UPDATE: As The Rise of Skywalker has released and several of these reviews were written after its premiere, we’ve changed the title. Sorry for the delay, but it was necessary. Enjoy the article as it exists today!
As we eagerly await the release of the “final” Star Wars film of the Skywalker saga, people are abuzz. Between a seemingly non-stop calamity that is the press tour, as well as years of frustrations between the fandom and Disney, the release of Rise of Skywalker feels somewhat anticlimactic. Despite this, love for The Mandalorian continues to drown out the noise. Thank god for Baby Yoda and Mando, because the last thing we needed was another full-blown fight over The Last Jedi.
To commemorate the release of the new film, I’m revisiting the entire series over the next few days. Rather than rag on the films that have disappointed me, I’m going to focus on the positives. I’m also going to cover the THEATRICAL FILMS ONLY, so, unfortunately, Clone Wars and The Mandalorian are not part of my active ranking. Check out the full list as it posts, and in the meantime, use this page as the base article for each of the films.
The Star Wars Christmas Special
Many of the questions I will ask God when to get to the pearly gates will concern this special. Namely, why did the people who made this special possibly believe why the first fifteen minutes should be entirely spoken in Wookie with no subtitles? It’s a question that haunts me to this day. The character design for the Wookie family crosses into absurdity from the word go. Every one of these costumes belongs in Times Square instead of in this show. (READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW HERE)
What has truly allowed The Mandalorian to become such a massive hit has been their willingness to make everything real. The show features some CGI, but the vast majority of the series has been created using practical effects for both production design and characters. The tactile world The Mandalorian stands out, even among the J.J. Abrams and Gareth Edwards directed films. (READ FULL REVIEW HERE)
12. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
The battle sequence on Geonosis remains the best part of an unstable film. Unlike the first film, we actually get to see lots of Jedi in their element. The actual fighting pit features some cool creature designs. The action showcases some excellent choreography despite the abundance of CGI.
Christopher Lee brings his A-game as Dooku, making the ambitious and power-hungry aspects of the character clear. His gravitas and serious approach heighten Dooku as a threat, making him one of the best Sith characters in the franchise. We also get Samuel L. Jackson in full badass mode as Mace Windu. The purple saber, his succinct delivery, and death glare instantly make the character iconic. Each of these character actors gets showy roles, and it’s shame the franchise could not utilize either more often.
11. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
For all the hate this one receives, the pod racing sequence remains one of the great set pieces in the franchise. The vile Sabulba (a very gross and disgusting creature) serves as a great mini-boss for Anakin. The effects were truly groundbreaking at the time of release, and Jake Lloyd does an admirable job acting against nothing. The adrenaline pumps and the side quest aspect of the story really works. Imagine if other Star Wars films could take a day on a planet to get into the local customs.
The sequence ends with a bang, but it’s the rush back to the ship that introduces our heroes to Darth Maul. The insidious presence of a Sith Lord expands the scope of a fairly specific story. This push helps push our characters into the larger world we know they’ll enter.
For a more in-depth defense, here’s Josh Walbert’s thoughts on the film.
10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
9. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
That’s right, we’re giving this little flick the respect it deserves. It filled in canon and genuinely works better than at least two of the films. So yeah, I’m counting it.
The film that would spawn an animated series features an excellent Anakin Skywalker. You read that correctly. I’m a huge fan of how the animated series handles the famed Jedi. It gives us reasons to actually believe the hype that surrounded “the chosen one” while crafting a very exciting story around him.
The other huge positive coming out of the film was his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. The youngling provides an interesting stand-in for what could have been in Anakin’s life. While the two bicker and fight on occasion, their ability to make up and grow together creates emotional bonds to each of them. If you ever wanted to know what a Leia/Darth or Luke/Darth relationship may have looked like, The Clone Wars film gives you the opportunity to explore those relationships.
8. Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith
The battle between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (Hayden Christiansen) nearly redeems the entire trilogy. A broken Christiansen finally keys into the hate and frustration that Lucas intended the character to emote. Meanwhile, McGregor layers his emotion and pain into each lightsaber swing. You hate that it bounces back to the Palpatine/Yoda fight because the stakes feel so much higher here. For three movies, we have watched these men grow as friends and brothers. The emotional toll each saber strike places on each of their souls can be felt. The pairing of a consumed Anakin and a determined Obi-Wan gives the prequel trilogy the crescendo it needed.
Equally as fun is the downfall of Anakin. You can watch the “I have the high ground” back and forth on loop. It’s hilarious, captivating, and devasting all at once. While the unintentional humor should give way to the pain, there are few scenes in the franchise more thrilling than watching Christiansen burn. McGregor’s dialogue grounds the sequence. Obi-Wan proves to be the only true Jedi in the universe as he walks away, unable to finish the job of killing his fallen apprentice. While this paves the way for a tyrannical creature to rise from the ashes, it also proves to save the galaxy at the end of it all.
