Ranking all 8 'Star Wars' films after 'Rogue One' — and yes, this'll be controversial
The buzz around the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, has been mostly positive for a very simple reason: It's actually very good. Thankfully, the internet's adoration of Rogue One didn't border on insanity, as it hasn't been boldly declared the best Star Wars film ever made — though for some, it's near the top of the list.
Ranking Star Wars movies is an objective and oft-controversial art. Generally, the consensus seems to be that The Empire Strikes Back is the best, while the prequels leave a lot to be desired. The new films — Rogue One and The Force Awakens — fall somewhere in between.
Is that the case for this humble writer? Here's where all eight Star Wars films rank, post-Rogue One, from best to worst. I calmly await your hate mail and barbarous Twitter mentions.
The Empire Strikes Back
If The Empire Strikes Back had been filmed in the present, with internet spoilers abound (just ask poor Game of Thrones), then perhaps the twist wouldn't have worked. But for first-time viewers, the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father is one of the greatest twists in the history of film.
However, that's just one — albeit memorable — part of what makes Empire great. It sets the industry standard for what a sequel should be. Empire doesn't just regurgitate plot points from the original, it expands the Star Wars universe with enticing new characters (Yoda and Lando Calrissian) and planets (Hoth, Dagoba, Cloud City), and it wasn't afraid to get a little dark along the way. After all, this is also where Luke loses his hand and Han Solo is frozen in carbonite.
Empire's the best — the rest don't even come close.
A New Hope
Yes, yes, it was originally called Star Wars, but for the franchise's namesake, we're going to refer to it as A New Hope. It's the one that started it all, back when 20th Century Fox had little faith that George Lucas' space adventure had any chance at succeeding.
Boy, were they wrong. While there are a few minor flaws (one of which is actually answered in Rogue One), its amazing score, characters and, most of all, creativity, stand the test of time. Luke staring longingly at the sunset of two suns on his home planet Tatooine, coupled with Williams' swooning orchestra, will always stick with me.
The Force Awakens
There was a lot of cautious optimism heading into The Force Awakens after the mostly disappointing turnout of the prequel trilogy. But J.J. Abrams effectively captured the magic of the original films by introducing new characters who captured the hearts of the audience.
We love the return of Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Luke, but The Force Awakens wouldn't work without Rey, our new Jedi protagonist, Finn and Kylo Ren. Another important, if not subtle, change from the prequels: Abrams used a lot of practical effects, meaning we're looking at stunning set pieces and not a vast expanse of the prequels' green screens. There's something to be said for Rey (and actress Daisy Ridley) actually standing at the top of a cliff to meet Luke, rather than inside a studio.
The first Star Wars anthology film is great in its own right, and it's a testament to director Gareth Edwards that Rogue One finds a good balance between nostalgic throwbacks and its own characters and story. While it's a bit choppy at the start — and frankly, the lack of an opening crawl still feels weird — Rogue One's final 40 minutes is breathtaking, complete with one of the best Darth Vader scenes in the franchise and a cameo from a CGIed Leia.
Perhaps the biggest talking point for Rogue One, however, was its extensive use of a CGIed Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. For some viewers, it was a bit unsettling, and while Lucasfilm undoubtedly covered their legal bases ahead of time, there's something odd about resurrecting the likeness of a deceased actor for a prominent role.
Does it hinder Rogue One as a whole? Not quite, but it's something that could leave it in the lower tier of Star Wars films, depending on how it affects you.
Revenge of the Sith
This is perhaps the most controversial opinion I hold: I actually enjoyed Revenge of the Sith. Is it a flawed film? Absolutely, and Hayden Christensen is still haunting the screen with his abhorrent acting. But there's something very satisfying about the messy and flawed transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, which ultimately leads to the near-extinction of the Jedi Order.
Plus, for the many flaws Christensen had as Anakin, the bright spot of the entire prequel trilogy is Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Revenge of the Sith gives him the best platform to express his rage, sadness and confusion at his apprentice's turn to evil (and perhaps, general frustration that he signed up for an underwhelming trilogy).
Return of the Jedi
The thing that keeps Return of the Jedi higher than the other two prequel films is, essentially, childhood nostalgia and Ewoks. When you dig a little deeper, you'll see a film that doesn't offer much in the way of originality, instead going through the same motions as A New Hope. Return to Tatooine? Check. A new Death Star? Check. Luke and Leia are also revealed to be siblings, which is tarnished by the fact that Lucas had them kiss in the previous film.
There are still some good parts of Return of the Jedi: The Ewoks are adorable, and Vader's final sacrifice to save Luke from the Emperor is touching and memorable. However, in retrospect, we wish the film broke new ground, instead of playing it safe and repetitive.
The Phantom Menace
What if The Phantom Menace didn't have the worst character Lucas ever produced, Jar Jar Binks? Would it be remembered more fondly? We'll never know the answer to that — or whether Binks was secretly a Sith the whole time — but what we have is a film that had loads of potential, but failed with other miscues (though none as bad as Binks).
For one, the Anakin storyline started when the character was way too young, especially if he was always destined to fall in love with Padme, who was played in all three films by Natalie Portman, a human adult. Less discussion around interplanetary trade disputes probably would've helped, too.
Still, there are elements of the film that do work. Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn was a fascinating character, and it's genuinely tragic when he is killed by Darth Maul. Speaking of Maul, he's a villain that minces few words, but he did give us the best lightsaber duel in the entire franchise, against Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. That, at bare minimum, keeps The Phantom Menace from the bottom of the list.
Attack of the Clones
Oh boy. The storyline with Obi-Wan and the titular Clone army is fine, but the forced romance between Anakin and Padme is cheapened by robotic dialogue and our first taste of Christensen's very-not-good acting. Did you know Anakin really hates sand?
Attack of the Clones doesn't stand the test of time. The green screen-plastered set pieces look like something out of a second generation video game, and the new, underdeveloped villain, Count Dooku, is a waste of the late Christopher Lee's talent. Even the most ardent Star Wars fans have to admit: Attack of the Clones is a dumpster fire we'd love to erase from the Jedi Archives.