is a cinematic case of reach exceeding grasp. While part of the magic from the original trilogy came from its impressive practicality and special effects, the second movie in the prequel trilogy is an eyesore due to its garish and overused digital elements. A convoluted plot filled with bland character arcs is certainly not helping anything either.

The sole brightspot in the film is Ewan McGregor’s Obi-wan Kenobi, who sets out like a detective on a case to track down the source of an assassination plot. But not only does even that story get caught up in pointlessness, but it does not even get any kind of satisfying conclusion. It would be great if we could legitimately celebrate the coolness of Yoda fighting with a lightsaber, but it is a memory drowned out by the visual of a bunch of random Jedi swinging their lightsabers around, and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin complaining about sand.

 

9. “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Ron Howard’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is just about as middle-of-the-road as you can get with a “Star Wars” movie. Going in, there was a lot of questioning as to why audiences really needed a Han Solo origin story at all. And going out, there were still a lot of the same questions being asked. In the grand scheme of things, it is a “fine” diversion that has some entertaining elements and interesting sequences to pair with a blah story and mediocre ensemble of characters.

There is a lot to appreciate in the casting, as Donald Glover makes for a great young Lando Calrissian, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is wonderful as activist droid L3-37, and Alden Ehrenreich is an adequate Harrison Ford substitute. It is also a bummer, however, that it feels the need to over-explain details that we already know about. It is a fairly harmless blockbuster, and arguably the most forgettable of the live-action “Star Wars” titles.

 

8. “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”

Give it some time, and I believe the backlash will subside. The great thing about “The Last Jedi” is that it is hands-down one of the best blockbusters of the modern age and one of the most impressive sci-fi/fantasy films of all time. 

Although I absolutely love “The Last Jedi,” it certainly was not perfect to many “Star Wars” fans. The cleverness and humor was just too much at times, and a cliffhanger ending would have been a better choice, seeing as this is part two of three and all. The most compelling plot point here is that, for the first time in the saga, the Force is not exclusive to certain bloodlines. Anyone, from anywhere, can have the power to make a difference. Although the film contains many great elements of what makes a great movie, the overwhelming polarity the movie created within the fanbase puts it on this lower end of the list.  

 

7. “Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker”

Some sagas end with a bang, and others end with a whimper. And whether anyone loved or hated “The Rise of Skywalker,” it is difficult to deny that it went out with a bang. Kylo Ren reverted back to Ben Solo; Palpatine was revealed to be alive and the true villain all along; and Rey stood up against her monstrous grandfather to bring balance to the Force again. “The Rise of Skywalker” went full-steam ahead with its story, and it did not pull any punches, even if some of its decisions could have been seen as controversial.

The sequel trilogy of “Star Wars” films definitely did try to step outside of the typical “Star Wars” arena, and it had some successes and some failures; however, with the final installment into this series, clearly the creators of the films decided to go for a classic “Star Wars” story. Going outside of the lines can be a lot of fun, but when it comes to the core films that define the “Star Wars” saga, it is nice that there is a reliable foundation for everything else to stand on, and “The Rise of Skywalker” definitely gave the audience a classic “Star Wars” ending.

 

6. “Episode VII: The Force Awakens”

Few films have opened with as much riding on them as J.J. Abrams’ soft reboot, and “The Force Awakens” was largely successful in revitalizing the brand and, most importantly, getting the Skywalker saga back on its feet and setting a solid foundation for future installments. Although this is one of my favorite movies of all time, plot-wise it is very safe. 

Abrams did an outstanding job with “The Force Awakens,” and every frame crackles stylishly with energy and confident precision. Ford’s tender, funny, grizzled and authentic farewell as Han Solo is a highlight, but the pleasant revelation here was seeing the new stars take off. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, in particular, elevate the material every step of the way, giving Rey and Kylo Ren a chemistry worthy of previous franchise peaks.   

