THE UNOFFICIAL STAR WARS RANKING
(Guaranteed To Make Everyone Angry)
Article By Abbey Archer
Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve made it through 2017; now we can finally breathe … right? Well, maybe not. Because I’m starting off this new year with a list I’m so sure will make 100% of the people reading this pretty unhappy. (Hence, the overly confident subtitle.) So, let’s just dive in to this: I’m ranking the Star Wars from not-so-great to amazing.
Make no mistake, I’ve mulled this over and over (and over) in my head, and I already know I’m wrong on these rankings. Good grief, if Adam, John, and I sat down and hashed this out, we still wouldn’t be able to come up with a ranking everyone could agree with. (Or maybe we could. Skype sesh, guys?) But I’m finally getting these thoughts out of my head and onto the interweb.
What could possibly go wrong?! Let’s do this!
9. Episode II: Attack of the Clone
Of all the Prequels, this one is the most frustrating to watch. If you go back and look objectively at the story Attack of the Clones was trying to tell, this is the one where we see a future Darth Vader enter a forbidden affair with the girl of his dreams, thus fueling the inevitable fire that burns the Jedi legacy to the ground. It could have been incredibly compelling to watch. Instead, we got a love story that manages to be painfully dull and extremely vapid, with dialogue dialed up to eleven on the Dookie Meter. What a disappointment.
To be fair, though, Attack does have a few bright-ish spots in its long runtime: Jango Fett is an underrated character that deserves to be further explored. Kamino and Geonosis are cool planets, and seeing more of Naboo and Coruscant is a lot of fun. And I’m sorry, but the fight scene between Count Dooku and Yoda is pretty incredible. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make up for crappy acting, visual effects that haven’t aged well, and a story that lacks any kind of depth.
8. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The hype for this one was overwhelming, and people raved about it when it first came out. Now, though … not so much. The Phantom Menace, as a whole, is kind of a drag, focusing too much on political jargon and midichlorians (UGH), and not enough on coaxing great performances out of the likes of Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, and Ewan McGregor. It also doesn’t help that this one has Satan incarnate (Jar Jar Binks). But strangely, I find it to be more watchable than Episode II.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia — which I’ll touch more on later — but since this was my first Star Wars experience in the theaters, it has some sentimental value to me. Plus, Darth Maul is still raved about to this day as one of the greatest characters from the series (and he got a great arc on the Clone Wars television show), and that lightsaber battle at the end is still exciting. Make no mistake, though: it’s still a terrible film. Wah-wah …
7. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Also known as the almost-watchable Prequel, this is definitely a step up from the others. Revenge of the Sith does a better job at telling its story, and there is more emotion in some of the key scenes that show the rise of everyone’s favorite Darth. However, the film continues to suffer from cringe-worthy dialogue (“From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” *le sigh*), video game-looking visual effects that no doubt inspired Zack Snyder, and an over-the-top final lightsaber duel on a lava planet that no doubt would have charred Obi-Wan and Anakin to bits.
All that said, there are some truly brilliant moments in Revenge that ultimately helps elevate this above its dismal siblings, such as the inclusion of Kashyyyk (the Wookiee home planet), which is something fans had been waiting to see for a long time. And though the acting still leaves much to be desired, Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid remain the truly shining stars of the Prequels, giving their best performances in this one. It’s just a shame that we have to endure George Lucas‘s Lucasness (that’s a thing, right?) to see the conclusion of what could have been the greatest origin story ever.
6. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
What a huge improvement from the Prequels! Return of the Jedi is the final chapter of the Original trilogy, and I’m not sure what it is about this one, but everyone in my generation grew up watching this one the most — myself, included. The rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace remains one of the better plot points in all of Star Wars, and the confrontation with the Emperor is such a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. There’s good humor, Luke isn’t such a whiny baby, and the special effects range from charmingly hokey (the piggy Gamorrean Guards) to truly thrilling (the Endor speeder chase).
But we have to address the elephant in the room: the freaking Ewoks. There is way too much time devoted to these dead-eyed teddy bears when the original plan was to have the battle take place in previously mentioned Kashyyyk. There’s also the glaring fact that Harrison Ford seems to be mentally checked out as everyone’s favorite scoundrel (and also kind of a jerk), and some of that George Lucas dialogue sneaks in to bring down some of the quality. Had these flaws been fixed, this could have been as perfect as the top-ranked film on this list. Alas, it was not meant to be, so here we are.
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Is it fair to include the film that isn’t solely focused on the Skywalker saga? You betcha! Rogue One finally gives us the story of how the Death Star plans came into the Rebels’ hands, focusing more on the war aspect in the galaxy far, far away. Right off from the opening scene, this film easily features the best cinematography of all the films, with truly gorgeous shots that will no doubt become iconic in the years to come. The band of characters are diverse and fun (especially the blind Chirrut Îmwe and sassy K-2SO), there are callbacks to the Originals and Prequels, and the final act is some of the greatest Star Wars action we’ve had thus far — including that Vader scene. Holy chills.
I wish this were a more perfect film, but sadly, it suffers from a couple glaring problems. As diverse and fun as the characters are, there’s not a lot of meaningful development, especially with baddie Orson Krennic, played by the masterful Ben Mendelsohn. What a waste! Also, because of the massive reshoots that happened midway in filming, the story feels a bit disjointed and with no real clear focus in its first two acts — which becomes even more evident when you realize that almost all of the footage from the first trailers were thrown out. Flaws aside, this is a solid story that is a worthy entry in the ever-growing Star Wars universe.
