Determining the best Star Wars movie has been a polarizing debate since the original trilogy came out, with all fans asserting their own personal favorites (and often being eager to debate).
It’s not easy task to rank these iconic films in terms of their quality, but it’s a challenge The Fandom wanted to attempt, with the hopes that you can read our reasoning and compare it to your own. Taking into account the writing, production, and impact of each film, we present to you our list of live-action (sorry, 2008 Clone Wars movie) Star Wars movies from our least favorite to the best.
That being said, we adore all of the Star Wars movies. This is just a list that tries to put some order into all of that love.
11. ATTACK OF THE CLONES
So much plot, so many new characters… so little time. Or maybe too much time would be a better word for it, as this movie seems to go on well past what is needed (the Battle of Genosis feels endless). The plot that carries from The Phantom Menace skitters off in a thousand different directions; one of which being the budding relationship of Anakin and Padmé. We know they’re a well-loved couple, but come on… need we mention the infamous Sand scene? Much of their dialogue seems taken straight out of a bad romance novel. As an example, cue Padmé delivering this whopper: “I’m not afraid to die. I’ve been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.” On the topic of acting, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi is the star of the show, and he manages to breathe life into otherwise strained dialogue. His subplot regarding the clones is, we’d argue, the most interesting part of the movie. In true Star Wars fashion, the film does provide some striking visuals that contribute to the world building, as well as nostalgic Old Republic aesthetic, but overall it falls short of what we expect from a Star Wars film, putting it last on our list.
10. THE PHANTOM MENACE
I think it’s safe to say that The Phantom Menace holds the most universal opinion of Star Wars fans, as it often makes the bottom of the rankings list. We agree with that sentiment, for the most part. The stakes don’t feel high, even from the first scene, and the idea of negotiations being the driving force of the plot is… well, boring. And when we meet the Man, the Myth, the Legend himself, Anakin Skywalker, he’s a petulant and somewhat unlikable child. One could say this makes sense knowing where he’d end up, but it’s hard to stay interested in his arc when he starts out so whiny. We’d argue that this movie’s quality is almost a complete tie with Attack of the Clones. What stands out are the moments of intensity, such as the exciting and well-produced pod race, or the intense face-off with Darth Maul, a interesting and highly effective villain.
Okay, hear me out. This may be one of the more controversial rankings– it seems that other fans put Solo all over the spectrum on their ranking lists. This movie is not bad; it is, in fact, very enjoyable. There is something gritty and new about it, and the set design puts a down-to-earth spin on the classic grandeur of the Star Wars universe. When it came out, it provided something that hadn’t been done in the series before. Donald Glover gives a standout performance as a younger Lando, and other new characters fit seamlessly into the universe. Alden’s performance of Han Solo shows that he certainly put the work in – but even so, something about the portrayal of the smuggler is lacking. He seems less roguish, less of the snarky lone wolf we meet at the start of A New Hope. He lacks the swagger and charisma of the Han every fan fell in love with, or the one-liners that still get printed onto tee shirts and poster today. Maybe it’s just that Harrison Ford’s performance defines Han Solo, and anyone else trying to fit that role feels strange, like they’re trying to fit into shoes too big to fill. And although the movie is a fun one, it just doesn’t feel like a real Han Solo adventure, which is why it is low on this list.
8. THE LAST JEDI
The closest thing to a perfect tie on this list is The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. The Last Jedi stands as the most polarizing Star Wars film of all time, with fans either swung far on the spectrum with joy or disappointment. For us, it’s closer to the middle. Why? Well, it worked hard to get away from the predictability that people have criticized about the sequels. It subverted expectations, developed the new lead characters, and added some deeper darkness into the plot. It also provided the fan-favorite porgs, and endearing moments between Poe and Leia. On the other hand, the movie seemed to be trying so hard to avoid predictability that many things felt strange and out of place, such as when Leia got thrown into space but drifted very surrealistically back into the spaceship and survived. There’s also Luke’s aggressively grumpy, jaded, personality, which is such a 360 from his youth that it’s hard to imagine how he got from point A to point B. The strange subplot at the casino felt unnecessary, and need we mention the strange experience of watching Luke drinking milk from a creature’s teat? What knocked this movie lower on our list was the dialogue, which was peppered with misplaced humor and exposition (ie. “It’s salt.”). Now, we enjoy watching TLJ, especially for its appearance: the visuals of the movie itself are stunning, with top notch production design and special effects. The throne room scene is one of our favorite lightsaber battles. But the overall strangeness takes away too much for it to be ranked higher on our list.
7. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Again, The Rise of Skywalker is certainly close to The Last Jedi, which may be because the two movies have a downfall with is connected: a lack of communication (and seemingly respect) between the directors. As much as we love JJ Abrams, so much of TRoS seemed to be undoing what was done in The Last Jedi, and it was done so blatantly (see: the joke about the Holdo maneuver). The reversal of the revelation of Rey’s lineage is… fine, but it feels out of place and so contrast-y to the reveals established in the previous film. The movie is peppered with fan-service and points of nostalgia, which critics agreed came off too heavy-handed. Overall though, TRoS is a satisfying enough end to the Skywalker story, and the reasoning behind placing it above TLJ is due to the performances of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Their portrayals in this film are the most layered and complex of in all of the sequels, and the two have wonderful chemistry that grounds the story in real emotion. Similarly, the visuals are impeccable, and we meet a few more lovable characters like Babu Frik and Zorii Bliss. John Williams outdoes himself on the emotional score. The lightsaber battle on the fallen Death Star is one of the best in the whole series. We just can’t help but wonder what the movie would have been like had the two directors worked together to create a narrative that balanced nostalgia and innovation.
