Not so long ago, in a galaxy that’s… well, this one, actually… Star Wars enjoyed a spectacular revival and has reclaimed its place as an entertainment phenomenon. It’s a saga that’s spanned nearly 40 years, with its two-and-a-bit trilogies (so far) now seen and beloved by different generations. Whether it’s the originals, the prequels, or the sequels, it’s the sci-fi series that serves as a multimedia constant and binds the cinematic universe together. But, as we go full-circle and head back towards the beginning (which is actually more the middle, but whatever) in this year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one question needs to be asked – which Star Wars films are the best?
It’s no secret that the franchise has been through some ups and downs, so to shamelessly cash in on all the Star Wars hype surrounding Rogue One’s release, here’s my personal rankings for all seven of the main series films we’ve seen so far…
7. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Ugh, this one. It might be a bit of a controversial decision to put Episode II in last place instead of The Phantom Menace – trust me, we’ll get to that one in a minute – but there’s just absolutely nothing redeemable about this one. Well, almost nothing. I quite like the Coruscant chase at the beginning, as well as Obi-Wan’s detective mission on Kamino. And of course, Yoda with a lightsaber in the climactic duel was an unexpected delight. But everything else is just so, so poor. Hayden Christensen puts in a terribly wooden performance as the angsty Anakin, whose developing romance with Padmé is more creepy than emotional. And aside from this rubbish love story, very little of consequence actually happens – there may well be a massive arena battle with tons of Jedi at the end, but it’s all style and no substance. Christopher Lee as Count Dooku just about manages to save things with his villainous performance, but even he’s underused and not done enough justice.
Oh, and lest we forget that Episode II also commits the unforgiveable sin of giving Obi-Wan that hideous Jedi mullet. Poor Ewan McGregor.
6. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Breathe easy, people! Episode I is still at the tail-end of this list, even if it isn’t at the absolute bottom of the pile. The reason I rank The Phantom Menace over Attack of the Clones may be for a number of reasons – perhaps it’s the nostalgia of seeing my first Star Wars film in the cinema, or the subsequently lowered expectations for Episode II (which still managed to limbo under the impossibly low bar set by its predecessor). But, for all its waffly politics and Jar Jar Binks, I just generally feel that The Phantom Menace has the more memorable set pieces. The opening scenes are great, the pod race is thrilling, and the Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon vs Darth Maul lightsaber duel is amazing (seriously, that music!). Sure, these first two prequels may both be sorely lacking in quality, but I at least remember what happened in Episode I, even if it’s not always fondly.
5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
What’s this? One of the sacred original trilogy movies, ranked in the bottom half of my list? Blasphemy! I should be ashamed to call myself a Star Wars fan, I know. But believe me, there is a big jump in quality between Episode VI and Episode I. This is a truly great film, even if it is only coming in at #5 here. There’s so many cool moments throughout, and the finale with Darth Vader sacrificing himself to save Luke from the Emperor is incredibly touching. Return of the Jedi’s only real problem is that it’s just not as good as the other original trilogy films, and that’s not even because of the Ewoks – I just don’t think the events quite compare to the drama of Episode V and the magic of Episode IV. But then again, not a lot does!
4. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
I was torn about whether to put this one above or below Return of the Jedi, but I think it’s an underrated entry in the Star Wars saga so I feel obliged to give it a bit more love. Like the other two prequel films, Revenge of the Sith is definitely style over substance – whenever it slows down for a moment, its faults begin to show (particularly when it centres on Anakin) and it’s still bogged down in political nonsense. But thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often, and it’s a no-holds barred thrill ride for most of the run time. The opening sequence is a fantastic way to kick of the (then-final) entry in the Star Wars franchise, and the set pieces are consistently solid throughout. Obi-Wan vs General Grievous, Mace Windu vs Palpatine, Anakin vs the innocent younglings… all culminating in two of the best lightsaber duels ever – Yoda vs Palpatine and Obi-Wan vs Anakin, the latter being particularly spectacular. This is the only prequel that feels justified in its existence, and if nothing else it helped send Star Wars out with a bang until The Force Awakens appeared on the scene 10 years later.
3. Episode IV: A New Hope
Ah, the original, and still one of the best. The movie formerly known as Star Wars is one of the most classic and archetypal sci-fi flicks ever made. It hits on all the traditional tropes of the Hero’s Journey and it introduced us to a galaxy far, far away in spellbinding fashion. The characters are hugely interesting – Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi… even the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 felt like worthy additions to the cast. Their journey to the Death Star and back is incredibly compelling and full of unforgettable moments, from the trench run to the trash compactor. Honestly, the only reason I probably don’t rank this one higher is because I’m so used to it now and everything about it is so ingrained in film culture. It laid down strong foundations for the rest of the saga to build on, and for that alone it is fully deserving of claiming such a high spot on this list.
2. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
“Luke, I am your father!”. ‘Nuff said, surely? It’s the best original trilogy movie, it’s often considered the best Star Wars movie, and it’s arguably one of the best movies ever made. The Empire Strikes Back takes everything that worked about A New Hope and propels it into the stratosphere. The stakes are higher than ever, the big moments are even more iconic, and it leaves the biggest impact on the series out of any of the seven movies. The ominous shadow of the Empire looms large over every event, from the attack on Hoth to the climax on Bespin, and it cements Darth Vader as one of the best and most famous baddies in cinema history. By the time the credits roll, our heroes are defeated and divided – it proved that the dark side, and the franchise as a whole, is undoubtedly a force (pun full intended) to be reckoned with.
1. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
I can hear the disgusted boos from the Star Wars faithful already. Why have I put this shameless A New Hope rip-off in my #1 spot? Even in my own review last year, I only dared to (tentatively) give Episode VII a score of 8/10, which surely pales in comparison to the near-infallible quality of The Empire Strikes Back. And yes, at face value, Episode V is a better film than Episode VII. But the reason I’m awarding top ranking to The Force Awakens is because it’s the film that I feel I can go back and enjoy most easily. I’ll happily admit it’s not without its faults – some of the CGI doesn’t mesh very well with the practical effects, and it does borrow an awful lot of story cues from Episode IV. But there’s worse films to borrow from than A New Hope, and repurposing its familiar moments into a shiny new adventure is no bad thing. It takes all the things that felt uniquely Star Wars and reintroduces them for a new generation, both on and off screen. The new cast of characters feel relatable and intriguing (particularly Rey) and they work well alongside the older cast from the original trilogy. It also features my favourite lightsaber duel in the entirety of the Star Wars saga – the fight against Kylo Ren in the snowy forest is raw, powerful, and instantly iconic. Plus, it has one of the best endings in the series, even if Luke Skywalker is surprisingly mute.
My opinion of Episode VII may dwindle depending on how the other sequel trilogy films turn out (we’ll see come 2017 and 2019 respectively), but for now, it stands tall as the one I find most enjoyable and most accessible. It may not be the most original entry in the series, but it’s a rousing reminder of what made this franchise so good in the first place, and the promise of an adventure just beginning…