As initial reviews start to pour in for The Rise of Skywalker and we await to see the final installment of the Skywalker story, our writers gather together to hash out how we would rank the major film releases of the Star Wars universe. Each writer ranked the movies from best to worst and then points were assigned dependent upon each ranking. Contributors to the piece include Michael Rasbury, Donovan Reinwald, and T.D. Wood, and the list was complied and written by Blaine Duncan. Here they are, from worst to best!
The Phantom Menace
Though, as T.D. Wood points out, The Phantom Menace has “the best lightsaber fight of the prequel trilogy,” the movie does leave us all asking, as Michael Rasbury ponders, “What the fuck are midichlorians?” Though Rasbury isn’t a “fan of CGI overuse,” he does admit that the CGI still holds up. For me personally, I don’t know that more wooden acting exists in a major motion picture release than Jake Lloyd as the child Anakin Skywalker. And as much as we’d like to defend Lucas’s idea of Jar-Jar Binks, we can’t. It’s the worst character in all of Star Wars. The tagline of “Every saga has a beginning”? Turns out, we don’t need to know where some shit starts.
Attack of the Clones
Anyone else feel really sorry for Natalie Portman in these three films? Yeah, Attack of the Clones has issues. Michael Rasbury calls the love story “uninteresting” and points to the movie having “awful script and dialogue.” But all isn’t lost. He does like the “opening Zam Wessell chase sequence and Obi-Wan’s fight against Jango Fett.” T.D. Wood, though, ranked it last in his list, saying, “This just isn’t a good movie…nobody looked like they were trying” though he sort of liked the “Obi-Wan detective noir subplot.” Reinwald adds that “I thought Solo was going to be my lowest. Then I realized I could picture myself sitting down and watching the whole [Solo] movie again, and I cannot in good conscience say the same for Episodes I and II. Had I been struck dead in the summer of 2002, my answer would probably be different. It would be a mistake to resort to hyperbole and say these are the worst movies ever made. You can see worse than this in any Transformers film. Plus, you can do your own research and read about how this is the product of a singular artistic vision. I can’t say that it’s not. What it is, though, is weirdly bland and boring in areas, and relying for its big emotional moments on an actor, a script, a directing style, and a green screen that just can’t cut it.” I guess. As for me, I sort of liked it, and had it ranked 8th in my personal list. Oops!
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Other than The Phantom Menace, I don’t think a worse full-feature Star Wars product exists. I really disliked this mish-mash of a shit show. My comrades were more forgiving, though, as both Wood and Reinwald point out that the Kessel Run was a lot of fun; though Reinwald thought that Ehrenreich was stiff and weirdly not charming, Rasbury counters: “I thought Alden Ehrenreich played a good Han. I bought the Han and Chewie story and thought that the Darth Maul surprise at the end was pretty cool. A good look into the Star Wars underworld.” As for me, this movie needed to be scrapped, especially with all the reports of it having such a bumpy ride to the theaters in the first place. Trying to resurrect Darth Maul was the last slap in a face of bad writing along with how Han got his name (He was alone! Solo! Get it? Get it?) and the whole mentor aspect with Woody Harrelson. Everything feels trite from the opening scene. It is, at least, somewhat entertaining.
Revenge of the Sith
“I guess I like big spaceship battles?” Reinwald asks. “The movie that launched a thousand memes. Boy, they didn’t give Natalie Portman much to work with here, huh? Ian McDiarmid nails it as Palpatine. I’d probably watch it again, but man. Play to Hayden Christensen’s strengths for once, please.” T.D. Wood makes a case for a different set of movies: “I think my biggest problem with the prequels is the focus of the narrative. In the original trilogy, the Clone Wars are spoken of with an almost mythical regard, yet it’s not the focus of these. I know the point was to tell Anakin Skywalker’s story, but it could’ve easily been framed within the context of the Clone Wars. Oh well.” Rasbury aggravates us once more by pointing to one of the worst moments in the Star Wars canon: It has “one of the most cringeworthy moments of all of the Star Wars movies as Darth Vader yells ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ when he learns of Padme’s death: it made me throw up in my mouth a little bit when I first watched it.” That’ll do it.
