Star Wars Films – (Re)Ranked

This is an update of a post I ran last December, for which I took a little bit of heat from one friend of mine for listing Empire at #4, despite most considering it the best of both the Star Wars saga, as well as a potential for best sci-fi film of all time. But I stand by my opinions, which has been updated to include last December’s divisive The Last Jedi (though I’ve made one revision upon further consideration).

9. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
*sigh* I legitimately think that George Lucas was on to something with his political/diplomatic prequel trilogy. It’s vastly different than the “original” films, and that was nothing but good. But…but…the execution was nothing short of abysmal. We’ll get into it more below with Episode I (*spoiler alert*) below, but this one is completely undone by these things: (1) Hayden Christiansen , (2) Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman’s unbelievable lack of chemistry, (3) the idiotic lightsaber battle at the end and (4) the ungodly, eye-gouging CGI sets that made everything *too* perfect and shiny. Oh, and Lucas’ dialogue, which was always waaaaay awkward and clunky at its best, was on full display.

8. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
It’s 6 to 5 and pick ‘em which one of these films was worse, actually. This one featured the ear-screamingly annoying Jar Jar Binks in a prime role, much more so than the other, and the terrible idea of the midichlorians, making the Force a measurable and tangible measurement instead of some kind of mystical force like originally presented. There was less shiny CGI here, though, and the lack of the stilted love story ultimately puts I over II.

7. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
By far, the darkest of the Star Wars films, Episode III finally achieves what the original trilogy was intended to do: show us how Darth Vader and the Empire truly came to be. Christiansen was still wooden and delivering Lucas’ even more wooden lines, and there’s a ton of inconsistencies and odd choices that are annoying. But the final lightsaber battles are absolutely epic, and this was the only prequel film that actually felt like a Star Wars movie.

6. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Here’s where I went off-script last time, originally listing Jedi under Ep 3. In fact, I think they’re very close, but upon further consideration, I found that I’d rather watch Jedi most of the time, so I went ahead and raised it up a notch. Despite this, Return of the Jedi got way too cutesy in what should have been a one last push for victory film. The stakes never felt that high – Han, Leia and Luke never felt like they’re in any legitimate danger, and we got the dreaded EWOKS. Nothing says one final push to victory like a bunch of schizophrenic babbling badgers trying to eat your major characters. It wasn’t bad, but Lucas decided to push the series towards kids and merchandise sales when it should have gotten harder, darker and more dangerous.

5. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Widely accepted not only to be the best Star Wars film, but one of (if not the) best sci-fi films of all time, and yet I put it fifth on my list. Why? I can’t get over, I’ve never been able to get over, the time problems that plague the film. Here’s the entire second act of the film – basically the middle hour – (1) Luke trains with Yoda and (2) Han, Leia, Chewie and 3PO try to escape from the Empire. The crew on the Millennium Falcon left Hoth in a hurry and have the Empire on their ass for an hour of screentime. Whereas Luke and R2 kind of wander into their ship after the land attack, blast off easily (even with Vader actively looking for him), fly to Dagobah, learn a shit-ton about the Force and then fly off to the rescue. I just can’t get past it.

4. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Star Wars geeks and haters everywhere haven’t been able to stop hating on this one since it came out. Basically, their complaints are that VII is either a reboot or a complete ripoff of the original film. Haters: I hear you. But I don’t particularly care. Yes, I wish that the climax of the film didn’t have to involve essentially blowing up a third death star, and yeah, I wish Leia had hugged Chewie after Han’s demise. But Rey is a kick-ass character, and I can’t wait to see why she’s so powerful. The film was entertaining from beginning to end, the cast had great chemistry and the dialogue actually worked. I do feel as if Ep 7 was much more of a setup for things to come than past films ever were, so I’ll revise these rankings if for some reason everything that sets up doesn’t pay off in the next two films.

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The only closed-ended Star Wars film made – that had both a natural beginning and end for its characters and story – and it made a lot of difference. The characters were reasonably interesting, the story compelling and the end actually pretty daring for both Star Wars and Disney. It also did a very nice job tying into the original trilogy, and brought a new edge and dimension to the series.

2. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Star Wars fans are fickle creatures. Release The Force Awakens, which has yet another version of the Death Star, and they criticize it for being a rip-off. Then Rian Johnson brings forth a wholly different film which takes the franchise in a totally new direction, and they hit the roof. What about Snoke’s backstory? (Who gives a damn – you didn’t get one for the Emperor until the prequels). What about Rey’s parents? (Why do you believe Kylo Ren anyway? He’s as confused as Rey). Why is Luke on the island – Jedis fight! (Not like Yoda and Obi Wan didn’t sit around for decades in hiding). It’s a bit too long in the middle – the casino story is nice color but a little clunky in its execution – but it still has a number of great moments.

1. Episode IV: A New Hope
The film that started it all still ranks at the very top of the list. It’s also the only Star Wars film nominated for Best Picture to date. It set the stage well, moving slowly to develop its original world, themes and characters, but not too slowly. Much of its images still hold up today, and its three major characters still dominate the top list of best movie characters of all time.

ADD NOTE
I said this last time, and I stand by it: I do, ultimately, feel as if Star Wars has always been a huge promise that hasn’t ever quite hit it just right. There’s a truly great film somewhere in this universe – I can feel it – but it still hasn’t been written yet. I’m pretty confident that Solo isn’t it – it’s a side story for one – but I do love the idea of a true heist film set in space. Hopefully Ron Howard got this film straightened out.

Programming note: I’m taking next week off for the unofficial start of summer. Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!