2024 in a galaxy far, far away… The empire is in TROUBLE! A sharp decline in quality from what was, just a few years ago, a leading global media IP has led to a decrease in cultural relevance. Anyone could be convinced a Sith Lord has infiltrated the top ranks, with no film gracing cinemas for five years, a slew of Disney+ shows falling on deaf ears, and projects being announced and canceled quicker than you can say Paodok’Draba’Takat Sap’De’Rekti Nik’Linke’Ti’ Ki’Vef’Nik’NeSevef’Li’Kek (Yes, this is the name of a real character). There remains only one HOPE to save the franchise. Good films. But with this in mind, what makes a “good” Star Wars movie? Well – put your ships into auto-pilot, grab a refreshing glass of Bantha milk, and sit back as I answer this question – with my ranking of all twelve theatrically released entries…

12. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Star Wars Movies Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The Disney-era sequel trilogy was always intended as such – three films. Yet anyone would be hard-pressed to argue this was quite the climactic finale they had intended on making back when they purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. An unsalvagable mess from beginning to end, it undoes everything set out in the previous entry to its detriment, resulting in simultaneously the messiest in terms of character development and thematic exploration and simplest from a narrative standpoint. The “wayfinder” is a poor excuse for a MacGuffin, Kylo Ren’s redemptive arc could have worked if it wasn’t in lightspeed, and Palpatine’s return perfectly encapsulates the lack of innovation that is plaguing the franchise currently. Any action scenes are entirely unmemorable, given the lack of character-based stakes. Lando Calrissian is back for no apparent reason (other than the obvious nostalgia bait).

The plot moves so quickly, yet still feels too bloated for the 2-hour 20-minute runtime. The elements introduced are imitations of the same elements better served elsewhere. Yet, what is most unfortunate of all is that despite this laundry list of criticisms, and the film possessing the added importance of capping off “The Skywalker Saga” forty-two years in the making, it is too dull to elicit any strong emotions. Whilst previous entries may make people more angry than this one, it is always because there are at least some good ideas hiding beneath the surface. Some vision that perhaps isn’t properly articulated. Something that still feels like “Star Wars” despite its obvious flaws. “Rise of Skywalker” doesn’t have any of this. It’s hard to be bothered by something with less soul than the Emperor himself.

11. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

As was demonstrated with “The Clone Wars” series proper –  there is a lot of potential in animated “Star Wars.” However, “The Clone Wars” movie (if one is generous enough to refer to it as such) is, to put it simply, the worst way to capitalize on it. The animation style is clunky, the design of the universe is ugly, and the film has a childish quality, talking down to its audience through mountains of exposition, a black-and-white sense of morality, and an almost parable-esque narrative. It lacks any hint of charm. Its episodic quality is unable to deliver a satisfying overarching narrative that gives the film a throwaway feel. It is well known that this was merely a pilot for the television series of the same name, yet the film does nothing to elevate itself beyond this constriction; everything is set up without payoff.

“Star Wars” isn’t known for its nuance, yet the best of the franchise do at least probe at questions concerning revenge, violence, and the line between good and evil – none of which are at play here. Both Asohka and Anakin are actively annoying here and lack depth, possessing just a couple of traits between them. The only saving grace, making it more watchable than “Rise of Skywalker,” is that it is mercifully short and is at least somewhat distinctive as an entity. An interesting novelty as the only theatrically released animated film in the franchise, but nothing more than a box to tick off if you ever plan on doing a “Star Wars” marathon. It is rather telling that most people don’t even know this film exists!

10. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

With this year’s 25th anniversary re-release, “The Phantom Menace” has received somewhat of a resurgence in popularity, with many heralding it as misunderstood. Not to take away from anybody who has found a new appreciation for the film in the twenty-five years following its release, but I think it was understood pretty well to begin with. Sixteen years after the previous entry that so perfectly capped off one of the greatest trilogies ever made, George Lucas had to prove that – one, the film was a necessary addition to the Star Wars canon, not just a cheap attempt at raking in a bit of extra cash, two, that Star Wars could be a major player in a very different cinematic landscape to that of the early 1980s. I would argue he failed on both fronts.

Yes, the film was a huge financial success and is arguably the reason the franchise is still churning out content today. However, “The Phantom Menace” was so hell-bent on proving itself “modern” that it turned into a hyperactive mess of poorly executed CGI. The film expands the universe but becomes merely a showcase for weird and whacky elements as opposed to telling a thoughtfully constructed and engaging narrative within the universe. Toys and merchandise are at the forefront of Lucas’ vision for this film, and anything set up here is paid off more satisfyingly elsewhere.

“The Phantom Menace” is a bore to get through, with a couple of good action sequences far from warranting the elaborate setup it took to get to them. If you are invested in the world of the franchise, I can at least see why you might favor this over other entries, but as someone who cares more about the storytelling within said universe, this one fails on many levels.

9. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars Episode VII- The Force Awakens (2015) - Star Wars Movies

We may not have known it at the time, but Disney’s first “Star Wars” venture can, in retrospect, be viewed as an encapsulation of their entire output over the past decade. Impressive visuals and production design but with a focus on iconography over character, substandard retellings of the same stories, and reliance on nostalgia. Despite the promise of a breath of fresh air for the franchise, “The Force Awakens” is anything but. The type of film that only works on the big screen after months of promotional hype.