The Force Awakens
Relying heavily on nostalgia, Star Wars tropes, and familiar beats, The Force Awakens was mostly a course correction, hence it not breaking the top five for this list despite its entertainment value. “I was a little uncomfortable at how much the story felt like A New Hope, but I got over it real fast,” says Michael Rasbury. Donovan Reinwald goes one step further, “As the joke goes, a great remake of A New Hope” and asks, “Is Harrison Ford actually having fun in this? Very difficult to say. Guess Han Solo’s space 401k took some real hits between Return of the Jedi and this one. Adam Driver’s brilliant; our thirst for him can only grow. Anyway, I think there are spaceships and things blow up? I believe I remember mostly liking it?” T.D. Wood summarizes most fans’ thoughts when he says that “it’s a great nostalgia kick for any fans of the [original trilogy]. But, to me at least, it doesn’t go past that.” The pace of it is truly great, and look at that poster! It’s a little crowded, offering so many promises that the movie doesn’t quite fulfill.
The Last Jedi
Like the Rebellion and the Republic, here’s where the division begins. Rasbury hated this one, arguing, “It was really hard for me to put this movie ahead of Attack of the Clones, which makes me sad. Mark Hamill did an excellent job of acting with what he was given. The movie looks really cool, but I absolutely did not buy into Rian Johnson’s story. Worst parts for me were: the way Luke’s story was handled, the stupid OJ Simpson car chase story, everything on Canto Bight, the waste Benicio del Toro, and the decision not tell Po Dameron (your greatest fighter pilot) the plan so that he don’t try to mutiny the ship. Why Rian Johnson?!!! Why?!!” But Wood says that it’s one that he absolutely loves, going on in believing that “Johnson took a lot of chances with this film, and while they didn’t all hit, it’s a great movie. You can read my full review here, but here’s a good summation: Johnson’s film is an exercise in burning down that past to create a bridge to the future. The Last Jedi eschews fan-service in order to breathe life into the next era of heroes and villains, yet in no way disrespects those that came before.” I’m in agreement with that and with Reinwald when he writes, “It feels different, which I think was the right call. The Tokyo-Drifter-esque, [it’s] a movie made by someone who’s seen more movies than just Star Wars (here’s looking at you, JJ). What they’re doing on the casino planet I have no idea. I mean, I do, but it’s sort of this movie’s Tom Bombadil. Even if you love it, you can probably agree that it’s messing with the narrative flow. Visually, again, it’s gorgeous – the lightspeed jump into the super star destroyer? Wow. The WWII style bombing run at the beginning. The battle in the salt desert. Laura Dern’s awesome and Poe Dameron gets pretty much what he deserves but he’s still cool so all right.” I’m not so sure this one isn’t one of my favorite Star Wars movies, ever, though that couldn’t be without what comes before it. Take that Snoke-throne-room scene alone and it’s one of the best, most suprising action sequences in the canon. That irreverence is what makes it wonderful to me.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I’ve often described this film as the worst Star Wars movie meshed with the greatest Star Wars movie. Reinwald on the other hand Rogue One: “The original cut of this has to be some sort of Star Wars: Magnificent Ambersons, right? The cuts made by the studio are bad, and it shows. The movie is a sort of anti-Attack of the Clones. It’s gorgeous. Emily Vanderwerff, one of Vox’s TV critics, described Gareth Edward’s work with Rogue One as being the first Star Wars movie where objects felt like they had weight, as if they were real objects in a real world. Despite the studio slashes, despite the weaknesses in the story, Gareth Edwards seems to get that sometimes, at its best, Star Wars is made-up moments that make you ‘Woah.’ Plus, choosing to film Darth Vader like something out of a horror movie made him, for the first time ever, seem not just scary, but terrifying.” That’s undoubtedly my favorite scene in any Star Wars movie. We were brought up being told that Vader was scary, but never quite shown. Wood says it’s not just a good Star Wars piece, “but it’s a great war film. The final act is so damn good. Even while knowing the ending, you can’t help but sit on the edge of your seat as the Empire closes in on our heroes and you truly begin to doubt whether they’ll succeed. This is the tone the prequel trilogy desperately needed. And, yeah, that Vader scene.” Rasbury quips that it’s a “[d]amn fine addition to the Star Wars universe. Basically the opening crawl of A New Hope brought to life” and that “Darth Vader was well used in this movie (especially the sequence where he was sword fightin’ and shit).” That’s what we all clamor for with these Star Wars movies anyway.