6. REVENGE OF THE SITH
We’ve done a bit of ragging on prequel-Anakin, so let’s explain why Revenge of the Sith is up in this spot: Anakin truly gets his spotlight in this movie and it covers more character development in one movie than in both of the other prequels. Ewan McGregor gives a powerful performance as Obi-Wan (but when doesn’t he?). The Battle on Mustafar is one of the best, most exciting lightsaber battles in all of Star Wars, with high stakes, emotion, and an amazing score. Even when the dialogue gets cheesy, the two actors boast excellent chemistry and emotion that finishes off Anakin’s development into Darth Vader. Unfortunately, the movie has a strange pacing, with the action almost tripping over itself in the last third of the film. Padmé’s death leaves a lot to be desired, and much of her and Anakin’s dialogue is still awkward. The chemistry had improved since the previous movie, but dare we say… not by much.
5. RETURN OF THE JEDI
It was hard to put nostalgia aside when coming up for a ranking of this movie. The film is a roaring finale to the original trilogy, and the performances of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill reflect that. There are some amazing scenes: Han’s rescue from Jabba’s palace, the speeder chase on Endor, Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor. Even the final scene, however cheesy it may be, is full of celebration; a beautiful way to wrap up the three films. Now, the elephant in the room: Ewoks. The battle on Endor is questionable in terms of realism – could Ewoks take down a battalion of storm troopers? Are they really the key to the success of the rebels? That’s not to say the bond between Wicket and Leia isn’t totally adorable, but the Ewoks take up a lot of time, and can be plot-slowing. Similarly, there’s a good bit of questionable dialogue in this movie, including Leia’s suggestion that she always had a feeling that Luke was her brother. Yikes?
4. THE FORCE AWAKENS
There was a lot of weight on JJ Abrams’s shoulders when The Force Awakens premiered. How do you pick up from where one of the most beloved series of all time left off? That’s part of the reason it remains so high on this list — the film is executed brilliantly, cast well, and pulls in the myriad nostalgic characters and locales that Star Wars fans have come to love. Han Solo’s (short) return is wonderfully directed, and Rey’s tie to the Millennium Falcon, and him, is an endearing one to watch. Poe and Finn are both interesting, subversive characters who provide comic relief in their own way. General Leia is involved in a way that honors her character and gives the iconic character of Leia the recognition she deserves. The movie has an amazing production design, with sets that come alive and a score that fits in beautifully with the rest of the Star Wars universe. TFA’s biggest drawback, though, is its predictability. It’s of a similar linear quality to other Star Wars movies, which is both comforting and, at points, boring.
3. ROGUE ONE
Rogue One gives the Star Wars universe a heavy dose of character and realism. Though the movie is set in a limited period of time, leaving little to the imagination about the fate of these characters, the high stakes only further amplify our connection to them. It has the similar gritty, underground feeling of Solo. The characters in Rogue One are dynamic, with the fiery duo of Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor leading the pack, and it shows us a kind of diverse Star Wars world that had not been seen before when it was released. Themes of social justice and rebellion intertwine well and make the story feel much closer to us here on earth, rather than in a fictional universe worlds away. At times the movie is slow to move along, but it is always propelled forward again by excellent performances and stunning cinematography.
2. A NEW HOPE
The movie that started it all. It’s structured with the classic hero’s journey archetype, but in A New Hope, George Lucas manages to translate the simple blueprint into a complex world that defied the limits of film-making. Although Mark Hamill’s acting isn’t as refined as it now, the character of Luke and his desire to join a cause bigger than himself immediately draws the audience in. Princess Leia is the kind of female character that wasn’t often seen in films (and still isn’t seen enough, ahem) — Han Solo is the antihero-turned-hero that we never knew we needed, and the connection between these three lead characters brings a heart & soul into a universe that seems otherwise too big to comprehend. Don’t get us wrong: A New Hope has its own downfalls — many perhaps brought on by the lack of CGI at the time, or some cheesy one-liners — but what the cast & crew created was an amazing start to a saga that would forever change how movies were made.
1. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
The Empire Strikes Back is #1 on many Star Wars fans list of favorites, and for good reason. It subverts expectations, building on the world and characters that George Lucas created in A New Hope. There is a certain gravity about it (pun intended); the stakes feel higher, the characters come alive, and the plot is exciting and well-paced, from the Battle of Hoth to Luke’s Cloud City confrontation. The story takes a dark turn that deepens the emotional journey of its characters. Darth Vader’s reveal to Luke is executed brilliantly and remains one of the most shocking moments of cinematic history — the same success could be said for the development of Han and Leia’s love story. Without The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars saga may lack much of its heart, with the events of the movie setting a precedent for all of the chapters that came after.