A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away
December 20's "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" marks the final chapter of what's now been dubbed the 'Skywalker Saga' by LucasFilm, closing the book on the story that began in 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope."
And a Saga it's been — encompassing eight core live-action theatrical films so far, and two side-stories featuring the same characters (10 movies in all so far), with just one more to go before Star Wars moves on.
But how do the 10 previous films stack up against each other? Here's Newsarama's official ranking of "Star Wars" movies from worst to best ahead of "The Rise of Skywalker."
10. Attack of the Clones
Here at Newsarama we're hardly the types to outright dismiss a film, but "Attack of the Clones" strains that somewhat.
Yes, the middle portion of the Prequel Trilogy has its fans, and there are things to like in the film (Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi is always a welcome sight). But the flatly rendered CGI background, stilted, exposition heavy dialog, and complex (but somehow still ultimately kinda boring) plot leave little of the best parts of "Star Wars" to be found.
The entire Clone Saga has its defenders, and there are certainly bright spots in this era of the "Star Wars" mythology, but as live action films go, "Attack of the Clones" lies at the bottom of the heap.
9. The Phantom Menace
Every "Star Wars" movie is somebody's favorite, and every "Star Wars" movie has things to love — but rarely does a film challenge that philosophy like 1999's "The Phantom Menace."
Something of a famous fiasco, "The Phantom Menace"'s release was preceded by almost unprecedented hype at the return of new "Star Wars" movies to the big screen, and for the definitive origin of Darth Vader.
But what made it to cinemas was a somewhat stilted, often boring fable that tried to parse an origin for not just Darth Vader as a once-lovable young boy but for the Force as a chemical reaction among New Agey-microbeings.
Couched in a byzantine plot about trade differences manipulated by the Sith, "The Phantom Menace" saddled the best parts of its meandering story with the worst parts — including endless comic relief characters, unrelatable dialogue, and a sense that the "magic" of "Star Wars" just wasn't there in the way fans hoped.
That said, some folks do love "The Phantom Menace" down to its faults, and viewers who were younger when the film arrived, or who have seen it in the intervening years, it remains an endearing experience bolstered by the coolness of characters such as Darth Maul and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, both of whom wound up better served by later media.
8. Revenge of the Sith
For years, "Revenge of the Sith" seemed like the best modern movie "Star Wars" fans were likely to get — for better or worse.
Though it doubled down on some Prequel Trilogy foibles that still don't find their footing here, "Revenge of the Sith" did manage to shave some of the edges off the its preceding films with a more solid and integrated visual presence and more focus on the core characters of Anakin Skywalker's downfall.
For fans awaiting a true Jedi-centric film, "Revenge of the Sith" certainly fulfilled that promise with dozens of lightsaber clashes, endless waves of Force conflicts, and of course that final showdown between Obi-Wan and Anakin which, despite its admittedly meme-able moments still holds up as a brutal emotional climax to a long-fraught friendship.
If there's one thing "Revenge of the Sith" offers the overall "Star Wars" Saga, it's a sense that there really is a core narrative hiding in the often inscrutable and much maligned Prequel Trilogy — just one that didn't start to outgrow its pains till it was too late.
7. Solo 5
"Solo: A Star Wars Story" is a bit of an odd-man-out in the canon of "Star Wars" films. It's not a particularly bad film — its heist structure and action are breezy, and its got a light touch sense of humor that keeps it from bogging down.
On the other hand, it's just plain nothing special — a rote sci-fi adventure interspersed with classic crime cliches. Not a bad proposition in and of itself, but in the process of being kinda unremarkable, it squanders some of the most iconic "Star Wars" characters on a movie that doesn't add to their backstory so much as muddies things up.
Still, the cast — especially Alden Ehrenreich's understated Han Solo and Donald Glover's smooth-as-silk Lando Calrissian — manages to capture a feeling if not a moment. Perhaps they'd have been better suited in a movie that took more risks with its plot and less with its characters.
6. The Last Jedi
As controversial as some vocal fans have made "The Last Jedi," its worst crime is perhaps that it little resembles the trappings of a typical fantasy blockbuster.
