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My Completely Subjective Ranking of the 11 Star Wars Films

by Paul Combs 2 months ago in star wars
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The Title Alone Has Already Angered Some Uber-Fans

Image source: Lucasfilm Ltd.

I have resisted doing any in-depth articles on the Star Wars films for one simple reason: the fandom of this iconic series is divided in a way that makes Yankees fans and Red Sox fans look like long-time lovers by comparison. And the divide is not just over the Original/Prequel/Sequel Trilogy issue; the debate among the Sequel Trilogy fans will explode on Twitter at any given moment over something as simple as the statement “I’m pretty sure Rian Johnson is a human being.”

Still, I cannot cower in the shadows, writing only about Cap and Iron Man forever. Given the vitriol that may result from even the most benign Star Wars piece, I thought I would start with something simple and completely non-controversial: my personal ranking of the films. What could possibly go wrong?

A few disclaimers before the list. First, as I say in the title, I will be ranking eleven films. Most lists like this will include The Clone Wars animated movie; I don’t, mainly because I’ve never seen it. It also consistently places at #12, so I’m apparently not missing much.

Second, I am basing this only on the films. I do not take the novels, novelizations, comics, animated series, or newly unearthed Sith relics into account. Take a page from the MCU fans and let the movies be the movies, without always dragging the comics into it. Most of us just don’t have that much time.

Third, because so many fan debates seem to be generational in nature, I will say up front that I am a Gen Xer who saw the first film as an 11-year-old at the theater in 1977 on opening weekend. This does not mean I believe the Original Trilogy is the only one, or that The Empire Strikes Back is the pinnacle of filmmaking (that would be The Godfather). To varying degrees I liked all the Star Wars films, so I have no axe to grind here.

Finally, let me reiterate that I am ranking these films by where they fall as personal favorites. All that prologue out of the way here is my ranking, in reverse order (and obviously there are spoilers):

11. Solo (2018). The only good things in this film are Chewbacca, L3–37, and Donald Glover. That Donald Glover makes the character I hate most in the series semi-likable is a testament to his abilities, but not nearly enough to save this film. But it is a Star Wars film, so I will watch it regardless.

10. Attack of the Clones (2002). For me, this is the most forgettable of the Prequel Trilogy films. Hayden Christensen has been sufficiently skewered for 20 years now, so I won’t pile on. But oh my God the dialogue, as when Anakin tells Padme:

“From the moment I met you, all those years ago, not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of you. And now that I’m with you again I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you — I can’t breathe. I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask. If you are suffering as much as I am please tell me.”

This is unacceptable even for a George Lucas film. Still, the final fight was pretty cool.

9. The Force Awakens (2015). If not for the fact that this movie introduces the Sequel Trilogy and that I really like Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of Rey I would put this dead last for one reason: YOU DO NOT KILL OFF HAN SOLO. I don’t care that Harrison Ford only agreed to come back if they killed him off. It is simply not done. And Chewie would have smoked Kylo with his bowcaster immediately, not simply wounded him after a much too long delay. Plus, there were a lot of times I felt like I was watching the first Star Wars again, just with some different characters and cooler effects. The stories are basically the same, but at least we got BB-8.

8. The Phantom Menace (1999). I hate to put this one this low, because it’s the one that restarted the franchise after 16 years. It is also visually beautiful, showing how far we had come since 1977. And it has two of my favorite characters in Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, both of whom they killed off after one film. Madness. Overall, the story isn’t great, and we always knew little Anakin was going to win the pod race, which Lucas totally ripped off from Ben-Hur.

7. The Rise of Skywalker (2019). This is the one I am most conflicted about. It wraps up the Sequel Trilogy well enough, with the final shot of Rey on Tatooine gazing at the twin suns pretty damn awesome and a nice callback to the ‘77 film. Unlike my daughter, I was perfectly fine with the death of Ben Solo at the end; killing your dad has consequences. But the whole thing was just such a…mess. I don’t think that even two years later J. J. Abrams has any clue what he wanted this movie to be other than not a continuation of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. Also, I was only 17 when I saw Return of the Jedi, but I’m fairly sure I remember the Emperor getting tossed down a shaft and then blown up with the Death Star, so why the hell is Palpatine in this movie?

