Star Wars Movies, Ranked
In 2020 we may seem like a divided nation. But it turns out, in the darkest depths of winter, there is one thing that unites us — hating Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker!
Pretty much everyone hates this movie, which is amazing! Rotten Tomatoes/Reddit trolls hate it because it’s woke. Critics hate it because it’s bad. The Last Jedi fans (which you should be) hate it because it tries to dramatically course correct from the last movie. People who actually like this movie hate it because everyone keeps yelling about this movie so they can’t even enjoy it. It’s fantastic!
So, in the spirit of division and hatred, here’s a completely correct ranking of all the Star Wars movies, as well as what it says about you if a movie is your favorite. Look, it’s after Christmas, so I don’t have to be nice to anyone anymore. Bring on the hate!
Tier 3: The Truly Terrible Movies
These Star Wars movies are so bad they barely even qualify as movies in their own right. They should be viewed the same way as the Transformers/Ninja Turtles/G.I. Joe movies, or any other horrible studio-algorithm monstrosity targeted at idiot children and dangerously negligent parents. These are bad things that should not exist.
11. Episode I: The Phantom Menace
This is literally not even a movie. It is one of the worst things to have ever graced a screen, and in a just world everyone involved would be executed. Most of the other bad Star Wars movies are at least insane, but here all the characters are just flat, boring and dull. As a child my favorite character was Jar Jar Binks and honestly as an adult that kind of holds up. Yes, Jar Jar’s an annoying, pointless, racist caricature. But at least he’s a character! He has traits that move him forward in the movie, and shape how he interacts with the environment. What motivates Qui-Gonn? What is Queen Amidala’s defining character trait? Why is Boss Nass here? This whole movie can be entirely skipped, which means it has no reason to exist! The only good thing to come out of this movie was the N64 Pod Racing video game, everything else is a blight on this earth that must be destroyed.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You are an ironic trolling edgelord, and I hate you so much.
10. Episode II: Attack of the Clones
In almost any other film franchise (even the batshit X-Men movies) this would easily be the worst movie in the series. The acting is marginally better than in Phantom Menace, but it’s still terrible. The writing and the direction is so appalling that characters routinely do things that make absolutely no sense. Christopher Lee is wasted as Count Dooku, Jango Fett is introduced and then does nothing, none of the secret clone army plot developments make any sense at all. The Jedi Council plays a much larger role in this movie than in Phantom, and they are all the biggest idiots in the galaxy. And that’s the A-plot! The B-plot, where Anakin and Padme fall in love, makes EVEN LESS SENSE. I hate this movie so much.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You have spent so much time on r/prequelmemes it has literally broken your brain.
9. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
In my opinion, Revenge of the Sith gets the treatment that Season 8 of Game of Thrones receives. Fans of both are so beaten down, and so invested in the characters, that they really want to believe the story can limp across the finish line. Fans point to the many things these films do well (cinematography, music, acting) in the hope that these can override the massive problems with writing and direction. That’s how people end up saying Game of Thrones Season 8 or Revenge of the Sith “isn’t that bad.”
Unfortunately, the final season of Game of Thrones is in fact very bad, and so is Revenge of the Sith. Yes the visuals are great, yes John Williams has brought the best music, yes the acting has improved and yes Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine is a lot of fun. But none of that can override the fact that the plot of this movie makes no sense whatsoever, the pacing is terrible and the dialogue is just the worst thing ever. It’s the best of a bad three movies, but that doesn’t say much.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You have a deep love for Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen that pushes you to look past this movie’s appalling flaws.
8. Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
I actually feel happy that I knew going in to Rise of Skywalker that the reviews were pretty bad, because it lowered my expectations enough that I was actually able to mostly enjoy this movie. And to be fair, I’m maybe being a little harsh putting this movie here. Kylo Ren and Rey’s chemistry is better than anything the prequels ever had and I don’t hate the overall arc of either character. Unlike the prequels, this movie isn’t painfully boring. Instead, it has the opposite problem — it moves WAY too fast, and tries to cover so many bases. But they try to rush so many moments, so nothing ends up meaning anything and character development completely suffers. This movie completely forgets that Finn and Poe are different characters, and neither of them has any consistency. Rise of Skywalker has one of the coolest lightsaber fights in the series between Rey and Kylo Ren on the water planet, but the whole time I was watching the scene I was wondering: what are they fighting over? And why do I care?
Some of the stuff in Rise of Skywalker is pretty cool — they end up using Rey and Kylo Ren’s ForceTime pretty well, and Rey as a healer is an interesting character trait they play with. And some of it isn’t their fault: Carrie Fisher tragically passing away made it very hard for them to work Leia into the movie organically. Then yeah, a lot of the things this movie tries to do (Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, Leia had a secret lightsaber the whole time, the Knights of Ren) are super stupid, but mayyyyybe could have been saved with competent execution. But nah, the movie ends up faceplanting and collapsing under the weight of its own ridiculous plot points.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: This is not your favorite Star Wars movie, don’t lie to me.
