It’s hard to believe just how many Star Wars movies there are. Just eight years ago, there were only seven of them – the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and the animated side adventure The Clone Wars. Since then, five more have been added to the popular movie series (the sequel trilogy and two “A Star Wars Story” projects).
We might argue that this expansion has been bad for the franchise. Between these film additions and a growing collection of new Disney+ shows, Star Wars has become a little less special – a little less rare.
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On the other hand, one reason we love franchises like this is that they give us material we can debate and dissect to no end. More movies make for more discussion – and much more interesting rankings!
So, with that in mind (and although a dangerous path to take), here’s our list of all the Star Wars movies ranked, from worst to best.
12. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
Why It’s Good: There’s just nothing good to say about this one
Why It’s Bad: Unnecessary plot, poor writing, unremarkable animation and voice acting
It pains us not to rank Attack Of The Clones last, but unfortunately, The Clone Wars earned the spot for ‘worst’ Star Wars movie. To be perfectly clear for those who are outraged, the TV show of the same name is perfectly entertaining, and largely well-made. It’s the 2008 Dave Filoni film we take issue with.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes place following Attack Of The Clones, and involves a wholly unnecessary plot concerning Count Dooku and Jabba the Hutt’s uncle Ziro. Basically, these two baddies try to sway Jabba to throw his influence behind the dark side by making it appear as if the Jedi have abducted his son. Somehow, this becomes Anakin Skywalker’s plot to thwart (alongside his Padawan and eventual fan-favorite Ashoka Tano), while Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, you know…fight the actual Clone Wars.
Unfortunately, there’s just nothing good to say about this one. The animation and voice acting are unremarkable at best; the writing is poor; and above all else, the whole thing feels wildly unnecessary.
11. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones (2002)
Why It’s Good: Erm, Yoda’s lightsaber duel with Dooku?
Why It’s Bad: Slow progression, dull dialogue, and the worst romance in cinematic history
The most baffling thing about the prequel series is that Episode 1 seems to take all the heat. It’s not great (though we probably have it ranked higher than most), but its terrible sequel, Attack Of The Clones, is an all-out mess.
Yes, the movie is important. Obi-Wan’s investigation of the clone army sets up a whole animated series, introduces the Mandalorians, and unveils the scope of the budding empire’s operation. All of that matters in the broader Star Wars universe. But it’s mostly drowned out by slow progression, dull dialogue, and quite possibly the single worst romance in cinematic history.
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Anakin and Padmé should have a compelling relationship – one that makes us understand how Anakin ultimately allows his feelings to cloud his judgment (and, you know, turn to the Dark Side). What we get instead, is a romance that lacks chemistry, forces passion, and feels vaguely inappropriate.
Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman look like they make each other’s skin crawl, and together rack up some of the worst lines in the Star Wars saga (hatred of sand doesn’t exactly make for gripping romantic banter).
We will at least end on a positive: Ridiculous as it was, Yoda’s 2x-speed-Cirque-du-Soleil lightsaber madness in the duel with Dooku made for an incredibly memorable theater moment.
10. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
Why It’s Good: Solid lightsaber fights, impressive visuals, and, erm, Babu Frik
Why It’s Bad: An oversized, unearned, and often baffling finale
We almost feel bad for the people who made this movie. To satisfyingly wrap-up a nine-film saga of unparalleled popularity is an enormous challenge. But to do so as part of a trilogy in which the first two movies seemed to want nothing to do with each other, made it just about impossible. In other words, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi left this film without a chance of success.
Whatever the case, The Rise Of Skywalker is an oversized, unearned, and often baffling finale. Revolving around the unexplained survival of Emperor Palpatine and an insurmountable yet largely unnoticed Empire force – the movie thrusts mediocre characters into a struggle that dwarfs anything our past Jedi and Rebel heroes faced.
Is it fun? Sure. It’s a massive Star Wars adventure. There are fist-pump-inducing moments, solid lightsaber fights, and impressive visual sequences. But it also feels stitched together and lazy in a way past efforts rarely did. For such an epic conclusion, it kind of leaves you wanting a redo.
Still, though, Babu Frik might be the funniest little side creature Star Wars ever produced and second, the final moments in which Rey unveils a yellow lightsaber were chilling in the best of ways.
9. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Solo: A Star Wars Story is mostly fine. It’s a perfectly innocent, serviceable Star Wars sideshow, and it’s actually more fun on a rewatch than you expect. The problem is, when we learned we’d be getting a Han-freaking-Solo origin story, we wanted better than “fine.”
