As long as there’s been a Star Wars franchise, fans have been ranking the films, arranging the installments in their own personal hierarchies, and arguing about who’s right — and who is utterly wrong.
Ranking the Star Wars movies is a time-honored tradition, and with 10 big-screen features (not to mention a few made-for-television movies) released so far, there have been plenty of opportunities to revisit those rankings over the years. Solo: A Star Wars Story was the most recent installment of the franchise to arrive in theaters, and given the mixed reviews it received, every list seems to put the iconic smuggler’s stand-alone film in a different place.
In honor of May 4, Star Wars Day, we put together our own ranking for all the big-screen Star Wars movies from worst to best. Of course, we realize lists like this are subjective, and since only Siths deal in absolutes, there is bound to be some disagreement about where each film lands. But just remember, no matter where you place the films on the list, The Force will be with you … always.
(Editor’s note: Some spoilers are obviously unavoidable, so proceed at your own risk)
10. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
It’s an easy — and obvious — choice for the worst film in the franchise, but that’s because The Phantom Menace really is that bad when compared to the nine other movies in the saga. Whether the blame falls on annoying kid Anakin (as played by Jake Lloyd), Jar Jar Binks, or even George Lucas himself and his penchant for new CGI effects, The Phantom Menace is a hot mess of a movie that you’d be forgiven for excising from your Star Wars movie marathon. Contributing little to the overall narrative of the Star Wars saga and filled with laughably bad moments in story, dialogue, and acting, The Phantom Menace doesn’t deserve to have one of the franchise’s coolest villains, Darth Maul. In fact, the presence of Darth Maul is one of the movie’s only redeeming qualities, making actor Ray Park and the film’s double-lightsaber-wielding Sith Lord the real hero.
9. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Although it remains a tremendously flawed film, Attack of the Clones does succeed in establishing much of the backstory for Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship, and the seeds of their inevitable — and brutal — parting of ways in Revenge of the Sith. The film also adds to the canonical history of one of the franchise’s most popular side characters, Boba Fett, and even features one of the coolest moments for Yoda as a younger, more spry Jedi Master than we ever saw in the original trilogy. Unfortunately, those memorable moments are peppered into a film that’s mostly forgettable, and a love story that’s almost inconceivable (thank you, Hayden Christensen). The best we can say is that it’s not quite the worst film in the entire franchise.
8. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The best installment of the prequel trilogy (we can’t recall a rougher qualifier right now), Revenge of the Sith featured the three-film arc’s most memorable moments — from the Jedi battles with Count Dooku, Darth Sidious, and General Grievous, to the shock of Order 66, to the climactic battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan on the lava planet Mustafar. Of all three films, it does the most to set the stage for the events of the original trilogy, and wisely distances itself from some of the mistakes made by Episode I and Episode II. The prequel trilogy gets a lot of well-deserved criticism, and Anakin is still all but unwatchable, but Revenge of the Sith is the closest it gets to giving fans the story they were hoping to see.
7. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
No one quite knew what to expect from the first film to come out of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, and the first Star Wars movie in more than a decade. What we got was a film that deftly balanced the necessary levels of nostalgia and fresh material to put the franchise back in audiences’ good graces again after the much-maligned prequel trilogy. Director J.J. Abrams has a knack for making moments feel precious, teasing out audiences’ anticipation, and delivering jaw-dropping spectacle, and all of those skills came in handy with The Force Awakens. But Abrams’ desire to hew close to the franchise’s roots gave audiences a film that felt a little too similar to Episode IV – A New Hope at times, from the arc of Daisy Ridley’s character to the threat posed by the First Order’s “Don’t call it a Death Star” Starkiller Base. Even so, The Force Awakens introduces a fresh cast of characters for a new generation of Star Wars fans while also giving credit where it’s due to the veteran cast members and characters that made the franchise what it is today. Few lines of dialogue in history are layered with as much redemption and satisfaction as Harrison Ford’s iconic quip as an aging Han Solo: “Chewie, we’re home.”
6. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Likely to be a controversial placement due to how much audiences’ opinions vary on director Ron Howard’s origin story for the iconic smuggler, Solo is actually an easy pick for the middle of the Star Wars movie hierarchy. It’s an uncomplicated film that’s content to offer a thrilling adventure with familiar characters instead of trying to deconstruct the franchise mythology or take the Star Wars universe to a darker place. Solo is a safe, inoffensive installment of the saga that is covered with the rustic dust of the film that started the franchise, while also offering a valuable asset that sometimes gets lost in the fray of rebuilding a franchise: Fun. Solo reminds us all how fun Star Wars stories can really be, and why so many fans fell in love with the franchise in the first place.
5. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
What can be said about The Last Jedi that hasn’t already been said in countless editorials, reviews, think pieces, and angry rants (including our own moment on the soapbox) for or against its importance in the Star Wars franchise? Arguably the most controversial film in the saga, The Last Jedi challenged everything fans expected from it and took the sort of risks no Star Wars movie has been inclined to take with its cherished mythology. In the process, we got some of the best acting performances in the entire franchise, including a deep dive into Luke’s psyche from Mark Hamill (love or hate the results). Director Rian Johnson and the Star Wars team at Lucasfilm were surprisingly ambitious with The Last Jedi, and when those huge gambles paid off, they paid off in a big way with spectacular set pieces like Vice Admiral Holdo’s sacrificial moment, Kylo and Rey’s lightsaber melee in the throne room, and the battle on Crait that culminates with Luke’s challenge to Kylo Ren. On the flip side, the moments that missed the mark did so nearly as spectacularly, ensuring that The Last Jedi becomes one of the most hotly debated entries in the entire canon.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
A controversial pick, certainly, but Rogue One deserves to be ranked among the greatest films in the franchise for a few reasons. First, the way director Gareth Edwards’ film bridges the divide between modern sci-fi cinema and the old-school aesthetic of the original trilogy is as fantastic from a filmmaking perspective as it is from the audience’s point of view. The film also manages to establish a deeper emotional connection between its ragtag team of rebel fighters and the audience than most films — including the prequel trilogy and, we would argue, the modern episodic films. That Rogue One stands on its own as a beautifully shot, expertly paced war movie is reason enough to love it, but that it’s able to do all of that within the Star Wars universe makes it that much more impressive. And the icing on the cake? It features one of the most exciting final scenes of any film in the entire franchise.
3. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
For many children of the ’80s, Return of the Jedi was their introduction to the Star Wars universe and the movie that turned them into fans for life. While the film has a fair share of detractors — mostly of the Ewok-hating variety — there’s no denying that Return of the Jedi offers the perfect concluding chapter to the original trilogy. It has a little bit of everything, including a fully formed Luke Skywalker, who’s now comfortable in his status as one of the last remaining Jedi and his ability to use The Force, giving audiences the heroic figure the previous two films were building toward. Return of the Jedi also features some of the series’ coolest set pieces, namely Jabba’s palace and sail barge, and the forests of Endor. The film concludes the trilogy in the best way possible, with good triumphing over evil as Darth Vader redeems himself for the sake of his long-lost son.
2. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This film’s silver finish may be of some debate given that Empire is widely considered one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. The Empire Strikes Back took the franchise to a dark, angsty place long before Kylo Ren threw his first tantrum, and added a depth to the Star Wars universe and its lore far beyond what was hinted at in A New Hope. It also brought a very real, and very grim, sense of consequence to the events that unfolded in the first film, and offered a reminder that movie sequels need not be more of the same to be congruent. The Star Wars universe was a much more threatening, and infinitely more fascinating place after the events of Empire, and the franchise was better for it. But there’s still one more film, and it’s more influential than any of them.
1. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
Sure, some people might argue Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is a superior film, but we can’t have Empire without A New Hope. It’s the film that launched one of the greatest sci-fi sagas of all time and holds up surprisingly well for a movie filmed on a shoestring budget that’s more than 40 years old. It’s filled with beautiful cinematography, innovative new special effects techniques, memorable characters, and a sense of wonder that holds strong decades after it became a surprise juggernaut. A New Hope is the spark that ignited one of the world’s most famous movie franchises and is still inspiring generations of filmmakers and storytellers.
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