(Author’s Note: I did this all on a smartphone because I am out of town for Christmas. Also I had no intention of posting this on the holiday since I started writing this on Saturday. But it took me five days to complete. Phew. BTW, all photos/videos are taken from online. If any of these are yours please let me know and I will remove them immediately.)
Now with all that said, this is where fun begins:
I should preface this by saying that I would make a horrible critic. I am often times very forgiving of stories because I am a “Look at the whole picture” type of person.
Some of the most controversial tv and movie endings have often times been some of my favorite moments.
Plus there was…
So I say all of this because I want you to understand my rationale behind the order of this ranked list for the Star Wars films. With the 9th film now in theaters, I know that these types of lists are going to become a regular thing. I thought I would jump on the bandwagon since Star Wars happens to be one of my favorite franchises ever. Also, these movies are the very definition of sci-fi and fantasy.
Since a love for fantasy is what my site is all about, a closer look is in order. I’ll be ranking them on four categories.
3. Fantasy Elements (World building, tropes, etc.)
So sit back and relax as I break down the 9 Star Wars films. I’m excluding the spin offs. Please note, these are my own personal preference. If you have your own thoughts on the order of these films, feel free to sound off in the comments section below. While here on the site, why not comment on one of my December stories. You could win yourself a $25 Amazon card. See details in one of the stories below this post. Alright, shameless plugs aside, let’s Rank!
Coming in at #9…
I’m just going to say it. I don’t think there is a bad Star Wars film. I find them all to be part of one complete story. A story I love enough to study and dissect like so. But just like any story worth telling, there will always be the weakest moments. The weakest of the franchise is without a doubt Episode 2.
The characters in this movie fall apart for me for several reasons. They are bland and sort of uninteresting. At times they are random. Like, remember the cafe owner? Why did we need him? I Still don’t know. The only new one you can sort of rally behind is Jango Fett. But then he’s killed off. Oh yea, spoilers. Although really, you haven’t seen this one?
I actually don’t hate Hayden Christensen’s Anakin. But it’s hard to like him in this film. He butchers a lot of his lines. His delivery is too angsty. He comes off as a moody teenager. While I understand this is what he is, I don’t like thinking about my Darth Vader like this. His episode 3 portrayal is much closer to how I picture Vader. But more on that later. Much later. Mwahaha.
Also, Count Dooku was a pretty lousy villain. I like Christopher Lee, but not enough to think he could take on two Jedis at once. The CGI with his head on the fighting body is just the worst.
The reason this one falls so low on the list is that it does what sequel films are not supposed to do. There is still a lot of unnecessary character development taking place here. While I do love this aspect of storytelling, it just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to in this film.
The clones are cool, but much of the big reveal about them being this army which can fight the droids gets drawn out and feels like a filler in the canon. We get it: Clones will become storm troopers. We don’t need the whole bounty hunter/Genonosis shenanigans. Speaking of shenanigans…
3. Fantasy Elements
There was both good and bad in this film. Some of the creatures were really cool, and you sort of wanted to get to know more about them based on their concepts and designs. But some of them were just awful.
The Kaminoans were ugly, and you often wondered how their heads worked with those long necks of theirs.
The Super Battle Droids were a nice addition. But not enough to make me believe they’d be a match for the Jedis.
Also…why were so many Jedis dying in this film? Couldn’t they save that sort of nonsense for the next film.
I’d say spoilers but…again…seriously?
Ok…the music was actually pretty good. Dare I say one of my favorite songs, Across the Stars was introduced in this film. Did it make up for being the weakest in the franchise? No. But dang if its not a good listen.
Up next at #8…
It isn’t the worst one (see above). But there was so much not to like about this film. Luckily I think The Rise of Skywalker did a good job of fixing some of the mistakes this film presented. But let’s not pretend like this film didn’t happen.
It had Andy Serkis. We were on board. We were ready to love this character. And then he just goes and (spoilers) dies. Gollum got three films. Snoke gets a sliced cameo in his own movie.
I don’t really hate the rest of the characters in this film. You either like the new sequels or you hate them. I think they definitely made Finn a much more likeable character in this movie. I don’t know why there was so much hate for Rose. It’s not as if there was a whole random filler segment that she was invol…oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.
I actually thought Poe was a jerk in this film. I get it. He’s supposed to be the scoundrel Han Solo type guy. But he’s not. Han was endearing. You knew he was going to come back and help blow up the death star. Poe is just sort of moody and far too impulsive.
