The Last Jedi was released just under two weeks ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find a hotter topic in pop culture at the moment. There’s been all kinds of discussion (both positive and negative), but the most common question I’ve seen posed is “Where does TLJ rank in the saga?” and to be honest…I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer. So, being a pretty close follower of the (movie) franchise – I thought it only appropriate to sit down and craft my own complete list. I track the movies I watch with a 0-5 star rating, so I’ve included those as well. ***SPOILERS*** abound from here forward…
#9 Episode II: Attack of the Clones – 2 stars
The prequels have been much maligned through the years and for the most part, it’s warranted. AotC has some of the very worst dialogue of any installment in the saga, and is only magnified with the rather substandard acting and wooden chemistry/romance between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. One of the underrated strengths of the initial trilogy was its relative simplicity in narrative structure, but that’s nowhere to be found here. It’s riddled with needless subplots (the origin of the stormtroopers and Boba Fett very much included) and a flat, haphazard villain (Count Dooku) who seems to serve only as a placeholder of sorts between Episode I and III (it’s unfortunate that Christopher Lee’s talent was completely wasted here).
On top of all this, the CGI is terrible. Like, this-should-have-maybe-been-a-cartoon terrible. While sparse, there were a handful of redeeming qualities to be found – including our first glimpse of the darkness inside Anakin when he slaughters the entire village of Raiders who kidnapped his mother and the rather fun climax with the Jedi invading the coliseum and the following Anakin/Obi-Wan/Dooku clash. Still, this sets very firmly at the bottom of the list for me.
#8 Episode I: The Phantom Menace – 2.5 stars
I’ve never been quite as tough on TPM as many seem to be, primarily because I never found Jar Jar Binks worthy of the hate he’s generated since the initial release in 1999. Is he a bit obnoxious? Sure, but I’ve always felt his existence was a fairly minor flaw compared to the other shortcomings of this episode (I took a much larger issue with everything surrounding the midichlorian phenomenon that served as a cop out for how Anakin Skywalker came to be). The protagonists are mostly one-dimensional and uninteresting (though I did enjoy Neeson apparently leaning in to the douchiness of his character) and very little of note actually happens. Yes, we get to see Palpatine/Sidious beginning to orchestrate his plan to take over the Senate – but the dialogue is (again) so egregious it’s hard to focus on any of it. The action sequences are subpar and the special effects are low grade. But for all its faults, TPM contains one of the best forgettable villains ever (Maul) and one of the most exceptional saber duels in the entire saga. Those alone propel this above AotC for me.
#7 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – 2.5 stars
I chose to include RO in this list, and as you’ll see – I’m nowhere near as high on it as the majority of the public. I was concerned leading up to its release with where they’d be able to take it – and unfortunately my fears were confirmed, as the story feels mostly unnecessary and boring. My biggest grievance came with the characters and while it’s been brought to my attention that that is actually the angle Edwards was purposely taking – I don’t fully buy it. Jyn Irso is a fairly nondescript character, despite supposedly being a strong-willed, resourceful female who has been surviving on her own for fifteen years yet always seems to need a male counterpart to help her. Her mentor, Saw Gerrera, seemed like a much more compelling individual – but he was killed off before he could make any sort of impact. Diego Luna is a shoddy actor and his protagonist here (Cassian Andor) is so atrocious that I was hoping he’d be killed off by the conclusion. Riz Ahmed’s pilot seems completely useless, as does Ben Mendelsohn’s Krennick. Donnie Yen and his counterpart had potential that was never even attempted to tap into. K-2SO was the lone bright spot on this front.
Conclusively, it just doesn’t *feel* like Star Wars and while the last 45 minutes are billed as the strength, the characters were so lacking that it felt a tad boring and much less significant than it should have. The only bits of note for me were the closing Vader sequence and the Star Destroyer crash.
#6 Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – 3 stars
I maintain that RotS is actually a good movie if not for the laughable dialogue (obviously a common theme by now). There’s just so much to like. For starters, the style and flow strongly resembles that found in the originals while the action is stellar. The progressively toxic verbal sparring between Obi-Wan and Anakin was a fine touch and really accented the darker setting of the movie. It also helps tie up some of the final loose ends heading into Episode IV, as we’re introduced to the Wookies and the infamous Order 66 and Anakin’s subsequent massacre at the Jedi Temple. Vader’s arc finally comes full circle, and the confrontation between he and Obi-Wan on Mustafar (contrasted by the simultaneous duel of Yoda and Palpatine) was some of the most exquisite filmmaking of any SW entry. RotS is still plenty flawed, most notably in its bland secondary villains (Dooku and Grievous) and the central Anakin/Padme relationship. Overall though, this episode might be the most underrated of the series.
