* The Star Wars movies ranked from worst to best
* Fan faves and Raspberry Award-winners alike
* Some spoilers ahead – if you’ve never seen any of them
You’ve probably heard there’s a new Star Wars film out this month. Solo: A Star Wars Story takes us into the eponymous Han Solo’s past. And while it may not be breaking records like the Millennium Falcon at the box office, it has some very memorable scenes for Star Wars fans, including one cameo that’s driving the internet crazy.
So now that there are 10 full-fledged Star Wars feature films out, how do the movies stack up? Fans may agree or disagree– share your thoughts below– but, as Solo says, “here goes nothing.” You can watch Star Wars Episodes I through VIII as well as Rogue One on Amazon Streaming now, too.
11. Disqualified: Caravan of Courage: An Ewoks Adventure, and The Battle for Endor
Though George Lucas received story credit for these made-for-TV specials from 1984 and 1985, they have since been declared “non-cannon” and the Star Wars franchise seems not too eager to remember them. If you thought Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace was too cutesy, watch these first and then tell us what you think of ol’ Jar Jar.
10. Out of the Running: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
This legendary CBS special from 1978 features Mark Hamill as Luke, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, plus Chewbacca and a whole whole family of Wookiees gathering to celebrate a Galactic holiday known as “Life Day.”
It also has variety show elements and some song and dance. It has Fisher singing along to the famous Star Wars theme. The Holiday Special is strange, but its backstory and enduring fan legend is even stranger. Apparently nobody involved really wanted anything to do with it, and public response to it was so negative that to this day it has never been rebroadcast or re-released in any form. Nonetheless, it’s historically the second movie-length production to feature Star Wars material. Besides, it has music by Jefferson Starship. Also, it contains the first appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett, who, rumor has it, is slated to get his own film soon. So, while the infamous Holiday Special may be the black sheep of the Star Wars universe, it’s also the only Star Wars production that can in any way be considered a “cult classic.”
9. Attack of the Clones
Despite watching this one at arguably the most ideal, impressionable age to see a Star Wars film, this writer can only remember that there was possibly a robot with too many arms? Light saber battles that didn’t look like any renowned fencing masters had anything to do with them, and that Natalie Portman was wonderful, as always.
If you were alive and watching the news in the 90s, this film’s title might conjure images of a sheep named Dolly. Contemporary reviewers panned its lengthy run time and dry, “preachy” tone, while reserving praise for the effects and individual cast members’ performances. It has by far the lowest scores of any Star Wars feature film on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
8. Phantom Menace
This one has Darth Maul, which is cool because it lets you know how a member of Slipknot would dress if they were going to have light saber battles in a galaxy far, far away. Ewan McGregor does a good young Obi Wan, enough so that it’s disconcerting if you watch the film Trainspotting (in which McGregor is an equally convincing young heroin addict) right after this. Pro tip: watch Trainspotting first, then The Phantom Menace, and imagine it’s the redemptive tale of McGregor’s character kicking the habit and finding a new life and fulfillment as a clean living Jedi.
7. Rogue One
The first of the “Anthology” movies, Rogue One deserves credit for introducing great new characters, and for Felicity Jones’ compelling performance as rebel hero Jyn Erso. It takes place between the “Prequels,” and Episode IV: A New Hope. Its plot centers around the group of rebels who have to steal the plans to the Death Star.
Of all the 21st century Star Wars films, Rogue One leans the least on well-known characters, and its overall tone is significantly darker. The old hope is apparently gone and, until late in this movie, we don’t have much in the way of “a new hope” yet either. Rather bravely, this one shows that even in the mythic Star Wars universe the good guys don’t always win, and even when they (sort of) do, it can be at a terrible cost. Still, Rogue One can’t help but feel a little like a spin-off. It ties in admirably with one of the main plot points of A New Hope, yet lacks the other movies’ grandeur and mythic hokeyness, feeling instead more like a war movie.
6. Revenge of the Sith
It might be a dark time for the Galaxy, but things are looking brighter for Star Wars fans. 21st century Star Wars really hits its stride with this one, Episode III in Star Wars chronology, establishing the mournful, elegaic tone that the most recent “episodes” carried on. Unlike Rogue One, which merely feels grim, this one feels properly tragic, featuring noble characters with real tragic flaws. It basically meets all the High School Lit class requirements for a “Greek tragedy.” Portman shines, and even Hayden Christensen’s performance, which got mixed reviews when the movie came out, seems somehow less ridiculous and more in-context now. It was 2005, after all, and guyliner was everywhere. The ever-controversial thinker Camille Paglia called this the “greatest work of art of our time“. So there’s that.