This film also sees the return of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Easily the best character in the film next to Carrie Fisher’s Leia and Daisy Ridley’s Rey. He was having a ball, and it was obvious. Too bad everyone else wasn’t having as much fun. Everyone is so serious in this film.
The story is probably my biggest complaint with the film.
There was no clear B story. At times it felt like Rey and Luke’s story was the side story, and it really wasn’t supposed to be. Especially because the film was called The Last Jedi. The main plot ends up being about a spaceship running out of gas. I’m pretty sure that was a plot point in Spaceballs.
The whole casino scene was DRAWN out. Captain Phasma made a return. Cool. What was the point with Benicio Del Toro’s character? He never made a return. Why did he need all that buildup?
3. Fantasy Elements
Much of this film we are trapped, and I do mean trapped, in space. But the planets we do visit are cool. I especially like the ice planet where the big stand off with the first order occurs. Did we need more ice foxes? The answer is yes. We needed more ice foxes.
It was forgettable. Do you remember your favorite song from this movie? Nope, me neither. Let’s move on.
Coming in at #7…
I want to like this film. I really do. It’s got action. It’s got another Death Star. We get another great lightsaber battle between Vader and Luke. There is so much that works in this film. But sadly, there’s also a lot that doesn’t. I find this is probably one of the most boring in the series. It is also probably one of the ones I rewatch the least.
Here’s the problem. These characters like Jabba, and Boba Fett, and the Emperor are cool. Dare I say, they are some of my favorites in the series. The problem though is that they are underused in this film.
Boba Fett. Badass Bounty hunter. Captures Han Solo. Holds his own against Luke. Oops. Sarlaac Poo Doo.
Emperor Palpatine. Force Lightning. All powerful. Killer laugh. Aww. Thrown down a hole.
Jabba the Hutt. Crime lord. Playboy. Overweight slug. Yep. Choked to death.
We never get a chance in this film to really love these well-made characters because they just sort of die. Instead we are left with only the Ewoks. So many Ewoks.
There is a mixed bag with the story here too. At one point you feel like the plot is again filling time. Destroy base here. Oh, we can’t for some reason. Well, let’s have several obstacles to overcome before we can then. Rinse. Repeat.
However, the conflict Luke has in this movie feels genuine. You also begin to understand Vader’s struggle (you know, without the backstory.) We commiserate with him when he makes the sacrifice at the end. We feel pity when he reveals that Luke was right about there still being good in him.
#3 Fantasy Elements
We go to a desert and then a forest. While they are fantastical in a sense with the new creatures, I never really felt like this added anything new to the universe. By all means, I like Tatooine and feel the harshness of the terrain.
Also, the rancor is a very terrifying monster. I especially hated having to fight these things in the various Star Wars video games they appear in.
The Ewoks…well, I know they get a lot of hate. But I am someone who actually really likes them. In fact, they are my first exposure to Star Wars. One of my favorite movies as a kid was the Ewok Adventure.
Their culture is well developed. They have sacred rituals. They have a language, and they enjoy telling stories. I like watching them fight the storm troopers. I know it’s illogical but I like it. In terms of fantasy, I feel like these little guys deserve more credit than they get.
Two words: Yub Nub.
Actually both ending victory songs from the original and special editions strike a chord with me. They are heartwarming tunes. They make you happy that the good guys have won. They make the force ghost appearances feel all the more sweet and real. I like the music in this movie, but especially in the special edition as they pan across the different worlds. You feel a sense of triumph in the music. Everything is right again.
Let’s move on to #6…
I liked this movie a lot. It reinvented the series in a way that only J.J. Abrams could. The nostalgia/cameos are exciting and give you a warm feeling. You almost forgive this movie of its flaws because everyone is looking like they are having such a good time. I say almost forgive.
Let’s start with the good. I feel like the introductions to Rey, and Finn, and Poe are well done. They fit in well to this universe. There’s some weird anachronisms that don’t feel like they belong. BB-8 giving a thumbs up. Some of the slang. But for the most part I find these characters charming and welcome additions.
It also helps that you have so many familiar faces in the film. As soon as Han and Chewie show up you know you’re in for some fun.
Kylo Ren is not a bad villain. But they sure do a bad job of representing him in his debut film. He comes off as a whiney kid much of the time. You don’t really know his motivations. Even when his force abilities are used they feel like a temper tantrum. After seeing the ninth film these choices make more sense. But imagine having to live with this villain for four years before knowing his eventual fate. It’s a bad intro.
The First Order also feels incompetent. And where did they come from? So many mysteries. That said, Captain Phasma is awesome. She should’ve had a much bigger role in this film.
