Analysis

Ranking every Star Wars movie ahead of The Rise of Skywalker

The highlights, the lowlights, and everything in between

It's time for the ranking of the Star Wars movies to begin.

The Skywalker saga is about to debut its final installment with The Rise of Skywalker, calling for one last debate about the series' highlights and lowlights before it all comes to a close. What's the best film in the original trilogy? What's the best of the prequels? Where do the spin-offs fit in? And, yes, is The Last Jedi any good?

Of course, the answers to these questions are highly subjective. But let's dive in.

10. Attack of the Clones

The high points of Attack of the Clones, from a fun subplot about unraveling an assassination attempt to a memorable battle sequence on Geonosis, can't overshadow its fatal flaw. The crucial romance between Anakin and Padmé is so clumsily executed, with one cringe-worthy line after another, that it's actually hard to believe it ended up onscreen like this. Are we supposed to groan at true howlers like "you're exactly the way I remember you in my dreams" or "I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me," or should we be invested in this romance and not find Anakin to be an unlikable creep from the get-go? George Lucas fumbles the execution in the franchise's low point.

9. Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith is no doubt an improvement on Attack of the Clones, especially with Ian McDiarmid delivering a magnificent performance as a sinister Sheev Palpatine. But the film ultimately fails because Anakin's turn to the Dark Side is rushed and unearned. One moment, he's trying to save Padmé. Minutes later, he's executing children no questions asked and saying things like "from my point of view, the Jedi are evil." Not only is that the most on-the-nose dialogue of the franchise, but the film fails to actually make clear why Anakin believes it at all. Showing a character evolve from an innocent kid into a terror that menaced the galaxy in a believable way was the entire point of the prequel trilogy, yet Revenge of the Sith gets it all wrong.

8. The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace is easily the most watchable of the prequels, in part because it's not nearly as busy as the movies to follow, focusing mainly on a single invasion of one planet and the story of a young boy being swept up into the Jedi Order. The dialogue is also not as laughably poor as it is in Clones, especially with the presence of the endlessly quotable Qui-Gon Jinn, the writing for whom is surprisingly strong for this trilogy. You can't go wrong with that iconic Darth Maul lightsaber duel, either. Centering the story around the taxation of trade routes probably wasn't the greatest idea George Lucas ever had, but The Phantom Menace still has a little more good in it than its dismal reputation suggests.

7. Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Han Solo prequel suffers from its tendency to overexplain aspects of the character's backstory; see that lame origin of his last name. Its first act also spends too much time running down a checklist of events from his past rather than finding something specific to focus on. But it eventually does just that when its characters embark on the central heist mission, at which point the film settles into its groove. Solo from there offers a refreshingly small-scale and different sort of adventure in the Star Wars universe that stays true to the characters we love. It's nothing as game-changing or memorable as the main episodes, but approach this one as a hangout film to be rewatched on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and it's not bad at all.

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Just like Solo, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is another spin-off with an uneven first act that jumps around too much, but it improves once the heist gets underway. Its final hour boasts one of the greatest battles in all of Star Wars, which brings to life tons of creative ideas, from a Star Destroyer being pushed into another Star Destroyer, to a ship being destroyed before it enters hyperspace by a Star Destroyer coming out of hyperspace. Most importantly, we're invested in these characters and their individual missions, and the film pulls no punches by killing off every one of them. The surprisingly bleak ending retroactively ups the stakes of the original film, giving us more reason to care about those stolen Death Star plans by showing the sacrifices required to retrieve them. This ability to add significance to a later movie is precisely what every prequel should strive for.

5. Return of the Jedi

Some disappointment with Return of the Jedi at the time was understandable considering it recycles the Death Star plot. And with its poor direction and editing, it's a clear downgrade from the rest of the original trilogy; watch the sail barge sequence and try to keep track of all the awkward cuts. But there's still so much to love in Return of the Jedi, from the creature-packed Jabba's Palace sequence to the thrilling Battle of Endor. Besides, it enriches the saga by exploring the idea that even Darth Vader, the ultimate big bad we were trained to boo and hiss, can be redeemed. When Luke Skywalker throws away his lightsaber and chooses not to fight, and wins not by rejecting his feelings for his father but embracing them, it's the most powerful sequence in the series so far. Return of the Jedi as a whole isn't the greatest of the Star Wars movies, but its last act is Star Wars at its very best.

4. The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens is a pure shot of adrenaline, a relentlessly fast-paced revival free of a single dull moment that introduces a lineup of lovable characters and brings fresh energy into a series that desperately needed it. Sure, it sticks fairly closely to the structure of A New Hope. But the film mostly gets away with it because returning to Star Wars' roots felt necessary after the prequels and because it actively examines the idea of evil not as something that's defeated once, but as a cycle that repeats itself — although having essentially a third Death Star goes a little far. Still, delving into the legacy our heroes left behind through a new generation familiar with them as legends provides a unique perspective and a newfound sense of discovery that a more traditional continuation of Return of the Jedi never could, and we leave with a renewed sense of excitement about the past, present, and future of Star Wars that some thought they'd never feel again.

3. The Last Jedi

Just like Return of the Jedi succeeded while exploring new themes that enrich the franchise, so does The Last Jedi, which daringly forces our heroes to reckon with failure. Luke Skywalker finds himself crippled by his mistakes after being exalted as a legend, yet the film isn't about killing the past as so many have said. Instead, it's about the importance of keeping it with us and learning from both the triumphs and failures of those who came before. After all, Luke ultimately saves the day, and he does so not by way of some highly choreographed lightsaber battle, but by once again not actually fighting, keeping in mind exactly what Yoda taught him: The Force should be used for knowledge and defense, never for attack. In that way, The Last Jedi, while taking Star Wars in a bold new direction, also feels truer to the spirit of the original trilogy than Lucas' own prequels.

2. A New Hope

As the franchise only grows more sprawling, it can be refreshing to return to a time when there was nothing but this groundbreaking blockbuster called Star Wars, which drew upon everything from samurai films to westerns to film serials and spoke to the kid in all of us dreaming to fly among the stars. The film ingeniously hints at a massive universe of stories while letting our imaginations run wild with a minimalist approach, complete with unexplained references to events like the Clone Wars and background characters who might normally occupy an entire movie but only receive a single shot. Watch it as a classic, laugh-out-loud adventure film about rescuing a princess (who winds up actually saving her rescuers), or watch it as a first step into a larger world that leaves you ready to dream up stories of your own in the galaxy far, far away. Either way, it's hard to beat the movie that started it all — though one film did.

1. The Empire Strikes Back

It's easy to forget how many risks The Empire Strikes Back took, from separating the trio whose dynamic worked so well before, to ending on a massive cliffhanger following our heroes being decisively defeated, to the instantly iconic "I am your father" twist that's not only shocking but adds dramatic complexity to Darth Vader as a villain. The risks paid off big time with one of the most entertaining blockbusters ever made, one that would forever define the series as we know it by setting the stage for a more thematically rich saga than may have otherwise followed. It only makes the Force more magical through the introduction of Yoda's teachings while delivering the series' most pulse-pounding, character-driven lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader and hilarious banter between Han and Leia, not to mention some of the strongest visuals and music of the saga. Decades of more great Star Wars stories likely lie ahead, but The Empire Strikes Back's position as the series' peak may forever remain unchallenged.

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