#5 Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – 3.5 stars
Clearly the most polarizing Star Wars installment ever, and I think that’s quite fitting as there’s plenty to appreciate and plenty to dislike. While this is easily the most visually stunning SW has looked, it’s greatest weakness is in trying to simply do too much – both in juggling too many characters and exploring too many subplots. I like John Boyega, but Finn’s protagonist has run his course to the point that I ask myself why he’s still around. His (and Rose’s) obnoxious casino caper is the very worst element in TLJ, and one that is only necessary because he needed something to do. On the flip side, I thoroughly enjoyed the Rey/Kylo dynamic. Their chemistry is tremendous and makes for some of the most interesting moments in the entire runtime. Many have voiced their displeasure with the revelation that Rey’s parents are actually completely meaningless, but I found it a deft bit of juxtaposition (Kylo’s dad was a hero, but he couldn’t have cared less; Rey’s parents were nothing but she still wanted to know them). I also appreciated how Luke was handled. Not so much that he plays too large a role…but a very potent one. Getting back to the issues, I felt the humor and exposition was entirely overboard. The world-building is almost non-existent and Leia inexplicably uses the force to revive herself. Snoke’s complete lack of any background whatsoever was also extraordinarily irritating.
Ultimately, I liked a number of refreshing elements that were incorporated and the risks that were taken (getting rid of the old to usher in the new), I’m just not a fan of the direction Johnson chose to go with many of them.
#4 Episode VII: The Force Awakens – 4 stars
Yes, it’s almost a direct ripoff of Episode IV and should be criticized accordingly. However, TFA is the most *fun* addition to the saga since Episode VI. It introduces new and deeply intriguing and complex central figures and and manages to capture the true essence of SW. TFA also doesn’t hesitate to rock the boat, with Kylo killing off his beloved father. The saber duel in the snow and the closing shot with Luke both stuck with me long after I left the theater. I’ll concede that nostalgia likely played a significant part in my enjoyment of this, and despite being riddled with some questionable protagonist decisions and minor logistical errors – I had a blast.
#3 Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – 4.5 stars
As a kid, this was my favorite of the trilogy (not entirely certain as to why). It’s almost impossible to mention ROTJ without an Ewok reference, but I only find them mildly irritating. Most will disagree, and that’s okay – but I don’t believe they affect the overall quality very much. Instead, I’d rather focus on the lasting segments like the opening scenes with Jabba and the speeder bike chase on Endor. There’s also Hamill’s best performance (as he’s tempted by the dark side) and the unforgettable standoff between he, Vader, and Palpatine. The final touches of character development are superb. I do think there’s a bit too much going on in the back half which slows the pace a bit, as well as its resemblance to A New Hope – but the ending is more than satisfying. Least impressive of the initial three, but still a classic.
#2 Episode IV: A New Hope – 4.5 stars
ANH holds up as well as any with every rewatch. The simple, measured narrative that never loses focus just continues to shine through. The visuals were ahead of their time while the imagination and storytelling on display is unparalleled. We get our first glance at the archetypes (which the very foundation of Star Wars is built on), but more than that we’re introduced to some of the most endearing characters in cinematic history. The iconic moments (garbage disposal), images (opening sequence), and lines (May the force be with you, A long time ago…, etc.) are almost impossible to keep track of. Perhaps the most memorable element is found in Darth Vader himself – his menacing presence unmatched by any other villain ever conceived. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention John Williams’ haunting score. My only measurable criticism is with the pace stalling slightly prior to the Death Star run. All in all, ANH is one of the most splendid little tales ever created.
#1 Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – 5 stars
In my mind, ESB is the only unequivocal masterpiece to be found in this list. It takes everything that made ANH great and built on it, answering questions and asking greater ones in the process. The opening scene on Hoth (among the other setpieces) is some of the most iconic imagery you’ll find. The dialogue is the best of the series. Everything about Yoda/Dagobah/Cloud City is outstanding. The characters themselves are much more textured, as more conflict is introduced (I think the importance of the friendship theme as it’s found here can’t be overstated). A darker tone is utilized and works extremely well with the rising action throughout. And of course, there’s the most decisive moment of the saga on the platform as Vader reveals the crippling truth. There are likely a few warts in here somewhere, but I’ve yet to find them. It just doesn’t get any better than this.