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Ranking the Star Wars Films

Okay, a little more Star Wars for this year. Here’s how I would order the films, and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10:

  1. Star Wars (9/10): Engaging, evocative setting, enjoyable characters. Despite its derivative roots and difficult gestation, the novelty and exuberance of what made it to the screen is still admirable almost 40 years later.
  2. The Empire Strikes Back (8/10): Better written, better dialogue, better-delineated characters, better special effects. Doesn’t really have an ending (since it’s the first half of a two-film story) and doesn’t have the gosh-wow factor of the first film.
  3. Rogue One (8/10): Extremely well produced, satisfying (if a bit depressing) story, effective backstory to the first film.
  4. Return of the Jedi (6/10): The opening sequence is excellent, Luke’s story arc comes to a satisfying conclusion. However, the Ewoks are somewhat annoying, the revelation about Luke’s family is utterly ridiculous, and geez, didn’t we already see a Death Star?
  5. The Force Awakens (6/10): Too self-consciously a rehash of the plot of the first film, too much of the setting that doesn’t make sense (is the Resistance part of the new Republic? Why are they operating like the Rebellion was?). Still, Finn is a great down-to-earth (or wherever) protagonist, the dialogue and action sequences are great, and seeing the original cast is fun.
  6. Revenge of the Sith (2/10): The only actor who gets out of the prequels not having his acting skills obliterated by Lucas’ direction is Ewan McGregor. Which arguably qualifies him as one of the greatest actors of all time, even before considering his uncanny embodiment of Alec Guinness.
  7. Attack of the Clones (2/10): This film is better than the next one on this list, and that’s all I have to say about it.
  8. The Phantom Menace (1/10): This film was completely unnecessary. Even the title is unnecessary. You have to work really hard to be a film with any production values at all and still earn a 1/10.

I started to write a piece about where the Star Wars franchise collapsed under its own weight, but it turns out I wrote such a piece two years ago. I think at this point one must come to Star Wars expecting action, special effects, and witty dialogue, and anything more is gravy. That’s mostly what Return of the Jedi was, and the later films, including the new Disney ones, are in that vein as well. I definitely do not come to them expecting deep philosophical themes or interesting world-building, since the franchise gave up on any hope of coherently working out its timeline, universe, or fantastic phenomena decades ago.

But that’s okay; there are worse sources of mindless entertainment. After all, this formula has worked for James Bond for over 50 years.

3 comments to Ranking the Star Wars Films

  • Joel Norvell

    Thanks! Great format! I especially appreciate the ratings. Based on this, I’ll definitely watch Rogue One 🙂 @joely

  • David Pimmel

    I always find the bile thrown on Phantom Menance by those of us that saw Star Wars in theatres in ’77 interesting. I have a very different opinion of the “sequel trilogy”. I thought PM was ok, and thought the two follow-ons – I can’t even remember which is which – were gosh awful dreck serving no purpose or having any redeeming value. Granted the whole thing was a pointless effort in profiteering, but I was mildly entertained watching PM and felt I was being punished watching the last two. And having interacted with kids whose first theatre experience was PM, I can tell you, it holds up for them much better than the other two as well.

    And I think it all comes down to expectations. I remember seeing PM with a group of friends who were all “children of the ’70s” and being the only one in the room that was expecting a mediocre film by someone who is, let’s be honest, a mediocre filmmaker. And after the movie, I was the only one in the group not horrified by what they had seen. I got exactly what I expected, so my memory is ok while everyone else was vastly let down so they punish it for not being what they expected.

    And I think there is a reasonable chance you were amongst that group of friends I saw it with, so don’t lie about your expectations….

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