Return of the Jedi
It boils down to the original trilogy. And here’s where we have the final installment of those. Wood tells people not to pick it apart due to “focusing on the Ewoks and the action on the forest moon of Endor, but what drives this film is the Luke/Vader/Emperor storyline. The best character-driven storytelling of the OT, and Hamill’s best performance.” Reinwald, who had it ranked lower than any other contributor, says, “More than Empire, the first half of the movie feels like it has almost nothing to do with the second half of the movie. My least favorite of the original three. Still, there’s a lot to love. However, it is my belief that a truly evil Empire could do a hell of a lot better at protecting their superweapon’s only weak point. Y’all didn’t mind blowing up a planet, just nuke the damn jungle or something. You know, don’t make it so easy to sneak up on your shield generator or whatever. I mean the Empire has total air superiority for God’s sake.” Rasbury sums up my own excitement of this one: “The introduction of Jabba the Hutt — please ignore the bullshit Jabba scene added in the A New Hope re-make — originally this was the first time that [anyone] actually get to see Jabba the Hutt. The Ewoks are fine (they don’t really piss me off like they do some of internet nerds). The Battle of Endor is bad ass. The greatest ending act of any of the movies: emotionally believable and a great way to end the trilogy, which worries me on how they propose to re-end it.”
A New Hope
Could you imagine being able to see this for the first time on the big screen in 1977? None of us were quite of age then. It’s the one that started it all, obviously, though not the most preeminent in our ranking: all four contributors to the list had this one ranked second on their lists. T.D. makes a good point by saying that “George Lucas could’ve easily called it a day after this one and it still would be held in the highest of regards.” Arguments still exist for this brilliant entry, though, as Razz points out: “Back before streaming services and the internet really existed (yes, there was such a time all you damned kids), I never missed an opportunity to watch this movie when it came on the television at least once or twice a year. All of the sets were designed and actually hand built [and] not by a bunch of software nerds in a warehouse, which gave them an organic quality that CGI just can’t pull off. The movie has its flaws but is still pretty awesome. Han shot first, George Lucas. Han shot first.” And maybe what makes it so stellar, as Donovan points out, are “the editors. See if you can find some of that uncut film.” Where would be without the retelling of Jospeh Campbell’s heroic tale?
The Empire Strikes Back
This comes as no surprise as writer Michael Rasbury is quick to point out that “[i]t is hard to find a hardcore Star Wars fan that doesn’t put this one as number one” because “it has Lando, Yoda, the Battle of Hoth, Boba Fett, Han in Carbonite, it has it all.” T.D. goes well beyond, defining The Empire Strikes Back as “the film that turned me into a nerd.” Donovan adds eloquently, “It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s memorable, and — holy shit — Luke gets his hand cut off. The reveal, blasé now, but jeez. Watch that scene again. Imagine James Earl Jones alone in the recording booth, just nailing every line. Think about what a weird movie it really is. How great it is that we have it.” Not to mention that Han and Leia fall in love through snark. No wonder that it makes the top of our Star Wars rankings.
A bonus thought from Razz, as he included a note on The Ewok Adventure: The Battle for Endor, which was a TV release in the US and a theatrical release outside of the US: “Pretty much makes your stomach hurt to watch it.”