Rey is a fairly dull protagonist to pin a trilogy around, though Poe Dameron and Finn, largely relegated to more minor roles in the subsequent films, do at least share a nice chemistry. The sequel trilogy was blessed with finding good actors, Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) chief among them, but their characters have such little substance that it is hard to ever really care about the scrapes they find themselves in, especially when they are the exact same we already saw forty years ago. At least the film isn’t convoluted and is a fairly breezy watch. It does at least feel like there is a passionate team behind it rather than just people passionate about turning an easy buck.

8. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo- A Star Wars Story (2018) - Star Wars movies.jpg

Solo: A Star Wars Story” is more frustrating than it is bad. The infamously fraught production bleeds onto the film, and it comes across as very disjointed. Donald Glover slips into the role of Lando fairly well, but Alden Ehrenreich has a much harder time filling the boots of Harrison Ford. He is unfortunately lacking in charisma, a shame, since he has shown promise in roles elsewhere. It means the film lacks a sense of energy, merely a contractual obligation for director Ron Howard and the cast involved. To return to the question of what makes a good “Star Wars” film, one of the elements is constructing a universe far bigger than what is presented on screen, and whilst this film is almost able to achieve this, the seedy criminal underworld doesn’t quite have that lived-in feel necessary to pin the rest of the film to.

Furthermore, the film is just forgettable. A story that meanders to predictable beats, lacking anything to differentiate itself beyond the novelty of being “the Han Solo origin story.” It is a film that was too little too late. Perhaps this kind of film could have worked a decade prior, but released in 2018, it became simply another bland entry offering no vision for the future of the franchise. If Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were not fired, we could have been treated to something very different, but alas, this wasn’t meant to be, and Lucasfilm and Disney clearly favored a safer, paint-by-numbers picture. The prequel trilogy may be more conceptually flawed than Solo, but out of all the entries, this feels the most like something generated from an AI prompt.

7. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode II- Attack of the Clones (2002) - Star Wars Movies.jpg

One of the interesting quirks about a franchise with as long a history and as passionate a fandom as “Star Wars” is that everybody’s ranking will be different. Nostalgia will cloud any sense of objectivity, and everyone will have entries they will defend harder than others because they appeal to their personal sensibilities more. This fairly lengthy preface is required for “Attack of the Clones” because many would consider this on a par with, or even slightly worse than, “The Phantom Menace.” However, I will defend this one as one of my favorites based purely on enjoyment.

Boasting some of the most impressive action the franchise has to offer, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s detective subplot takes us to some of the most interesting locations of the universe, and whilst it may be incredibly cheesy, there is something very charming about an awkward Anakin trying (and somehow succeeding) to flirt with Padme. Natalie Portman is one of the best actors ever to have graced the “Star Wars” universe. Christopher Lee is delightfully threatening as Count Dooku, and it feels far less expository than its predecessor. Many of the negative qualities of “The Phantom Menace” carry over – the over-reliance on CGI, the slightly rushed storytelling, etc – but Lucas’ vision feels somewhat more refined here than it has previously. Far from perfect, but it takes itself less seriously than most other entries, which, given “Star Wars” is a bombastic and goofy space sage, fits.

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6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One- A Star Wars Story (2016) - Star War Movies

Rogue One” is a tailor-made crowdpleaser. Whilst the ensemble may resemble previous archetypes, Jyn is a cross between Rey and Leia, Andor is Han Solo, Chirrut is Obi-Wan, and so on – they all have traits that make them personally distinctive and a rich sense of depth, a history beyond what is seen on screen (some of which is excellently explored in the highly underrated “Andor” Disney+ limited series). The dynamic between this ensemble is what drives the whole story. They are just a bunch of fun to be around, heightening the tragedy in the final act.

The final act (Darth Vader scene included) is some of the best “Star Wars” moments put to screen, although it does spin its wheels a little bit, with a slow build-up in Act One and a slightly meandering Act Two. But the sheer pain of the conclusion makes it all worth it, and to top it all off, it has a visual palette to match. It isn’t the smartest entry or one that holds a certain icon status shared by the very best the franchise has to offer, but it is one of the most fun. A worthy entry, if a little slight.

5. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars Episode III- Revenge of the Sith (2005) - Star War Movies.jpg

If the two-film build-up of “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” culminated in something of the same level of quality, the prequel trilogy would undoubtedly be viewed as far more of a failure than it already is. Yet, thankfully, “Revenge of the Sith” serves as a climactic denouement to the six years of build-up and a film with the epic stakes to match its grandiose tone. It does find itself shrouded in its own self-importance at times but possesses a tragic quality, unlike any other entry, as everybody watching knows how the journeys of the respective characters will play out. This is one reason I am a huge proponent of the chronological order when marathoning the films, as without the dramatic irony of knowing Anakin will fall, Palpatine will ascend, Padme will die, etc – “Revenge of the Sith” is not quite as powerful.

