With the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story in May of this year, the Star Wars saga has produced its tenth cinematic outing and expanded its galaxy even more. Due to the longevity and complexity of what is arguably cinema’s best ongoing story, the time is right (now that we also have a nice round number) to rank all 10 of those films in order from weakest to strongest.
So sit back, engage the hyperdrive and let’s explore that galaxy far, far away…
10: Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Obviously the weakest film in the saga would have to come from the prequels; an era in which CGI idiots, bad actors, stunted dialogue, and boyish tantrums were abound.
Attack of the Clones in particular suffers from being way too convoluted.
Too much is going on, at a rate that you can’t possibly keep up in one sitting (if you’re not a fan, that is): Padmé’s return to Naboo and her burgeoning – yet tonally flat – romance with Anakin; Obi-Wan’s trip to Kamino, the creation of the clone army and his subsequent fight with Jango Fett; the state of the galaxy’s politics and Chancellor Palpatine’s bid to stay in office; Anakin’s side-track to Tatooine to try and save his mother; the eventual meet-up on Geonosis for a huge battle and the multiple showdowns with Sith Lord Count Dooku. That’s a lot of narrative to cram into a two hour film.
Another major issue is the dialogue. It’s interminable in some parts, as if Lucas simply couldn’t be bothered producing quick, snappy, yet memorable dialogue as he did in the original trilogy (and as it now is again in the Disney era). Lucas’s dialogue in the prequels is too expositional, too blocked in, and too yawn-inducing for us to care. It’s especially evident in the romance between Anakin and Padmé, which need only be compared to the other, more superiorly written romance in The Empire Strikes Back, between Han and Leia, to see how to do a romance in Star Wars.
It’s not organic or flowing, and none of the actors seem to be comfortable with their lines, even the ‘big’ stars like McGregor, Portman and McDiarmid – who seems bored or ill throughout the entire film. It is a problem, however that would be partially sorted by the next film three years later, so I think Lucas did learn his lesson somewhat.
It’s a shame because it has potential that falls just short of achieving greatness, and despite its shortcomings, it is the lynchpin for the fall of Anakin Skywalker, and so many important elements do come from it. The tone for the start of Anakin’s fall to darkness is done superbly; Christensen’s eyes just bleed menace when he does rage, as he shows himself to be a more than competent actor (it’s unfair that he’s been labelled as the failing point of the prequels). Count Dooku is also spot-on as well, with Lee lending his unrivalled exuberance to the part as always, just as his former Hammer alumni Peter Cushing did for Lucas 25 years previously. And the mystery plotline, a first for Star Wars, was admirable, if misguided in its execution.
9: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
The Phantom Menace’s problems – for me at least – don’t lie in what most people say they lie in, ie. Jar Jar Binks’ idiocy and boring stuff about the dispute of trade routes (I mean they do to some extent, but they’re not crippling blows to the narrative). They lie in the use of the main cast; the fact that the inane characters, such as Binks and the awfully-acted and written Anakin, are given oodles of screen time and background, yet the more interesting characters (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Amidala, Yoda and Maul) are skirted over and mainly used as devices to further the plot.
The setting of The Phantom Menace as a prequel to the events we are so familiar with was a chance to explore the characters of that particular era; their motivations, the central morality of their character, their drives, and ultimately what will be in their futures leading up to the rise of the Empire. But instead we’re given drivelling, slapstick, somewhat racist characters, and what should be our central character in this trilogy amounting to an annoying whooping kid, one minute cheering the house down, the next whining like a baby.
And don’t even get me started on the podrace sequence.
Despite these qualms, there are some really well-executed aspects of The Phantom Menace that still hold up today. The chemistry between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn is pretty good, despite some goofy dialogue, and the battle scenes are excellent, even if the Stormtrooper replacements (the battle droids) aren’t as good as their armoured descendants. The end duel with Darth Maul is without a doubt the best sequence in the film and may be one of the best duels in the entire saga. Ray Park’s flawless martial artistry sets the screen on fire; Park did so very well with the character of Maul, in his body movements, his face, makeup, and mostly his eyes, full of rage and determination in his goal to destroy his ultimate enemy.