For his part, Alden Ehrenreich pulls off a half-decent young Han, and his journey into space smuggling feels at least believable as something our old pal would have gone through. It’s fun to see Han meeting Chewie and interacting with a young Lando Calrissian (played perhaps almost too enthusiastically by Donald Glover).
The issue with this one though is that it didn’t feel that important in the end. Lacking a major villain, or really any plot at all, it sort of feels more like a stretched-out adventure-of-the-week (something we’d expect from shows like The Mandalorian) than a value-adding origin story for Han.
So, while it’s not that bad, it does wind up feeling weak, and all the more disappointing because of how beloved the Han Solo character is.
8. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
Some may see The Last Jedi (arguably the most polarizing Star Wars film) as a daring departure from tired retreads – a dazzling, fresh adventure from Rian Johnson, who was bold enough to stamp his own style on the saga, while J.J. Abrams focused more on fan service and nostalgia in The Force Awakens.
Others, like us, see it as a pointless diversion – a disconnected vanity project that ignores its predecessor, sidetracks itself with unimportant characters, and ultimately sets a mess of a table for Episode IX.
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It is a bold, daring take on Star Wars, and in many technical respects, a well-made film. But unfortunately, Rian Johnson completely did his own thing with this movie, and it rendered the first film partially irrelevant, and condemned the third to failure.
The Last Jedi dismisses Snoke like an anonymous Stormtrooper before we learn anything about him; it invents a pseudo romance between Finn and Rose that we have no reason to care about; it turns Leia into Superman (or Mary Poppins as many have said); it makes Luke borderline unlikable (for much of the film); it weakens Kylo Ren; and finally, it sets up a finale without a villain (thus necessitating the out-of-nowhere Palpatine return).
It’s an okay movie, but a bad installment.
7. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
We’re going to get some heat for this one. But hey-ho, we knew that ranking all Star Wars movies was no easy task.
Episode I (the saga’s highest-grossing film) receives relentless criticism for two reasons. First is that it brought Star Wars back to the big screen only to introduce a plot revolving around political debate and trade negotiations. Secondly, well, it has Jar-Jar Binks, who is one of cinema’s most annoying characters (unless you agree with the Star Wars theory that claims he’s a Sith Lord).
Looking past Jar-Jar though, this is a perfectly enjoyable film, and one that does everything it needs to give insight into the Skywalker family and overall saga. What we like most about The Phantom Menace, though, is that it really feels like it takes place a generation before A New Hope. While it’s by no means idyllic or happy (slavery is a major part of the movie, after all), there is some innocence to the movie. Pod racing is sport, Jedi walk freely and there’s no open war.
Throw in the awesome lightsaber fight between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon and Darth Maul, and there’s enough good in this movie to offset its annoying aspects. It’s fine, and it’s a masterpiece next to Episode II.
6. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
The prequel trilogy may be riddled with flaws, but at least it ends on a high note!
Revenge Of The Sith is a very flawed movie. In fact, much of it feels disconcertingly like a continuation of Attack Of The Clones. But it moves on just in time to resonate as a far more successful installment in the end.
Crucially, Anakin’s descent toward the Dark Side is believable. While his romantic involvement with Padme remains unconvincing, it does feel frustrating enough to be at the core of Anakin’s confused emotions and darkened psyche. That gets the ball rolling, such that when Palpatine issues Order 66, Jedi are massacred, and Obi-Wan and Anakin finally go at it, everything feels earned.
Order 66 is legitimately heartbreaking (even if it makes the Jedi seem almost unrealistically naïve), and the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin duel remains the best lightsaber fight the franchise has given us.
5. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Return Of The Jedi has its drawbacks. The original trilogy’s conclusion takes some pretty wild swings, from the introduction of the Ewoks to the reveal that Luke and Leia are siblings, who accidentally kinda-sorta-almost hooked up. Even the we-just-have-to-destroy-the-Death-Star-again plot line was kind of a bold move.
Somehow though, it all works. From early in the film when Luke rescues Han from Jabba, to the Battle for Endor, to the ultimate climax of Vader killing Palpatine, it’s just a thoroughly satisfying adventure. The stakes feel real, the character arcs feel fulfilled, and the visuals are gorgeous even now.
And for those who can’t get past the Ewoks, our advice is simple: Have a little fun. These fearsome little forest cubs are an absolute riot. It’s ludicrous that they defeat a theoretically sophisticated force armed with lasers by employing trip ropes and hurled stones. But it’s a blast to watch them do it (and to see them immediately throw a party, afterward).
