For many of us, Star Wars is more than just a long running film franchise. For generations now, watching the saga over and over again has become a beloved tradition for families everywhere. Others pour themselves into the lore, and indeed, it’s a way of life that has been shared, treasured, and passed on since it first hit theaters back in 1977. The stories of Luke Skywalker, the Rebellion, the Jedi, and the Sith have been embedded into our hearts and minds forever. But, among the many tales Lucasfilm has shared with us over the years, which of them stand as the very best? Here, we’ll dive deep into the Star Wars legacy, and rank all ten current films from our least to most favorite.
10 – Episode I: The Phantom Menace
For the record, I do not believe that any of the current Star Wars films are bad. Sure, some are better than others, but I honestly don’t think any of them are outright terrible. With that said, The Phantom Menace stands as my least favorite in the saga, mainly because it fails to recognize what makes the franchise so special in the first place. There’s a large amount of heart packed into the original trilogy that just isn’t present here, and it shows. I’ll say that Jake Lloyd probably gets too much flack for his performance as Anakin, and a lot of the film’s issues stem from George Lucas himself. The sense of wonder, belief, and amazement are, sadly, nowhere to be found.
The pod race sequence is devoid of almost any excitement, and the sprinkles of political bibble-babble all throughout the film turn what should have been a rousing space adventure into something that feels like an election debate. While the addition of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan is a welcome one, and the duel with Darth Maul in the finale is absolutely thrilling, Phantom Menace lands at the bottom because, for most of it, it just doesn’t feel like Star Wars.
Then again, this is the film where John Williams gave us “Duel of the Fates,” and that in itself is worth something.
9 – Episode II: Attack of the Clones
This one could be the most unanimously loathed among this list. Though I feel it’s a step up from its predecessor, Attack of the Clones still falls short of being a true Star Wars experience. The genesis of a young Darth Vader was promised, and whether you want to blame Hayden Christensen or George Lucas for the character’s whiny portrayal, a lot out there might agree that it wasn’t the young Anakin Skywalker we had in mind. There’s still a hefty amount of dialogue devoted to trade routes and taxation, and while politics does have a place in Star Wars, this probably isn’t the way to go about it.
The inclusion of a young Boba Fett irked a lot of fans as well, and I know I don’t even need to mention the Anakin/Padme romance. Despite all that, the film delivers in giving us a glimpse of the Jedi at the height of their power. The coliseum battle is a memorable one, and even Yoda himself gets in on the lightsaber action. Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku, with limited screen time, still holds a worthy place among the franchise’s vast library of villains. While it’s not remembered as the series’ greatest entry, it provides just enough exciting action in the third act that lends itself well to the Star Wars name.
8 – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
“This is where the fun begins.”
Revenge of the Sith is, by far, the height of prequel-era Star Wars. From the get go, we’re thrown right into the middle of the Clone Wars, sailing through the skies with Anakin and Obi-Wan on a daring mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine. The sixth entry in the series, the film finally shows us Vader’s fall to the Dark Side, bridges the gap to the original trilogy, and introduces the fan favorite droid, General Grievous. Among other things, it’s perhaps the most tragic of all ten films, with the death of the Jedi, Padme, and the formation of the Empire all happening at once.
Ian McDairmid gives what is arguably his best performance as the Emperor, and the action is top notch all the way through. Even so, Revenge of the Sith still lingers into “prequelitis” territory. The acting is still spotty, Anakin’s Dark Side turn is all too quick, and the final lighsaber battle on Mustafar is slightly over the top. With that said, the film feels the most like Star Wars out of all three prequels, and it’s welcome addition to the galaxy we love.