5. The Force Awakens
Episode VII takes place about thirty years after the events of the original c. 1980 trilogy. With Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and many other recognizable figures from the old trilogy reprising their roles, it had stellar expectations, to say the least. For the most part, The Force Awakens lives up to them. The new generation of ragtag space heroes and galactic Manicheans proves more than able to rejuvenate the franchise here. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are great. Plus, this one has Adam Driver, who first won renown on HBO’s Girls , playing nearly the same character but this time he has a light saber. Maybe it was his relationship with Hannah not working out that led him to the dark side?
4. Return of the Jedi
Return was actually the best-reviewed in its own time of the original three Star Wars movies. And it has obviously stood up well, its set pieces and climactic moments firmly printed on the collective unconscious, just as Lucas dreamed while pouring over The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a long time ago.
Yet it also shows that the elements for which Star Wars movies are most often criticized: repetitive plot points, gaps in narrative logic, too-cutesy furry creatures, wooden dialog, are hardly 21st-century inventions. They’re all there in Return of the Jedi. As is Carrie Fisher in a metal bikini fighting Jabba the Hut. Also this is the one with the Ewoks, those cutely problematic, Viet Cong-inspired forest friends. Still, this movie is iconic, it’s cathartic, it’s historic and it is truly part of a modern mythic story. Plus, it has the coolest stunts, including some beautiful, CGI-free gymnastics by unsung hero Colin Skeaping, a stunt double for Mark Hamill, who otherwise did nearly all of his own stunts.
3. The Last Jedi
Next to Revenge of the Sith, this is probably the biggest in scale and most floridly operatic of the Star Wars films so far. That it’s a great spaceship action movie is almost an afterthought.
Yes, there’s an even bigger Death Star-type thing– here it’s called “Starkiller,” and it (probably) is a uniquely flawed design allowing a ragtag little band to blow it up– but above all, The Last Jedi stands as an installment in what is now, as it was intended to be, a multi-generational mythic arc. Yes, some of the plot points are shaky. But so what? Myth doesn’t need to fill all the holes.
Lucasfilm, consciously or not, takes a cue not just from Joseph Campbell but the ancient Greeks, here. Much like those Imperial super space weapons, the city of Troy had an unlikely weakness, too. As if it was logical that the Trojans spent ten years fighting to defend their city walls and then just opened the gate for a giant wooden horse? While some reviewers did call The Last Jedi repetitive, questioning how long the franchise can continue mining the same narrative material, consider that various Mediterranean cultures spent about two-thousand years making spin-offs of that Trojan War tale, including some that featured backstories of minor characters, some that took place a generation later. Plus, The Last Jedi is dedicated to the memory of Carrie Fisher and features her last actual on-screen appearance.
2. A New Hope
Since it came out 41 years ago, the first Star Wars movie (that’s Episode IV, in Star Wars speak) has reached a level of cultural influence and ubiquity where it seems like criticism of it is almost beside the point. Star Wars feels like a feature of the natural landscape or one of those ancient works compiled from oral tradition. To millions of fans, Star Wars is almost too familiar to think of as just a movie. So familiar that its weirdness hides in plain sight.
After all, it’s a mashup of ancient and medieval legends sent to outer space via a campy late 1970s grit aesthetic. Some of its plot elements are lifted from speculative, romanticized reconstructions of ancient myths. Its only good lines of dialog are those ad-libbed by Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. But it’s Star Wars, and it always will be. Its status is proof, if nothing else, that you can take humans out of their mythology, but you can’t take mythology out of humans. Besides, this one has the unforgettable Sir Alec Guinness playing Obi Wan.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back is everything good and iconic about Star Wars, but it also deepens the story and remains to this day the most gripping and watchable of all the Star Wars films yet made. And this is especially remarkable considering this one originally meant to draw so much of its power from the shocking surprise reveal: spoiler alert, Darth Vader is Luke’s father.
Yet knowing that going in doesn’t ruin the film at all. And why should it? We still enjoy Hamlet, and nobody thinks the prince of Denmark is going to surprise everyone and marry Ophelia and live happily ever after. The Empire Strikes Back is mythic and grand, but so is every Star Wars movie. This one, though, is also a good story. Whereas across most of the Star Wars universe, moments of genuine feeling are as a rule spread out like stars in the galaxy, here the emotional realness is everywhere like the atmosphere of a planet. All the Star Wars films have spaceships and creatures and droids, but Empire Strikes Back has people. Luke may not yet be a Jedi here, but as he clings to that sky bridge above the chasm with his one remaining hand, looking into his reflection in his father’s mask, he is undoubtedly a human.
Honorable Mention. Solo: A Star Wars Story
The jury’s still out on this one. If you’ve seen it, let us know what you thought in the comments below.