The past few weeks have been something of a Star Wars binge watch for me as I pored over the entire Star Wars franchise, specifically the Skywalker Saga. And after attending a media screening of the final entry in the saga: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I will be ranking every single episode from Lucas’ prequel trilogy to the Disney-helmed modern trilogy. In case it wasn’t made immediately clear, this ranking is for the Skywalker Saga only and does not include any of the spin-offs, so do not expect a listing for either Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or Solo: A Star Wars Story. As always, this spoiler-free list is only my opinion and should not sway your own thoughts about the saga, particularly the latest entry hitting theaters this Friday.
9. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
This 2002 film, unfortunately, takes the bottom spot as the worst entry in the Skywalker Saga, but like every film, there is genuine merit to George Lucas’ second entry in the prequel trilogy, from the various narrative elements that foreshadow the film’s much superior 2005 follow-up and its absolutely bonkers set pieces. However, clumsy storytelling, seen most prominently in Anakin’s (Hayden Christensen) and Padme’s (Natalie Portman) romance, topple what should have been a remotely enjoyable and passable cinematic experience.
8. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Preceding Attack of the Clones was yet another disappointment in the Skywalker Saga, specifically The Phantom Menace. Coming off the celebrated original trilogy, The Phantom Menace had all the expectations in the world, and in that regard, it is no wonder that it faltered in the numerous ways it did. Thirsty for narrative drive and purpose, the film frequently confuses bombastic lightsaber battles for gravitas, a critical mistake that ends up knocking the film down to the bottom of this ranking.
7. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Where my controversial opinions will surely come into focus is with Return of the Jedi, the final entry in the original trilogy that preceded decades of sheer Star Wars fandom. Indeed, while Return of the Jedi offered a satisfying conclusion in its magnificent third act, it is accompanied by two acts that are rough, choppy, and frustratingly unimaginative. By no stretch of the imagination is the film an unprecedented disaster, and in certain regards, I do adore it, but it is a rather tame entry in a franchise iconic for its audacity and inventiveness.
6. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
George Lucas’ final installment in his prequel trilogy is an improvement on the previous films in the trilogy in far more ways than one. The leading performers, especially Hayden Christensen and Ewan Mcgregor, all turn in hailed performances as their iconic roles. The film still somewhat stumbles due to its overstuffed presentation and lackluster stakes outside of Anakin’s main turmoil internally, but Revenge of the Sith is more than a rich bounty for the Star Wars canon.
5. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Surely marking yet another controversial opinion on this list, I personally do not share the intense love that many others have for the original trilogy. In my opinion, the triplet of films are great examples of filmmaking, but outside of their pioneering spirit and what they have done for the medium, they aren’t nearly as strong as they are claimed to be in a 2019 setting which is the standard that all films should be judged by. In this regard, A New Hope is a well-rounded, swash-buckling adventure that introduces a cast of mostly likable characters into rich lore that has truly stood the test of time, but it isn’t anything more than that and lacks the rich heart that other entries on this list do.
4. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
After twenty-four hours since I first saw the film, The Rise of Skywalker has truly marinated in my mind to be something that conflicts yet delights me. For every creative decision returning director J.J. Abrams introduces, it is combined with an immediate regression that insults the film’s predecessors. But despite these glaring flaws, this supposed final entry in The Skywalker Saga ultimately pleased me in its entire form. Framed much like Avengers: Endgame and stuffed with nostalgic fan service, The Rise of Skywalker embraces everything about Star Wars, warts and all.
3. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Praised as possibly the best film in the saga and of all time by many, The Empire Strikes Back didn’t cast a charm quite as well on me, but that’s nothing to detract from the film’s overall quality. Spellbinding and truly gripping, The Empire Strikes Back wastes no time thrusting its audiences into a wild, yet measured time chockful of shocking reveals and iconic new characters.
2. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
When going from the most beloved Star Wars film to quite possibly the most divisive, as of now, it’s certainly going to attract many eyes, but I am confident in my affirmation that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is indeed one of the very best Star Wars films. While it is blundered by unwarranted sequences and locations (cough, cough Cantobite) and various plot holes, Johnson has crafted a fabulous narrative that speaks to the franchise and its fallacies. Also containing quite possibly the best scene in the entire saga between an older, battered Luke Skywalker and a certain “old friend,” The Last Jedi, quite possibly more than any other film in the series, doesn’t hearken back to the past, but rather looks hopefully to the future.
1. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
If you had asked me in December 2015, just moments after my first screening of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, whether it was my favorite Star Wars film of all time, I would have likely answered yes. Abrams’ masterfully interweaves warmth, charm, and heart in a tale that encompasses the spirit of the franchise at its very best. It is both reflective and infectiously optimistic for the future of the franchise, melding familiar tropes with a refreshing roster of new characters. Thus, even in 2019, the film still holds the title as my favorite Star Wars film of all time.
Once again, this ranking is solely my opinion and many will surely disagree with it, particularly with my impressions of The Rise of Skywalker. However, the reason that Star Wars and the Skywalker Saga, the opus achievement Lucasfilm began in 1977 and concluded in 2019, has persisted for so long is its inherent ability to provoke discussion and discourse amongst the fandom. So, before the surely controversial reaction to The Rise of Skywalker this Friday, let’s take the time to remind ourselves of that. Star Wars, as J.J. Abrams mentioned this year in an interview with Peter Travers, is far greater than just one person. It is greater than me; it is greater than you; it is even greater than George Lucas. Star Wars may speak differently to everyone, but it has something for everyone, and that is exactly the way it should be.