Ultimately, I think we all viewed The Phantom Menace through rose-tinted glasses when it was first released, not wanting to believe it had any flaws simply because we hadn’t had a Star Wars film for what seemed like an eternity; but while it now takes a lot of deserved flak, when compared to Attack of the Clones, it is a much better and more exciting film.
8: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
This was the one that saved Star Wars from critical and fan-induced annihilation. This is the one where Lucas had obviously listened more to his detractors (read: fans) and less to his corporate yes-men (read: producer Rick McCallum), and produced a more competent, heart-breaking, and deeply involving final chapter in his prequel trilogy.
Revenge of the Sith was a knockout end to the trilogy. Lucas got the pacing right, finally, with the excellent opening sequence delivering us straight into the action, along with the slow and sometimes clunky, but well-handled rise of Palpatine and the Empire, and the final confrontation between the two former ‘brothers’ on Mustafar. The final sequence on Mustafar stands out as one of the best set-pieces in Star Wars history; the two fighters constantly try to outdo each other as the swirling lakes of lava explode, writhe and bubble around them, representing their inner rage at each other’s decisions leading to this point, and expertly interposed with the equally apocalyptic duel between Yoda and Palpatine in the Senate chambers, the avatars of light and dark finally poised against one another while the superb ‘Duel of the Fates’ plays over both sequences simultaneously.
But there are still a few problems that plague Revenge of the Sith: the number one being, again, dialogue. While nowhere near as bad as the last two, there are some slippages in the writing that come off as corny or silly. Another problem is the character of General Grievous, who, it must be said, is hardly an intimidating figure. Coughing, spluttering, and bumbling his way through the film, I think Lucas missed the chance to create a quite formidable sub-enemy for this final instalment, instead just giving us a goofy and wasted character. If you want to see Grievous as originally intended; as a scary, formidable villain; watch the Clone Wars TV series; he’s excellently done in that.
Despite the problems, Revenge of the Sith is a fine end to the second trilogy in the saga, and as mentioned earlier, Lucas seems to have rectified some of the serious issues from the previous two films to give a more coherent vision for how the galaxy came to be the way it was in the original films. The blend of humour and the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin is superb, as is the gradual swing from normality to tragedy in the film’s last act, where we see the creation of Darth Vader and the origins of Luke Skywalker, linking both trilogies solidly and mythically.
7: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
On first viewing the plot seems like a lot to take in, but trust me, that does not take away from the excitement and fun that this film exudes in every moment. The pace is phenomenally handled by replacement-director Ron Howard, as one action scene leads smartly to the next, with a coherent plot interspersed in between.
In terms of characterisation, this film nails it. Alden Ehrenreich is superb as Han, and has an uncanny resemblance to a young Harrison Ford in his likeness, stance, facial expressions, and hauntingly familiar voice. He exudes Han’s cockiness and charisma, while also retaining the vulnerability that Han would later show in Empire and Jedi. There’s a wonderful scene near the movie’s end before the final confrontation in which Qi’ra says to Han “I might be the only person in the galaxy who knows who you really are.” When Han asks who that is, she responds, “The good guy,” and it’s a principle trait about Han; he may be a rogue, a smuggler, and a bit of a cocky, arrogant, self-assured cad, but Han is always, when it counts, there for his friends and his causes, as Leia asserts after the Death Star’s destruction: “I knew there was more to you than money.”
