9. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
It took me about 30 minutes into Phantom to ask myself, “Why didn’t I remember how bad this was?” Phantom Menace is a terrible movie with some very over the top characters and a copy and paste plot from George Lucas. Lucas is lazy here as he tries to force the feel of the original without trying to create a fresh new spin for the franchise. Add on some of the worst characters in the whole saga along with a tone more fit for selling toys and you have a mess of a film. The brunt of the blame has to go to George Lucas who writes and directs for the first time since A New Hope. He clearly doesn’t feel comfortable with the pen or behind the camera as the story beats never hit the mark and the acting is dreadful. Even with a great light saber battle towards the end of the film, Phantom is the worst of the Star Wars films and earns its place among some of the most disappointing sequels/prequels of all time.
8. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
After watching the prequels, it was a great relief to get to the original trilogy. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is what has made this series great and make up for the prequels being such a “meh” affair. So I was hopeful to watch Jedi again. Unfortunately, Return of the Jedi contains many of the flaws of the prequels and never comes close to the excitement of IV and V. The beginning takes way to long to get going as the slow burn of Solo’s escape holds the film from kicking into gear. After we leave the beloved desert planet, we get to the Ewoks and the uninspired return of the Death Star. I put the Ewoks with Jar Jar Binks as one of the worst creations in the Star Wars universe. They dumb down the plot and take away from what should be the most drama filled film yet. The performances are weak as Ford and Fisher fail at being love birds and Hamill not really hitting the mark as a full fledge Jedi. Then there is Yodi , a great character, who doesn’t offer Luke anymore training (which negates all that he said in Empire about not being ready) and is trashed to tie up lose ends. I am so glad that I didn’t watch the series from original to prequels because Jedi to Phantom may have been too much to handle.
7. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Revenge of the Sith hinges on the mythology of the series to get past the same flaws that burdened the first two prequel films. The prequels are known for their huge leaps in logic but Sith was responsible for showing the downfall of Anakin Skywalker and what events led him to that. It was responsible for the biggest payoff from the past two films. That is where the movie fails, it fails to convince me that Anakin would have turned to the Dark Side. It fails to convince me that someone who has been surrounded with good would turn in an instant to become a child killer because he is trusting some dude who he knows is evil. His turn doesn’t make sense and it is the most disappointing aspect of the prequels (that is saying a lot). Sith doesn’t earn its drama but even with unconvincing logic, this is the only film in prequel series that had me genuinely caring about the fate of the characters. There is some good in this one even if you have to forget about some lazy logic. Other than that, the visual effects have aged very well with the opening battle being one of the best scenes in all of Star Wars. The climax is also very well done as Anakin and Obi Wan Kenobi’s fight doesn’t disappoint. Sith is an exhilarating disappointment of a film that sends out the prequel trilogy with most of the same flaws that it began with.
6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Don’t take Clones being number four as any indication that I am standing up for the second (fifth) installment. The ranking is more indicative of how the series is surprisingly filled with a lot of mediocre quality. After the mess that is The Phantom Menace, there was really nowhere to go but up and Attack of the Clones takes advantage of that. Taking away so much of what made Phantom an obnoxious piece of cinema, Clones recreates some of the thrills from the previous Star Wars movies. The action is a huge step up with great action set pieces (opening chase, asteroid field, and closing battle) and exhilarating CGI work. This is all great because it has to make up for Lucas’s trademark sins such as horrible dialogue, wooden acting, and one-dimensional characters. Those three trademarks are very present in Anakin and Padme’s uninteresting and unconvincing romance that nearly drags the picture down but an improved story and some thrilling sequences just about make up for it. After one misstep, Clones feels like a step (however small) in the right direction for the prequel trilogy.
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first live action Star Wars film not associated with the main series is a great war film that solves one of the biggest plot holes in Star Wars lore. Not that plot holes are Rogue One’s main priority, but this a great telling of the events that lead to the destruction of the death star. The first half of the film has some issues with finding the right pace but it contains some great locales and some quality acting from the ensemble The second half is where the film really kicks into high gear with a great battle sequence set in a beachy Imperial base. This is where the dynamics of the main characters pay off with a dramatic action sequence filled with earned high stakes. Rogue One is what all the one off Star Wars films should be with the feeling of a Star Wars film while not being tied down to the main Skywalker series. Here is to hoping that we get many more Rogue Ones to compliment each new Episode of the Star Wars saga.
4. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Even with how popular and prestigious the Star Wars franchise is, there was no way the series was going to get a much better director than JJ Abrams. He kicked started the Star Trek series and he does it again here with the series gaining some much needed creative momentum. The biggest question was where the series could go as Jedi felt like the climax of all that we have seen before. Abrams is able to mix in the old with the new as he brings in elements from the past while setting up a new and exciting story for the future. The new cast is excellent with Kylo Ren emerging as a great new villain for the saga and Ridley and Boyega becoming our new heroes. Harrison Ford gives an excellent performance as a older Han Solo and is the perfect older cast member to carry much of the weight of the picture. The drama feels intense, the screenplay is solid, and the tone of the film is a perfect mix of dark and lighter moments: it improves upon almost all the flaws of the prequels. Nit picking aside (really another giant death ball and very little exposition) this is the Star Wars we all wanted and the film the franchise needed. JJ Abrams does it right with a satisfying sequel and a promising future.
3. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson was a great choice to follow up Abrams thrilling The Force Awakens. Where Abrams uses the familiar to kick start the saga, Johnson uses the unexpected to continue it. Even if you are not on board with all the new changes and subverted expectations, The Last Jedi is still a thrilling ride with great characters and some thrilling Star Wars action. If you are onboard with the new changes and subverted expectations then you are in for the best Star Wars film to come out in quite a while. I loved the way Johnson has crafted a unique Star Wars film that embraces and pushes away the clichés of the series. This is exactly the type of film that was needed after The Force Awakens recycled so much of the old. Big shout out to Johnson for having the bravery to make the changes he did to create a fresh new Star Wars experience for fans that aren’t ok with with a rehash of the old. The Last Jedi still has its issues (some corny dialogue and to much humor) but its message of “you make your own destiny” is a welcome change for the series.
2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
The original Star Wars film is just a straight up classic. It was one of the pivotal movies in starting what is known as the modern day blockbuster and is the blueprint for every world building film. It is crazy now that the series takes it’s self so seriously when in fact Lucas was really making a homage to the serial “B” movies of the past and in that respect, A New Hope also succeeds. It is a homage to the past while, maybe unintentionally, starting the biggest franchise in movie history. The cast is perfect with Alec Guinness bringing a classiness to the picture, Ford being the definition of cool, and Mark Hamill solidifying the chosen one role (even if he comes off a bit whinny). It is hard to appreciate A New Hope on its own after where the series has gone, but it is the building blocks of so much of what we have come to know in popular entertainment. Like The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, and Gone With the Wind, A New Hope is just simply classic popular entertainment.
1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
When you see most “Greatest Films of All Time Lists” it is A New Hope that represents the Star Wars universe but any true Star Wars nerd knows that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the series. If A New Hope is how you start a franchise then Empire is how you continue it. Gone is the serial “B” movie feel and enter a darker, more enhanced space saga. It ranks with The Godfather Part 2, The Dark Knight, and Aliens as one of the greatest sequels of all time. The acting, script, and action is all turned up as emotion, not wonder, rule the day. The hopeless battle of Hoth, Han and Leia’s separation, and Luke/Vader light saber duel brings emotional weight to the saga which leads to the biggest plot twist of all time. The second (fifth) installment in the series uses what has come before and builds on it to create the mythology we have come to know today. That mythology has carried the series ever since and is the reason why we continue to watch and care about our heroes and villains.
I was kind of disappointed watching the Star Wars films again in preparation for The Force Awakens. The films weren’t resonating as I thought they would but Empire made it all worth it. As classic as A New Hope is and how exhilarating the prequels can be, The Empire Strikes Back is Star Wars to me. It is the film that made me fall in love with the saga and the film that makes all the frustrations of the series worth it. The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films and one of the greatest films of all time.