RANKED! All The Live-Action Star Wars Movies (Including ‘The Rise of Skywalker’)
Since the release of Star Wars in 1977, the franchise has spawned an entire media empire. Although the waters of Star Wars fandom have been rocky over the past few years, in particular, it’s a good time to be a fan of the franchise. With the final chapter in the saga, The Rise of Skywalker, finally being unveiled, the natural thing for fans to do is to endlessly argue the merits of their favorite movies in the franchise. With that in mind, it’s time to rank all of the live-action Star Wars movies, including The Rise of Skywalker!
Cover Photo: Lucasfilm
11. 'Attack of the Clones'
In many ways, Attack of the Clones represents the worst tendencies that George Lucas would display for the prequel trilogy. Not only would Episode II mark a shift from a mix of practical and digital effects to a primarily digital workflow, but it would also showcase some of the worst writing of the series. Although the effects, music, and action sequences are still top-notch, the fact that it falls flat is due to the apparent lack of chemistry between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Considering that Anakin’s entire transition into Darth Vader rests solely on his love for Padmé, this film ultimately contains the biggest botched element of the series as a whole. Attack of the Clones isn’t an outright terrible movie, it’s just a mediocre one.
10. 'The Phantom Menace'
While some may see The Phantom Menace as the absolute worst that the series has to offer, the film has aged fairly well in the 20 years since its release. There’s no doubt that it’s a supremely flawed movie. At the same time, it’s the only one of the prequels that actually featured a variety of physical sets, props, and locations — mixed, of course, with digital elements. Not only does it have the most practicality of the prequel movies, but it also contains two of the best action sequences of the entire saga with the “Duel of the Fates” lightsaber duel and the pod race. If the mediocrity that is Jar Jar wasn’t in the film, it might actually rank a bit higher on this list.
9. 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'
Considering the massive issues surrounding the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s a miracle that the movie is halfway decent, although replacement director Ron Howard inherited a nearly-completed movie from Phil Lord and Chris Miller that he then had to go back and reshoot most of. The result is a movie that, while being completely passable, is wholly unnecessary. Want to know about how Han won the Millennium Falcon? Or how about he got his blaster or famous dice? How about his name? If you’re into that kind of inessential backstory, then Solo is the film for you.
8. 'The Rise of Skywalker'
There’s no doubt that The Rise of Skywalker is the weakest of the sequel trilogy. In fact, it’s the type of movie that gives one a greater appreciation for both of the trilogy ending movies that preceded it. It’s a deeply flawed movie in a myriad of ways. At the same time, it's also a fun experience if you can ignore things like the subpar plotting, weak characterization and rushed thematic resonance. Aside from needing to turn your brain off due to the sheer mindlessness of the story, there’s a lot to like about The Rise of Skywalker. Unfortunately, the film fails to nail the conclusion, which ultimately makes it one of the weaker Star Wars films in general.
7. 'Revenge of the Sith'
Revenge of the Sith, while flawed nevertheless, is easily the strongest entry in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. Unlike the previous entry on this list, Revenge of the Sith actually provides a satisfying conclusion to the prequels – for the most part. While some of the second trilogy’s overarching problems are absolutely present in the film, there are some truly epic moments. It’s easily the darkest and most adult of the entire trilogy. Although both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were certainly building toward the fateful confrontation between Anakin and Obi-Wan, the end result grows more gratifying with age. Aside from the terrible acting from Hayden Christensen – along with the infamous “high ground” and “Noooooooooo!” moments – the film is bookended by two epic action sequences. As a result, Revenge of the Sith is easily the most cohesive of the first three chapters in the saga.
6. 'Rogue One'
Rogue One is the type of movie that is far better in concept than it is in actual execution. How the rebel alliance acquired the plans to the death star has great storytelling written all over it. Unfortunately, the film underwent massive reshoots in post-production that improved the third act but rushed through character development for the ensemble cast. While the film has a darker tone than the rest of the live-action Star Wars movies, it’s oddly one of the breeziest. Ultimately, if it weren’t for the rewatchable nature of the third act, Rogue One would easily fall further down this list.
5. 'Return of the Jedi'
As the first of three “epic conclusions” to the Skywalker saga, Return of the Jedi is by far the most satisfying. Although it fails to top the heights of its predecessors, the movie manages to check all of the right boxes while adding new layers of mythology to Star Wars canon. While there are a bunch of diversions (especially in the special editions; Jedi Rocks, we’re looking at you), the core journeys of both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader anchor the film. It the strongest element in a film that is otherwise mediocre for the most part.
4. 'The Force Awakens'
The Force Awakens is a better movie than it gets credit for. It’s true that the film is essentially a glorified remake of A New Hope. While some may see this as a drawback, the truth is that the story of A New Hope is merely a modernized retelling of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. Episode IV just happens to be the perfect encapsulation of the hero’s journey, which makes The Force Awakens feel derivative of the original film when it’s actually just another story about the so-called “hero with a thousand faces.” Aside from this, J.J. Abrams’ first foray into a galaxy far, far away is an extremely energetic and well-made return to form for the franchise. While The Force Awakens might bite off a little more than it can chew in terms of franchise-building and unanswered questions, it makes up for it in sheer entertainment value.
3. 'The Last Jedi'
There’s no doubt that The Last Jedi is a divisive movie. It’s easily the most mature and reflective movie of the entire Star Wars saga, which is probably why certain segments of the fandom can’t stand it. In other words, The Last Jedi is the least childish film in a franchise that was designed to appeal primarily to children. Although some might see this as a drawback, it’s actually the movie’s greatest asset – the ambition to tell a different kind of Star Wars story than we’ve seen before. While it’s hard to agree with every single one of the choices that writer-director Rian Johnson makes in the movie, there’s no question that he swings for the fences and mostly succeeds. Regardless of what someone’s expectations for what they wanted the movie to be are, there’s no denying that this is a movie that no one saw coming.
2. 'The Empire Strikes Back'
By this point, it’s no secret that The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the best entry in the entire Star Wars franchise. Although Irvin Kershner’s film had a mixed response upon its initial release, it is now recognized as one of the best sequels of all time. The thing that really stands out about The Empire Strikes Back is the way that it expands on the story and world, taking our characters in challenging new directions, all while adding new twists and turns into deeper mythology than the first film. This is pretty much exclusively due to Lawrence Kasdan’s insanely good screenplay, which is pretty much the model for which all serialized sequels are judged against. With that in mind, the only reason that Empire doesn’t top this list is the fact that it’s not as complete of an experience as its predecessor.
1. 'A New Hope'
In many ways, A New Hope is Star Wars. While The Empire Strikes Back is certainly our favorite movie in the franchise, the original film is undoubtedly the most complete experience of the lot. Aside from having a perfect structure and third act editing that is literally out of this world, George Lucas’ film features groundbreaking effects and iconic performances from the leading trio. After all, the original film didn’t win seven Oscars (including a nomination of Best Picture) for nothing. It’s well accepted that A New Hope – in conjunction with Jaws only a few years prior – effectively started the blockbuster era of Hollywood filmmaking. While we’re still feeling the ripple effect of the original’s influence, for better or worse, A New Hope still represents epic, legendary storytelling on an intimate scale. In other words, it’s a nearly perfect movie. But we already knew that.