The main coup in terms of casting however, comes in the form of Donald Glover’s Lando; suave, sophisticated, confident, and brash – just like Billy Dee Williams, Glover plays Lando perfectly. From his flirtatious nature to his reveal of the legendary ship to Han and their eventual parting on hilariously bad terms (the famous card game in which Lando lost the Falcon to Han is shown in the film’s final moments), Glover portrays a young and hungry Lando, as opposed to the initially morally tortured Lando of Empire.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Qi’ra isn’t a particularly engaging character, and just serves to show how Han got his heart broken for the first time, and there’s not nearly enough Lando, but it’s a more than thrilling ride that lives up to the reputation of the character of Han Solo and his enduring friendship with the equally iconic Chewie. And best of all, not only do we get to see the early Falcon, with its alternate colour-scheme and shape, but we get to see the brilliantly executed Kessel Run (in less than 12 parsecs, no less!), which expertly uses musical cues from the asteroid field sequence in Empire to cement the beginnings of Han’s legendary piloting career. Everything is there for a great prequel – with references to original trilogy antics ranging from the aforementioned Kessel Run to Han learning to always shoot first. Yet another very well-made and entertaining anthology film.
Don’t listen to the haters; see it for yourself and decide. I guarantee you’ll have fun.
6: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
It’s almost impossible to explain how hyped me and many other people were for this film. Obviously the doubts were there: what if we get another prequel? What if it’s awful again? What if this signals the end of Star Wars itself? Then one word came smashing back into my conscious mind in bright, multi-coloured, galaxy-sized letters: ‘Disney’. Coupled with the words ‘J.J. Abrams’, The Force Awakens absolutely destroyed expectations when it came out, going on to take the title of third highest-grossing film of all time, with a worldwide gross of over $2 billion. It was fair to say that Star Wars was finally back. And it was here to stay.
One thing you will notice about The Force Awakens immediately is its uncanny resemblance to A New Hope; from its characters (Rey is partially Luke, as is Finn, Poe is Han, Kylo Ren is Vader, Hux is Tarkin, and Snoke presumably the unseen Palpatine; the First Order is the Empire, the Resistance is the Rebellion and so on) to its situations, which map almost perfectly on top of the original film’s (Starkiller Base is a larger, more heavily-defended Death Star, there’s a new desert planet, Jakku, which closely resembles Tatooine, and Anakin’s old lighsaber, first introduced to Luke by Obi-Wan reappears).
Some touted it as a ‘remake’, but that’s not what’s really going on here. What I believe is the shining jewel in The Force Awaken’s crown is the fact that it does follow the formula laid out by A New Hope, way back in 1977, because it’s a formula we know works. It’s mythic; Lucas based most of his material for the original trilogy on the mythographical studies of Joseph Campbell and his work on the hero’s journey, and it’s a formula used umpteen times since in countless movies. So why wouldn’t it be the best decision to make for bringing Star Wars back? If there was one way it could work, then it was to shun the things that plagued the prequel trilogy, and re-insert and re-imagine what made the original trilogy so great.
And it does work, so whole-heartedly in fact that I don’t really have any criticisms of the film; it flows so perfectly, with excitement and fun again being the main focus, instead of cripplingly depressing tragedy and whininess, that you feel proud to have been there for it. The characterisation is spot on also: you feel so invested in the main duo of Rey and Finn and their burgeoning relationship with each other, as well as the absolutely adorable BB-8, that the two hours of screen time fly by (no pun intended). Even Kylo Ren is a promising villain, nowhere near as moany as Anakin, yet still young and naïve enough to make mistakes, so as not to imitate Vader too closely and too early.
The Force Awakens works best as a vignette of the best parts of A New Hope, instilling a further hope in all of us that finally someone had got the galaxy far, far away right again, with lovable, relatable characters, and a warm and deep respect for the older characters from which the root of this new trilogy stems. It re-ignited passion for Star Wars just at a time where the only Star Wars-related things we were two animated (though admittedly brilliant) TV shows and a plethora of out-dated and increasingly ridiculous expanded universe material.
For this, it deserves our unwavering respect.
What do you think of our ranking so far? Agree or disagree, let us know in the comments below.
And be sure to check back here tomorrow for Part II, where we count down the top five Star Wars films!