7. Solo: A Star Wars Story
The Kessell run provided Solo reason enough to exist. The thirty-plus minute sequence of the heist, the death of L3, and the run itself gives us the ride of a lifetime in the Falcon. All the cockiness of Han (Alden Ehrenreich) comes to full blast, and for the first time all movie we get a real sense of the man he would become. Lando (Donald Glover) comes across as the more compelling of the two, and Glover’s charisma is undeniable.
An underrated droid in the history of the franchise, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) knows how to bring the humor. She’s hysterical and charming, instantly stealing the film from Han and Lando. While the idea of a human/droid relationship threw many fans off, her fight for equality feels necessary. It gives the character agency and heart that you do not expect from a bucket of bolts. Her destruction in the ensuing raid comes across as heartbreaking, expertly played up by Glover. Knowing that L3 becomes the brain of the Falcon actually has precedence in the original trilogy, and knowing that her special brand of humor would later infuriate C3PO should make everyone love her.
6. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
There’s only one place to go. The redemption of Darth Vader (physically played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Earl Jones, and facially brought to life by Sebastian Shaw), remains an iconic setpiece of the franchise. As he watches Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) electicute his child Luke (Mark Hamill), Vader finally redeems himself.
Perhaps no duel in the canon meant as much as the final showdown between Vader and Luke in the Death Star II. The slug them out battle combined physical prowess and mental fortitude that no other battle required from beginning to end. Each character exposes themselves emotionally, and this vulnerability allows the Emperor to get between them and incite their passion. Vader’s taunting of Luke finally causes him to break, and in anger, Luke exposes Vader’s weaknesses as an android man. People forget that Luke only stops after seeing the damage he has done, and he pulls back at the last second from going to someplace he could not return from. It’s a defining character moment that would go on to define his arc in The Last Jedi.
However, Vader’s final moments bring down the house. For the first time in decades, he removes his helmet in an environment that will cause him to perish, yet he needs to see his son with his own eyes. The tragedy of Vader has always been his inability to think or feel for himself. This manipulation cause him to turn in the prequel trilogy, allowed the Jedi to set him up for failure, and ultimately caused a reckoning of seismic proportions. Yet he finally gets the chance to see the boy who believed in him, the first to do so since he met this boy’s mother. With a sly smile and tears in his eyes, he passes. The ballad of Vader and the man he became at the end makes him one of the most iconic characters in the history of popular culture.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Both Ridley and Boyega pop off the screen. They became instant superstars thanks to their movie star personas. The excitement that Ridley channels throughout the film makes her the perfect embodiment of the lifelong fans of the franchise. It’s easy to empathize with her, connect to her, and wish you were on your very own Star Wars adventure. Meanwhile, Boyega gets to show off his comedic chops throughout the film. While he refuses the call time and time again, his care for his new friend echoes throughout the story. His chemistry with Ridley is off the charts and the two usher the franchise in a new direction. (READ THE FULL OF THE REVIEW HERE)
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Originally pitched as the Zero Dark Thirty of Star Wars, Rogue One had the potential to be the best film in the franchise. Approaching the material with a darker edge and an obvious ending, many questioned whether or not LucasFilm would actually pull the trigger. Not only did they pull the trigger, but they created one of the most intense sequences in the franchise’s history. The tale wears emotion on its sleeve while crafting a story of sacrifice and faith. To quote Hamilton, the characters were either going to rise up or die on the battlefield in glory. The strength of Rogue One is that both can be true. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The emotional core of the film comes from Ridley, and Johnson quickly establishes an unconventional nature to her side of the story. He fully embraces the Luke parallels within the character, including her ambition and excitement to receive training. He knows that Ridley comes across as an infectious performer. She needs to belong to something bigger than herself and having the ability to utilize the Force has always sparked an internal examination. Its only fitting that Rey’s involve the biggest hole in her heart, and wanting to belong can often stem from knowing where you come from. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)
2. Star Wars: A New Hope
There’s no heap of praise that I can write that hasn’t been said about A New Hope before. It remains a masterpiece, even as Lucas added in subpar material. The rules of the world make sense from the word go. The story can stand alone, even as it launched the greatest cinematic universe. Star Wars began as a story that paid homage to what came before while forging its own path into the future. That was the power of its story, as a story that dared to voyage into the unknown. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)
1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Deepening and expanding the lore of any fantasy story requires commitment. Sometimes these choices to change the lore can destroy a fanbase. Other times, they can completely upend the perception of that series. For Star Wars, expectations were extremely high as it entered its second chapter. Empire Strikes Back faced the challenge of living up to a phenomenon unlike any other. (READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE)