Star Wars: There’s little more omnipresent in film culture than this. Or, indeed, global culture in general. From the very first time it hit the big screen back in ’77 and captured just about everyone’s imagination, to the prequel trilogy’s strange tirade when we were but li’l babbers, and finally to the tumultuous, opinion-splitting grandiosity of last decade’s sequel trilogy, George Lucas’ brainchild has been through a lot. And, such is its usual grand propulsion, even whilst The Mandalorian is grabbing ludicrous viewing figures over on Disney+, it feels as if the world’s beloved sci-fi planet-hopping language-barrier-breaking lightsaber-battling franchise has finally come to somewhat of a standstill, The Rise of Skywalker reigning in the latest cinema saga in dramatic fashion. As we celebrate The Empire Strikes Back‘s 40-year Anniversary, we thought it fitting here at repress to rank all of Star Wars‘ cinema appearances, from worst to best.
12. Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Of course, the natural place to start this list would be on The Phantom Menace, no? I mean, it’s offensive, classless, stupid and dated. However, Attack of the Clones, more than any other Star Wars film, commits the cardinal sin that we feared would happen; it’s *boring*. Bar the laughably bad dialogue of some scenes (^^) and the admitted dopeness of Yoda doing his li’l green tricks, most of Clones‘ 2hr22min (!) runtime is spent on extended exposition and the blandest action in the franchise. Plus, I think we can all agree that this is Hayden Christensen’s most aWful Anakin turn, GODDDDD.
11. The Clone Wars (2008)
Again: What makes this worse than The Phantom Menace, you may ask? Nothing. But 2008’s precursor to the incoming animated TV series is nothing if not achingly mediocre, and, no less, immediately forgettable. Sure, we get our introduction to Ahsoka Tano, a new central character who turns out to, as the TV show continues, be a very solid addition to the series. And sure, we get this and the introduction into a world between Clones and Revenge of the Sith that turns out to be a wide-ranging, colourful and fun one. But – and this is a but – all this is, is an introduction, plain and simple. Do you remember what happened in this? I sure as hell don’t. All I know is, I have a sincere lack of any kind of desire to re-watch it and find out. That clunky, dated animation style certainly doesn’t help its cause, either.
10. Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Ironically, it takes us to get through two whole films to get to what is debatably one of the worst of all time. And, sure, it’s pretty agreeable. It’s that fact, though, that puts it above those other two. Because, whilst Clones is painfully boring and that animated tripe is about as memorable as what you ate for lunch last Tuesday, this is utter, UTTER, crap. Not quite Ratatoing level, perhaps, but this is just about teetering into so-bad-it’s-good territory: And that’s what makes it a memorable, intriguing, morbidly fascinating re-watch — so at least it’s got that going for it. Of course, we’ve got Jar Jar and his antics which were in such poor taste that the repercussions have been troubling, whilst the little respite we do get from racist stereotypes in the rest of the cast comes in the form of a certain little smirking git who’s unfairly good at driving racers, Liam Neeson’s most forgettable turn yet and a genuinely well-designed and exciting villain with about 10 minutes of screentime. Did the world ever truly get over the fallout of The Phantom Menace? I wager not.
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Not by any stretch a bad film, Solo lands on the bottom half of this list for very similar reasons to Clones, if not as extreme. Unlike every other Star Wars released in the 2010s, Solo just didn’t feel like essential viewing, to the point that it was the only one I didn’t see at the cinema (and I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one). Moreover, when you do watch it, it only proves that theory. Aside from a few fun set-pieces and a great Donald Glover turn, Solo really struggles to provide anything that necessitates re-watches, or even initial watches.
8. Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Only George and his merry crew could make something like the killing of children a laughing stock by calling them younglings, right? Revenge of the Sith had it all: The younglings, the intergalactic politics, the unbelievably hammy acting, and more lightsaber battles than you could ever imagine — and it had it all across a very long run-time. This final foray into one of the biggest travesties in cinema history shows everything that it was about; it showed what huge potential it had with the awesome battle sequences, General Grievous and his famous dopeness, all in an explosively gratifying smorgasbord of ending sequences — so why wasn’t it brilliant? It also lingered with the stench of a lot that was wrong with it. Sure, Grievous was pretty damn cool, but he was only in it for about 20 minutes. Still, all told, this remains the rough gem amidst the proverbial vomit that this saga was, and the one redeeming quality it has that could make me begin to start to agree with the nostalgic folks talking about the prequels being better than we remembered. Not that I will. Oh, you would be sorely mistaken. But I do have a lot of fun watching this one, I won’t deny.
7. Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
I will admit, however, that there isn’t all that much separating this from Revenge of the Sith. All the same, you could argue with me all day trying to convince me that the prequels are better than the sequels, and that the sequels are the real travesty. I’ll just never agree with you. The sequels are better. They cut out the space politics. Gave your villains actual screen-time. Upped the acting quality exponentially — Daisy Ridley against Hayden Christensen, is that even a competition?? And okay, sure. The Rise of Skywalker went about things pretty clumsily (hence its place here in the list’s bottom half); the first half-hour or longer, even, felt like a confused slideshow, Finn was still something of a non-character, yada yada. But what this final piece did, was it closed a saga that defined a generation, and it closed it with a flash and a crash. It wasn’t perfect, but I feel like Rey and Kylo’s conclusions were apt, and I’m glad that I could experience Star Wars in the cinema one last time. Even if, admittedly, it probably won’t be the last time.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Quite comfortably the best Star Wars spin-off property by a mile, Rogue One doesn’t rely on familiarity, so to speak, in its characters, atmosphere etc. and nor does it need to. In fact, it’s the tonal shift of the film that makes it such a refreshing watch in comparison with the rest of the franchise. Gareth Edwards delivers some stunning, yet gritty, visuals and a narrative that recontextualizes the “Star Wars” into what they are — a war. In addition, it creates a surprisingly strong ensemble cast of characters, with Alan Tudyk and Donnie Yen putting in particularly entertaining performances.
5. Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
Rian Johnson’s stint here as Star Wars director here was something of an opinion splitter, huh. And, granted, The Last Jedi is far from sheer perfection. Whilst Finn’s sub-plot was genuinely entertaining in hindsight, it did signal an abrupt end in significance for what was an immensely promising character — and, of course, old git Luke Skywalker can’t go without a mention. I, for one, though, am a fan of Hamill’s grumpy Luke and, let’s face it, all its imperfections (which, I think, are actually pretty sparse) aside, Rey and s w o l Kylo Ren’s story was what mattered more than anything here, and oH was it scrumptious. Their effortlessly enticing dynamic coupled with some of the most visually impressive set-pieces the series has ever seen makes for some of the best cinematic spectacle we’ve seen for years, and for that, I am very grateful.
4. Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
To put a film as *classic* as Return of the Jedi as low as 4th in any list feels like a crime; but it’s one that’s necessary — for all its brilliance, it’s probably the weakest of the original three. Make no bones about it though, Episode VI is, indeed, brilliant all the same. First things first, Luke’s gothic makeover and that green lightsaber were the coolest damn things on the planet for kids like me the world over, I’m sure, and seeing him battle it out for all that’s right against the almighty, elusive and unfathomably heinous Emperor Palpatine remains one of the best clashes between good and evil on-screen — topped off, of course, with the greatest little redemption arc in history for a certain Darth Vader. We also get to explore the world of Endor with those scruffy li’l rapscallions we call Ewoks and, in the remastered edition, get a little taste of Hayden Christensen as a ghost, oh boy. Is there anything inherently wrong with this or indeed worse about it than its predecessors? Maybe it’s a little less focused, I don’t know. Its only real crime is that what came before it were two of the greatest films ever made.
3. Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
I could forgive you for calling my placing of this above Jedi a crime, too. Bare with me here though, let me argue my case. And that case is, I believe what we all flock to Star Wars to in our masses for is its spectacle. That wonderful clash of lightsabers, X-Wings and laser guns. Those awe-inspiring set-pieces hopping between planets and spanning sets as grand as the greatest places the eye can see. What else do we come to it for? The midichlorians? Give me a break. Myself, anyway, I don’t come to Star Wars for big-brained sci-fi writing or worry about consistent world-building. I come to it for the Star Wars. Walking into the cinema that first time to see a new saga unfold, it was a dream come true. And, yes, it’s practically a cut-paste of the original with a modern spin, but is there anything wrong with that when it’s as entertaining as this? I don’t think so. Disney bought out this franchise to captivate a new generation, and The Force Awakens did just that.
2. Star Wars (1977)
Damn right, I insisted on calling this one Star Wars instead of A New Hope — that’s how ludicrously seriously I take this film. Whatever you choose to call it, there’s no denying that this film was revolutionary. In taking the elements of Kurosawa samurai epics and fairytales, and combining them with a more accessible, less science-oriented brand of sci-fi, George Lucas, while maybe not inventing the blockbuster, surely defined it. Plus, it still holds up ridiculously well today, with the writing and performances keeping it from aging a day, let alone 40+ years. The game-changing score, the ingenious effects and the genuinely gripping action are all facets to why this is my personal favourite Star Wars film; the one that created an Empire, in more ways than one.
1. Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
How do you open the greatest ever decade for film? With one of the greatest ever films. Milo, like many others, very respectfully argues that the original is best — just, I respectfully disagree. Without A New Hope, we wouldn’t have got here in the first place, and, yes, it’s a classic in every single regard imaginable; but this is when Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi. That aforementioned clash of epic inspirations continued and Lucasarts‘ growing lust for adventure and excitement made this famous sequel a bigger and better blockbuster than its predecessor. The Empire Strikes Back bestows a greater proportion of action-packed set-pieces, character depth and yet more planet-hopping escapades, topped off with the snowy aesthetic of Hoth, a whole lot more lightsaber swinging and, of course, Yoda — alongside Vader in the best damn assertion of villainy dominance this side of Ramsay Snow cutting off your man-parts (not sorry). When I think Star Wars, I think “I am your father”. I think that lightsaber battle. This, surely, is Star Wars at its most iconic. And – rather fittingly on its anniversary – its best.
So that’s that. It’s DECIDED. We should win a Nobel Prize, don’t you think? Because of this list, no-one will ever argue about Star Wars again…
– reuben + milo.