6. Revenge of the Sith (2005). Easily my favorite of the prequels, mainly for the opening battle sequence above Coruscant and the final fight on Mustafar between Obi-Wan and Anakin/Vader, which is the best lightsaber duel in the first six films if not the best ever. Getting to see the creation of Darth Vader as we know him was cool; the “Nooooooo!” was not. This one is also special to me because it was the last time my kids were young enough that I had to read them the opening crawl. And as for the previously mentioned bad dialogue in the Prequels, consider this classic from Padme to Anakin:

“Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo. So long ago when there was nothing but our love.”


5. The Return of the Jedi (1983). We applauded in the theater throughout this movie back in ‘83, but then we also applauded Friday the 13th, Part III, so take that for what it’s worth. It wraps up the original trilogy quite nicely, despite those stupid carnivorous muskrats on Endor (don’t defend them; they were going to eat Han and Luke). It was sweet when Leia got to say “I know” to Han and infuriating watching Lando…Lando!…pilot the Millennium Falcon and destroy Death Star 2.0, but all in all a fine conclusion.

4. Rogue One (2016). It is possible that I place this one this high because I really didn’t expect it to be as good as it was, but I don’t think that’s the case. It had an excellent cast, a compelling story, and served as a perfect segue into the events of the first film. It added new depth to the mythology and having Darth Vader show up at the end was an unexpected bonus.

3. The Last Jedi (2017). Here’s where I really risk the wrath of the J. J. Abrams faction of the Sequel Trilogy fandom. For me, it deserves this spot if only for finally, after 40 years, making Luke Skywalker a cool, interesting character. He has a gravitas he always lacked before, and his battle with Kylo Ren is one of the most memorable fights in the series. Equally as good was the Throne Room fight scene, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it was filmed in one continuous shot. Rian Johnson tried his best to make this more than just a fan-service retelling of the same old story (see The Force Awakens), and he did a fine job.

2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). I included “A New Hope” in the title only because of the youngsters who only recognize it with that title. For me and anyone else who was there when this whole crazy ride started, it will always simply be Star Wars. It was unlike anything any of us had ever seen before, and I didn’t know a kid my age who didn’t want to be Han Solo (somehow no one wanted to be Luke…go figure). We also met C-3PO and R2-D2 for the first time, never expecting they’d still be showing up in new movies 42 years later.

It’s impossible for me to convey just how stunning the visuals were at the time, given where we are four decades later with CGI, but it all started with this film. There’s a reason ILM was a George Lucas property; this space opera with the bad dialogue is the special-effects granddaddy of every sci-fi/fantasy film that has come since, all the way up to Avengers: Endgame.

Oh, and Han shot first.

1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Yes, this is the standard spot for this film in any ranking, and for good reason. It was by far the darkest of the films, no matter how hard later ones tried; it’s still the only one that ends without a real glimmer of hope, with Han frozen in carbonite. Empire introduces us to Yoda in some of the funniest scenes in the series. And it contains the best two-word line of dialogue in all eleven films: “I know.” No surprise that it was ad-libbed by Harrison Ford on the spot, as we all know how great the actual written dialogue is.

It also has the most misquoted line of dialogue in the series. When Darth Vader reveals his identity to Luke he says “No, I am your father,” not “Luke, I am your father,” as so many tend to believe. Take away that treacherous jackass Lando, and it might even move into my all-time Top 3 (The Godfather Parts I and II are never budging from their places). In what may be the best proof of this film’s greatness, it is the one that Lucas has gone back and tinkered with least of all.

So that’s how I rank the Star Wars films, at least today. There may be some movement in the middle on any given day, but for the most part it’s set. Feel free to leave your ranking in the comments, and let’s try to keep the discussion civil. Yoda gets sad when we argue.

Avengers Assem…wait, that’s wrong…May the Force be with you.

First published on Medium.com.

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About the author

Paul Combs

I’m a writer, podcaster, and bookseller whose ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take a while.

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