Tier 2: Mostly Okay Movies
The next group of Star Wars movies fall into this category, where honestly most of them are pretty fun. These movies aren’t great works of art, and they have their flaws, but they’re all pretty entertaining and generally a good time.
I had extremely low expectations going into Solo, but this movie is actually really fun! It’s one of the rare prequels that enhances a character, with Alden Ehrenreich somehow nailing the impossible assignment of fleshing out Han Solo without ruining the character. The characters are distinctive, the plot moves well and the action is fun and fast-paced. Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany are great additions to the weird, dark underbelly of Star Wars, and this is one of the unusual movies that successfully tells a morally ambiguous story without being cynical. It’s a fun movie and a very good time! Hurting the movie is the fact that it just isn’t a necessary thing for anyone to watch. You can have a very thorough understanding of the Star Wars universe without watching this movie — but if you have a few hours to kill, it’s a pretty fun use of your time.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You don’t actually like Star Wars that much, but you enjoy heist movies, quippy dialogue and fast action, and someone put this on during a chill Thursday night.
6. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens falling in the middle of this ranking is kind of perfect, because it is probably the most Medium of all the Star Wars movies. Do you love fun characters, tight pacing and great character-driven action? This movie has that! Meet Kylo Ren, Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8, fun new characters who bounce off each other in cool ways. The story is crisp, the action is fun and flows naturally from the characters, and Harrison Ford shows up to dunk over everyone as Old Han Solo. Do you hate silly dialogue, planet-destroying weapons or weird plot holes? Unfortunately, this movie also has that — meet Starkiller Base, one of the dumbest things that has ever happened in the Star Wars movies!
With every other movie on this list, people generally have broadly predictable opinions. But I’ve run across people with good taste who hate Force Awakens, as well as those who love this movie or have no particular feelings on it. This is the movie that reminded everyone that Star Wars can be really really fun, while also reminding everyone that Star Wars can also be very dumb.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You are so happy to have new Star Wars that didn’t suck as bad as the prequels that you’re willing to overlook its obvious weaknesses (i.e. the pointless cantina scene) for the parts that are awesome (i.e. Poe nuking a bunch of TIE fighters in a space battle right after the pointless cantina scene).
5. Rogue One
This movie basically asks “what if we made a whole film out of the bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back?” Turns out, it’s pretty dope! Yeah, technically the characters are Rebellion military, but that’s not fooling anyone. This movie starts with Cassian murdering a friendly informant, and he’s the responsible one! The rest of the characters — Donnie Yen’s blind Force monk, the psychopathic K-2SO, rogue pilot Bodhi Rook — come straight out of the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars universe and this ground-level perspective leads to one of the most fun, dark and interesting Star Wars movies.
I know I just said superweapons are played out, but Rogue One is one of the only movies to actually do something interesting with the Death Star through the destruction of Jedha and the battle of Scarif. Bonus points for giving us Ben Mendelsohn chewing all the scenery, as well as the best Darth Vader scene since Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, Jyn Erso and Cassian are technically the two main characters and they are SO BORING, which really hurts this movie. But luckily, the movie moves fast enough that you’re generally spending most of your time with more interesting characters.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You think the most interesting parts of the Star Wars universe are the Mos Eisley cantina and Jabba’s Palace; you’re currently mainlining The Mandalorian on Disney+.
4. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Was this the movie we had on VHS in my house? Did I then watch this film over and over throughout my entire childhood? Have those fond memories inflated my ranking of this movie? Yes, yes and yes. But whatever, fuck all y’all — Return of the Jedi is great! The first part of this movie gives us Luke in his evolved final form as a Jedi, going up against Jabba’s goons and completely wrecking all of them in an awesome battle near the Sarlaac pit. The first two movies gave us Luke figuring out how to be a Jedi, and the opening of this movie lets us see him as a genuine badass. The ending is great too. The final third of the movie has the Emperor (one of the great evil cackling villains of all time) mercilessly own Luke. But then Luke successfully appeals to his father’s humanity, and Vader redeems himself by throwing Palpatine down an elevator shaft (again, a great all-time villain death). And while this is happening there’s also a dope space battle going on! Yeah the fight on Endor is a little cheesy, but tell me you didn’t giggle when the Ewoks blew up the AT-STs by dropping logs on them!
Even with my rose-colored glasses, though, it’s clear that the middle of this movie really drags. It spends way too much time getting all the pieces into play for the final battle, with the speeder bike chase scene and Yoda’s departure the only good moments. C-3PO being worshipped as the dark god of the Ewoks is kind of funny and could have been good, but the movie does nothing with that concept. And yeah, the movie spends too much time with the Ewoks. But whatever man, this movie is still great.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You have a soft spot for happy endings and redemption arcs, you think the Ewoks aren’t that annoying compared to the pantheon of other insane Star Wars creatures, you’re very impressed by Mark Hamill’s powerhouse performance.