 

5. “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”

It was supposed to be the last entry in George Lucas’ epic story. Easily the best film of the prequel trilogy, “Revenge of the Sith” brought the origins of Darth Vader to a satisfying and breathtaking conclusion.The film’s unanimously praised standouts are Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine and the exceptional Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  

I have heard many people say that in their opinion, it is the best “Star Wars” movie there is. The emotion, the action, the shocking twists and turns, the countless memes, Obi-Wan and Anakin’s epic lightsaber duel on Mustafar, Yoda battling Palpatine, Order 66, the birth of our favorite heroes Luke and Leia Skywalker, and only five seconds of Jar Jar — it is all there in the conclusion to the build up of how the young slave boy from tatooine ends up in the iconic black suit.

 

4. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

As far as being a “Star Wars” prequel goes, Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has the narrowest path to walk, needing to craft events that perfectly dovetail with the opening of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and it is actually pretty special to watch it operate. Unlike the unfavorable examples of fan service in the franchise, it effectively and intelligently answers legitimate questions while also putting together a rousing story with a neat ensemble.

Not only is Rogue One strong from a story perspective, it also has the distinction of being the first “Star Wars” movie that was made to specifically have its own aesthetic flavor, and the way it takes the audience into the literal nitty-gritty of ground warfare is both beautiful and exciting. Being “A Star Wars Story,” it has kind of a strange place in the legacy of the big screen brand, but it is definitely categorized as one of the successes of the modern era, and the most universally appreciated film in the Disney-era of “Star Wars.”

 

3. “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”

In the wake of two streamlined and impeccably-paced predecessors, “Return of the Jedi” is an extremely worthy denouement to the first batch. The final confrontation between Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader in the emperor’s throne room is the heart of the film. It is by far the strongest of several parallel plot threads, as Vader saves his son’s life from the dark lord by killing his master at the cost of his own, destroying the Sith and fulfilling the prophecy as the true chosen one who finally brings balance to the force. 

Less involved is what happens on Endor. The toyetic furballs known as Ewoks are the first time “Star Wars” went out of its way to appeal exclusively to the very young — a precursor to Jar Jar. Few screen romances in history make us swoon in equal measure like the magic between Han Solo and Leia Organa (Skywalker) featured in this trilogy. The climactic space battle on an unfinished second Death Star is still a stunner today, almost 40 years after its release. 

 

2. “Episode IV: A New Hope”

Like all the greatest phenomena, “Star Wars” came out of nowhere. Every movie studio except Fox passed on the unusual project, and though the troubled production made some fear a flop, “Star Wars” surpassed “Jaws” to become the highest-grossing film of all time, influencing every blockbuster in its wake. “Star Wars” was nominated for 10 Oscars and won six.

It is not grandiose or even all that epic, but the film is effortlessly impactful in the way that it sucks you into its reality and gets you to fall for the characters. You instantly sympathize with Luke Skywalker’s ambition to live a life of importance and adventure, captivated by rogue charms of Han Solo, impressed with the forcefulness of Princess Leia and frightened at the simple sight of Darth Vader. Alec Guisness as Ben Kenobi is one of the finest acting performances in the entire saga. There is truly nothing like it, and the fact that it led to the creation of an incredible media franchise is not surprising in the least.

 

1. “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”

It has been pointed out numerous times by critics that “The Empire Strikes Back” is not really an independently functioning movie, as its ending is a cliffhanger that demands conclusion by its design. I do not believe it matters because when you are simply comparing the individual chapters of this franchise and comparing them to each other, there is simply no segment that is better than the two hours and seven minutes delivered by director Irvin Kershner.

In 2010, “The Empire Strikes Back” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant,” acting as one of the only sequels ever to obtain the honor.

It is not exactly an example of complex storytelling, as the entire film has five basic settings (Hoth, Dagobah, the Millennium Falcon, the Imperial Star Destroyer and Cloud City), but what it is able to orchestrate with its characters through its few narrative chess moves is outstanding. The audience falls ever more deeply in love with Han and Leia as they fall in love with each other, and every step of the way you are fully with Luke as he toils through his Jedi training with Yoda. It is a magical blockbuster experience and by far and away the best live-action “Star Wars” movie to date as universally agreed upon by the entire fanbase.