Again, fun is had. Laughs ensue. Who needs a story? Well…
I felt like for the most part the story was easy enough to follow. They need to find Luke Skywalker because he’s our only hope. The First Order are the new baddies that have to be destroyed. The good guys have to keep them from destroying any other planets. They hide out in the Millennium Falcon and a cantina…hey wait a minute! We’ve seen this film somewhere before.
There’s just so much here that feels like a copy of the original Star Wars film. It mostly works. Rey and Finn both have intriguing mysteries about their origins. But so little is answered in this debut film. And that is unfortunate. Probably the only reason this one didn’t score higher on my list.
#3 Fantasy Elements
Ok, it was good. But not in the way the other films were. They don’t really introduce many new aspects to the universe. But as far as how the elements of this universe work, they do a fantastic job.
You see the smoke coming off of the lightsabers. They don’t feel CGI like the prequel films. The fighting is clumsy, but intentionally so. They haven’t been schooled at some Jedi academy. Rey picks up a saber with the force and swings it like she’s mashing all the buttons in a fighting game. But it works.
When the first order fires their planet destroying laser you see the effects this has on the planet—trees blowing away, stuff like that. You see the light from space. You see lasers halted by the force. Again, not a lot of new elements here. But they do give you logic behind the way this universe functions.
Just listen to the music from the trailer…
You immediately get the feeling of something epic. Honestly, one of the best film trailers I’ve ever seen. The old favorites are here too. The music swoons with the old Leia and Han Solo standby when they first greet one another.
Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the new cantina song. It never hurts to have the Hamilton star doing music in your film.
It’s time for #5…
We have finally arrived at the new. This is hands down the best of the sequel trilogy. At the time of writing this the movie is still not even a week old, so I will be very brief so as not to include potential spoilers.
The new characters are interesting. I find them to be very likable despite the fact that this is the final film (so far) in the franchise.
You have old favorites like (spoilers) Lando and the Emperor. Both bring that nostalgia fun. Even Carrie Fisher has a few scenes. So happy for that.
The main actors have also had a chance to mature. You start to believe their motives/performances. I actually really like Ben Solo in this film.
What a great story! It ties everything together and we get elements from all 9 films thrown in. Including what is such an important element from the prequels. I won’t spoil any further but the story was my favorite part.
Also…and I don’t care if it’s a spoiler: Chewie gets his medal. It only took 42 years, but he gets his well-deserved medal. Congrats Chewbacca! You have served your galaxy well.
3. Fantasy Elements
Good and bad. We get new aliens and new droids as always. Palpatine’s planet is very cool. There’s a few meta jokes tossed in about some of these creatures such as ceremonies being held every 42 years (which is exactly how old Star Wars is) which I could’ve done without. But nothing too bad.
The lightsaber battle which is present in the trailer was a bit underwhelming. However, they definitely make up for it in later scenes. That is all I can say.
It’s so good. They crank nostalgia up to eleven on this one. They play so many of the greats. If only Duel of the Fates had made a cameo. I like how musical cues always harken back to an old moment in Star Wars. Lando gets his music. Luke gets his training music. Leia gets her romance theme. Even the Emperor scenes feel classic. Just amazing.
Time for #4…
The original. The one that started it all. The only reason this one doesn’t nab the #1 spot for me is because there are three other films in the series which I watch on repeat. But that doesn’t lessen this ones value in any way. I could go on for days about why this is easily one of the best in the series. But I won’t. I’ll just lay down the briefest of reasons.
They’re iconic. The late Joseph Campbell increased their fame by breaking down the archetype structures represented in this film. They have inspired storytellers (like moi) since their inception.
You have the classic hero, Luke. The damsel who can take care of herself, Leia. The scoundrel who you know is going to do the right thing in the end, Han Solo.
You also get the best villain in the series. Darth Vader. Before we know the big twist we get to see such a true terror of space. He is a scary figure to be reckoned with. And with James Earl Jones helming the voice, he deserves his spot as one of the most legendary villains of all time. He was even in the top 3 out of 100 in AFI’s 100 best film villains. (Special shoutout to the guy in the suit, David Prowse. You might not have had the right voice for the film, but you nailed the menacing approach).
Again, a classic. I think what works so well about the story is that it is so relatable to so many.
A small town boy who seeks adventure. A dark fortress which keeps evil secrets. Lovable rogues. A wise mentor who teaches an ancient magic which is essential to winning the war. Not to mention an exciting battle in the end where the heroes face impossible odds and you think they are going to lose until the very last second.