Tier 1: The Great Movies
So, now we get to the best movies here, the ones that people will bring out of their pocket when people say “Star Wars isn’t that good!” These are genuinely good movies that either have (or probably will, fight me) stand the test of time as legitimate classics. Sure, these movies aren’t perfect — but they’re some of the best examples of what a good blockbuster movie can be.
3. Episode IV: A New Hope
The one that started it all! There’s a legitimate argument to be made that A New Hope (released as Star Wars) kicked off the blockbuster era in 1977. And what’s amazing about this movie is just how well it holds up, considering how much it inspired. Almost every fantasy, sci-fi or superhero movie from 1977 on uses some combination of — the hero’s journey, massive planet destroying superweapon, naive newcomer from a remote planet, random allies from the seedy underbelly of the universe, wise mentor who dies partway through — I mean shit, that’s basically every Marvel movie ever. But even though those things are completely baked into everyone’s brain, A New Hope is still an amazing experience today!
Luke’s introduction is perfect, Han’s introduction is perfect, the way the movie slowly teases out Obi-Wan Kenobi’s hardcore backstory is amazing. The film kicks off with an intense chase scene, then slows down to introduce our main hero, then ramps up and ramps down at the perfect times. The stormtrooper infiltration scene is cool, tense, tragic and funny all at the same time. The plot moves seamlessly towards the perfect ending — one of the best space battles of all time. This movie absolutely rocks. So why is it only #3? Well, because as much as I like the movie that started it all, I tend to prefer movies that play around with established tropes, rather than ones that establish them. Which the #2 movie on this list definitely does!
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You saw it in theaters in 1977 and never fell out of love with it, you love tight origin stories that stand on their own.
2. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Star Wars universe is very black and white. There are the Jedi and the Sith; the Rebellion/Resistance and the Empire/First Order; the light side of the Force and the dark side. The question that obviously comes up then is — what about the gray? This is a concept that the Star Wars Expanded Universe has played around with in some forms (i.e. the Gray Jedi Jolee Bindo from Knights of the Old Republic), but the movies all run with a black and white Star Wars.
Except for The Last Jedi! Here, things are more nuanced, and approached with more complexity. Kylo Ren isn’t the Vader to Snoke’s Emperor; he’s his own Big Bad. Luke isn’t the master who saves the universe; he’s an old, tired burnt out man who nonetheless finds the strength to save the heroes. Rey isn’t from a destined lineage following in the path of the old Jedi — she’s a nobody making her own path, taking what is helpful (the Jedi texts) and leaving what isn’t (Luke’s methods).
And personally, I love this! It’s a more mature, complex approach that brings a lot of depth to the universe. So why it only #2? Well, because despite my love for this movie there are some real issues. The biggest one is the casino planet scene, which just goes on wayyyy too long — but there are other issues too (i.e. Leia pulling herself with the Force, Captain Phasma, many others). And well, the other reason is that the #1 movie is one of the best movies of all time.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie:* You enjoy subversions of stories more than the original stories themselves, you spend way too much time on the internet arguing with people over Star Wars stuff.
*(This is my favorite Star Wars movie)
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
I mean, no real surprises here. Everything about this movie works so well together. The pacing is great, the cinematography/music/effects are excellent, the acting is consistently strong and the story is so good!
There really isn’t a weak link in this movie. The movie opens with an insane Battle on Hoth, and then just doesn’t stop. Luke gets beaten into shape by the best version of Yoda, starting his transformation from impetuous youngster into wise Jedi Master. Leia has amazing dialogue throughout. C-3PO is hilarious. Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett are instantly iconic additions to Star Wars. And of course — the brutal revelation that Vader is Luke’s father.
But for my money, though, the best part of this movie is the series’ strongest actor. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo has never been more compelling. Whether he’s begrudgingly saving Luke on Hoth, constantly hitting on Leia or sacrificing himself for his friends, he’s the best version of our favorite charismatic rascally scoundrel with a heart of gold. This series has had some excellent characters and some exceptional actors, but none of them have reached the pinnacle of Han Solo in Empire.
This is the most consistently excellent of the Star Wars movies, and a shining example of what this universe can be. And sure, it has its flaws (Han should have died) — but, it’s still the best movie in this universe.
If this is your favorite Star Wars movie: You’re a true film aficionado who appreciates well put-together, crafted stories that are still entertaining and have mass appeal. Or you’re a weak-willed follower who gets easily browbeat by opinionated bloggers into changing your favorite — either way!
End of Blog
So that’s it! That’s all the rankings, and they’re all completely correct. But don’t worry, there’s always more Star Wars coming down the line. And even though many of the movies aren’t that good — I’ll still watch most of them, and I’ll probably watch whatever new ones come out.
Because whether your favorite is Phantom Menace or Empire Strikes Back, there’s one thing we can all agree on — this is a super fun universe that we’re all extremely lucky to have!
May the Force Be With You,