All in all, Return Of The Jedi may just be the most endearing film of them all.
4. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
Yes, it’s one giant hit of nostalgia that is essentially a remake of A New Hope. But you know what? The Force Awakens is an awesome, more modern and visually dazzling version of it, which after almost 40 years ought to be appreciated.
Plus, it’s not as if it’s a literal retread. The action kicks off when Finn defects from the First Order – a perfectly believable, lingering piece of the Empire – and links up with Rey. The two of them follow a map to locate Luke Skywalker in the face of a rising threat (meeting up with Han Solo along the way). The big beats certainly echo and mirror A New Hope, but the plot itself is very much a years-later continuation, and one that largely adds up.
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The film also does an excellent job of introducing some of the best Star Wars characters. Rey is instantly compelling; Kylo seems if not necessarily an Anakin-level talent to be dangerously unhinged; and Finn, BB-8, and Poe are terrific. The ingredients are all there for one heck of a new trilogy.
Oh, and if you didn’t get chills when Rey tracked down Luke on his island at the end…well, have Babu Frik check your vitals.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Rogue One is the best Star Wars idea since the original trilogy. It’s basically a prequel to A New Hope that doesn’t involve established characters, but rather focuses on previously unknown rebels. It also seeks to remedy one of the silliest flaws in Star Wars (explaining why the Death Star was designed with a fatal flaw).
Beyond its purpose in the broader franchise though, Rogue One is simply a compelling ‘war movie’. One can argue quite reasonably that it has as much in common with a film like Saving Private Ryan, as it does with other Star Wars installments, and it’s all the better for it. This is the film that finally showed us the ‘war’ in Star Wars. It’s the story of soldiers, of a planet under threat, and of daring missions behind enemy lines.
Sure, Darth Vader’s cameo steals the show, and it’s incredible. But Rogue One ultimately succeeds because it doesn’t rely on characters we know. It shows us what’s happening on the ground during the rebellion, and oddly enough, that’s something we’ve never really seen before.
It also looks gorgeous doing it; this is arguably the most visually stunning Star Wars film to date.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
A seemingly unremarkable farm boy on a seemingly insignificant, sandy planet comes across a droid (our pal R2-D2) containing a message of distress from a princess. He links up with a hermit in “Old Ben” a.k.a. Obi-Wan, who reveals himself to be an old warrior from a lost rebellion. And off they go – the boy to be trained as a Jedi, and the pair of them to rescue the princess, while attempting to defeat the greatest villain of all time and loosen the Empire’s iron grip on the galaxy.
What more is there to say, really? It’s a perfect story – one in which George Lucas took common elements from westerns, Samurai films, and early sci-fi and twisted them into his own, brilliantly imagined tale.
Is the flaw in the Death Star a little ridiculous? Sure. Have the Disney+ shows left us unclear on how “Old Ben” could possibly have concealed his identity and significance from Luke (let alone Leia)? Absolutely, because Disney has deemed cheap thrills to be more important than 40-year canon. And was the Obi-Wan vs. Vader duel underwhelming from an action standpoint? You know what, let’s not even go there.
These minor issues aside though, A New Hope remains a spectacular film.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Well, what do you want from us? There’s a reason absolutely everybody rates The Empire Strikes Back as the best Star Wars film: It’s the best Star Wars film.
The Empire Strikes Back achieves something that has proven to be nearly impossible for sequels ever since: It builds out the world established in A New Hope without sacrificing its own, contained plot lines.
On its own, Empire is a neat, tight film: The story of an escalating conflict, within which Han and Leia help the Rebel Alliance and Luke, furthers his Jedi training in advance of a final conflict. Surrounding this structure, however, are all sorts of thrilling additions to Star Wars lore. We encounter new settings (the swampy Dagobah and the snowy Hoth); we meet iconic characters like the bounty hunter Boba Fett and the delightfully nutty Yoda; and we get a taste for the contentious but undeniable Han-Leia romance.
Throw in arguably the biggest best surprise in the history of cinema, and it’s no wonder The Empire Strikes Back is held in such high regard.
So, there you have it! All Star Wars movies ranked from worst to best!
Over the last 40 years, fans of this franchise have truly felt like a family, but one thing that has torn them apart is this usual debate. To sum up, though, every Episode is a classic and will in no doubt remain so and give people joy for many years to come…but of course, some trump others.
What did you think of our ranking of Star Wars movies? Do you agree with it or does yours look completely different? Feel free to share your opinion, and as always, may the force be with you.
This article was originally published in November 2018.
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