It's the little touches director Rian Johnson adds to the film's story and cinematography that make "The Last Jedi" such a compelling film, but also what makes the movie feel somewhat out of place in the "Star Wars" saga.
Still, despite its polarizing nature, The Last Jedi stands out as a work of artistic force for director Rian Johnson, who bucked not just genre conventions but story expectations for what ultimately amounts to a Rashomon style tale of the last days of Luke Skywalker.
Not a seamless fit into the Saga, but a worthy entry that shows what an auteur director can accomplish with "Star Wars" as a canvas.
5. The Force Awakens
2015's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" proved a worthy entry and powerful return for the franchise, which hadn't had a film in theaters since 2005's lukewarm "Revenge of the Sith" a decade earlier — but part of what made it so welcome for fans also hinders it just slightly from rising in the ranks.
The biggest strength and the surmountable but present key flaw of "The Force Awakens" was its willingness to revisit the original, going so far as to frame its main action sequence around the sabotage of a First Order mega-weapon.
But it's that same nostalgia that drives the warmth and excitement of the 7th episode of the Saga, bringing back Han Solo and General Leia, Chewbacca, and more, cashing in immediately on the hanging threads and promises of 1983's "Return of the Jedi" while opening the door to mysteries that are still awaiting resolution for legions of fans.
4. Rogue One
While the currently ongoing "Star Wars" sequel trilogy has closely revisited the themes and iconography of the original trilogy, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" directly returned to the Saga's most popular time period with a direct prequel to the original trilogy.
"Rogue One" wasn't without its issues — what modern "Star Wars" film is? — but its compelling heroes, morally grey tone, and balance of intrigue and action made the film a fun successor to the spirit of the Saga.
3. Return of the Jedi
1983's "Return of the Jedi" is a complicated proposition for some fans of the Original Trilogy — its Ewoks were almost considered the Jar Jar of their day — but it is also one of the Saga's most sweeping and definitive chapters, offering seismic shifts for all its main players while also making good on the promises and themes laid out in the previous two films.
"Return of the Jedi" is almost the sleeper of the Original Trilogy — not to say its reputation is lacking, but its rarely the name that comes up in conversation first though it contributed as much to the pop culture presence of "Star Wars" as the other two films.
And, honestly, "Return of the Jedi" remains the gold standard for lightsaber duels — a key Star Wars element that often makes or breaks a franchise film.
2. A New Hope
It's not that 1977's "A New Hope" isn't a perfect enough "Star Wars" movie (it might even be pretty close to a perfect movie all around). It's not that it didn't define a modern concept of sci-fi adventures and blockbuster films. No, the only thing keeping "A New Hope" from the top place on this list is the movie that is there — but we'll get to that in a moment.
For now, we'll focus on the brawl that started it all, the first showdown between the Rebels and the Empire on the big screen, and the movie that set the stage for going on five decades of subsequent epic storytelling.
"A New Hope" is the prototypical modern box office surprise, an unproven commodity that strained credulity by drawing on unknown actors and concepts but which redefined an entire era of cinema.
Even now, decades on, the cinematography and special effects (many of which had to be pioneered just for "Star Wars" seem groundbreaking, lived in, and approachable all at once.
And of course, the timeless tale of good and evil at the heart of "A New Hope" has informed every entry in the Saga sense.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
"The Empire Strikes Back" is hard to beat when it comes to "Star Wars" movies. In fact, as far as Newsarama is concerned, you can't beat it at all.
Sure, there's a strong argument to be made that "A New Hope" belongs in the top spot as the movie that started it all, and it's true — "A New Hope" gave rise to the whole "Star Wars" Galaxy. But "Star Wars" didn't fully take shape until "The Empire Strikes Back" — when "Star Wars" went from being a movie to being a saga.
What's more, "The Empire Strikes Back" is just a damn great movie, and the continual precedent for how to expand a story while also breaking it — the continual pursuit of "Star Wars" as a film franchise. There's a reason every. single. filmmaker compares their sequel to this movie — and probably will for decades to come.
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