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Pretty much every dedicated movie-goer has their own ranking of the live-action Star Wars films. Every title in the franchise has arrested public attention upon release, and with knowledge of every chapter it makes all the sense in the world that people would rank them all stacked up against each other. It’s a subject that is regularly a source of very divisive debate on the internet, and that’s been especially true in recent months thanks to the release of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga.
With that latest film now available for digital download (on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD March 31st), we thought that we would take a crack at our own ranking of the titles. So going from worst to best, here is every live-action Star Wars movie ranked, including Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.
11. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones (2002)
For its time, George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones was certainly ambitious… but it’s 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. And certainly not helping anything is a convoluted plot filled with bland character arcs.
The lone real bright spot 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 (who was asking to see Boba Fett as a child?), but it doesn’t 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’s a memory drowned out by the visual of a bunch of random Jedi swinging theirs around, and Hayden Christensen’s Anakin complaining about sand.
10. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
Being the final film in the Skywalker Saga, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker was always going to be viewed with an extra layer of scrutiny next to all of the other episodes – but the problem is that it invites itself to extra criticism by nature of being a poorly put together blockbuster. In many ways it feels like an attempted (an unnecessary) apology to fans who were upset by the surprising choices made in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and its attempt to backtrack and change things makes it operate like two movies smashed together as one. It’s all plot and no story, and delivers zero satisfying conclusions for any of its characters.
Instead of trying to utilize the various plot threads left open by The Last Jedi, The Rise Of Skywalker essentially abandons them in favor of being more like the original trilogy capper: Star Wars: The Return Of The Jedi. Thus, Emperor Palpatine is brought back for no real explicable reason, collapsing anything interesting in Kylo Ren’s arc, and from there it’s a cascading array of issues propelled by fan service – from Chewbacca being killed and then brought back, to Rey being Palpatine’s granddaughter, to the incredibly forced “Reylo” kiss. It tries so hard to be the Star Wars movie that everybody will love, but is ultimately a disaster because of that approach.
9. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
At the end of the day, the biggest problem from which George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace suffers is that it has absolutely no idea who its audience is. On the one hand, you have a plot that centers on intergalactic politics and stuff like trade embargoes and senate hearings; while on the other you have characters that are essentially living cartoons, and a disruptive child protagonist. When those two sides clash, what’s 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, as Darth Maul’s design is inarguably cool, the podrace scene is fun, and “Duel of the Fates” is one of the best pieces of music that John Williams has ever created… but 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.
8. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
Being the best movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy isn’t exactly a high distinction, but it’s one that George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith can cling to for the sake of its legacy in pop culture (and it’s worth noting that not many trilogies conclude with their best chapter). It still possesses many of the problems of its immediate predecessors, such as featuring underwhelming performances and unfortunate visual effects, but it does at least kind of stick the landing in some areas.
This was always set up to be the movie where Anakin Skywalker was seduced by the dark side, and while there is a fair bit of dumbness thrown in (she dies of a broken heart? Really?), it also gets really gripping in moments – such as when the Sith apprentice is instructed to slaughter the younglings, and Order 66 is carried out. Revenge of the Sith definitely isn’t a good movie, but it is the best of the bad Star Wars films.
7. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
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, and going out there was a lot of the same question still being asked, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a “fine” diversion that has some entertaining elements and cool sequences to pair with 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’s also a bummer, however, that it feels the need to hone so close to details that we know (like performing the Kessel Run) and over-explain elements (like where the hero’s name comes from). In the grand scheme of things it’s a fairly harmless blockbuster, and arguably the most forgettable of the live-action Star Wars titles.
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
After the disappointing prequel trilogy, Star Wars fans were immensely excited to dive back into the universe they were familiar with from the original films – and in that capacity, Star Wars: The Force Awakens absolutely delivered. The movie is really a loving tribute to everything that made us fall in love with in the franchise to begin with, and while that strength also happens to be one of its biggest flaws, it deserves tremendous credit for successfully launching a whole new era for the franchise.