7 – Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo succeeds because it, like its title character, sets itself aside from the greater story being told around it. Rather than getting swept up in any Imperial entanglements, the film tells the story of a young and rebellious Han Solo, and what unfolds is a heist/western film hybrid that delights in every way. Straying from the Galactic Civil War and instead setting out to tell a smaller scale story is what makes Solo so much fun. Leading man Alden Ehrenreich makes the role of Han his own, while still being true to Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal. Donald Glover’s Lando is every bit as smooth and likable as Billy Dee Williams was, and Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, and the rest of the cast round it out to give us another memorable group of characters.
Sure, it doesn’t take many risks in regards to the story, but it packs just enough of an emotional punch and some sweet nostalgic charm to earn its place among the many Star Wars stories told over the years. Any old school Star Wars fan will find themselves smiling ear to ear while watching. And, it’s Chewbacca’s best movie yet.
6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
As the first ever standalone Star Wars film, Rogue One had a lot to accomplish: Establishing a new brand, introducing new stories that needed purpose, and proving that the Star Wars name could stretch beyond the Skywalker story. We follow Jyn Erso and her rag tag squad of Rebels into the war torn corners of the galaxy, on a mission to steal the plans to the Empire’s powerful killing machine, the Death Star. Rogue One’s risks payed off entirely, and the film even dared to tap the shoulder of A New Hope, a bold move for a franchise of its caliber.
With favorites like Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin returning to the big screen, and even cameos by Doctor Evazan and Ponda Baba, Rogue One manages to not only be a great new Star Wars adventure, but perhaps one of the most nostalgia inducing entries in the entire saga. Though not every character is granted with as much depth as Jyn Erso, all of them end up being fun and likable enough to work their way into our hearts, especially during the chaotic battle of Scarif in the film’s breathless third act.
5 – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
One of the biggest movie events of its time, Return of the Jedi served as the grand finale to the original Star Wars trilogy. Hitting theaters three years after The Empire Strikes Back, it faced the challenge of following up the previous chapter’s massive plot twists and perhaps one of the most shocking cliffhangers in film history. Not only does Return of the Jedi do so in spectacular fashion, but it also remains as one of the most heartfelt and personal Star Wars stories ever told.
Luke’s ongoing struggle against the Dark Side builds and builds, spilling over during a confrontation with Vader in one of the best lightsaber duels the saga has to offer. The rescue of Han from Jabba the Hutt starts off the journey with a bang, and the final battle to destroy the Empire on Endor makes for some of the most epic moments in Star Wars history. Some out there may not have embraced the Ewoks with open arms (I love ‘em) , but Return of the Jedi still stands as one of the most emotionally satisfying films in the Skywalker story.
4 – Episode VII: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens is, more than anything, an absolute joy. Reviving the franchise and kicking off what we’ll call the great Star Wars renaissance, The Force Awakens is a nonstop thrill ride that will put a smile on the face of any longtime fan. Not only does the film reintroduce old friends like Han, Chewie, Leia and C-3PO, but the brand new characters like Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren leave a tremendous lasting impression. Set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, the film sweeps us up into the story of a young scavenger and a defecting Storm Trooper, thrusting them into the ongoing conflict between the hopeful Resistance and the sinister First Order.
The film packs an enormous amount of heart, and JJ Abrams’s stylish direction is a perfect match for the galaxy’s grand big screen return. Despite having a few too many similarities to A New Hope for some fans out there, The Force Awakens successfully cements itself as one of the best entries in the saga, and introduces a whole new generation of characters and stories that will be remembered for years to come.
3 – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Yes, I know that having The Last Jedi this high on my list will automatically disqualify any opinions I have regarding Star Wars for may of you. But you know what? That’s okay. One of the beauties of fandom is being able to pick and choose what we love, and I love The Last Jedi. Picking up right after The Force Awakens, the film continues the story of Rey’s path to becoming a Jedi, and to her surprise (and ours), Luke Skywalker wants no part in it.