3. Fantasy Elements
This film gets the win for fantasy because it’s the one that introduced the fantasy. We get lightsabers. Death Stars. Space battles. Wookiees. I could go on for days. But you know what this film did for fantasy/sci-fi stories. Especially if you’ve read this far. (I thank you if you have).
John. The Boss. Williams. We are introduced to his iconic score in this film. Star Wars would not be Star Wars without the music he establishes here.
The top three begins with #3…
Is the acting bad? Sure. But ignore it for a second. Also keep in mind that most acting in these films are second rate. We don’t watch them for the acting. We watch them for the imaginative fantasy and for the compelling story.
And if you think about it, this is one of the first major climaxes of the series. And although I could definitely see the arguments for this not being as good as some of the others, I find myself watching this one again and again. Let’s analyze.
The characters aren’t bad. They’ve all had a chance to develop over the course of three films. Anakin actually makes a very good Darth Vader. You have to forgive some of those cringey lines. But Hayden Christensen is damn good at being the scary human version of Lord Vader.
The villains feel secondary here, but it’s because they are. Grievous and Dooku are being played by the true villain. Palpatine is a straight up G in this film. In fact, the movie would’ve scored even higher for me if they had given him some better CGI during his fight scenes.
It is a great story. Some of the best in the series. The betrayal feels rushed upon first viewing. However, the more times you watch the more you can catch the foreboding impressions of what is going to happen throughout the prequels. It’s a big, tragic payoff.
In terms of mythos, this also sets up one of biggest themes in the Star Wars series. The theme of loss and a failure to accept. It’s a classic tale. Those who try to avoid their fate will often create the very fate they hope to avoid.
Anakin creates his fate by taking the road to avoid it. He does the unspeakable. Without this action though the whole story of Star Wars would fall apart. We hate seeing this tragic fall, but know it is a necessary moment for the story itself to survive. Truly this is one of the best climaxes I’ve ever seen in a grand story like this. So I forgive this movie of its many faults. Even again if the dialogue was a bit face-palmy at moments.
3. Fantasy Elements
Kashyyk!! I’m so happy we get to see the origins of Chewbacca. The other planets were cool too.
But nothing screams world building like this scene right here…
The religion is not only established here but we get to see both sides of the coin in a way we never did before. We feel pity for this Sith Lord Plagueis without ever getting to see him. And, most importantly, we begin to understand Anakin’s reasons for his turn to the dark side.
Thus, the moral-heavy story is established. This is your Icarus flying to the sun moment. This is the scene that elevates this to my number 3 spot.
I have no complaints about the music. You get some more Duel of the Fates, as well as some classic tunes from the original trilogy. We get the most classic of all at the end when baby Luke gets to stare at the twin suns with his new family.
Here comes #2…
Madness!! How dare you put this awful film in your top two you might be asking. But before you poo poo this film any further (which has become so routine for many that it’s become cliche) hear me out.
I LOVE this movie. I remember being eleven and seeing the trailers on tv. I wanted to know what this Star Wars even was. I wanted to know everything about it. I had never heard of Star Wars before this (minus those Ewok films).
I have seen this movie so many times that I do not see the bad anymore. It’s an iconic blockbuster. They put everything they had into this movie. Is there a lot that doesn’t work. Sure. But the stuff that does work, WORKS.
We are introduced to the Jedis and the Siths in this film. For the first time we get to see the Jedi order, and you are left with this brilliant element of foreboding because you know every one of these Jedis minus Obi Wan and Yoda are going to die.
We get to meet Anakin and Padme. They are referenced (without names) numerous times in the original trilogy but here we get to see their origins. He being a slave. Her a beautiful princess.
We also get our first looks at R2-D2 and C-3PO. Also the Emperor back when he was a senator. I of course was beyond blown away after watching this movie and the original trilogy and then learning through a TV Guide spoiler that Palpatine was the evil Emperor. Ian McDiarmid does such a fantastic job of sneaking his way into his eventual role of absolute power.
And yes…there’s Jar Jar Binks. But you know, despite the fact that he’s not a great character, you can’t help but admire the unique character designs in this film. George Lucas commits to making fun characters you can’t take your eyes off of.
Liam Neeson has a famous quote about Watto, the junk dealer. “No one will be watching me when this guy is on screen.” And I think that’s what so many people misunderstand about this film. There is heart behind these creations. Maybe misjudged at times. Even a little racially so. But we are fully enveloped into the story because of these characters. At least I am anyway. Speaking of stories…
There’s a lot going on here, but again it’s in what you don’t see. There’s deception. A plot to overthrow the Jedi begins to form.
There is a vergence in the force. Anakin, a force-created child, presents a striking conundrum. Do they train this child who they predict might do horrible things? Qui-Gon certainly believes so. What works so well about the story is that you know what this boy becomes. You don’t know how, but you know he will become a dark lord of the Sith.
We also get sort of a different look at the Jedi. The rules they follow are so strict compared to the old films. Fear is a taboo in their order.
3. Fantasy Elements
What a world, what a world. There is a lot to choose from. This movie has some of the best lightsaber battles in the whole series. Pod racing is rad and it was fun to play in the video games. Also, I know this kid catches a lot of flack from people, but he was a kid. He sells this scene better than many adult actors could’ve sold it.
We also get to see what the force is capable of when it’s not wielded by old men and rookie Jedis. The Force Push with that sound effect…BADASS!
Duel. Of. The. Fates. Easily the second best song in the series. Such an epic score. It accompanies the best fight in the series. Don’t believe me? Have another look.
No other scene makes my blood tingle the way this scene does. Well…maybe one other scene in the #1 spot.
Finally, we have #1…
It’s only the highest rated Star Wars movie ever. But with good reason. This movie not only found a way to continue what was already a great intro to the series, but they elevated the series to new heights. Suddenly Star Wars wasn’t just space battles and alien locales. This movie gave Star Wars a heart in a way that no other film has been able to duplicate. Let’s find out why.
What all the other sequel films did of giving us better looks at these characters, Episode 5 did better. We got to see completely different sides of these characters we thought we knew so well.
Han was no longer a money-driven scoundrel who made one right decision to return. He cared for his friends. He proves this by staying with them despite what it will do to the already pricey bounty on his head.
Leia lets her guard down as well. She allows herself to fall in love even though she has lost most of the people closest to her.
Luke goes from the unsure farm boy to a leader people can trust. However, he still has doubts. He still makes bad decisions. His is a true hero’s journey. For it is in this film that he has his darkest moment. Yes, he figures out who his father is. But he also begins to realize that he too is susceptible to the dark side of the force. He becomes a much rounder character in this story.
Yoda of course is Yoda. The beloved mentor. The wise teacher. He teaches us as well as Luke what this mysterious “Force” really is and why they must revere it. All life depends on it.
What is probably most well known about this film is the story…specifically the twist.
What makes the twist so memorable though—at least in my opinion—is that it gives us a whole new layer of who Darth Vader is. Keep in mind that this film came out before anyone knew the backstory of the Skywalker family. We didn’t know the slave story. We didn’t know the tortured Jedi story of the guy just trying to save his wife.
When he reveals that he is Luke’s father the whole story instantly changes. What had just been up until this point an action adventure in space suddenly becomes something straight out of Shakespeare.
The action is on a high level, especially for the early eighties. We get introduced to Boba Fett, and he actually gets a chance to show his skills. Even the droids add more depth to this film. It is such a rich story, and one I find myself discovering new elements to every time I watch it. Speaking of elements…
3. Fantasy Elements
OH.MY.GOODNESS! The fantasy. We thought Death Stars were bad before? Now we got these walking tanks to deal with. Bounty hunters. Carbon freezing. This film has so much fun with the sci fi. You almost just want more of the cool things from this film in the other films. Sadly, very few things go beyond this movie. Shame.
The planets are great here too. Bespin. Dagohbah. Hoth. Each one unique and each with their own story to tell.
And of course as mentioned before, we get to learn so much more about the force. Fantasy shines in this film.
Yoda and the Force. Finale. Han Solo and the Princess. These are some of the most well known songs when thinking of this series. And many of them make their debuts in this film. The music is some Williams’ best. Yoda and the Force is my personal favorite in the series.
There you have it ladies and gents. My list. Naturally, I’m sure many will disagree with this list. Like I told you at the beginning, I sometimes find myself liking aspects of stories that many others dislike.
But there it is. Please feel free to comment your own order of worst to greatest films in the history of the franchise.
Merry Christmas! Also, if you haven’t seen Star Wars 9 yet, go see it. Don’t listen to the critics. They wouldn’t know a good Star Wars film if George Lucas and J.J. Abrams both co-wrote one together at Skywalker Ranch.
Much love. And may the Force be with you.
2 thoughts on “Ranking the Star Wars Films: From the Weakest to Strongest Films in the 42-Year-Story”
Interesting point of view