Truth be told, it’s unfortunate that the film essentially operates as an echo of Star Wars: A New Hope, telling the story of an orphaned hero who travels away from a desert planet to become ensconced in an intergalactic battle between good and evil, but it succeeds because of its excellent character development. You can’t help but immediately fall in love with Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB-8 (each of them filled with their own individual quirks, engaging personalities, and eccentricities), Kylo Ren makes for an exciting and emotional villain, and once the end credits start rolling you are excited to see where the saga is going to take them all next.
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
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’s actually pretty special to watch it operate. Unlike the worst examples of fan-service in the franchise, it effectively and smartly 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’s definitely categorized as one of the successes of the modern era.
4. Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Remember when Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi was considered the most controversial Star Wars movie? Ahh, simpler times. Now, with the added perspective of eight more titles from the franchise, we can look back on the film as truly one of the best chapters the saga… which also happens to be a bit marred by the presence of the overly-cutesy Ewoks.
From the invasion of Jabba’s palace and the rescue of Han Solo, to the final battle between good and evil as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader cross lightsaber blades in front of the Emperor, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is an immensely satisfying adventure in and of itself, but also a really amazing story-capper – delivering real closure, providing some satisfying surprises, and capitalizing on the deeper themes of the storytelling. It’s the movie that cements the original trilogy as one of the greatest in cinema history.
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
In retrospect, the legacy of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is tarnished by The Rise of Skywalker’s stubborn refusal to engage with any of its story choices and character arcs, but putting that aside and looking at the film more in a vacuum, it’s just really an impressive piece of filmmaking. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, featuring some of the most beautiful sequences that have been included in Star Wars movies (thinking about the throne room showdown, the battle on Crete, and the burning of the tree library specifically), but it also dares to take its heroes and plot in unexpected and exhilarating directions.
While J.J. Abrams saw his job with the new Star Wars movies as recapturing the feeling of the original trilogy, Rian Johnson met his backwards-looking gaze with a vision that looked forward and considered where the classic hero/villain dynamic of the franchise could go without the road map of George Lucas’ original films. It’s thrilling to watch Kylo Ren carve out a whole new future for the Dark Side, see Rey tempted away from the light, and have Luke caught in the middle struggling with his connection to the Force. By the end of the movie there is an excellent set up for a perfect next chapter, with goodness reignited in the universe and the use of the Force spreading, and it’s a shame that we never got it.
2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
It goes without saying that the Star Wars franchise wouldn’t be what it is today without the incredible impact that George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope made when it was first released in 1977 – but 43 years later it still needs to be stressed just how remarkable it is. It’s a perfect composite of the great serials that the director loved growing up, and beautifully elegant in its creation of the hero’s journey within an entirely new mythos. It’s an incredible work of imagination, and iconic through and through.
It’s not grandiose or even all that epic, featuring a very A-to-B-to-C-to-D story, but it’s effortlessly impactful in the way that it sucks you into its reality and gets you to fall for its characters. You instantly emphasize with Luke Skywalker’s ambition to live a life of importance and adventure; you’re captivated by rogue charms of Han Solo; you’re impressed with the forcefulness of Princess Leia; and frightened at the simple sight of Darth Vader. There’s truly nothing like it, and the fact that it led to the creation of an incredible empire is not surprising in the least in retrospect.
1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
It’s been pointed out numerous times by detractors that Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back isn’t really an independently functioning movie, as its ending is a cliffhanger that demands conclusion by its design – but you know what? It really doesn’t matter, 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.
It’s 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 its able to orchestrate with its characters through its few narrative chess moves is phenomenal. 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’re fully with Luke as he toils through his Jedi training with Yoda. It’s a magical blockbuster experience and the best live-action Star Wars movie to date.
How do you stack the live-action films of the Star Wars franchise against each other? Hit the comments section with your own rankings, and stay tuned for more of our Star Wars-related coverage here on CinemaBlend!