Honestly, I find myself loving the film more and more each time I watch it. Mark Hamill makes his triumphant return as Luke Skywalker, giving us his best performance ever as the heroic yet remorseful Jedi Knight. His characterization as a broken man behind the treasured tales of legend totally works, and adds a new layer of depth to him that is both heartbreaking and unexpected. Even in his elderly years, Luke is still a man that thinks more with his heart than with his mind, and that part of him still holds true to the optimistic farm boy we met back in the original trilogy.
Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver deliver some of their best performances yet, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran is a welcome new addition to the Star Wars family as the courageous Rose Tico. Director Rian Johnson takes risks and breaks the mold to remind us that the galaxy far, far away isn’t about lightsaber duels or space battles, no. It’s about family. It’s about finding balance within ourselves, looking within, and realizing our failings and our dark pasts do not define us. It matters not who we are or where we come from, but rather, it’s what we do.
The Last Jedi beautifully captures everything that Star Wars has always embodied; hope, wonder, family, finding peace, and finding purpose.
2 – Episode IV: A New Hope
You know, A New Hope is the first film I can ever remember watching. I sat on the living room couch at my mother’s side, who read to me the entire opening crawl word for word. I was mesmerized by the massive Star Destroyer heading into frame as it rained fire down upon the Rebels’ puny Tantive IV cruiser. Storm Troopers boarded the Rebel ship, gunning down anyone standing in their path. Then, in walked Darth Vader, a classic movie moment I won’t ever forget. My mother shared with me the story of how she and her friends went to see the cultural phenomenon that was Star Wars back in May of 1977, and how it captivated every audience and every moviegoer, young and old. And therein lies the generational beauty of Star Wars that we all hold so near and dear to our hearts.
The one that started it all, A New Hope (then simply titled Star Wars) swept the nation, the world, and became one of the most treasured and influential films in cinematic history. Inspiring entire generations of filmmakers through its mythical storytelling and also standing as a remarkable technical achievement, George Lucas’s original Star Wars remains as one of the world’s most cherished pieces of pop culture to this day. No matter how many years pass, we’ll always remember the very first tale of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, the Force, and the dire struggle to defeat Vader’s evil Empire.
1 – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Were you expecting anything else?
The Empire Strikes Back is as perfect as a film can get. The dark middle chapter of the original trilogy, Empire takes our heroes we know and love, and challenges each of them in deeply personal ways, shaping them into the legends they are throughout the remainder of their stories. Following the original Star Wars was a daunting task, but somehow, director Irvin Kershner managed to give the world not only the best film in the saga, but one of the greatest sequels ever made. Dare I say, one of the best films ever made. Period.
Empire wisely decides to opt for a smaller and more intimate journey that unfolds with twists, turns, and shocking revelations. Embodying the “bigger isn’t better” philosophy is the introduction of Yoda, whose vast wisdom you’ve probably quoted more times than you’d like to admit. Luke’s path to becoming a Jedi is paralleled by Han and Leia’s desperate attempt to outrun the Empire, making for a masterfully paced 2 hour joy ride of a movie that feels like it’s over in 10 minutes. Its reach has expanded beyond Star Wars and into the wide world of film in general. Its become so influential, in fact, that its structure has been used as a basis for many other sequels since. Hit films such as The Dark Knight, Avengers: Infinity War, and How To Train Your Dragon 2 have been called the “Empire” of their respective franchises, and there’s a reason for it.
Empire has it all. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll marvel at the ever present sense of tension that lingers throughout every minute of its runtime. Lawrence Kasdan’s killer script and George Lucas’s storytelling mind are in peak form, and Luke’s struggles against the Dark Side (along with Yoda’s lovable style of mentoring) allow for a greater exploration of the Force in beautifully powerful ways. Empire Strikes Back is Star Wars at its finest, as well as a crowning achievement in the realm of filmmaking.
Star Wars is, and always will be, for everyone. No matter your age, size, or the color of your skin, Star Wars has always found a way to connect with us, and in dark times, unite us. Like the Force itself, Star Wars surrounds us and binds us all together, and I hope it will for years to come.
May the Force be with you.