Miraculously, Hayden Christensen seemed to have developed the ability to act during the intervening years between “Attack of the Clones” and this, whilst Ewan McGregor is finally afforded material worthy of such a talent. The film does have one too many splintering plotlines that don’t all recieve the deserved attention or draw attention away from elements that really need it.

Everything has somewhat of a rushed feel, but this isn’t entirely a flaw, as it does resemble a car crash that you can’t quite look away from, careening towards the inevitable conclusion. Writing in individual moments still lacks a certain dynamism, and it is edited like the imagination of a child, jumping from one scene to the next without any hint of rhythm. But these are superficial and surface-level flaws when the film does warrant praise for being both coherent, fun, and a true cinematic spectacle, something that can’t be said for many entries in the franchise.

4. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars Episode VIII- The Last Jedi (2017) - Star Wars Movies

If you felt my high placement of “Attack of the Clones” is controversial, this, to many, will be enough to click off this article. The marmite of the franchise, I fall somewhere in between. There is plenty wrong with the film. Canto Bite is a bloated narrative dead-end, and the subversive comedy is hit or miss. Not since the original has a film had such a personal vision though. Rian Johnson has gone on to have a very successful career, and deservedly so, bringing a personal touch to the franchise severely lacking in any of the other post-Lucas entries.

It is a film that dares to be different, isolating it from the rest of the franchise, which, in my opinion, will make it one that will only gain appreciation over time. Complex ideas of pride, revenge, and legacy are deconstructed over a variety of storylines, each brimming with excellent moments where characters are tested. Much of the film does defy logic, but if there is any franchise in which this is okay, it is “Star Wars.” Johnson is self-assured behind the camera, and it is certainly one of the most visually striking entries, colorful, vibrant, and bursting with passion. A “Star Wars” film with an identity distinct from the rest of the franchise at the exact point the series needed it the most.

3. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Was it ever a surprise that the original trilogy would be ranked as the top three? Many fans will like to argue that newer entries match the quality of the original run, and whilst there is a valid argument to be made, they have not yet surpassed that very high bar set. “Return of the Jedi” is easily the silliest, perhaps a warning sign for the inferior elements of the prequels to come, but it makes up for it in charm. Luke finally becomes the hero we have all been waiting for, Darth Vader’s redemption is earned, Palpatine serves as an impeccable villain, oozing with menace, and Leia and Han’s romantic subplot arrives on a triumphant note.

Childishly triumphant is the phrase I would most aptly use to refer to this film. Whilst, for many trilogies, the third film is the hardest to get right, the one on which the entire trilogy hinges, this is not the case for “Return of the Jedi” as the legwork had already been done. “Return of the Jedi” simply had to complete the journeys and provide a rollicking-adventure framework for them to do it in. It isn’t as bold as the previous two, nor as fresh, touching on somewhat similar beats to that of the first film.

Its lighter tone also lessens the stakes a little to where you are always sure of the outcome. Yet despite this, it is easily one of the most accessible films ever made. A film that pulls at your heart and livens your imagination. It may be a simple story of “goodies” and “baddies,” but never before has such a simple story been conveyed on such an epic scale and in such an imaginative way.

2. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The lines, the planets, the characters – “The Empire Strikes Back” might just be the definitive “Star Wars” film. The film takes no time in launching you straight into the action and simply doesn’t let up. Perfectly paced, moments are given room to breathe. It expands the world in a very necessary way, introducing the diverse locations of Dagobah, Hath, and Bespin. Iconic characters, in not just this universe but of film in general, grace the screens for the very first time, and whilst the twists and turns may be well known today, what really sets this film apart from most other entries in the franchise is its willingness to subvert expectations.

What then holds it from taking the top spot? Well, it never extends beyond being a part of a greater whole. It feels like a second film in many respects, a very powerful and emotive one for sure, but an incomplete piece of a puzzle nonetheless. Character arcs are established but not paid off, and whilst it builds towards a climactic conclusion in which good loses, you are always aware that there will be an optimistic conclusion just around the corner. The narrative irresolution only works because of what comes after and less because of the film itself. Despite this, “The Empire Strikes Back” remains a monumental achievement of the science fiction genre – a generational classic that only really misses out on the top spot because the top is one of the greatest films ever made…

1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

While the first isn’t always the best, in the case of “Star Wars” – it is. The story is simple, but that is what makes it so charming because it takes universal ideas of good vs evil, hope and faith, and totalitarianism, among many others, and filters them through a narrative that taps into the fundamental essence of storytelling. Fear, adventure, and humor were all perfectly executed, with the aid of some of the most stunning production designs and music ever put to screen. It created a world for generations of both filmmakers and audiences to play in whilst simultaneously constructing a story that inspires optimism and imagination.

“Star Wars” changed the way films were made. A new visual language of storytelling that bleeds into films to this day. It has the epic stakes the best of the franchise can muster, it has the diverse locations the best of the franchise transport us to, and it has the engaging characters the best of the franchise are known to develop. All of this is in a product that is striking in its boldness, untainted by the slew of mere imitations that it spawned. Haunting, resonant, and still just as much fun as it was forty-seven years ago.

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