4. Episode VI: The Force Awakens
Ten years after III, and a whopping thirty-two years after VI, fans around the world returned to the world of Star Wars with collective breaths held. J.J. Abrams had a massive amount of hype to live up to — and to many, he more than delivered on expectations. The Force Awakens introduces a new cast of characters while bringing back old favorites to hand the torch over to the younger crew. The balance of CGI and practical effects is pitch perfect, the dialogue isn’t awful, and the general tone of the whole film is downright magical. Best of all, the rewatchability is on par with the Original trilogy, something that certainly can’t be said of the Prequels.
It isn’t without its faults, though — and the most obvious is that it’s basically a retread of the first film. Important information stored in a lovable droid? Check. Cantina adventure? Got it. An aerial dogfight to destroy a super weaponized space station? Yep. It’s a decidedly safe tread into covered territory, which may not age as well twenty or thirty years from now. But where familiarity may annoy some, Force contains strong acting, delightful humor, and some truly wonderful moments that please newcomers and die-hard fans alike. (When the lightsaber flies past Kylo Ren and into Rey’s hand? Iconic.)
3. Episode IV: A New Hope
Winning the bronze medal is the OG, the one that started the phenomena all the way back in 1977. Officially dubbed A New Hope years later, this gave the world everything we now associate as Star Warsian: lightsabers, the Force, droids, Stormtroopers, X-Wings, the Death Star, Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and of course, Darth Vader. The visuals hold up to this day; the soundtrack is widely considered the greatest of all-time (because it is); the characters are practically family to the fans; and it truly changed the way film is, from storytelling to marketing — we’re still feeling the effects of it all these years later.
Going back and watching this as objectively as possible, there are some problems that can’t be ignored. First off, the pacing is slightly off; while the opening really throws you in and is honestly great stuff, for about an hour after that, the film lags. Yes, it builds the characters that we love and sets up the events to get the story going … but honestly, it’s just boring. The second complaint is the noticeable lack of film quality. This was filmed on a limited budget, and the studio was banking on this being a flop — hence, the low resolution of the cinematography. And I’ll only make one comment on the overall acting: “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” (Sorry, Mark Hamill. This isn’t your fault.)
But look, I’m not a total masochist. I understand full well the power of nostalgia. Just like Phantom has strange sentiment for me, Hope has the same on millions of others — except that it’s a vastly better film. This was only the beginning of what was to come for Star Wars, and even though it isn’t at the top of the list, I still find myself, to this day, dazzled by its immersive world. And honestly, no other film (outside of Star Wars, even) holds the distinction of having what may be the greatest first and last ten minutes in its runtime. That’s quite the honor, if you ask me.
2. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I can already feel the outrage … but I’m not sorry about this. The latest of the Sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi is truly something in its own category. Where Abrams set up the way this story would go, Rian Johnson came in and flipped it all on its head — all for the better, in my opinion. The story goes darker than Force, demanding its audience to think in the depths of escapism. To date, the acting is the best in any other Star Wars film. The emotion cuts deeper than those before, leaving a sense of satisfaction in certain plot points. Most importantly, the tether between Luke Skywalker, Rey, and Kylo Ren is compelling to watch play out onscreen.
But it’s got some major issues. Finn, played wonderfully by John Boyega, unfortunately, gets shorted in a big way in this film; his side story with newcomer Rose is played out for too long, and the payoff is practically nonexistent. The general feel of the entire story doesn’t fit into the Star Wars mold, either. Where Force captured the magic of the Original trilogy, Jedi throws it all aside for its own independent narrative. And arguably, the actions of the characters, and the direction the story takes us to the end is in conflict to what fans think should happen — which many are taking, understandably, as a middle finger to their devotion.
Look, I get it. I get the criticism and anger. To me, however, I have to side with the critics on this. Jedi is exactly the way the series needs to go, no longer reliant to stick to a set list of things expected to play out in a Star Wars film. The backlash from the fans is truly disheartening to me, and I will continue to defend its magnificence to anyone who may want to pick a fight. And though the haters may trash this ’til the rooster crows, I honestly believe that this will age better in the years to come. Give it time, guys.
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Was there ever any doubt this wouldn’t top the list? Where Hope got the ball rolling in Star Wars storytelling, this was the one that took it to the next level of greatness. Empire is widely considered the darkest turn in the Original trilogy, effectively flipping the triumphs of our heroes on their heads and making the Empire the winners at the end of the day — and that makes for fascinating drama. Luke, Leia, and Han all face difficulties that don’t end well for any of them, and with the greatest twist ever in film, it’s easy to see why so many of us consider this to be the very best the entire series has offered.
If I had to make one tiny gripe about this film, it would be the acting. There are so many consequences that come to the characters, and you’d think they would react a little less … stoically. There’s no doubt that the acting is stepped up in this from Hope, but in watching it again recently, I found myself wishing that there was more ferocity in the reactions and some of the line delivery. But this is all technical mumbo-jumbo that, for the most part, can be overlooked in favor of spectacular storytelling, upgraded film quality, and heartrending themes from music tzar, John Williams (especially, especially, Yoda’s theme).
Empire is a near-perfect film, a rare exception in a trilogy that doesn’t beg to be viewed straight after its first entry. There have been numerous times where I’ve popped this into the Blu Ray player on its own and watched it without continuing on to Return. This is a masterpiece of science fiction filmmaking — in general filmmaking, let’s be real. Nothing has trumped it thus far, and I have a sneaking feeling that nothing will. Fans and critics alike have spoken it, and I must concur: Empire reigns supreme.